Starving for Education: Philly Hunger Strike Stretches Into 2nd Week
As city policies decimate public schools, community members fight back
The Philadelphia parent and school worker hunger strike is well into its second week as the community rallies behind the growing numbers refusing food to protest the city's controversial gutting of public education.
"I am out here for the kids," declared hunger striker Nicole Hunt, former Philadelphia public school aid. "Officials who were elected should care about the kids too, not take money out of schools and put it into jails."
The protesters are going hungry on the downtown Philadelphia doorstep of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to demand a reversal of the early June mass layoff of nearly 4,000 public school workers.
Among those sacked were 1,200 school aid workers, whose duties included protecting the safety of students.
The parents and workers—joined by labor union Unite Here—are demanding a reinstatement of these aid workers, insisting that it is grossly irresponsible to erode school safety at this scale, especially at the Philadelphia's schools labeled 'dangerous' by the state education board.
"I am fasting for the safety of kids," said Hunt. "We are the people who keep kids safe."
The first crew of four strikers—public school parents and former aids—launched June 17th, going hungry for eight days before receiving reinforcements. A new group of five started their fast Sunday, and they are joined each day by rallies of community supporters, some of whom go on hunger strike for shorter, day-long durations.
"Community support has been fantastic," said a supporter from Unite Here. "We have people leaving notes, giving us 'thumbs up,' and honking horns. Our public response is almost entirely positive."
The hunger strikers and their backers are up against city and state politicians who are moving fast on plans to shutdown a stunning 23 public schools, 10 percent of public education, citing an alleged budgetary squeeze.
Yet, the city has somehow found the money for $400 million for build a new jail and hand out hundreds of millions in corporate tax breaks.
As Common Dreams previously reported, the slash to schools disproportionately hits students of color and poor and working class communities.
Critics charge that the cuts are part of a nation-wide attack on public schools and teachers, rooted in a privatization scheme to divert public funds to charter schools, which are often run for-profit.
Chicago workers, parents, and students are fighting similar slashes to their public school system, with tens of schools permanently shutting their doors in late June.
Hunger strikers say they plan to continue their fast until they force the city to meet their student safety demands.
"I will be out here as long as it takes and as long as my body will let me," says Hunt.