I won’t be part of a Democratic Party that bashes school choice

Catherine Robinson parent power group Floridians speak we listen activists

This post written by Catherine Durkin Robinson originally appeared on the RedefinED blog.

I’ve been a militant advocate, organizer and member of the Democratic Party for 30 years. A few months ago, I quit identifying as a Democrat.

It had been building within me for a while. I could no longer stomach the Democratic Party’s support for an education system that hurts so many poor and working-class families.

Democratic Party politicians have repeated their lies about educational options so long, they’ve begun to believe those lies. And they do this while so many of them can afford to move into desirable neighborhoods with good schools, or send their children to private schools.

I wonder how they sleep at night.

As far back as I can remember, I’d been raised to firmly identify and side with the poor and working class. My relatives were teamsters, union members and union organizers, Irish immigrants who fought for everything they got.

In college, I officially began my activism career by joining Students Against Apartheid. That led to gigs with Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Jerry Brown for President, Tampa AIDS Network, Florida Public Interest Research Group, and Sierra Club.

I worked as a counselor where I helped women choosing to end their pregnancies, sometimes holding their hands as they endured the most difficult moment of their lives. I marched on Washington and appeared on local talk shows, insisting that women had a right to control their reproductive lives.

I was almost arrested three times: protesting nuclear power, demanding an end to the war in Kuwait and demonstrating against animal cruelty.

For my 21st birthday, more than anything, I wanted an FBI file.

After college, I taught at alternative high schools and helped mostly young men, who had been expelled or arrested, turn their lives around. I also taught in district schools for students with special needs. All the while, I organized and advocated to repeal the Second Amendment, ensure marriage equality for all, protest armed conflict, provide for universal health care, expand voting rights, oppose private prisons and put out of business all circuses, rodeos and Sea World.

Six years ago, I met Michelle Rhee. I took a job with her national non-profit, organizing parents in several states to lobby for laws that put children’s needs ahead of adults’. Much to my surprise, Democratic friends and colleagues didn’t support this career move.

They cornered me at parties, telling me I’d no longer be welcome in their circles if I worked to undermine the public education system.

“Since when do we care about a system over people, especially children?” I asked.

But when I stopped and thought about it, the answer was, “It’s always been about the system.” And that realization broke my heart.

School districts and teachers’ unions benefit from our current system. They are on the receiving end of money and power. They fight against change to keep that money and power.

Too many Democrats, particularly white Democrats, believe educational funding belongs to unions and districts. They fight against a parent’s right to choose the best school for their kids – because those schools don’t have unionized teachers.

I remember fighting right-wingers who were attacking the Affordable Health Care Act because it was supported by the left. What are Democrats doing now? Attacking educational options for under-served populations because it’s supported by the right.

In Florida, Democrats even oppose scholarships that help bullied children – pretending these scholarships drain money from a system that keeps those same kids imprisoned in their zip codes. How dare they?

They do this because the teachers union provides campaign contributions for Democrats who tow the party line. This is no different from Republicans taking money from the NRA and then fighting to keep guns on the streets. If you don’t think so, go visit a violent inner-city neighborhood with parents who can’t afford to move and put their kids in a safer school.

Then go peddle your partisan nonsense elsewhere.

I’ve been organizing parents for educational choice for over six years now. It’s been the most rewarding time of my professional life. We are pioneering, redefining public education to finally, once and for all, serve everyone equally – the way it was intended.

This movement has helped me look closer at my side of the aisle. I’m so very disappointed in a party that refuses to fight for the people who need it most – children struggling to break free from generational poverty. Education is the most reliable way to do that. Democrats are blocking the schoolhouse door.

As I reached my 30-year anniversary as an activist, I celebrated by leaving the Democratic Party and officially choosing “no party affiliation.” Friends, again, were horrified. They said now, more than ever, the left needs to come together. Perhaps. But not under today’s Democratic Party.

The next time my colleagues on the left yell and scream about Republicans turning on their values to support President Trump, I would like them to look in the mirror. You, too, are turning on your values to support a union and a system that limits opportunities for the people you claim to care about the most.

As a young activist, I vowed to stand with the poor and working class. I will continue that fight.

Just not as a Democrat.

What do you think?


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