The March for Equitable Funding of Public Schools “is about showing that we walk the walk for our kids. They are our future, and they will be our salvation.” —AFT President Randi Weingarten
An AFT army marched through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon.
With AFT President Randi Weingarten in the lead, nearly a thousand convention delegates, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers members, parents, students and community allies stepped off from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the March for Equitable Funding of Public Schools.
At three stops along the way, AFT leaders, community partners and elected officials spoke to the crowd. Ensuring that our schools have adequate and equitable funding and resources, Weingarten said, “is about showing that we walk the walk for our kids. They are our future, and they will be our salvation.”
As marchers paused outside the William S. Moorhead Federal Building on Liberty Avenue, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson said, “We’re here to stand up for students and staff. Corporations need to be held accountable for their fair share of taxes” to support the high-quality public schools and public services that are the foundation of strong and vibrant communities.
State Rep. Ed Gainey, whose district includes part of Pittsburgh, suggested one source of new education funding in Pennsylvania. The state has been closing some prisons as criminal justice policy seeks alternatives to incarceration.
Gainey said the state should use the money saved from that change to fund universal pre-K education for Pennsylvania children. “Let’s not incarcerate. Let’s educate,” he said.
Outside the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts 6-12 school, Weingarten urged marchers to “fight for fair, appropriate and fully funded public education.” She noted that at least 25 states are still funding public education at levels below what budgets reflected a decade ago before the Great Recession.
Weingarten called on AFT members and community partners to “form a human shield for basic dignity for our children. We have to be the human shield for basic humanity in our communities. And we need people in office who understand that respect and dignity means respect and dignity for everyone.”
Also speaking at the CAPA school stop was Nia Arrington, a graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools and a leader of the Pittsburgh-based Youth Power Collective that has been active in efforts here and across the nation to end gun violence. She also has helped organize and participated at protests of the fatal shooting in June of Antwon Rose Jr. by an East Pittsburgh police officer. Rose, who was unarmed, was 17 years old.
Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, a rising senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., addressed efforts by the #NeverAgain movement to end school gun violence. She has helped the group, started by Stoneman Douglas students after the February shooting at their school claimed 17 lives, to raise awareness that gun violence is a part of daily life for many black and brown students.
Too many public officials across the nation are unwilling to do anything to stop gun violence, she said. Instead, they do the bidding of the National Rifle Association. “We have a president who does not care about any of us,” she said, calling on young people to vote. “Let’s put the right people in office.”
Weingarten said both young women are “speaking truth to us.” She said teachers, parents and their allies are saying loud and clear that “enough is enough. One more school shooting is one too many.”
As marchers filled the Rachel Carson Bridge for the conclusion of the rally, AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker praised participants for “showing the city of Pittsburgh how we care, how we fight and how we show up in force.”
Pointing out that the Rose shooting was not an isolated tragedy, Ricker and the crowd paused for a moment of silence to remember all victims of gun violence.
Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, told the union members in the crowd: “This is an army. This is a movement. You are more than just a bargaining unit. You are the voices of those who cannot speak.”
Kelly said the recent Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME “changed nothing,” noting that Pennsylvania unions have signed up 4,000 new members just since the ruling. “We are America’s labor movement. We’re not going anywhere.”
Jay Travis, co-director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, said, “We are standing up for the public schools and the high-quality public services that we deserve,” declaring: “We are the right warriors for this time. This is our time.”
[Tom Lansworth; photos by Elliott Cramer and Michael Campbell]