Has Wisconsin finally come to Arizona?
In an extraordinary uprising at the Tucson Unified School District board meeting last night, Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies (MAS) students chained themselves to the board members chairs and derailed the introduction of a controversial resolution that would have terminated their acclaimed program's core curriculum accreditation.
"Just like the people of Wisconsin took a stand and said 'enough is enough', the youth of Tucson are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with these attacks on their education and on their future," said Sal Baldenegro, Jr., a TUSD Ethnic Studies alum and member of the Southern Arizona Unity Coalition. "They have been under relentless assault by Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and by the Arizona State Legislature, and they have had enough."
Popular Tucson blogger and activist David Abie Morales called it a "field trip for civics and democracy in action."
"Nobody was listening to us, especially the board," said MAS high school student and UNIDOS activist Lisette Cota. "We were fed up. It may have been drastic but the only way was to chain ourselves to the boards' chairs."
While hundreds of supporters packed the district meeting room in a celebratory fashion, nine MAS students and UNIDOS activists defied security officers and literally took over the board members' places minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin.
"I'm very moved by their passion and commitment to maintain these courses and curriculum," said MAS teacher Sally Rusk. "They're brilliant. This is not a one-time event. It looks like they're not going to stop until they have an impact on this decision."
TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone canceled the board meeting, but students have vowed to return to the district office until TUSD board president Mark Stegemen withdraws his proposed resolution, which has brought stark divisions in the community.
Over the past two years, the Ethnic Studies Program in Tucson has been subjected to a controversial and costly witch hunt by Attorney General Tom Horne.
"We'll keep coming back, with twice as many people next time, each time," added Cota. "We're not going to let this happen. We're going to make it impossible for them to vote."
Through the evening, the students and their community supporters chanted: "Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!"
Video courtesy of Javier Gonzalez
"As Arizonans, we absolutely must stand behind our youth and say 'enough is enough' with these attacks on their education. There has never been a more critical time to stand behind our children as they fight for their rights and for their futures," Baldenegro, Jr. said.
Tucson resident and education activist Mohur Sidhwa, who attended the meeting, added: "A wonderful show of civic engagement on the part of the students. It gives me hope for the next generation."
Photos courtesy of Javier Gonzalez
Morales edited this video of the evening's action.
Follow Jeff Biggers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeffrbiggers