Photo Courtesy of Alex Garland Photography, used with permission.
Dear Bill and Melinda,
In the summer of 2011 the seeds of this protest were planted when I read Bruce Levine’s book “Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite”. Bruce Levine and I talked on the phone and exchanged emails that summer. He spoke and wrote about the need to take our grassroots’ protest to the corporate elite vs the politicians — because that is where the real power seat is held.
Yet that July, I found myself taking the message to the politicians instead at the Save Our Schools March in DC, where I was fortunate to meet educator/activist/author Anthony Cody, Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, and so many of my activist friends. During that meeting the plans for this protest were hatched. We convened again in DC the following year. It took time to build awareness of your influence on education. It took time to garner grassroots support to confront you — because so many rely on your rhetoric and your money — rather than your actions and their consequences on the people who experience what I call #TheGatesEffect.
Finally, on behalf of 100’s of teachers, parents, and community members I felt privileged to deliver our demands and the entire collection of Teachers’ Letters to the Gates to your foundation on Thursday, June 26th, 2014 at the Educating Gates Rally. But what is the Gates Foundation’s response? What are you doing about our demands?
Despite the fact that in an interview with KPLU’s Kyle Stokes, Dr. Vicki Phillips said the Gates Foundation gives our concerns “legitimacy“ (like that is within her power?) — and claims we share the same goals — we have yet to receive a reply. Despite a promise from the Gates Foundation’s Director of External Communications, Jeremy Hillman — we have yet to receive a reply.
Here is the story as it unfolded on Thursday, June 26th, 2014:
At 11:01 am I received a text from the Washington Badass Teacher and lead co-organizer of our Educating Gates Rally event, Julianna Krueger-Dauble. She said:
“I just called the Gates Foundation. I asked if someone wanted to come out and accept the letters. No. They do not want to send anyone. She was rude, shockingly.”
At 11:41 am I received an email from Julianna:
“Well, this a change of heart…”
She included a email forward from the Gates Foundation:
“Dear Ms. Dauble,
Thank you for your e-mail regarding this evening’s planned rally of which we are aware. Teachers guide much of our work at the foundation and we are engaged in a constant conversation with teachers here in Washington State and around the country about what teachers need to help their students succeed and how we can support them. We share your passion for meeting the needs of students and ensuring they have the strongest environments possible for great learning.
You would be welcome to direct the videographers you mention here to our media line where we consider all official media requests. Thank you for alerting us to the letters you wish to pass on to the leadership at the foundation. We will endeavor to have someone available this evening to receive those and would be grateful if you or other organizers identify yourselves on site.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Julianna and a video team met at the Gates Foundation and filmed an interaction. I will try to share that exchange in another post.
Here’s how the rest of the day unfolded:
The organization of the rally began early that day for the key WA BATs. We organized our permits and planned to begin our rally at the Westlake Center at 5:00 pm. Organizers began set-up at 2:30 after a dress rehearsal of our Flash Mob. A sign making table, the sound system van, a WA BAT T-shirt sales table, and a Seattle Equality Educators table were quickly set up.
This event couldn’t have taken place without the support of many. Becca Ritchie and Eric Emans led the choir with many others joining in our songs, giving the crowd a taste of the creativity and talent behind educators. Without Dave our fantastic sound system would not have carried our message. Tracey Drum organized the Flash Mob. Kim Golding wrote our PRESS RELEASE! Linda Myrick spoke and sang. Keitha Bryson and Paul Chonka safeguarded the demands during the march and organized the many marshalls who helped direct our peaceful crowd during the rally. So many more hands, hearts, and minds helped organize this event. That is just to name a few who worked diligently behind the scenes and on the stage…
(Thank you to documentary film artist and Livestreaming expert, Vincent Precht on SchoolhouseLive.org.)
At 4:30 it felt as if there may only be 20 of us at the protest, but by 4:45 the crowd was beginning to build. Teachers from Oregon, Arizona, Maryland, Ohio, and California were joining in solidarity with 100’s of Washington teachers, parents, students, and community activists at the event.
Our choir kicked off the rally and Julianna began announcing the speaker line up. Wayne Au of Rethinking Schools spoke saying, in part….
‘While Gates and his foundation tinker around with charter schools, high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and the junk science of using tests to evaluate teachers, they avoid the central and most important issue that impacts educational achievement: poverty. But Gates and the Gates Foundation aren’t hearing that. As far as I can see, they are not about actual educational equality and equity. Instead they seem to be about opening up public education to the marketplace. In fact, Gates has said as much. Back in 2009 in the run up to the Common Core, Gates said the following:
“When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”
I find this ironic. It seems to me that Gates wants to fix inequality in public education by relying on the same market forces responsible for the crisis in housing, the crisis in medical care, the climate crisis, the massive wealth gap, and the increase in the schools-to-prisons pipeline for youth of color, amongst other national travesties.’
Finally, it was time to march to the Gates Foundation. I was honored as Anthony Cody, who two years earlier had engaged in a dialogue that began with a visit to the Gates Foundation joined me and a friend, Doreen McGrath, leading the parade with the sign of our demand (see above).
We marched, singing and chanting with the choir right behind us. People jumped out of their seats at restaurants to cheer us on and take pictures. The Seattle crowd was supportive. Many here have been victims or are aware of the American Psycho-style-stack-ranking policies you implemented during your reign to punish the employees of Microsoft through competition. These relationships have cost you in the eyes of many locals. Now you wield these same punitive measuring devices over mostly women and children in our public schools.
