A Future Without Public Education Is Not Survivable

Picture of Alex Ames

Alex Ames

Picture of Alex Ames

Check the headline. It’s over. We won 🙂

A text message from a friend popped across my phone screen as I stepped out of class. I stopped in my tracks, squinting impatiently as the headline loaded: Sonny Perdue is not our next University System Chancellor. After hours spent writing press releases between final exams and scheming on Zoom calls well past dark, our Students Against Sonny coalition had won. Former Governor and pro-privatization millionaire Sonny Perdue had been rejected from the USG Chancellorship. 

As student organizers in Georgia, fighting impossible battles wasn’t new to us. Perdue’s attempted takeover had come at the heels of a grueling legislative session, a whirlwind runoff election, and an equally exhausting race to November. Perdue’s powerful backers, on the other hand, had the benefit of stamina on their side – the kind of stamina that comes with a net worth in the millions. As college students, our stamina tended to lean a bit more heavily on caffeine and the pursuit of a survivable future.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what this power grab was: another erosion of public education as the foundation for our democracy and future. Being Georgia organizers, those of us leading the Students Against Sonny effort knew the value of robust, responsive, and multiracial democracy. And being students, we understood public schools to be the foundation for that democracy. Here, the formation of social trust across races, classes, and genders had the potential to culminate in a society resilient to democratic backsliding.

From kindergarten to college, classrooms are a vital space for the learning and sharing of ideas, an extension of our fundamental rights to free speech and assembly. Schools aren’t political tools; they aren’t factories for the next generation of exploited labor; and they will not be tools of oppression for those who subvert democracy to make money off of children. Georgia’s choice to empower Perdue existed at this nexus. It was a choice between our future and their profit.

That’s what made Students Against Sonny successful – not the caffeine or even the brilliant use of student organizing memes. We won because we understood that this was a movement in defense of our very future. In a state and country increasingly wracked by climate change and white supremacist fascism, a future without public education, and thus democracy, is not survivable.

As a young person and an organizer, I spend a good bit of my time thinking about the world I want us to build. I want a world of love without conditions, of community care, of inclusion and resilience. I want a future where our teachers can afford to pay rent, and where our students can learn freely about the Black abolitionists who built the public education system of the South many times over. I want a future where it might still snow in Atlanta some winters, where my children can experience fireflies and peaches and non-lethal summer afternoons, where schools without rewritten history or lead pipes become safe havens when hurricanes run ashore. I want to build a future where we all survive.

That afternoon, stepping out of class to read about our unexpected victory, I could for a breathtaking, brief moment envision that future. There will always be more Perdues to defend our schools from, but this was proof it could be done. Quality, inclusive, and democratic public education is our path forward towards building that beautiful world where we can all survive and thrive, a world that is not only possible, but worth fighting for.

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