The National Rifle Association recently ran an ad that caught my attention. In the ad, a conservative commentator I’ve never heard of started listing things that some group of people she referred to as “they” are doing to “assassinate real news.” In the ad the NRA seems to argue that “they” are doing lots of things like using movie stars, singers, and comedy shows to repeat “their narrative.” “They” are also marching and protesting. Of course she also observes that “they” are smashing windows, burning cars, and shutting down interstates and airports. What really caught my eye though was an observation that “they” use “their” schools to teach children that the president is another Hitler.
I am “they.” I haven’t broken any windows, burned any cars, taught students that anyone was like Hitler, and the closest I’ve come to shutting down an airport is the time I forgot to take some quarters out of my pocket going through security. But make no doubt about it, I am “they.” Over the course of the last three years I have dedicated quite a bit of time blogging, writing articles, as well as writing and calling legislators and other leaders to advocate for public education. It became clear to me this week that I haven’t changed the mind of one of these public leaders.
I grew up believing that politics was about the healthy exchange of ideas. I read about the debates in the Continental Congress where smart people argued the merits of how much government was too much or too little. I read history books about how Abraham Lincoln brought together those with diverse opinions in order to hear more than one viewpoint in his cabinet. My political baptism was in an era when Ronald Regan and Tip O’Neill would meet after hours over an adult beverage and find ways to come together. It is obvious that we are in a new era of American politics.
I am “they.” The angry spokesperson in the NRA video will never see me as anyone other than “they.” I am not going to change her mind. I am not going to convince Betsy DeVos that one of the roles of public schools is to protect the civil rights of our students. There isn’t any amount of evidence that will convince Iowa’s Republican legislators to abandon the “Kansas Playbook” of tax cuts for big business and the wealthy, which are leading to cuts in critical public services. True stories, such as this one from my college friend Jodi, will not convince my senators to vote against massive cuts to Medicaid. We are living in a political environment where we won’t listen to “them.”
It would be easy to give up. It would be easy to accept the fact that those with money are going to win the day. Yet, we can’t stop fighting. The narrator of the NRA ad accused “they” of using “their” forces to repeat “their” narrative “over and over again.” She’s right, WE are going to use words, voices, and ideas over and over again to tell our narrative. While I recognize that President Trump, Secretary DeVos, Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, Governor Reynolds, or the Republican legislators in my state aren’t interested in the thoughts of those who disagree with them, that doesn’t mean that we stop talking. The NRA would have you equate my advocacy for public education with violent extremism in order to not have to hear my voice; it won’t work. No matter how hard our leaders want to hide behind close doors, stop holding public town halls, stop holding press briefings in front of cameras, and suppress the voices of a free media or their opponents, it will only work if we allow it.
We can’t give into an “us vs. them” mentality. Let others play that game; we aren’t going to change the minds of those who refuse to listen. Regardless, it is important that we are relentless in telling our narrative. As a teacher, I am going to continue to share the narrative that our schools are filled with teachers who want nothing more than to ignite passion in young people. I am going to continue to shout from the mountaintop that schools must stand up for our most disadvantaged students.
No amount of bullying will stop me from fighting for more arts programs, more industrial technology programs, more programs for our physically and mentally challenged students, more programs for our young people who come to us speaking different languages, and more opportunities for EVERY student. That is what is going to make America great again. There are minds I won’t change, and I have been on the losing end of many elections, but I refuse to be on the wrong side of doing right by those who need us the most. The NRA ad closes by saying, “the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” It’s a chilling comment. I offer another possibility to save our country and our freedom; we will change our country through honest conversation, a willingness to respectfully disagree, and through open hearts.