Late this morning we took the light rail from Mesa to Central and Washington in downtown Phoenix to attend Occupy Phoenix's rally for public education in Arizona, Occupy Education, at Cesar Chavez Plaza.
It was the kickoff for Occupy Phoenix's January “Month of Education,” and as the press release stated,
Together with teachers, parents, and students, we will be
discussing vouchers, merit pay, high-stakes testing, the rising cost of college tuition, and many more important topics.
Are you a parent who has seen cutbacks damage your children’s public school?
Are you a teacher struggling with low pay, large classes, and little support?
Are you a college student buried in debt? Join us on January 7th at noon and speak out!
Let’s send a message to our legislators that our children’s education is not for sale!
A good education is a right, NOT a privilege for just the wealthy few!
Bring your signs and friends of all ages!
Obviously, Cesar Chavez Plaza was not anything close to what we saw at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in the fall, but on the other hand, we met people who've been here since the very beginning of Occupy Phoenix and we were impressed with how well everything seemed planned, without the loss of any spontaneity.
We spoke to a number of people who were highly informed, dedicated, energized and passionate about the concerns of the Occupy movement.
The human microphone wasn't really necessary as a bullhorn gave the speakers resonance over the whole plaza.
On the steps of Phoenix's Old City Hall, people from Occupy Phoenix discussed the issues regarding public education, from inadequate state funding and the corporatization of education to the problems of massive student loan debt and attacks on programs like ethnic studies.
The facilitators of the breakout groups announced what they'd be discussing and we met in these groups at various spots in Cesar Chavez Plaza.
We attended a terrific session, "Higher Education Secrets for the 99%," with college students and recent graduates, university and community college faculty and administrators, all providing interesting testimony and ideas about the crisis in higher education.
Chelsea Starr, Ph.D., the facilitator, gave us terrific handouts with charts showing the exponential rise in tuition over recent decades (we attended Brooklyn College for free from 1969 to 1973!), the net college costs as a percentage of median family income for all income quintiles, the sources of undergraduate aid, and more.
Another breakout group was titled "What Happens When Public School Becomes a Business?," in which Megan and Connie Leach, Ed.D., discussed the ways in which taxpayer money is taken from public education to support corporate profit, vouchers and tax credits, class size/student-to-teacher ratio, and other topics.
"What's Money Got to Do With It? How Income Affects Educational Opportunities" had Ana Ramos-Pell, Ed.D., leading a session on the status of the nation's public school system and dealing with questions like "Are schools really failing?" and "Does income affect our public schools and prevent students from attaining the American dream?"
Joya Scott led a breakout session on "Why the Arts Matter in Public Education," discussing the value of arts education in a high-stakes-testing-in-basic-skills system, why recent severe cuts to arts education are harming American children, and what parents and others can do about it.
There was also an open topic discussion breakout group led by Mike Royer.
Unfortunately, we had to get back to Apache Junction before the reconvening of the whole group when session participants read their calls to action and people made closing remarks.
Although we wish we could have stayed longer at Cesar Chavez Plaza, we were really glad we finally got to see Occupy Phoenix in action and look forward to returning for other events.
During the January "Month of Education," special guests will conduct teach-ins about nonviolence, sustainability, and the housing and foreclosure crisis here in the Phoenix metro area, and there will be regular teach-ins focusing on the History of politics and current events.
We're grateful to Occupy Phoenix for giving a voice to the 99% on numerous issues, including those surrounding public education.
You can find a treasure trove of information and livestream at the Occupy Phoenix website.