Say Their Names

Say Their Names

The following message was sent to MTA members today by President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page:

George Floyd. Say his name.

Breonna Taylor. Say her name.

Tony McDade. Say his name.

Those are the names of black lives murdered at the hands of the police in just the last few weeks. The list of state violence perpetrated against black and brown lives is long, centuries long. There are “many thousand gone,” in the words of a 19th-century African American folk song.

To our black educators, students, families and communities: Your pain, exhaustion, fear, rage and outrage are real. You have been brutalized for generations. Your cries, your grief, and your movements to demand justice and liberation have been met with brute force at every turn. The MTA stands with you — in love and solidarity — to fight for justice and liberation.

Writing this message is difficult — because of the horror of the murder of yet another black man in America, but also because it feels increasingly impossible to say anything that does not stop with rage, or engage in empty rhetoric, or traffic in false hope. We can be nearly certain that this is not the last time we will say the name of another black person who died at the hands of the police.

As the scholar and activist Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor recently wrote, the fact of George Floyd’s death “amid a pandemic that has taken the life of one out of every 2,000 African Americans is a chilling affirmation that black lives still do not matter in the United States.”

And while it is difficult to write this message, it is also necessary.

It is necessary for us to understand that Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee is that of the larger economic system of capitalism that was built with white supremacy and racism at its core. It is a system that devalues and dehumanizes black and brown lives.

"And our president calls for doubling down on militarism as his solution. We say NO."

The system allows for police to brutalize and kill black and brown bodies with impunity.

The system disinvests in public schools, leaving students of color to languish in rodent- and mold-infested buildings; militarizing schools with security systems and police instead of fortifying them with student support services and Education Support Professionals; subjecting students to rigid accountability systems; operating on a curriculum of colonization; measuring “performance” by standardized tests founded in the eugenics movement; constructing a pipeline to prison instead of to college or to dignified employment; and marking districts as failed and turning them over to privatization.

The system divests from public colleges and universities, leaving all students — especially black and brown students — carrying crushing debt, cutting essential programs, and exploiting the labor of professors through adjunctification. The system divests from public health, human services, housing and jobs, leaving black and brown communities living with food and housing insecurity, breathing polluted air, drinking poisoned water and facing countless conditions that leave their residents in poor health and disproportionately at risk of illness and disease.

The system invests in prisons and militarism, separating families through incarceration and deportation, imprisoning people of color at disproportionate rates, caging immigrant children, and detaining immigrant parents.

And our president calls for doubling down on militarism as his solution. We say NO.

To our white members: We call on you to look again inward at your own privilege and outward to the ways that you can — you must — be a part of the struggle to upend the oppression built into our society’s institutions. Deciding to sit out this moral responsibility as a union member is not an option. As Ibram X. Kendi has written, “There is no sideline to this struggle.”

You have the power to break down the systems of oppression, when you are ready to become allies, accomplices and co-conspirators for justice and liberation. You are not in it alone. You have each other and you have the MTA. We are committed to helping you learn and grow into these roles.

The murder of George Floyd occurred even as many of us were engaged in a profound act of collective solidarity — staying apart in order to protect our friends, families and neighbors. There is a glimmer there.

We can build on this collectivity to reimagine what our schools look like when we return so that we finally, finally upend the structural racism that creates racial inequities between one district and another, between one student and another. We can rid ourselves of the tests that have served to denigrate people of color and their schools and narrow the citizens we hope to raise. We can upend a Commonwealth that spends more on its prisons than it does on its 29 public colleges and universities.

Stone memorials that sit in corners of parks are where memory goes to die.

The only true memorial to George Floyd and the “many thousand gone” that we, union members and educators, can build is to transform public education, the Commonwealth and the country to be places where black and brown lives matter.

In love and solidarity,

Merrie and Max