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Informed, true grass-roots activism is how America will take its first steps toward change, but unions using individuals in Astroturf protests will only maintain the ineffective and harmful status quo. It is no secret that public schools across the nation are producing more and more ”drop-out factories”. The state as well as the student is harmed. High school dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost the state nearly $8 billion in lost wages over the course of their lives . Pennsylvania is no exception.
An anti-school-choice group was bused into Washington D.C to protest Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Act, or S.B 1, on Monday. A group of FreedomWorks employees got wind of the gathering and headed down to start a counter-protest, myself among them.
I was surprised to see that the anti S.B 1 protesters had to be coached by individuals in bright orange vests and a few group leaders. As one of the directors at FreedomWorks asked a coach, were the protesters not individuals? Could they not protest of their own accord? We at FreedomWorks protested how we each saw fit; waving signs on the street edge, talking to media, or trying to speak with the protesters.
The protesters were exhorted by their coaches not to speak with us, however. We were told by those in orange vests not to “engage” the demonstrators. Again, I was surprised and disappointed. It is my understanding that the point of protest is to make a statement, and explain why one holds that position. How can meaningful reform occur if we cannot talk to those on the other side of the ideological aisle?
For the most part, interactions were limited to a few, repetitive chants and silent filming or picture taking of us. The demonstrators either would not or could not formulate coherent answers as to why they opposed a bill that would give Pennsylvania children access to better schools. No one was able to give me a feasible alternative to either the voucher system proposed by S.B 1 or the unsatisfactory status quo. Only one young woman offered the idea of increasing incentives for teachers to teach in inner city schools, but she could not offer any examples of what those incentives should be.
Schools are failing all across the nation - 2,000 schools throughout the country lose 40% of their students between 9th and 12th grade . Pennsylvania is not the only state where the children need help. S.B 1 is an opportunity to give children equal access to a good education, and eventually a happier, safer, and fulfilling life. The least on can do is to help support a change for the better, rather than fight to keep a broken school system.