I am happy to write to you today as we consider what will go down in history as the most important vote for education in the history of our city.
Two score years ago, a great institution, our California educational system, was a model for the nation. It was ranked among the best and shone as a great beacon of hope to millions who did not believe that public schools could provide quality education to such a diverse population as ours. It was built with the help of educators and parents, judges and advocates, and many more, and came as a joyous symbol of success 20 years after the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. It was not a perfect system, but was built with pride and supported by citizens from all walks of life.
But 40 years later, that system is listing badly. Forty years later, the education of our children is sadly crippled ... not by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination, but by the manacles of Proposition 13 and the chains welded by shortsighted tax cuts and a system of educational funding that leaves our children wanting. Forty years later, our children attend school on an island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Forty years later, our children languish in yesterday's technology and annually find themselves at risk of losing their best teachers and administrators. They find themselves seen as an expense line on state budgets, with education seen as a luxury that our lawmakers cannot afford. So we must stand up today to cry out and address this shameful condition.
In a sense we must come now to our citizens to write a check. When the architects of our republic raised the notion of public education they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all Americans, yes, the children of yesterday as well as the children of today, would be guaranteed the rights to a quality education as a keystone of our democracy, and a foundation from which they could pursue their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that California has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her children of today are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the children a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt, that the bank of education is bankrupt; that the support of education by California's citizens is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we must come to write this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the bare bones of education for today's children, and the security of the commitment of our island's citizens.
We also have come to this vote to remind Alamedans of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of wait and see, or to take the tranquilizing drug of "Plan B."
Now is the time to make real the promises to our children and our belief in public education. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of educational poverty to the sunlit path of learning and understanding. Now is the time to lift our island from the quicksands of anti-taxation propaganda to the solid rock of community and collective responsibility. Now is the time to make quality education a reality for all of Alameda's children.
It would be fatal for the voters to overlook the urgency of the moment. This chilly winter of the children's legitimate needs of financial support for our school district will not pass until there is an invigorating spring of community support and the passage of Measure A.
This year 2011 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the educational system will be sound when the state's economy improves will have a rude awakening if the state returns to business as usual. There will be neither sufficiency nor equality of education and opportunity for California's students until the fundamental flaws in the system of funding are corrected.
The whirlwinds of budget cuts and unequal community support will continue to shake the foundations of schools' efforts to provide quality education for all of our students until the bright day of a just system for funding education in California emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of better educational funding. In the process of gaining a temporary respite from deep cuts to education in Alameda, let us not forget to address the greater need that remains if we are to provide quality education, both in Alameda and across California.
We must conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow ourselves to be complacent, or to expect others to stand up for our children if we do not ourselves stand up for them. We must not allow our efforts to fall short of lasting gains for public education in California. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting opposition to taxes with opposition to ignorance.
The marvelous new energy which has engulfed the Alameda community must not lead us to forget the importance of each doing our part to support Measure A and public education in Alameda. We must remember always that the destiny of today's children is tied up with our destiny. We must remember that their education and their success is inextricably bound to our efforts and our success. They cannot walk alone.
As we walk door-to-door in Alameda, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of public education, "When will you be satisfied?"
We can never be satisfied as long as our children have inadequate materials and insufficient support for their learning. We can never be satisfied, as long as our children, paint brushes in hand, attend schools that threaten to end art programs. We cannot be satisfied as long as the children's basic educational opportunity is from a poorly-funded elementary school, to a poorly-funded secondary school, to a poorly-funded college or university. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity through missed educational opportunities and lack of vision and support for the fundamental human importance of quality education. We cannot be satisfied as long as a child in Alameda cannot play baseball or football or basketball, or as long as a child in Alameda does not get to experience art and culture and opportunity that might lead him or her to discover the true gifts that lead to a life of fulfillment.
No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until sufficient funding flows down like a natural river and not one that is dammed and diverted out of shortsightedness, indifference and fear.
I am not unmindful that some of you are reading this in the midst of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from layoffs and unemployment lines. Some of you have come through circumstances where your faith in the wisdom and decisions of our state's lawmakers has been deeply shaken. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to your children, go back to your parents, go back to your neighborhoods, go back to your civic associations, go back to your business associations, go back to the shops and markets of our east and west ends, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this island nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "The City of Alameda, CA, a sophisticated Bay Area island community with a small town vibe known for tree-lined streets and Victorian charm, low crime, a clean/green focus, natural beauty, abundant recreational opportunities, an excellent quality of life and high standard of living."
I have a dream that one day on the shores of San Francisco Bay the sons and daughters of former Alameda students and the sons and daughters of today's Alameda students will be able to sit down together at the table of thanksgiving.
I have a dream that one day even the West End schools, in a neighborhood of hardworking and underpaid parents, sweltering with the heat of oppression and economic uncertainty, will be transformed into an oasis of educational opportunity and unbiased success.
I have a dream that my two little children will one day live in a state where their opportunity for a quality education will not depend on the neighborhood they live in, or on a small group of voters passing a parcel tax to keep cuts to a survivable level but on their ability to get up in the morning, eat a good breakfast, and get to school on time.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alameda, with its Victorian houses, with its decisions taken about how to best use Alameda Point to serve the entire community; one day right here in Alameda, little boys and girls will be able to join hands and walk to school knowing that the doors will not be shuttered, and their teachers will not be laid off.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of equality and just educational funding shall be revealed, and all of Alameda shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to walk my precinct with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our island nation into a beautiful symphony of educational opportunity. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to learn together, to stand up for equality together, knowing that we will have quality schools for another generation.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
For while education in Alameda is not parallel to the struggle for equality and justice in the civil rights movement of the 1950s, '60s, 70s and beyond, it is clearly true that the chains of ignorance are as debilitating as are the chains of oppression and injustice.
And if Alameda's children are to receive a great education we must not stand for ignorance. So let books be read and discussed in the well-worn halls of Alameda High School. Let songs be sung in the multipurpose rooms and music rooms of elementary and secondary schools across the island. Let courses be offered at the Alameda Adult School, and let classes be small enough that our teachers can teach our children, and not simply supervise warehouses of educational opportunities left behind.
Let Realtors and business owners, educators and entrepreneurs sing the praises of the Alameda public schools!
Let education be what draws new blood and new business and new families to our garden isle.
But not only that; let education rise and be celebrated from the suburbs of San Diego to the shores of Crescent City and Lake Shasta!
Let education be celebrated among the migrant workers of the Central Valley and the mansions of Piedmont!
Let education be supported from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. From every school district and charter school, let education thrive.
And when this happens, when we allow our children to learn and to thrive, when we let them explore not just Einstein and Shakespeare, math theorems and language arts, but all subjects, electives, lifelong learning opportunities, and field trips without worry of class sizes or school closures, we will be able to speed up that day when all of our children, black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, immigrant and native, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Mike Levy is a resident of Alameda.