I won’t be part of a Democratic Party that bashes school choice

Catherine Robinson (second from left): “The next time my colleagues on the left yell and scream about Republicans turning on their values to support President Trump, I would like them to look in the mirror. You, too, are turning on your values to support a union and a system that limits opportunities for the people you claim to care about the most.”

I’ve been a militant advocate, organizer and member of the Democratic Party for 30 years. A few months ago, I quit identifying as a Democrat.

It had been building within me for a while. I could no longer stomach the Democratic Party’s support for an education system that hurts so many poor and working-class families.

Democratic Party politicians have repeated their lies about educational options so long, they’ve begun to believe those lies. And they do this while so many of them can afford to move into desirable neighborhoods with good schools, or send their children to private schools.

I wonder how they sleep at night.

As far back as I can remember, I’d been raised to firmly identify and side with the poor and working class. My relatives were teamsters, union members and union organizers, Irish immigrants who fought for everything they got.

In college, I officially began my activism career by joining Students Against Apartheid. That led to gigs with Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Jerry Brown for President, Tampa AIDS Network, Florida Public Interest Research Group, and Sierra Club.

I worked as a counselor where I helped women choosing to end their pregnancies, sometimes holding their hands as they endured the most difficult moment of their lives. I marched on Washington and appeared on local talk shows, insisting that women had a right to control their reproductive lives.

I was almost arrested three times: protesting nuclear power, demanding an end to the war in Kuwait and demonstrating against animal cruelty.

For my 21st birthday, more than anything, I wanted an FBI file.

After college, I taught at alternative high schools and helped mostly young men, who had been expelled or arrested, turn their lives around. I also taught in district schools for students with special needs. All the while, I organized and advocated to repeal the Second Amendment, ensure marriage equality for all, protest armed conflict, provide for universal health care, expand voting rights, oppose private prisons and put out of business all circuses, rodeos and Sea World.

Six years ago, I met Michelle Rhee. I took a job with her national non-profit, organizing parents in several states to lobby for laws that put children’s needs ahead of adults’. Much to my surprise, Democratic friends and colleagues didn’t support this career move.

They cornered me at parties, telling me I’d no longer be welcome in their circles if I worked to undermine the public education system.

“Since when do we care about a system over people, especially children?” I asked.

But when I stopped and thought about it, the answer was, “It’s always been about the system.” And that realization broke my heart.

School districts and teachers’ unions benefit from our current system. They are on the receiving end of money and power. They fight against change to keep that money and power.

Too many Democrats, particularly white Democrats, believe educational funding belongs to unions and districts. They fight against a parent’s right to choose the best school for their kids – because those schools don’t have unionized teachers.

I remember fighting right-wingers who were attacking the Affordable Health Care Act because it was supported by the left. What are Democrats doing now? Attacking educational options for under-served populations because it’s supported by the right.

In Florida, Democrats even oppose scholarships that help bullied children – pretending these scholarships drain money from a system that keeps those same kids imprisoned in their zip codes. How dare they?

They do this because the teachers union provides campaign contributions for Democrats who tow the party line. This is no different from Republicans taking money from the NRA and then fighting to keep guns on the streets. If you don’t think so, go visit a violent inner-city neighborhood with parents who can’t afford to move and put their kids in a safer school.

Then go peddle your partisan nonsense elsewhere.

I’ve been organizing parents for educational choice for over six years now. It’s been the most rewarding time of my professional life. We are pioneering, redefining public education to finally, once and for all, serve everyone equally – the way it was intended.

This movement has helped me look closer at my side of the aisle. I’m so very disappointed in a party that refuses to fight for the people who need it most – children struggling to break free from generational poverty. Education is the most reliable way to do that. Democrats are blocking the schoolhouse door.

As I reached my 30-year anniversary as an activist, I celebrated by leaving the Democratic Party and officially choosing “no party affiliation.” Friends, again, were horrified. They said now, more than ever, the left needs to come together. Perhaps. But not under today’s Democratic Party.

The next time my colleagues on the left yell and scream about Republicans turning on their values to support President Trump, I would like them to look in the mirror. You, too, are turning on your values to support a union and a system that limits opportunities for the people you claim to care about the most.

As a young activist, I vowed to stand with the poor and working class. I will continue that fight.

Just not as a Democrat.

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14 comments

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Sue August 2, 2018 - 10:08 am

I’m a public school teacher who believes strongly in school choice. Your description of your journey is fascinating! You describe your Democrat friends as towing the party line in a less than damning way. However, your portrayal of Republicans is disappointing in its stereotypical caricatures. I challenge you to talk with sensible, moderate Conservatives and sensible, moderate Liberals to discover how the vast majority of Americans think and what their values actually are.

As a sensible, moderate Conservative, I recognize that the VAST majority of incidents of gun violence are done by people who have illegally obtained a gun. My counselor, a sensible moderate Liberal also understands this. We both agree that preventing school shootings *long term* is providing access to quality mental health services. We also believe that the push to deinstitutionalization of seriously mentally ill is a huge problem in providing the kinds of services needed for people who have reached the mental state of acting on thoughts of mass shootings.

Again, speak to sensible Moderates. You might discover that your stereotypes of Republicans shift as much as your ideas about the Democratic Party did.

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Dan Rodriguez August 3, 2018 - 1:11 am

I appreciate your passion but leaving a party value for a single issue that is very controversial is like cutting down a tree because it bloomed one fruit.
There are millions of tax payers like myself who what the best education for all our students. Funding public schools is crucial. Choice is never a problem. If you wish to attend a private school then pay for it. Why should public taxes go to private schools. That’s is why they are “private schools”. York are doing a diservice to our public school system. Your energy should be directed on tuition free education so that the poorest might be able to move ahead. Blaming Unions who are fighting for teachers is unwarranted. Write about our underpaid teacher in Charlotte County and our governor underfunding our schools.

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Anonymous August 23, 2018 - 10:56 am

I’m with you 100%

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Anonymous August 23, 2018 - 11:00 am

Dan Rodriguez I’m with you 100%

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Anonymous August 3, 2018 - 1:43 pm

Is this a non-profit or a political blog?

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Anonymous August 7, 2018 - 10:04 am

I believe you’re capable of so much better than this vanity piece, Catherine.

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Anonymous August 8, 2018 - 2:36 pm

As a retired public school teacher (part of my career in Pinellas County.), I have to say I am completely baffled by your accusations of unions and school systems… The only money that these two organizations have fought for has been for funding better Public Schools… God knows it wasn’t for big cushy teacher salaries… And yes unions do lobby, but in our legislative system they would have to in order to be heard because that’s the corrupt system that we now have…if they want to be heard at all.

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Doug Tuthill August 8, 2018 - 3:31 pm

Catherine, I admire your courage in writing this piece. We live in a time of intense tribalism and group think. Your willingness to speak your truth to your tribe is rare and admirable. I wish more Democrats were willing to follow your example, and I wish more Republicans were willing to challenge some of the group think that is currently dominating their tribe.
Well done.

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Daniel Smith August 8, 2018 - 8:45 pm

In the final analysis, treating everyone equally is what the current system does. Despite large numbers of special needs students, English language learners, and general education students in the same classrooms, there is no efficient and effective way of diversifying instruction to the extent necessary to meet all their needs.

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Darrell August 16, 2018 - 3:49 pm

This is complete NONSENSE!!

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Ashley Conner August 16, 2018 - 6:56 pm

I’m glad that you are standing up for what you believe in no matter what anyone says. You rise by lifting others up. I feel that the Democrats wants you to rely on too much of their system. You should have the choice on the system that you want being a free American. I 100% agree with you. I would also definitely leave a party to support an important issue. We need a new party of a group of people that actually care about the well-being of all Americans. When that happens will all come together.

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Cara August 17, 2018 - 6:53 am

Horrible article. I’ll keep identifying with the party that doesn’t support mocking the disabled, paying off porn stars, taking children from their parents, racism, and collusion with foreign enemies. You think you’re being an activist, when in reality you’re just being a fool.

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Gardiner Parent August 17, 2018 - 4:23 pm

Non-profit organizations, as a condition of their tax-exempt status, are not supposed to engage in political campaign activity. This article slamming an entire political party, published as voters are in the act of early voting in this state, would seem to me to be blatant political campaigning.

I don’t appreciate you spending my tax dollars on this illegal activity.

Also, if you think that Democratic families who receive SUFS scholarships will suddenly abandon their core values to switch parties after reading this horrifying article, then you really have no understanding of this country’s political and moral situation.

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Anonymous August 23, 2018 - 12:25 pm

Well, I guess we should support Republicans who support the NRA and the freedom to carry assault weapons. Let me think, Republicans who enable armed mass murderers terrorizing our children at schools, theatrers, concerts and parks or some Democrats who resist school choice?

Readers, beware of “passionate activists” some, not all, are motivated by personal gain or gifts. Use your common sense.

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