With U.S. poised for war, students are pushing for justice

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The following remarks were presented at a "Youth March for Educational Justice" in Harrisburg, organized by Good Schools PA on October 22, 2002.

When we talk about how to achieve educational justice, I have just one reminder: a billion dollars a day for the military.

Enough money spent by our government in one day to hire 20,000 teachers. Enough money in one day for the state to cover its share to educate 300,000 children in Pennsylvania for the entire year.

A billion dollars a day. In a year’s worth of a billion dollars a day, every child in Pennsylvania could be educated from K-12 for three generations. In one day, with money wisely spent, a world of possibility opens up for us. But in one day, with this money spent on the military, that world becomes impossible.

Over 30 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lambasted a government which tried to excuse itself from doing what is socially just because of lack of resources. We do not lack the money to do what is right, he said. "It is our…inability to arrange an order of priorities that promises solutions that are decent and just."

So we remember that we spend a billion dollars a day on the military, while children in the city of Chester lack textbooks and supplies; when school districts in York, Chester, and Philadelphia are told that they must settle for pathetic companies like Edison Schools instead of receiving the educational funds they justly deserve.

We remember a billion dollars a day for the military when we hear our leaders tell us that they can’t guarantee our children an equitable education, but they’re damned sure to send them off to war.

But another world is possible – another world must be possible.

I want us to remember that when you march today, you take on the proud legacy of student-led movements for justice. It was students who led a revolution for ethnic studies, took the lead in anti-war movements.

Some of those former students sit in this legislature today. The memories may be faded, but your voices today bring back the echoes of the past. Your steps today walk in the steps of those before you, some of whom laid down their lives hoping the fight for educational justice would be attainable for you – believing another world was possible.

I want us to remember that a student-led movement in Philadelphia broke the back of the largest privatization venture ever launched against public education. When you meet with these legislators, look them in the eye and ask them whether they still believe in this lying, failing laughing stock called Edison Schools, whose founder claimed he could save money by using students as free labor – this company which received $12 million more in public funds while districts across the state saw their budgets slashed. Ask them whether they think this company is still innovative, still vital.

Don’t let them forget that it was students who stood up to this injustice. Against enormous political and media pressure, it was students who cried out for justice – not only for themselves but for all students in this Commonwealth.

There is never a more important time than now, when this nation stands on the brink of war, for you to point out: there are alternatives to the mess we are in. Your struggle for educational justice exposes flaws deeply rooted in our society – racism, poverty, materialism, militarism.

The adults who are allies with you in this struggle are inspired by you. We derive our strength from you, and we stand proudly beside you.

Together we march for radical revolution, for educational justice – equal funding, equal schools, equal people. We march to show how a billion dollars a day could be used to create life and hope – not to destroy it.