(2001) - With reporters swarming, parents inked the vote tallies on a giant chart in the cramped hallway of the American Arbitration Association, and the Edison suits slunk away. After weeks of outreach and organizing in five troubled schools across the city, parents had rejected an Edison bid to take over their schools by a margin of better than 3 to 1.
Of course, before we even got to outreach to parents at the school, the People's Coalition to Take Back our Schools and ACORN fought for months, using direct action, a lawsuit, and media activism, to break Edison's grip on information going into the schools. Finally we were allowed to do mailings to the parents, and have access to the schools.
When the People's Coalition to Take Back Our Schools divided up organizing efforts, JFREJ took responsibility for IS 111, one of the two schools most in danger of falling to Edison, and where JFREJ teachers had connections.
We hired Jackie Marte to coordinate daily organizing at the school during the campaign. The strongly anti-Edison teachers at IS111 helped Jackie get information, resist intimidation and harrassment to stay inside the school building and get information, and uncover the fact that the two virulently pro-Edison "parents" in the Parent Association not only had been promised jobs by Edison -- they didn't even have kids in the school! Together the IS 111 teachers, ACORN, and Jackie and JFREJ activists Laura Schere, Laura Adamo-Martinez, Ellen Raider, Michelle Davis, Julie Hantman, Julie Gilgoff, Rachel Rosenbloom, and Jennifer Walper phonebanked, door-knocked, and fliered their way to a no vote, using Ellen Raider's up to the minute research to get the word out about Edison's shaky track record.JFREJ organized two packed parent teacher meetings at IS111, and by the second meeting 75 parents, students and teachers had come together to develop a plan to defeat Edison, and think how they wanted to transform the school -- without Wall Street.
At IS 111, parents voted more than 3:1 against Edison, overwhelming results repeated at each of the five schools. When the campaign began, few of us thought this type of victory was possible. Edison had a big budget, the support of high profile figures like Floyd Flake, and their foot in the door at each of these schools. As the New York Times mentionned in article about the coalition opposing Edison, the struggle had echoes of the historic 1968 community control strike- but this time bringing together teachers and parents, and Jews and people of color to support community not corporate control of education. We are proud to have played a key role in this victory, with our role featured in all four New York dailies. Like many organizing efforts, the victory created new challenges. Each of the schools is undergoing a transformation process, with IS 111 reorganized by the State Board of Education. During the reorganization process, JFREJ will continue to reach out to leaders at the new schools to help make sure they meet the ideals expressed by parents and teachers during the Edison fight.
But the fight to keep those five schools was more than symbolic. At a time when globalization is sweeping aside public accountability, and the public sector, from hospitals to prisons, is coming under corporate control, this was a critical victory. The week after the vote, Edison's stock sank through the floor, a total rebuke of their effort to make New York City the launching point for their nationwide efforts to privatize public schools.