I am joining with Howie Hawkins, whom I hope the Green Party will nominate to run for Governor of the state of New York, in proposing a campaign that would challenge the policies and priorities of our current state government, of the Democratic and Republican parties, of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and of the millionaires who support him.
I taught elementary school in New York City’s public schools for nine years. I received a master’s degree in Elementary Education from the City College of New York in Harlem, and I am currently studying for a doctorate in urban education at the City University of New York Graduate Center. As a teacher and a student, I have been personally invested in New York’s public education system.
Gov. Cuomo, like the leadership of the Democratic Party, has virtually abandoned any commitment to public education. They promote free market schemes and privatization for our schools. I want to participate in a campaign this year that will highlight for New York’s voters the connections between Gov. Cuomo and the charter school movement, which feeds like a vampire on public money and resources.
As an educator, I organized against charter school co-locations and against school closings and budget cuts. At some point, you have to step back from all these battles and notice the pattern: the public sector and its unions are under attack.
I have been a member of the United Federation of Teachers for the past decade. I helped to found a new social justice caucus in that union called the Movement of Rank and File Educators. I am not only a union member and supporter, I am personally involved in the effort to rebuild the strength of our unions from the bottom up. I want to participate in an election campaign that will give union members someone to vote for — someone who actually wants to expand the public sector and who actually supports unions.
A new study from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds that New York state’s schools are the most segregated in the nation. This isn’t surprising, since New York also has the greatest gap between rich and poor in the nation. Racism and poverty have always been terrible twins in America. We have to invest in all of our schools, not just some of them.
We want schools that are safe, humane, child-centered places where young people are treated like intelligent human beings. That means we have to end the racist zero tolerance discipline policies and the policing of school hallways that, for thousands of mostly black and brown students, is the first step into what is often called a school-to-prison pipeline.
We need to end stop-and-frisk in the schools, just like we need to end it in the streets. Changing the culture of our schools means making the curriculum culturally relevant, and allowing our students to be critically minded and outspoken, allowing them to speak their languages and have those languages respected, valued and nurtured.
I agree with Howie Hawkins that New York needs to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards and from Pres. Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. The Common Core Standards were funded by Bill Gates and formulated in closed-door meetings without the input of educators. By setting our students up to fail, they perpetuate the “failure” narrative that profiteers require to sell their wares.
In this way, the Common Core standards represent an attempt to facilitate the free market restructuring of public education. The public nature of education is important to defend because quality education should be a human right, not a luxury for those who can afford it.
New York state has squandered tens of millions of dollars contracting the production of more standardized tests for more grades and subjects so that every classroom can be measured. We’re busy paying for music tests, but we haven’t even made sure that every student has a music teacher. At the state level, we must stop the drive to quantify every outcome in education and the preposterous attempt to measure the precise contribution every educator makes to a student’s test scores.
We need tools for teaching, learning, and assessment that are organic to the process of teaching and learning, and tools of accountability that allow the people closest to the process to evaluate needs and to suggest ways to improve. Instead of a tool of assessment, standardized tests have increasingly become about punishment and union-busting. The millions we squander on tests, on data systems, and on data analysts could work miracles if we spent them on our students and our classrooms.
And speaking of millions, I live in one of the richest cities in the world — probably one of the richest cities in all of world history. But this extreme wealth is piled up alongside excruciating poverty. I want to be a part of a campaign that emphatically stands on the side of working people and the poor. If we’re not talking about redistributing wealth and resources to those who need them most, then we’re not saying anything.
For my entire adult life, I have been a socialist. I dream of fundamentally restructuring our society, and I don’t plan on giving up that dream or apologizing for it. The ideals of socialism are what guide my actions. To me, that means economic democracy and economic freedom as the foundation of real political democracy and political freedom.
I don’t want to live in a society where children aren’t sure whether or not they will be able to eat each day, or don’t know where they’re going to sleep. I don’t want to live in a society where people have to go into crushing debt just to get an education or to see a doctor. I believe that we can solve these problems, but doing so will require profound changes. I believe we will never get those changes without power.
Our power doesn’t come from wealth, but from organizing. In the year 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader — not because I thought he would be president, but because his campaign gave tremendous encouragement, strength, and support to grassroots movements for change. Nader helped us to build our power. I have been registered to vote with the Green Party ever since.
Today, I hope to be the Green Party nominee for Lieutenant Governor of New York, because I know that millions of working people in this state are fed up with the Democratic Party in general and with Andrew Cuomo in particular. Together, I hope that we can create a campaign that supports and strengthens organizing and organizations, a grassroots campaign funded by ordinary people up against Cuomo and the millionaires.
That kind of campaign will give voters a real choice in November, and I would be honored to be a part of it.