“Even in the best of times the Seattle Public Schools has needed the union to…hold it accountable. And during a global pandemic, when more and more people are starting to understand the pivotal role that schools play in our society well beyond academics, the common American narratives like, “The rich will save us,” and “health care shouldn’t be a right,” all those narratives are getting turned on their heads. Nurses and grocery story workers are literately saving our lives and we have a chance to reconfigure and transform what normal looks like so that it embodies justice—especially racial justice—and I’m hoping to be part of that transformation as SEA president.”—Jon Greenberg, Schools Seattle Deserves press conference, April 21, 2020
On Tuesday, April 21st, the Schools Seattle Deserves (SSD), a slate of candidates running for leadership in the Seattle Education Association, held an online press conference to introduce a powerhouse group of social justice union educators. The union election ends on Thursday, April 30th and then we will find out if a new day for social justice unionism has dawned in Seattle.
The press conference was held on the first day of the election and signaled a new era in the union; already on that first day, SSD secured victories in at least seven executive board positions—including Vallerie Fisher wining the officer position of treasurer—with Jon Greenberg‘s run for union president and Marquita Prinzing‘s run for Director of the Center for Racial Equity still contested. But even more important than the number of seats secured was the powerful coalition of candidates that was forged and the powerful message of uprooting oppression that they advanced. Speakers addressed many issues including the history of social justice unionism; joining with other social justice unions around the country; opposition high stakes standardized testing; building partnerships with parents and community; fighting against racism, sexism, and homophobia; the struggle for Ethnic Studies; and so much more.
Notably, the press conference featured leading parent, student, and community allies that will be key partners in transforming education in Seattle, such as parent activist and Washington State NAACP Education Chair, Rita Green, Student leader Cece Chan, and community organizer, attorney, poet, and former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver.
As Nikkita Oliver commented on the importance of unions in the struggle for justice and about her confidence in the leadership of Jon Greenberg saying,
“Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this moment as a community member and community organizer, to be partnering with you all on this effort to make sure social justice is centered in the work that we do. Not just in the community, not just in social justice organizations, but in all organizations. It’s important that our unions be at the forefront of this work to transform the system…. I have had the honor over the years of partnering with Jon Greenberg in different settings. I’ve seen first hand his commitment to young people’s voices being centered in the work…The platform that has been put forward by this slate inspires me.”
Jennifer Dunn, a teacher at South Lake High School and member of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, explained her bid for the executive board saying,
“I’m running for high school rep because I believe that Seattle Public Schools is suffering from white fragility and it needs to take a good look at itself…We should put a lot of force behind Ethnic Studies…I also believe the entire district needs race and equity coaches.”
Cece Chan, a recent Seattle Public School graduate and current student at Pacific Lutheran University, spoke to the work of members of the SSD slate in changing her life. She said,
“Jennifer Dunn started helping me understand my identify and what it meant to interact with the world…If you had asked me [before taking her class], what I wanted to be, I’d be like “I want to be a physical therapist.” But now I want to go into education and racial justice. I was also in the NAACP youth council and that’s where I met Jon Greenberg, and he was the one who directly worked with me the most…he’s just a really great guy. He never over stepped…He was like, “I don’t want to be the white male up here controlling you guys. This is yall’s meeting and y’alls voices.”
Jon Greenberg ending the press conference by explaining his decision to run for SEA president. He said, “When I needed it, the community had my back, and now it’s my turn to have your back,” referring to when he was pushed out of his teaching position for teaching about racial justice and a broad movement of parents, students, and union activist rose up to defend him and ultimately get him reinstated at his school.
Jon continued with his priorities should he win the election, saying,
“If elected I will continue to center racial justice, I will continue to fight for fully funded and safe schools, I will continue to empower our union community–but also work for a community that is beyond the SEA members. Nikkita really touched on this and, Jesse, you did by talking about Chicago [the Chicago Teachers Union]. We need to keep building bridges. In Seattle there are over 4,000 kids experiencing homelessness right now. We need to build a network of partnerships if we are going to provide those kids some stability. The County recently built a $242 million youth jail. We are going to need a network of partnerships if we are going to clog the plumbing of the school-to-prison-pipeline so that one day that jail will sit empty.”
This is the kind of fighting union that we so desperately in Seattle and I urge Seattle educators to vote now for the Schools Seattle Deserves!
Here then is a link to the full video of the press conference: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vv9n066c2Hmgckzfw_94I_VamjwRMpt7/view
Here is a Jon Greenberg’s campaign video:
Learn more about the Schools Seattle Deserves here. And here is the list of speakers who participated in the press conference, with a note about which ones have already won their position:
- Bruce Jackson, Paraprofessional at Aki Kurose Middle School, Newly elected as a Paraprofessional Member-at-Large for the Para Board of Directors
- Jesse Hagopian, Ethnic Studies Educator, Author, Editor for Rethinking Schools
- Vallerie Fisher, Re-elected as SEA Treasurer, Family Support Worker and the first Education Support Professional to ever hold an officer position in the SEA
- Nikkita Oliver, Artist, Activist, Author, Attorney, Educator, Writer
- Rita Green, Education Advocate
- Stan Strasner, Newly elected as SEA Substitutes President, currently the Substitute Vice-President
- Amanda Hubbard, Newly elected as SEA Elementary Representative, Member of Ethnic Studies Advisory Group
- Sarah Lockenvitz, Center for Racial Equity Coach, Newly elected SEA Middle School Representative
- Jeff Treistman, Librarian at Denny International Middle School, Newly elected SEA Middle School Representative
- Jennifer Dunn, Teacher at South Lake High School, Candidate for SEA High School Representative, Member of Ethnic Studies Advisory Group
- Edmund Trangen, Teacher at Roosevelt High School, Candidate for SEA High School Representative
- Jennifer Hall, Teacher at West Seattle High School, Candidate for re-election for SEA High School Representative
- Michelle Vecchio (Meesh), Teacher at Nova High School, Candidate for SEA High School Representative
- Cece Chan, Former NAACP Youth Council leader, Student at Pacific Lutheran University, Director of “For the Culture” an Ethnic Studies Documentary
- Jon Greenberg, Teacher at Center School, Candidate for President of the SEA
- Usana Jordan, Newly elected SEA Elementary School Representative
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