How Organized Parents and Students Empower Communities
By Larry Fondation
Executive Director of United Parents and Students
Powerlessness is the dance partner of poverty. In fact, one could argue that powerlessness is the root of persistent poverty. In the public realm, the work of social change cannot occur without power. In civil society, there are only two kinds of power – organized people and organized money. Big power has both.
In education, poverty is still the principal indicator of quality — where working class families can ask for change, but, without power, they cannot demand it. Green Dot Public Schools is working to change that. United Parents and Students (UPAS), an affiliate of Green Dot Public Schools National, was founded to help families address the factors outside school boundaries that not only pose barriers to learning, but also inhibit local quality of life.
Unless parents organize enough power to force concessions from elected officials and to change public policy and priorities, neighborhoods in under-served communities will remain neglected.
The skills of public life and building power can be taught. Organizing experience gives us the confidence to act. Only organized parents and students and their allies can create the change necessary to transform their schools and communities.
Keisha Mitchell is a dedicated parent volunteer whose participation with UPAS helps her stay involved in her child’s education, and serves as a forum to take direct action on issues affecting her community. “I’m fortunate to have the time and capacity to contribute my voice, so it is imperative that I do just that,” says Mitchell.
“For those parents who are working two jobs and are unable to participate as much as they would like, I can do this for us.”
History teaches us that the people themselves must organize. Workers won workers’ rights. Women secured the suffrage. Civil rights for African Americans were won by African Americans. And so on.
Knowledge is not power, but it is the first step towards power. The next step of social change is broad-scale action.
In partnership with the offices of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, UPAS leaders and members testified at every minimum wage hearing on the city and county levels. UPAS involvement ultimately helped to lead to the increase in minimum wage for the city of Los Angeles and the state of California.
UPAS continues to organize for change in Green Dot’s school communities throughout Los Angeles, and is beginning to train Green Dot Tennessee parents as well. This year in California the organization will focus on voter registration and turnout and advocating for more affordable housing.
By educating and organizing our parents and students, and our neighbors, we are creating the space and the capacity to address a central problem in our communities – a lack of power.