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Don’t Mourn, Organize

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It’s all too easy to despair over the right-wing assault on poor and middle-class Texans. We’re well past the halfway mark at the Texas Legislature, and the Republicans show little willingness to avoid cuts to the budget that will cripple the state. With outnumbered progressives, and even moderates, taking a backseat to the anti-government forces at the Capitol, the situation seems bleak.

But there is reason for hope. In mid-March, 11,000 teachers, parents and students from 300 different school districts rallied in Austin against the Legislature’s proposed $10 billion sucker-punch to public education. The cuts to public education would be devastating, possibly leading to school closures, increased class sizes and layoffs of as much as one-third of Texas’ teachers.

The rally, boisterous and refreshingly grassroots, showed that diffused anger and frustration (the non-Tea Party kind) can be collected and focused, even in Texas. If you expected docility from schoolteachers, you would have been disappointed. At times, the speakers mounted a sweeping critique of the state’s political leaders. “Millionaire senators cut my pay back to minimum wage and still I will march into that classroom full of children who need me,” shouted John Kuhn, the superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, to the cheering crowd.

Every social movement has its catalyzing moment. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s radical effort to eliminate collective bargaining spurred non-stop protests in Madison and seems to have breathed new life into the moribund labor movement. Of course, unlike Texas, Wisconsin actually has robust unions. Texas is a “right to work” state dominated by Big Business and wealthy ideologues. Still, the “cuts-only” budget is so severe that it has stirred Texas educators—already pushed to the brink by mindless testing regimes and a failed school finance system—to take to the streets.

One rally won’t alter the course we’re on, but it’s a start. Educators should join with other potential victims of the budget—students, senior citizens, public employees, veterans and working-class Texans—and call for the full use of the state’s $9 billion Rainy Day Fund, advocate for a fairer tax structure, and pressure lawmakers to invest in social institutions.

This is not about pleading; it’s about pushing. Progressives in this state all too often have a hangdog, woe-is-me attitude. Well, folks, here’s your chance to stand up and fight. You can start by attending the “Save Our State” march, rally and lobby day on April 6th. As the old slogan goes: “Don’t mourn, organize.”