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Don’t agonize … organize!

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With so much turmoil to write about in the School District, readers may wonder why right now we are devoting an edition to organizing work.

All the changes in leadership at the District should be a reminder that an organized community can keep school reform on track while leaders come and go – as they often do. The communities served by our schools are not as transitory. The hopes, priorities, and needs of these communities should be driving the reform agenda, ensuring that no group of students is overlooked. Organizing helps bring community needs to the fore.

Organizing is a process in which people come together to work in unison toward their common self-interest. Organizing helps communities realize their rights as tax-paying citizens to place demands on public officials. By organizing, communities can hold officials accountable for their responsibility to remedy injustices. Organizing can provide a powerful and direct voice to communities that have been shortchanged.

With an organized voice, groups that are working for better schools have a fighting chance of ensuring that our leaders stay focused on community needs and that no community is ignored. As one famous organizer, Frederick Douglass, put it, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

While parents and students in Philadelphia may not have always been as well organized as teachers and other school staff, many groups are organizing to change that. For instance, the city has a solid nucleus for a youth movement around equity in education with two effective student organizing groups in Youth United for Change and Philadelphia Student Union.

Philadelphia was recently rewarded by a group of national foundations for the promise of its array of organizing groups. While this issue’s focus is on those established nonprofit organizing groups, we appreciate that they are just a drop in the bucket. The large-scale need for more public involvement throughout the city calls for a diversity of organizing efforts

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