COVID-19 and Mass Protests: Lessons Learned and Future Directions

by Marianna Islam, Ignacia Rodriguez and Mark Warren

On August 20, 2020, The People’s Think Tank (PTT), an intersectional movement space for reimagining a radically democratic future for education justice, held a virtual convening: COVID-19 and Mass Protests: Lessons Learned and Future Directions.

The online gathering brought together more than thirty of PTT’s fifty-plus members, which included a diverse representation of the educational justice movement and social justice allies. Together, members engaged in a deep conversation about how the education justice movement is responding to the COVID-19 crisis and the rise of mass protests against police killings and systemic racism.

A panel discussion Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! Education Justice in the Now moderated by Letha Muhammad, Director of Education Justice Alliance included: Marika Pfefferkorn, Midwest Center for School Transformation, Maria Fernandez, Campaign for Police-free Schools and Advancement Project, Jitu Brown, Journey for Justice Alliance, Zakiyah Ansari, Alliance for Quality Education and Chianne “Cloudy” Carrier, Sacramento Areas Youth Speaks. The panel explored how COVID-19 has affected panelists personally and in their community and work, lessons learned, and future directions for the movement.

Immediately following the panel, Jonathan Stith, National Director of the Alliance for Educational Justice, led members through small group circles to dive deeper into dialogue with one another.

Across the panel and small groups, participants shared how the pandemic has devastated communities of color and heightened inequities in public education. Organizers themselves have felt more challenged and overwhelmed than ever trying to support their own children and families, help their communities by quickly facilitating mutual aid support, engage with school districts around plans for the fall, and mobilize quickly to take advantage of new openings in challenging anti-Black racism and racial inequities. Some participants shared new and emerging strategies, like the Journey for Justice Alliance’s Equity or Else principles for safe and equitable return to schools and campaigns that have won police-free schools. The heightened need for solidarity across issue-based movements came out strongly as a result of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism.

The convening proved to be a celebration of togetherness and resiliency in the education justice movement and included artistic performances by Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS), a social justice movement that transforms education. Young artists included Keon Johnson, Adiyah Obolu, Chianne “Cloudy” Carrier, and Andre Tillman.

The online gathering also provided a much needed space to acknowledge the collective grief in our groups and honor the legacies of Allison Brown and Johnnie Lattner whose recent passings have rocked and devastated the education justice community.

The PTT Steering Committee acknowledges that we cannot return to the way things were and that this is a moment to reimagine just, equitable and liberatory public education. The convening was the first in a series of online gatherings PTT intends to hold: designed to be healing and support spaces where organizers can bring their whole selves in this moment, that curate substantive dialogue between groups, and create ideas and strategies for our vision and plan as we go forward.

To learn more about The People’s Think Tank check out our website at https://www.peoplesthinktank.us. To partner with us to support our movement, please contact Mark Warren at [email protected].

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