PSAT for Tuesday, January 18: “Putting pressure where it really hurts”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The day before he was killed, in his famous “Mountaintop Speech,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a boycott of Coca Cola and Wonder Bread. Here’s what he said:

“We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, ‘God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.’ ”

They’re still not treating the children right. This time it’s the foundations built on profits from Microsoft and WalMart, among others. It’s time to put Dr. King’s agenda in motion.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been urging people to switch from Microsoft products to open source Linux, Ubuntu, and Red Hat.

I did it, even though I don’t know RAM from ROM. You can, too.

We’ve also gone after local companies. Back in 2009, PURE publicized this list of members of the Renaissance Fund, the major funders of Mayor Daley’s school closure and privatization plan. The group includes the president of McDonald’s, and our GEM coalition carried out a few actions on local McDonald’s stores which gained the attention of the corporate office.

PURE pickets Walgreen's in 1993

Even farther back, in 1993, PURE had significant success with a series of demonstrations against Walgreen’s to protest its opposition to increased school funding (yes, it goes that far back….) which we blamed for schools not opening on time that fall. We were told that Mr. Walgreen himself called then-Governor Jim Edgar, demanding that something be done. A federal judge signed an order to open schools despite state law requiring a balanced budget.

Time to go national

In her brilliant article, “Got Dough,” Joanne Barkan writes that, although ed reform foundations bankroll less than 1% of the nation’s overall spending for public schools, they have been able to “define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state and national levels.”

Perhaps we can take what might amount to an equally paltry amount compared with overall corporate  grosses and use it to “put pressure where it really hurts,” as Dr. King said – using a citizen boycott to erode the precious corporate image of Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and other businesses whose earnings are being used to attack our public schools, vilify teachers, and threaten our children’s right to a quality education.

And what if we harnessed the boycott power of parents, teachers and students, the NEA, the IFT, Operation PUSH, and others? For Public Schools Action Tuesday today, just spread the word and let’s see what we can accomplish together.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.