AFT-PA Releases Five Principles of Racial Justice

Our broken education system has played a role in continuing a legacy of discrimination and segregation in our society. Our children deserve better. The educators in our schools are committed to changing this system, and we stand with them in the fight for their students and our sisters and brothers of color.

We all have a role to play in fighting racial discrimination and systemic violence and unions are stepping up to the plate to do our part.

“The events of the past week have greatly highlighted the inequities in our system. Not just our criminal justice system, but our systems of public education, healthcare, housing, and economic opportunity,” said Arthur Steinberg, President of AFT Pennsylvania. “Black and Brown children and their families have every right to the same rights and privileges that my children and family enjoy. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified inequality in our society, and the protest and demonstrations happening now are merely the voices of people who feel they have been ignored by our government over and over again. We cannot remain silent any longer: we must work to enact the change that so many people in our Commonwealth and our nation need and deserve.”

Jerry T. Jordan, President, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers: “In considering how to continue to elevate the urgent need to address the racist underpinnings of American society, none of us can afford to ignore the interconnectedness of the murder of George Floyd and the daily devastation of racism that permeates every facet of our society. The criminalization of blackness is borne out in ways large and small every single day. The murders of Breyonna Taylor, of George Floyd and so many more at the hands of police are devastating, and they are emblematic of the deep roots of racism in our society.

“Further, as protests have unfolded around the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen the violent response to protestors play out in stark contrast to ‘re-open’ groups of predominantly white protestors, many armed, allowed to protest for the ‘freedom’ to get a haircut without recourse. Just last night in Philadelphia, we saw masses of white men gathered with weapons in the name of ‘safeguarding’ a neighborhood they saw as ‘theirs.’ They were allowed to roam the streets and weaponize their whiteness.

“The principles we outline are more than words. They have been, and will always be, the foundation of the work we do.”

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, President of Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Local 400 and Vice President, AFT Pennsylvania: “The members of PFT Local 400 go to work everyday to help improve the lives of our students. What we recognize most is that teaching doesn’t stop at the classroom door—our kids live in a society that is inherently unequal in the way it funds public education, imposes criminal justice, provides housing, and whose government is, at times, indifferent to their wellbeing. Our members understand that in order to create a more equitable world for our students, we must take action to ensure equality in all aspects of their lives.”

An excerpt from the five principles.

“As a union of educators, we are deeply committed to the following principles, and we urge educators, parents, elected officials, and community partners to endorse these foundational principles:

1. The connection between an underfunded education system and the criminalization of blackness cannot be disregarded. Our fight for a fair and just education system must be rooted in a fight for racial justice.

2. From the literal poisoning of students and staff in school buildings to massive budget cuts leaving students without nurses and counselors (with deathly consequences in the case of Philadelphia student Laporshia Massey)– the injustices in our education system are deeply rooted in a racist system. Education funding and investment must address decades of systemic disinvestment; further, education funding should not be reliant on a property tax system that further perpetuates and exacerbates inequitable wealth, too often leaving communities of color shortchanged.

3. While we fight for an equitable education system, so too must we fight for deeply interconnected fights for housing, for healthcare, and for job access and workers’ rights. The disenfranchising of people of color is pervasive in all facets of society.

4. Our criminal justice system perpetuates the criminalization of black and brown people. The school to prison pipeline is real, and it threatens the futures and the lives of black and brown children every single day. Without a massive overhaul, the system will continue to have deadly consequences for people of color. It is a system that time and again sets our young people up for failure or even death. At the local, state, and federal levels, the overfunding of police and militaries must stop. Rather than investing in our children from early ages, our society chooses to spend $80 Billion annually to incarcerate predominantly people of color.

5. Educators and all people must take actionable steps to dismantle a violent system of white supremacy that has jeopardized the very humanity of the students in our classrooms, their families, and our communities. School systems make overtures indicating they are interested in recruiting teachers of color, but allow schools to operate without any teachers of color. We are committed to fighting to ensure meaningful policies are put in place that promote diverse teaching populations in every school; we are committed to ongoing professional development on anti-racist practices; and we are committed to working to build an education system that reflects the humanity of every single child. “

See the Full Statement Here