Not surprisingly, people in cars waved and honked to cheer us on as we were singing “This Land is Your Land” and “Solidarity Forever” along the way as 2 media helicopters, the press, and film documentary artists captured the event on camera.
We’d like to publicly thank the Seattle Police Department for their uneventful escort as this peaceful marching crowd made their way to our goal. We arrived at the Gates Foundation where our Flash Mob quickly began.
Morna McDermott, a co-founder of United Opt Out shared a fractured fairy tale with cheers from the crowd. Then it was my time to speak.
It had been just over one year since Katie Lapham and I had started our collaboration on the project – inviting you and Melinda to dialogue by creating a space for teachers to share their letters to you here on Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates. The time had come to deliver them…
Julianna introduced me and said I needed to speak quickly – 3 minutes was all I had. As I started to speak, the security guards told Julianna I needed to hurry because your GF Director of External Communications, Jeremy Hillman was standing behind the barrier waiting. I continued on to finish, despite their request.
As Hillman received the demands and promised me a response, the crowd began to chant:
“2-4-6-8! Send the Core back to Gates!”
This was truly the culminating moment in our rally…. the air was electric as the anticipation of the delivery of the demands was about to be realized. I hadn’t anticipated the cameras suddenly following me in unison, as they were aware before me — this moment was important.
Somehow, for me, the unexpected cameras shifted the weight of responsibility to my actions during those next moments. The years of planning had an impact on me. I had listened to and experienced first hand the horror stories of children and teachers all over the world in activist meeting-after-meeting.
As I walked towards Mr. Hillman, these stories of the real lives of children I taught — stories other teachers and parents shared, all the letters teachers had written to you from their hearts — flashed through my mind. Those weren’t just letters and demands that I carried with me. They were the rights and voices of every public school child, every family, and every teacher. That moment was about children like this young girl and their families… about all teachers and public schools… I felt a sense of urgency to serve on their behalf, reclaiming a piece of our democracy.
I walked up to the line, where the public and GF private property intersect and where two security guards kept a close eye on Hillman and the crowd as I approached. I stopped at that line out of respect until the security guards invited me behind the “gates”. Security refused to allow any press behind the line. I walked toward Mr. Hillman and smiled as I greeted him with a hand shake. We introduced ourselves and he handed me his card. I gave him our published demands and your letters prepared earlier that day at a local print shop.
I couldn’t convey to him at that moment how I felt. The moment felt surreal. I was proud of all of the organizers and the people who marched with us. I was proud of all the people who were with us in solidarity across the nation. I was not alone – these people were “with me” as I walked. Mr. Hillman asked me what I wanted. I told him each teacher, each letter deserved a response. He laughed and said that wouldn’t be possible. (I thought, surely the Gates Foundation can afford to spend that time if they really mean what Dr. Phillips stated.) Mr. Hillman promised to respond to our demands. We shook hands again as I thanked him, then I walked back to the crowd.
The press asked me how I felt. I told them I felt empowered and shared how I was speaking for our children, teachers, schools, and democracy. I told them how I was speaking for my students and families – where in my school 72% of the children qualify for free/reduced lunch — where my para-educator and I were the only blue-eyed people in our classroom — where my children/friends from Chicago have suffered school closings and where the 70% of all children in NY have suffered the labels of failure at your hands — hands dirty with funding VAM, charter schools, teacher evaluations, high stakes tests, and Common Core.
We ended this FIRST rally with the important words of our keynote speaker, Anthony Cody.
“The fundamental issue is that corporate education reform is perpetrating a fraud on the American public. They are pretending that the source of inequity in our society is bad teachers. You don’t need to look inside our schools for the source of inequity. You need to look outside, where there’s unemployment, where our students are being put into a college pipeline that leads to debt, as the jobs they were promised are evaporating. And teachers are supposedly to blame. When the American public realizes that our democratically controlled schools are a foundation of our democracy, we don’t want it to be too late. So please stand with your local communities, stand with your parents, stand with labor, and especially the communities of color that are seeing their schools closed left and right, stand with people fighting the overwhelming growth of prisons and the school-to-prison pipeline.
They (the Gates Foundation) needs billions of dollars to try to carry public opinion. We don’t need billions of dollars. We need the spirit, the hope, and the careful education that every one of us can carry out in our communities. So please, go forth and educate!”
That’s right. We don’t need billions of dollars and this protest was just the beginning. Bruce Levine will be proud of our start. We took our grassroots populist protest to the seat of power in our country. We see signs of others doing the same. It’s time for the vulture philanthropists to find a new perch.
Sixteen different news articles were printed after our rally. We got the attention of the media and our messages were clear. Our next long-range plans: We are building a coalition with activists who protest the Gates Foundation for other reasons – Monsanto, private prison investments, exploding oil trains, and more. We are building relationships through social justice activism. This grassroots movement against CORPORATE education reform will become global.
The seeds of a power shift have been planted. Today, and every day until you stop – we will shift that seat of power one step closer to where it belongs — into the hands of the public, the hands of the commons.
Will the Gates Foundation keep the promise given with a handshake? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, our planning has not stopped for a minute.
Whose schools? Our schools! America are you ready? Join us! “Get Up, Stand Up”.
Susan DuFresne, Integrated Kindergarten Teacher