Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stand Up for Ohio! Stand Up for Returning Citizens!

Let me just say, sleeping on gym mats is just as uncomfortable at 58 as it was at 18.  I was never very good at roughing it, but at least this time it was for a worthy cause.  For two days, April 30 and May 1, I was on a statewide tour with the Stand Up for Ohio campaign of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.  

I joined the bus in Youngstown (the fabulous Patricia Maher agreed to ferry me from place to place).  The gym mats were at the Youngstown YMCA.   The tour had started in Akron on Sunday.  We had a lively opening rally and then proceeded to a little direct action at the home of David Brennan, owner of White Hat Management.  Brennan operates the largest for-profit charter school network in Ohio (and one of the largest in the country). The experience of Akron parents is that Brennan doesn't actually educate their children but makes big bucks not doing it -- he collects 95% of the $816M  allocated to charter schools each year while most of his schools are performance ratings are Ds and Fs.

But Brennan, as shameless as his profiteering might appear, is not the focus of this posting.  Returning Citizens, many of them the victims of Ohio's unwillingness to provide good educations to all it's children, are who I want to tell you about.

Returning Citizens are our brothers and sisters, cousins and parents who are returning from prison.  This appellation is one of the gifts of moving back to Ohio.  I have found that organizers in other states are using it but I first encountered it here in Akron, and just this year.  The Stand Up for Ohio Rally focused on Returning Citizens was in Newark Ohio.  It was a splendid, community wide demonstration of concern for those returning, analysis of why so many black and brown people end up in prison and call to action: end the war on drugs, focus on treatment, get the drug dealers out of low-income communities and end the school to prison pipeline.

Zero tolerance policies, classrooms with too many kids, a focus on
Here's a rendering of me leading a workshop
on the bus!  Thanks Assata!
test-taking rather than critical thinking, and poor funding in general result in schools that are being locked down and young people being put out of, pushed out from, or bored out of their minds in school.  Many end up in places like David Brennan's Life Skills Centers where less than 15% of kids graduate.  

I encourage you to find folks in your community working on the school to prison pipeline or with Returning Citizens.  Give them your energy and support.  I know I will.

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