On August 1, 2014 I ventured to Raleigh with my camp chair, trifold poster, and some handouts. On that day, the Senate was set to hold a final vote on the state budget. Despite touting “record raises” for teachers I found this talking point to be misleading. (Five years later I’m still fighting that battle.)
After reading the rules of the NCGA campus, I realized that my one-woman silent protest did not require a protest permit so I set up shop where some lawmakers reporting for session would walk by.
Those who agreed with my concerns, like Sen. Earline Parmon, stopped to chat while others silently passed by. I heard one woman yelling as she crossed the street and thought she was unhappy with the person she was talking to on the phone. When I listened more closely I realized she was talking to me.
“Really?! Really?! I hope you noticed you’re sitting there alone young lady.”
To which I responded (ooops, there went my silent protest), “I’m only alone for now.”
Shortly thereafter an NCGA security guard came out to speak with me. He asked for a protest permit. I told him that as I understood the rules, I did not need one since I am only one person and I am not impeding use of the sidewalk.
He looked at me like, “Lady don’t make this difficult…”
I looked back at him like, “I told the babysitter I’d be home in a bit and I’m guessing a confrontation could take a while…”
I broke the silence by asking where I could set up that would not be grounds for a showdown with NCGA security and he pointed across the street.
It was the best advocacy advice I received.
Across the street were the state museums of history and natural sciences.
Across the street were parents, grandparents, and the school aged children they care about.
Across the street I set up camp again and was able to engage with parents and grandparents visiting the museums with children. I did not initiate contact, but happily obliged when someone stopped to read and ask questions. People knew teachers were unhappy but knew little about the policies at the source, or how those policies were likely to affect their child’s school experience.
It was much more productive than preaching to the choir or trying to convert the unwilling when stationed on NCGA grounds.
There are more teachers than members of the NC General Assembly, but it can be overlooked that there are even more family members of public school children. Just as some public school educators are not completely up to speed with the ins and outs of state education policy, many families understand little beyond knowing educators are unhappy with the state of things.
If they knew more, they would likely push back on efforts to commercialize education. If they joined efforts of educators and existing parent groups, perhaps key lawmakers would be more inclined to fund efforts to provide a “sound basic education” instead of deny the damning facts presented in the court ordered WestEd Leandro report.
We need people to fuel up in 2020 to make it happen. Not other people, people like YOU! Fill your tank and help us restore respect and support for public education. The 2020 election will shape the next ten years of state education policy and we must do more than cross our fingers or hope other people will step up.
Resources to stay engaged and get involved: