On December 18, I traveled to Philadelphia to take part in my 4th Die-In. I was pleased to see that the Philadelphia Student Union adopted the die-in tactic and applied it in support of funding Philadelphia public schools. My activism first began in the summer of 2013, when I took part in a 10-day march across the state to urge funding for schools, not prisons. This was when 23 schools in the Philadelphia area closed down due to budget cuts, while the state spent millions of dollars to construct two new state prisons. In June 2013, only a week after the march, I joined the Philadelphia Student Union in protesting the state’s budget cuts outside Gov. Corbett’s office.
Today, Philadelphia education cuts continue to destroy the city’s education system and the lives in it. Teachers salaries are essentially frozen, music and art programs have been slashed to the bone, and faculty members fear even more lay-offs and budget cuts. Such conditions can only lead to a school-to-prison pipeline; and since most of these students are black or other minorities, race certainly plays a significant part. The Philadelphia Student Union wrote on the event page: “We define violence as power that hurts one’s chances of survival. We see this type of violence interpersonally, in thousands of instances of police brutality, and institutionally, in a school district that systematically denies young people of color the resources that we need to succeed. A school district whose policies led to the deaths of two children as a result of having no nurse in their school.”
One of the deaths mentioned was of Laporshia Massey, a 6th grader who died of an asthma attack at a city school where no nurse was on duty. In honor of her, over 200 of us performed a die-in for six minutes on the steps of the School Reform Commission (SRC) district headquarters building. Conducted shortly after 4:30 P.M., the die-in occurred before a planned SRC meeting that night.
Most of the 200 demonstrators were high school students, and I found it to be very encouraging working with younger people who are not willing to be complacent with the status quo. There were also high school faculty members at the rally who felt it was their duty to stand with the young people in these rough times. Also supporting the students was my old friend Glenn Davis of the Green Party of PA. Glenn is a uniquely compassionate activist who I run into quite often at demonstrations, having first met him during the 10-day march over a year ago.
Prior to the die-in, speeches were made by half-a-dozen students on the SRC steps. As one of the speakers stepped off the stage, the distant sound of chanting echoed off the buildings. I looked over and saw several dozen students marching down the street to join the rest of us. Those who arrived were members of Asian Americans United. Similar to what has been happening nationally, Asian students joined with black and white students in protesting the state’s violent assault upon the city’s education system.
Only black persons performed die-ins that night, which was slightly anti-climatic because there seemed to have been more whites and Asians than blacks, leading to only a small percentage of the crowd to participate in the die-in. Nevertheless, all non-black demonstrators performed sit-downs in support of Black Lives Matter, which was my second time doing so (the first was at 30th Street Station on Dec. 2).
Ruby Anderson, a senior at Science Leadership Academy and a Student Union member, best summed up the purpose of the die-in that night when he stated: “The School District is taking away resources from our schools, such as nurses and counselors, and we see this as state violence.” He continued: “Cuts to education spending in Pennsylvania affect black students the most, as do decisions from the School District, such as cuts to staff and school closures, so we are dying-in to say that black lives matter.” (Kristen A. Graham, philly.com, 12-18-14)