We lost a champion for public education recently.
We lost a leader and a friend.
When I first met Phyllis Bush, it was actually through Facebook. I was new to the fight for public schools and the "reforms" going on in Indiana. Tony Bennett was our state superintendent then and the golden boy for ALEC and privatization. Mitch Daniels was his right-hand man in those efforts. I had recently become the chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and she was one of the cofounders of a public education advocacy group in Fort Wayne: the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education.
Phyllis and I shared information and ideas as we were quickly drawn into the efforts to boot out Supt. Tony Bennett and elect Glenda Ritz--hoping to change direction for public education. While we and other public ed advocates across the state (teachers, parents, community members) were successful in getting Glenda elected in 2012, change did not happen the way we hoped. We are in the fight for public education to this day.
Over the years, people from our groups--along with a host of others--testified at state board meetings, education committee hearings, and rallies at the statehouse. We wrote letters, held forums and bounced ideas off of one another. Through Phyllis' organizing of midwest meetings and, later, her work on the board of Diane Ravitch's Network for Public Education (a national group), I have met the most amazing, most inspiring, public education advocates and people.
From the beginning, Phyllis and I would vent about the struggles and the issue of some people who thought the fight for public education might actually be won online and not getting out there and doing something in real life! Phyllis had little patience for talking the talk without walking the walk. She was about action and made no bones about it.
We had to vent, had to share frustrations—ours is a fight of great importance, but against the odds. We face a state legislature that holds the purse strings and controls policy but is unmovable through gerrymandering. We are trying to mobilize a citizenry that, regardless of political party, doesn't seem to connect the dots between the importance of public education, what goes on in the classroom, and the actions at the statehouse. Our camaraderie was really a support group for many of us.
Of course, we didn't just complain on Facebook or on the phone with one another. We worked on action steps. Phyllis was all about action. It's hard for me to imagine that she's not going to reach out to me ever again with, "I have another semi-brilliant idea." She inspired me, whenever I felt defeated, to get back up again and go forward.
What fuels me and what I believe fueled Phyllis, is outrage. I can't count how many times I've heard her refer to it as being in a state of "pissment."
I have a t-shirt Phyllis bought for me that says, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." That's what this fight is all about: waking people up to the issues, helping them pay close attention and then, most importantly, empowering them to act.
Empowerment is what I got from Phyllis. It wasn't simply that she was a leader. She made me and so many other people believe in our own leadership abilities. She helped us be leaders in our own right.
I am heartsick to not have Phyllis by my side in this continued fight for public education and our democracy. I will miss her encouragement and support terribly. But I know that we must not throw in the towel. When you think about Phyllis, when you think about the people who have gone before us, who have worked for integration, worked for a vibrant system of education and for the fulfillment of the promise of public education until their last breath, you know that we must continue. Join the Network for Public Education, join your local public education advocacy group, start one of your own, but get out there and fight--with love and "pissment" propelling you forward.