PTA needs to do their homework on Democracy, Go to an Occupation

Seattle Teachers at Occupy Seattle, Photo by Rachel Wilsey

Dan Trocolli
Seattle Teacher and member of Social Equality Educators and the Seattle International Socialist Organization

I started my Saturday morning going to the Washington State Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Legislative Assembly to assist parents in Parents Across America-Seattle, an activist group of parents, in opposing charter school legislation in Washington. It wasn’t easy waking up at 6am on a Saturday, but I knew it was important that people know the negative effect that charter schools can have on our public schools.

As a teacher, one would think that parents in the PTA, would be very interested in hearing from teachers about significant changes to Washington laws on delivering a public education to their children, particularly given the well known fact that teachers are underrepresented in PTA’s all over. Imagine my shock when approaching a group of parents in the hotel lobby with flyers only to have one woman tear the stack of flyers out of my hand in a completely hysterical rage as well as another teacher.

I wanted to let delegates in the PTA know how charters have a higher teacher turnover, unfairly exclude underperforming students and siphon money from other public schools. However, we were unable to continue handing out flyers and talking to parents about a teachers’ perspective on charter schools. The president, vice president and executive director of the state PTA all tried to assure us that they would consider approving the flyer for distribution. Never mind that the debate and vote was set to occur in mere minutes.

Turns out the vote to support legislation in Washington for the creation of charter schools passed by a mere 9 votes, despite the PTA’s own survey of members that found a majority opposed to bringing charters to Washington. In fact the influence of corporate, pro-charter forces, such as Stand with Children, at the top of the PTA have such a hold that the organization did not give delegates any information critical of charters at all.

The outcome was a difficult to face given the attacks on public education these days. However, my disappointment was short lived as I made my way to Occupy Seattle. There was an immediate contrast of the undemocratic repression I experienced at the PTA convention with the people’s democracy of the occupation’s rally and march.
The rally at Westlake Park, part of an international day of action in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, was already in the thousands when I got there. Teachers in the Social Equality Educators (SEE), a rank and file group of educators in Seattle, gathered in a contingent. We had a table with a sign-up for union members and labor supporters of the occupation. We displayed our banner, “Bail out Schools, Not the Banks!” and answered questions of protestors visiting our table.

There were people discussing all sorts of political questions all over the square, including, among other things, charter schools. Various groups had tables where they distributed all sorts of propaganda on issues like corporate greed, the war in Afghanistan and socialism. And individual protestors had many myriad homemade signs raising many social issues as well.
But this was just the beginning. On the march protestors stopped and occupied for some moments the Pike Place Market intersection. When an ambulance neared unable to get through, protestors needed no instructions and immediately parted to let them through chanting, “This is what Democracy looks like.”

When the march neared the plaza, SEE members organized an impromptu sit-in in front of the CHASE bank across the street. Thousands sat in the street, the sidewalks and the plaza listening as teachers and community members sounded off on corporate greed and what it will take to curtail it.

Later protestors re-occupied Westlake Park with over a hundred tents. The sense that it is possible to make the change we want to see in the world was palpable and that solidarity with one another is key in making that change happen. Most people coming to the occupations have a healthy rejection of free market, corporate driven solutions to public ills such as charter schools.
Like the Occupiers, most teachers recognize the undue influence of the uber-wealthy 1% on school reforms such as charter schools and merit pay. It’s these changing winds that might be frustrating the angry woman from the PTA.

The PTA should take a lesson and hold their Legislative Assembly down at Westlake Park. They may learn a thing or two from the other 99% about democracy and what’s needed to improve public education.

First published at Seattle Education