“Powerful.” “Happy.” “Proud.” “Excited.” “The struggle was worth it.” “In our unity is power. Victorious!”
These are some of the words and phrases parents shared as we made a sparkling cider toast at our No On Question 2 victory celebration a couple months ago.
I’ve been organizing parents at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs for a year and a half now, but it was one of our parent leaders, Janet, who first made me think seriously about whether our group could take on the daunting task of a statewide ballot question. It was September. We were sitting in my sweltering office, talking about schools, and she looked me right in the eye. “This is all good, Ariel, but when are we really going to talk about justice in education? When are we going to talk about Question 2?”
Question 2 was an initiative on the 2016 Massachusetts State ballot. It would raise the statewide limit on charter schools by up to 12 per year, without adding any additional funding sources. This would mean that money would be siphoned from the public schools that serve 96% of students in Massachusetts, not to mention a considerably higher percentage of students with special needs and English Language Learners. Still, I knew many students in our afterschool program who are doing incredibly well in charter schools, so I wasn’t quite ready to push hard for No on Question 2 as our campaign. Instead, I left it up to the parents to decide.
At our next meeting, we started by watching an ad for Yes On 2 that made the case for charter schools. Then we brought in an outside speaker to present the case for No On 2. At the end of the meeting, we revisited the Yes On 2 ad and asked, “What do you think?” Our parents were vehemently against it. “This is not about creating democracy; this is about someone wanting to get rich at the expense of our kids’ education!” “I can’t believe they’re just lying to us in those ads!” Even people who came in believing that charter schools were better voted unanimously to work to keep Question 2 from passing.
So, we did just that. We got to work.
Every week, we joined parents from around the state making phone calls to Spanish-speaking voters. Our parents went out into the neighborhood knocking on doors, and into their homes and communities convincing their families and neighbors. And they did an amazing job.
One of the Union organizers told me that parents of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs were the strongest, largest, and most effective group of Spanish-speaking parent leaders in the whole state!
In the end, we won No On 2, and we won with heart. Before I even got home on Election Night, parents were calling: “We won! Can you believe we did it? If we can do this, just think about what else we can do!”
In the months since the Election, when so many other things feel scary and uncertain, I keep coming back to this. We know what it means to stand up for our interests as a community, and we know what it feels like to win. And to anyone who doubts us: in these coming months and years, we’re not afraid to do it again.
By Ariel Branz, Lead Parent Organizer. To learn more about our Parent Organizing Program, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org