When asked what has inspired my public education advocacy over the last decade, my answer is simple: there is nothing worth investing in more than public education. Everyday Arizonans inspire me to keep at it. The grandparent phone banking during a bond or override campaign asking voters to support a local tax increase because the legislature and Arizona Governor Ducey fail to fully fund our schools; the teacher who works three jobs but still finds time to gather signatures for a pro-public education candidate on her early weekend mornings; the students who are shortchanged year after year by the disinvestment in public education, and who don’t get a childhood do-over.
But fighting for public schools and the students who attend them isn’t just about righting wrongs. The beautiful thing about grassroots advocacy is the friendships you make along the way. Of course, that’s not why you get started in the first place but it’s the secret gift you didn’t know you needed until you found it. There’s something almost unworldly about the connections you make on your voyage towards change. You are no longer alone screaming at your computer, feeling disoriented by a tidal wave of legislative insanity. Instead, you find unexpected passion, grit, strength, and vulnerability you didn’t know you had and you find it in those around you.
You learn to listen, and you learn that you will not always be successful in reaching the destination you originally set out for. But that’s okay. You keep going, inspired and determined, also a little weary from a long journey. You organize and grow, you hold meetings after the meetings, you knock on doors in 110-degree heat, you plan, strategize and seek counsel and advice from those who came before you. You engage in long conversations with your neighbors and you find common ground. You find mutual agreement where there seemed to be none before. And it is in those small successes along the way—the common ground, the shared love and passion for public education, the relationships, the small and incremental change—where you find peace and hope and, ultimately, the inspiration you will need to draw upon as you embark upon your next advocacy voyage.
These days, I am inspired by the health care professionals who’ve spent their days and nights treating patients and saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. They spend countless hours addressing misinformation with kindness and compassion while on the front lines, then come home to write their representatives, show up at governing board meetings, and tirelessly advocate for public health and safe schools.
One thing I have learned in my education advocacy journey is that Arizonans have huge hearts and seemingly endless willingness to step in when leaders fail our children. Grassroots advocates have shouldered so much of the burden brought on by poor leadership. They do it because it is the right thing to do. They do it because our children deserve better. They do it because our entire democracy is founded upon access to free and equitable education.
It is my hope that we come out of this pandemic stronger, more focused, driven, and energized to banish the bad actors who’ve been driving anti-public education policy from our state legislature for good. I hope we are finally ready to elect more leaders to state and local government who reflect the persistence, passion, and shared values of everyday Arizonans.