Photo by Joseph Brusky

On March 30th the School Board of Milwaukee Public Schools unanimously voted to approve the Sanctuary District Resolution during a packed Board meeting. The resolution affirms that no immigration enforcement agencies will be allowed access to school grounds or records. Students from Youth Empowered in Struggle (YES) organized for nearly two months to ensure that it would be impossible to vote against this resolution. The success of the student organizing campaign was a major victory for Milwaukee’s immigrant community and the student activists who led the campaign.

During the Board meeting Youth Empowered in the Struggle members testified about the growing and continued culture of racism taking hold in America, their struggle as immigrants facing discrimination, and their desire to shape and change the world around them. Black students expressed their solidarity with immigrant and refugee students as their peers held fists in the air. White students also expressed their solidarity with fellow students, and called into account the white supremacist system that the U.S. is built upon.

For nearly two months Students and Education Workers held weekly meetings to build power in the schools and ensure this resolution had broad support. Committees gathered two thousand signatures using a petition, ensuring that Youth Empowered in the Struggle and the Education Workers Committee had a solid contact list of supporters to mobilize for the board meeting and to continuing building power for further campaigns. The resolution is just one part of the equation in fighting back against the immigrant hating policies of the Trump administration. Students and workers organized in their buildings to seek out supporters and build solidarity. The strength of the organization in the buildings is the real power, and when further threats present themselves, students and workers will be ready to fight back.

Students spent time training in having organizing conversations with their peers and discussed strategies for winning over education workers and students who may be on the fence. Youth Empowered in the Struggle students organized for large meetings in their buildings and presented the resolution to the student body and their teachers.

Education worker members of the Milwaukee Industrial Workers of the World helped to push this student led campaign. They assisted with training, circulating the petition, mobilizing the broader branch, designing posters, testifying at the board meeting, printing t-shirts, making fliers, and calling on members of the trade union, Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, to mobilize and organize at the union’s representative assembly, the monthly meeting of building representatives and members.

Students made this victory possible. The organized students, education workers, and parents in the buildings and the neighborhood have the power to leverage demands. There will come a time when we have to take direct action at school to defend the community and build an education that truly belongs to the people.

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