In 2009, I moved back to my hometown of 2,500 people in rural South Dakota to be a teacher. That same year, my little sister, who is Native, started kindergarten and was called racist names on the playground by her classmates.
While my sister faced unchecked racist bullies, I was buying classroom supplies and being chastised for talking about race in my middle school classroom. Both of us were unsupported by our school system. Our 100% white school board had been organized into the divide-and-conquer worldview of the far right, believing that honest conversations about race were the problems in our schools, and not the lack of funding we received.
That was almost 15 years ago and since then, we’ve seen what Steve Bannon calls the “precinct by precinct” far right strategy escalate. From Los Angeles to rural Kentucky, schools and school boards are the speartip of their racist, homophobic rhetoric to mask an agenda of privatization and corporate greed.
I quit teaching to learn how to organize white people. I knew I needed to bring my people in around the truth: we all win when our communities have strong, well-funded public schools that teach honest history and create welcoming environments for all students to be themselves.
This year, SURJ is launching our first ever school board campaign, “All In for All Students.” We’ve recruited a cohort of 17 teams across the country that are working at the school board level in their local communities, some supporting candidates running for election and others working on issues like fighting for trans kids’ rights.
You’ll be hearing more from us in the next few months about how you can engage with this work. First up, we’re going all in for students in OH.
SURJ is working with three chapters to support candidates in four school districts in Ohio running against Moms for Liberty candidates, a ring wing national group based on homophobia and racism. Our chapters are working to make sure white people see differences like race and gender identity as things that make our school communities stronger.
For me, bringing white people into our work around their shared interest in well-funded public schools that teach quality, honest education is a dream come true– but also a critical intervention in our current national political landscape and important, powerful work for white people.