Coalition Matters [featuring Bayard Rustin]

Jose Vilson Jose

Anytime you mention Bayard Rustin’s name as a hero, you’re good in my book. The mastermind behind the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin rarely gets mentioned by the general public as a civil rights leader, and only seems to come up whenever people (again, rarely) talk about LGBT issues in activist / POC communities. The conversation only gets uglier when people dilute his image for their own political purpose, exalting him to heights I’m confident even he would dissuade.

Let me explain. As far as I can read (and I’ve read a lot), Rustin was associated with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and A. Phillip Randolph in various points of their ideological growths. For someone so determined on speaking truth to power, he sure made lots of friends across a broad spectra. That leads me to believe one very obvious yet unstated axiom: coalition matters. Having a set of people whose beliefs land anywhere from moderate to radical, then bringing them under one umbrella under a few tenets they can all believe, takes a serious effort on behalf of an actual revolutionary.

All this to say that we can learn from his example. If we want to rebuild public education in the progressive vision we believe, we have to stop bolstering differences and start spotlighting our similarities. For all the talk about who’s more revolutionary or progressive than the other based on different affiliations and their form of expression, I see a common thread amongst many of us, and that’s a deep concern about the direction of public education now, and the love we have for children. We want to improve learning / teaching conditions, reduce standardized testing, proffer more relevant and worldly curriculum, and redistribute funding for schools for more parity and equity. If we can settle on those four tenets, then we’ve set a solid foundation for truly transforming education in this country.

That’s also why I have no issue holding people on the “left” or “right” accountable: getting active around these ideas isn’t a matter of ego, but a matter of coalescence, of building. I’ve agreed with people some might consider rivals at any given moment in the education sphere, and call out those who stand against my core principles.

That’s speaking truth to power. That’s the essence of coalition. Speaking about and speaking against. Action paired with speaking out.

“Loving your enemy is manifest in putting your arms not around the man but around the social situation, to take power from those who misuse it–at which point they can become human too”

Word, Mr. Rustin. Word.

Jose, who is still figuring it all out himself …