Saturday, June 16, 2007

Because It's Their Future

Because It’s THEIR Future: Teaching Kids About Democracy
Desiree Fairooz

Since I knew we’d be busy all day Thursday with the action at Senator Lieberman's and the subsequent evening at Ralph Nader's book signing, I decided to get all our props together two nights early for our presentation to the kids at Cesar Chavez Charter School for Public Policy.

The César Chávez Public Charter School was founded in 1998 in response to lagging academic performance and low high school graduation rates among District of Columbia public school students, especially among minority and low-income students. Founder Irasema Salcido wanted to provide inner-city students with a rigorous, high-quality education that would prepare them for college and inspire them to civic be involved in shaping public policy.

So after the all day action at the Hart and Russell Buildings "lurking" for Lieberman and an evening winding down at Busboys and Poets, I checked for directions how to get there via the Metrobus and that I had everything we needed for the kids at Cesar Chavez.

Supplies & gifts we packed were:
· "No Torture" vest
· Impeach Bush poster
· two Pink Police shirts and caps
· Condi, Bush and Gonzo masks
· jailbird outfit (for the war criminals)
· crime-scene tape
a pocket-sized constitution for each student
"Don't Buy Bush's War" bumper stickers
· CODEPINK dvd & buttons
· scrapbook and Sunday’s Washington Post article
· and of course our "bible": the Congressional Directory that contains color photos of all the senators and congressmembers.

When Liz and I left the house the morning of our presentation, it was cool, breezy and slightly overcast—we headed towards the bus stop on 5th and H. We initially took the X2 bus towards the White House, not realizing that the school was in the opposite direction (good thing I asked the bus driver to let us know when we arrived at the Minnesota Metro stop). The metro bus system is just as timely as the D.C. Metro and Liz and I arrived with several minutes to spare.

Cesar Chavez Charter School for Public Policy is located in an area of the District dominated by red brick project houses, called either Paradise or Mayfield depending on which side of the street you’re on.

Directly across the street from the Mayfield housing, stood the school that Liz said reminded her so much of her old junior high school but newer, better maintained, and well-staffed. We found the school to be inviting with its glass doors, wide hallways lined with student work and murals, and its huge floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the parking lot and adjacent tree-lined housing. We entered the office to sign in and were warmly greeted by Tamar Cunha, the other teacher facilitating this special project. Her colleague,Laura Kravis, a young enthusiastic teacher, had invited us via email:

I'm an 8th grade teacher at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School here in DC. We do a 2 week public policy project in June, and my small group (20-ish kids and 2 teachers) is focusing on taking action on the Iraq War. We are using the week of June 11 to do research, gain info about the options before us, and plan action! Early the following week we plan to take various kinds of actions to show the kids how they can make their voices heard. That said, I know Code Pink walks the halls of Congress daily, and I was wondering about two possibilities: 1) Would it be possible for someone from your organization to talk to our kids (perhaps Friday, June 15) about going to Congress to lobby legislators: rationale, logistics, etc.? 2) Then, early the following week, could some or all of my group come to Congress with you to spread their message about the war?

The kids seemingly self disciplined in getting to and from lockers and classrooms greeted us excitedly, whispering "CODEPINK!" and waved. We entered a large airy classroom whose walls were covered with a giant-sized teacher-made map of Iraq that included city names and provinces. Also around the room were several t-charts of pros & cons, Sunni & Shia and other issues involved in the war in Iraq that the students had studied prior to our arrival. Ms. Kravis mentioned that they had spoken to Keith Ellison and other congressmen about Iraq. Liz and I introduced ourselves, explaining where we were from and why we do what we do with CODEPINK. I passed out photos of soldiers who had died in Iraq. Ms. Kravis asked the students why I had done that and explained that it personalized the war. We then showed the CODEPINK dvd, shared our props, inviting brave ones to dress up as Pink Police or Alberto Gonzales. They got a special kick out of putting on the masks. (see photos)

We then prompted the kids to make comments or ask questions. A couple of them had family members either in the military or had a military history. We answered their myriad questions as best we could, "Do you think President Bush knows about CODEPINK.?" asked one. "If Iraq is our friend, wouldn't you want to help your friend out? I would have to help my friend.", said the student with the dreadlocks.

Proving to be the next generation of leaders, we commended Ms. Kravis and Ms. Cunha on their students and for allowing us to share our message. In departing Liz waved, "Study hard, kids! You're our future." And I chimed in, "Hurry up we need you now!"


JimPreston said...

Sounds like a great day! I wish I had been there to help you get all that stuff over there. A friend of mine who teaches at a Friends' School in PG County told me that she could probably bring some classes downtown to get active with us in September. I'll see if she has any interest in you all coming out for a similar presentation out there. Say "hi" to Liz and the rest of the gang for me.

Dana said...

those kids were lucky to have you. so is codepink...

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