Last night, Ras Baraka won the Newark mayoral election by a comfortable margin–yet the election was closer than it would have been had it taken place a month ago.
Outside money. Lots of it. And nobody should be surprised.
In a last-minute push, wealthy advocates of education reform–who arguably have no interest regarding what goes on in Newark other than whether or not charter schools proliferate and privatization reigns–shoved over $3 million at the Jeffries campaign in attempts to derail Ras Baraka’s lead.
But $3 million wasn’t enough to keep Newark’s citizens from doing what they knew to be best for their city. And that’s a beautiful thing.
The people of Newark are no strangers to disenfranchisement. Their school district has been under state control for nearly two decades, and most recently, Cami Anderson–a former Teach for America executive with barely any teaching experience–came in and started closing schools without any community input. Among other offenses, she suggested that Newark’s children are criminals, allowed her blatant charter favoritism to endanger students’ and teachers’ lives by letting charter kids stay home during a snowstorm but making district kids go to school, asked for a “waiver of equivalency” to expedite the firing of experienced teachers, and decided that there would be no self-contained classes in charter schools–only district schools.
And when Newark’s citizens got mad (or “shrill and unreasonable,” according to the Star-Ledger), Anderson decided she wouldn’t attend any more school board meetings, even though it’s her legal obligation, as state-appointed superintendent, to do so. In other words, everyone who has a problem with her decisions should just shut up and not bother voicing concerns–because they have no input anyway. (In recent weeks, Anderson has been flitting around the country on Newark’s dime to promote her agenda, and she’s also suggested that her brothers would come to Newark and show her critics “what’s up.” Nice.)
Ras Baraka, an educator, is a consistently-outspoken critic of Anderson–but charter school founder Shavar Jeffries, who tried to distance himself from her (after that cozy breakfast at IHOP), supports the very policies she pushes: school closings, teacher firings, and privatization. So ultimately, Jeffries’ message became this: Cami is right, but she should be less obnoxious so she doesn’t make people mad–because mad and informed people are roadblocks to education reform. And Newarkers saw through it.
It is convenient for wealthy education reform advocates, most of whom claim school closings are best for the people they know nothing of, to write checks from their comfortable homes in faraway cities and use fake and manipulated “data” to make decisions about urban families’ lives. After all, rich outsiders don’t have to listen to public outcry and opposition. But in attempting to impose their agendas on urban families, the message they send is clear: we know what’s better for you than you do. (So again, shut up, Newark citizens.)
But Newark citizens won’t shut up-and thank goodness. They do have a voice, and they used it, loudly, yesterday. They overcame a force that has been silencing them for entirely too long, and we should all celebrate the resulting victory.
Local control is supremely important, and Baraka’s win is a victory for public education all over the country. It is a victory for children. It is a victory for the teachers who have chosen to spend their careers educating the neediest students. And it is a denunciation of the failed and discriminatory policies of education reformers like Chris Christie, Cory Booker, Cami Anderson, and Chris Cerf. Baraka’s win proves that an informed population can overcome big money to make meaningful decisions for themselves–even when the rich and powerful try desperately to keep them from doing so.
Congratulations to Mayor-elect Ras Baraka, everyone who worked so hard on his behalf, and the citizens who used their voices to support him and their own best interests.