As a reluctant sun slowly rose over Minneapolis, a small but vocal group of parents, students, teachers and activists rallied in front of the city’s Green Central Community School. Carrying signs that called for “investment, not neglect” for public schools, the group was there for the national day of action organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools on January 19. The Alliance bills itself as an “unprecedented alliance of parent, youth and community organizations,” with a mission to “reclaim the promise of public education” as a cornerstone of democracy.
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president Michelle Wiese made a direct call for more support for schools like Green Central, where “wrap-around” services, such as on-site access to housing or food assistance, are available for students and families—96 percent of whom live in poverty, according to federal guidelines.
Drawing a smattering of supportive boos from the crowd gathered before her, Wiese also called out Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, saying that DeVos is bent on “de-funding and destroying” public education in the United States.
“We will wrap our arms around our students,” Wiese promised, and fight for “great neighborhood schools.”
Laurie Eaton, a representative from ISAIAH, a statewide, faith-based group that promotes racial justice, spoke out against Trump’s plans for mass deportation and a Muslim registry.
Amber Jones, education organizer for a member-led group called Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, warmed up the shivering crowd with a call and response chant:
“When public schools are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” Students, parents and activists shouted along.
“Our schools have to be sanctuaries,” Jones said, calling to mind a resolution recently passed by the Minneapolis school board, declaring that the city’s schools will stand firm against unlawful inquiries into the immigration status of any student or parent.
“Active resistance” against the incoming Trump administration should start with “dumping DeVos.” Jones said. DeVos is “unqualified” to lead the Department of Education, she added, noting that people are “suffering” already under DeVos’s school privatization schemes in Michigan.
This rally tied access to higher education for undocumented students and housing instability for families to a union-led focus on protecting public schools. This could represent forward momentum for education justice nationally.
For years, proponents of the kind of free market, radical school choice policies DeVos represents have demonized teachers unions, claiming they are only concerned with protecting “adult interests.” But when teachers unions stand together with groups advocating for fair housing, racial justice and immigration rights, it is harder to isolate them.
Just before the morning bell rang, school buses pulled in front of Green Central, disrupting the rally as streams of kids and parents headed into the warmth of the school. Following on their heels, brandishing hand-held signs of resistance, the rally goers walked in with them—still glowing from the cold.