Wow. What a day. Friday the temperature had hit about 104, but Saturday was breezy and cooler, topping out in the mid-90s. We had a couple of tents behind the stage for all the speakers and performers, and folks started to arrive. We had a little time to fill between the first band and the rally kickoff, so I arranged for some teachers to read some of the messages we had gathered from Teachers' Letters to Obama, and our more recent petition to the President. We also shared the wonderful videos made for Save Our Schools by Tom and Amy Valens.
Then the rally kicked off, with some recognition of the outstanding work done by our state-level information coordinators and volunteers. The contingent from Wisconsin entered the park en masse, with their red and blue signs. I started to work to help make sure the next speakers were ready when it was their turn, assisting a fantastic young man by the name of Troy Grant. There was a buzz by the back of the staging area as Matt Damon arrived, and was surrounded by fans and photographers. He stood for 45 minutes in the hot sun out there speaking to reporters and fans. Then he came into the hospitality tent, and continued to field questions for the next hour plus. When I greeted me, and told me he has read my blog, I was happy - and when I saw his thoughtful comments, and listened his powerful speech, I know he has a far deeper understanding of education issues than any other celebrity I know of. When Lisa Goldman took a photograph of me with Matt and his wonderful mother, Nancy Carlsson Paige, Matt said, "Does that mean I get into your blog?" So this is for you, Matt!
And here is Matt Damon's excellent speech on video, thanks to Dan Brown over at Teacher Leaders Network.
I got to spend a bit of time with some of my other heroes, Deborah Meier, Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Linda Darling-Hammond and my old friend from college, Pedro Noguera. The funniest moment of the day came when a report grabbed my elbow and asked me "Are you Jonathan Kozol?" I wish I had a photo of Dr. Kozol and myself standing together to illustrate the absurdity of that question.
The biggest thrill was seeing folks arrive from all over the country. I met activists Marian Wagner and Noam Gundle from the state of Washington, Phoebe Ferguson and Karran Harper Royal from New Orleans, Adam Heenan, Walter Goodwin, Dr. T. Lee, Susan Ohanian, with her yellow t-shirt reading "Arne Duncan, In Need of Improvement!" and so many more I could fill this page. Names I have only seen before on Facebook, or on Twitter, or as participants in webinars, or at other blogs, introduced themselves and shared excited impressions of the day.
Here are some videos that have started coming in:
Jonathan Kozol's speech:
From Oklahoma City:
And proud Texan JOHN KUHN!
Of course the speeches ran long, and we had too many of them, though it is hard to know what could have been cut. I heard bits and pieces of them, and am looking forward to the videos - because I was so busy I missed most of what was said. The march took off a little before three, maybe half an hour late. Spirits were high - and taking a look at some of the coverage this morning, I think that is the biggest takeway message. When people are beat up and vilified, it tough not to get demoralized, even when you know you are being wronged. But when you begin to stand up, and speak up for yourself, all of a sudden you find people are there with you.
Valerie Strauss carried Matt Damon's speech today. He closed by saying:
This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can't imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I'm not alone. There are millions of people just like me.
So the next time you're feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called "overpaid;" the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that's been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. ... Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.
Thank you, Matt. Thank you Diane, Deborah, Jonathan, Jesse Turner, Pedro, and about five thousand more, who stood together with us yesterday and changed the future for our schools.
What do you think? Will you come the next time we do this?
Photo credit: Lisa Goldman, used by permission.
[Editorial note: Education Week Teacher is not affiliated with the Save Our Schools event; the views expressed in this opinion blog do not reflect the endorsement of Education Week or Editorial Projects in Education, which take no editorial positions]