Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz: Elections Have Consequences

October 30th, 2018 | Blogs

In its annual Global Voices event in October, World Education presented its 2018 award to Massachusetts Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz.  She is the first Latina elected to the Massachusetts Senate, serving there since 2009.  World Education recognized her for being a tireless, long-time champion of education for children and adults.  Social justice is the consistent thread in the legislation that Senator Chang-Díaz advocates for and advances, be it in economic development and equity, immigrant rights, criminal justice reform, or women’s health.

We thank her for always standing with the vulnerable, the people whose needs, talents, and potential are so often overlooked in our society.  We share her excerpted award acceptance speech at the eve of the November 6 elections to urge everyone to heed her words.

Coming from an organization with a deep, long-standing commitment to the causes of education and equity, this award is a real honor for me. As someone coming from within the halls of government, where we are frustratingly slow to do the right thing sometimes: it’s particularly meaningful to receive it from an organization that’s getting in there, getting the real work of change-making done on the ground every day, not waiting for the conditions to be perfect or the economy to up-turn or for there to be perfect consensus or for the work to be easier.

Sonja Chang Diaz and Silja KillenbachIn more than 20 countries around the world, you’re putting a book into parents’ hands, a teacher at the head of a classroom, a child back into the protective environment of the schoolhouse. In states across our beloved country, you’re expanding opportunities for adult education — training teachers and supporting direct-service organizations.

Every session, I work to scale these same kinds of straightforward actions:

  • Working to give young people viable economic options so they don’t pick up guns instead.
  • Agitating to increase funding for Adult Basic Education, to meet the demand of parents and immigrants who desperately want to contribute to our society and to their families.
  • Fighting to close yawning opportunity gaps in our preK-12 education system.

Here we are in the election season. And the cold, hard, and also empowering truth is that elections have consequences. Those policy consequences can be destructive, to be sure. But they also have the potential to be incredibly constructive. It was here in Massachusetts, after all, that the first public school was founded in the U.S. — a move that set us on a long path toward democratizing knowledge and learning… A legacy we’re still working to deliver on today.

Politics and elections also gave us Justice Thurgood Marshall, Title IX, and equal civil rights for transgender Bay Staters. They gave us K-12 school systems that don’t ask for your immigration status when you show up to enroll. In 2011, they gave us state redistricting maps in Massachusetts that doubled the number of “majority-minority” state representative districts. And in this past term alone, elections and politics in MA produced watershed criminal justice system reforms, a $15 minimum wage, and the best-paid family leave policy in the United States.

As frustrated as we all are with what’s going on in politics right now, the government remains a powerful and necessary tool to solve the systemic obstacles faced by students of all ages. And we need to reclaim it.

As World Education’s work has demonstrated, we need to take a holistic approach to our strategy for making change. We need immediate support for vulnerable individuals and communities — right alongside the slower, long-term, but tectonic changes we can create through government.

A good justice-seeker, a good change-maker also seeks to put herself out of business. To create true, long-lasting social justice, we need the tools of government. We need power. We need to remember that politics is not a dirty word. Whether it’s municipal, state, congressional, or national politics in another country where your heart lies, we must match our immediate solutions with long-term policy and power-building. So, don’t you dare give up on politics and elections, no matter how frustrated you may feel. The consequences, and the potential, are too big.

So let’s make a promise to each other here, OK? I won’t give up if you won’t.

Are you going to show the heck up on election day?

Are you going to take a friend, a child, a parent to the polls with you to prevent family separations at national borders, and establish fair and humane policies that recognize immigrants for the assets they are?

Are you going to agitate after Election Day to ensure that every student has the education they need to become the leaders, thinkers, artists, citizens and public servants our world so desperately needs today!

I won’t give up if you won’t, friends. I’m honored to be on this team with you. Let’s go get ‘em!

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