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Let's sustain the activist momentum to support Ontario's public education system

Image: Anouck Carsignol

On April 6, I was one of the approximately 25,000 people who filled Queen's Park to stand against the cuts to education proposed by Doug Ford. The turnout was impressive and is part of sustained pressure on the government. It comes on the heels of the province wide student walkout on April 4, and province-wide petition drives and other actions. The Activist Toolkit followed up with organizers in the crowd and put together this blog to report on the tools activists have developed in their organizing efforts.

The immediate next step is on April 17, the Ontario Federation of Labour is organizing actions across the province. Sign up and get involved

Why we care

Alexandra Munsie has a child who is graduating this year from a Toronto District School Board art school and a young child just entering into the education system. She got involved in West End Parents for Education (WEPPE) in February. She has seen her older child thrive thanks to a public school with an art based education and the fact that other children, and her younger child, may not have the same breadth of options available when they get to high school saddens them. As she says "these cuts hurt everybody."

WEPPE is just one of the many parent groups sprouting up across the province, according to Alexandra. 

We all care about education and our kids' schools. Alexandra had never gotten deeply involved in community organizing before. However, when she heard about the cuts, she was concerned. She decided to attend one of the early WEPPE meetings. After a short general meeting, the parents in attendance were broken into discussion groups. The groups were charged with building tools to help organize. Her table decided to develop the WEPPE postcard campaign. They designed personalizable postcards addressed to Minister of Education Lisa Thompson demanding that cuts to education be reversed. Soon she found herself involved in the planning committee for WEPPE. The meeting was well organized and drew upon the resources in the group. In fact, the knowledge and the resources that other parents and group members have brought to the fore is one of the most impressive things Alexandra has seen emerge from WEPPE. Reach out through the WEPPE website if you want to learn more about how to organize in your school and community. 

The Progressive Conservative misinformation campaign

The minister of education and the Premier's office have been working hard to create a crisis and get the message "wrong" by moving the focus to teacher unions, and shifting focus to teacher seniorityteacher competence, and class size. Why would they do this? The former two issues allow them to sow division among teachers and say that they are trying to address the "staffing crisis" but the unions won't let them, and the latter allows them to seed a nightmare scenario. Seeding a nightmare scenario like "40 kids in a class" is a tried-and-true method by which conservatives across the world have sown discord. In the U.S., every election campaign brings stories about mobs coming out to block voters from voting under the rhetoric of voter intimidation. When the gangs blocking the polls don't materialize, the media storyline tends to be: "there was no voter intimidation," while the insidious policies which cut voters from voter rolls are ignored. Similarly, there may not be class sizes of 40 across the province, but there will likely be insidious and particularized cuts in the long term. 

People for Education has put together a great fact sheet on the funding cuts. Read it and use it to organize. Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) District 12 member and high school teacher Jason Kunin wrote a great article for the Toronto Star laying out the real impact of the cuts for secondary school students There will be teachers laid off and when they go, classes will go too. 

The Ontario government will continue to try to move focus. They will raise nonsensical initiatives like setting up math testing for all teachers in secondary schools. Harvey Bischof, the president of OSSTF, the union representing secondary school teachers in Ontario, was quoted in the Toronto Star saying the idea is "nonsensical" because "high school teachers in Ontario are subject specialists. If you're not qualified to teach math, essentially, you don't. And if you are qualified, you don't need a test. Imagine taking an effective art, history or geography teacher, and finding out they can't solve a quadratic equation, and preventing them from teaching the subjects that they're highly qualified to teach." 

By attacking schools, the Progressive Conservatives have given us an important issue around which to mobilize. Now we must keep the momentum going and prevent the Progressive Conservatives from dividing us.

Tools to keep us working in solidarity

Read the common declaration on education by the union federations which represent education workers -- OECTA, AEFO, ETFO, CUPE, and OSSTF -- in French and English. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario's Building Better Schools campaign , the Ontario Secondary School teachers' Federation's No More Cuts Campaign, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Associations' Know More Campaign are good resources for organizers looking for talking points against the main messages from the progressive conservatives. If you want to work with teachers in your community to stand against the cuts, contact the union locals in your community.

The West End Parents for Education have put together a toolkit to help parents who want to organize in their communities. Use these templates and guides to engage parents and your school community to build a strong school based team to fight against the cuts to education and for the fully-funded and equitable public education system all children deserve. Download it here.

Support student organizing. The #StudentsSayNo movement is the online movement that organized the April 4 walk out. The student-created "Official Walkout Organizer's Guide" is a great tool.

Each of the union federations mentioned above will be heading who came together to organize the rally on Saturday, April 6. Check their websites for updates and ways to support educators as bargaining approaches. Here are the links to the unions and union federations which are going to be representing education workers. Check their sites and reach out to them:

We are all on the frontlines fighting for the best education system. Please continue to share organizing tools and let's make sure that we are not divided against each other.

As we organize rallies, I have one suggestion. Unions and organizers, please invest in clipboards and pens and have them available at your tents. Ask your members to go out and circulate in the crowd with them getting contact information from the people in the crowd who are interested in continuing to organize. While crowds are impressive, the most important tool for any organizer is contact information and lists of who came out. For me, that was the biggest missed opportunity from the rally on April 6th. No one asked the people I brought who they were and if they wanted to do more. They were interested.

Image: Anouck Carsignol​

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