If You Believe Anything the Daily Wire Publishes, You Deserve Nothing But Ridicule; A response to Luke Rosiak’s irresponsible “journalism”

by Dr. Tracy Castro-Gill

Part Three: Rick

This is the third installment of a 3-part series that breaks down the bullshit that Luke Rosiak tries to pass off as journalism. This third and final installment covers the most personal of attacks—attacks on my identity made by my father, Richard Castro. I have asked him several times to make a public statement, but he refuses, claiming that any statement he makes will only make things worse. So, in light of his refusal to respond, I’m doing it.

My Dad’s Claims

Claim #1: “Castro-Gill, it turned out, was a perennially unhappy toxic liar, one who misrepresented her background to the point that her own father compared her to Rachel Dolezal . . .

I mean, like I told the NYP reporter in the first part of this series, where do people think I got my name? I am 100% Xicanx, 100% mixed-race, 100% European, and I have 100% African, Jewish, and indigenous Russian ancestry somewhere down the line. I say 100% of each, because Ethnic Studies has taught me to place equal value on all my ancestry. I’m not 25%, 50%, or 1/16th anything. I am 100% me and all the parts of my ancestry make me that. Breaking down a person’s racial and ethnic heritages is a vestige of concepts like the “one drop rule” and “blood quantum.” The former refers to the enforcement of anti-Black racism through laws that labeled a person as Black, and therefor worthy of discriminatory practices, if they had just one drop of African blood. The latter is used to quantify a person’s US Native American heritage and exclude people who don’t have enough indigenous blood quantum to be considered part of a federally recognized tribe. These measurements do nothing but preserve the power of Whiteness over people deemed non-white, which is why the piece by Rosiak starts off with and focuses on what my father said.

Many people argue that blood quantum requirements are forms of genocide.

As a mixed-race person with brown skin and the last name Castro who grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by Chicanx people, I choose to identify as Xicanx. I wrote about that decision in this piece. Since I wrote that piece, I have learned more about my identity, specifically my indigenous Mexican heritage and my US indigenous heritage. More on that, later.

Claim #2: “[Rick] and his wife, Rita, had provided for Tracy a conventional, stable middle-class upbringing.”             

This quote goes on to state that my father “eventually” earned a six-figure income. Until I was in the 9th grade, we bounced back and forth between living with my maternal grandparents, HUD subsidized apartments, my paternal grandparents, and back again. Eventually, my dad was able to purchase a home in the LA exurb of Victorville. My parents were teenage parents, and while there were some degrees of stability in my upbringing, economic stability for my parents was not realized until I was an adult.

my parents, age 17, on their wedding day

In addition to living in government subsidized housing, my parents received state healthcare, government food subsidies, and frequented our church food bank. When my father and I reconnected last year, this was the sticking point for him. He said he was angry that I told the world we were poor. He admitted that he sees poverty as a character flaw instead of a systemic injustice. His defense was that our poverty was fleeting, so shouldn’t be mentioned. As I’ve said before, my dad is one of the hardest working people I know. Our poverty was the function of racial discrimination and their teen parent status. I’ve never faulted my dad for our experiences, but they WERE OUR experiences, including mine, and it shaped who I am today.

my dad and his youngest brother, John, aka Tony

It’s also important to note, again, that my father earned that six-figure income working as a state corrections officer. He and his two brothers were all employed through the California state prison system, and all of them were chosen through affirmative action programs. In fact, my youngest son wants to be a police officer. When he had trouble being accepted into various police academies, my dad would encourage him to, “Check the Mexican box.”

Claim #3: “Rick . . . is half Hispanic . . .”

So, my dad claims that he’s half white because his mom was white. Our family has always known his mother, my grandmother, was not white. It was a family secret because she was the first born to her mother and was born out of wedlock. She was later adopted by her white stepfather.  My grandmother claimed that her biological father was Choctaw but didn’t know where or how to find him. I tried looking for a long time, but this was pre internet, and I didn’t even have a name to look for. I recently found him through DNA results. It gave me a surname, and using free online tools, I was able to identify him. He was Native American, but Chickasaw, not Choctaw.

My grandmother intentionally passed as white because of her status as a “bastard” in the late 1930s and her white adoptive father. In fact, there was an entire conversation on her ability to pass as white when she died, because the deed to her burial plot was stamped “whites only.” “Good thing she passed when they purchased those plots,” was a sentiment repeated by various family members upon her death.

my grandmother, Kay, holding my dad as a baby

My dad is not half white, has always known he’s not half white, and has clung to the lie of being half white to gain closer proximity to Whiteness. My dad is a dark-skinned, obviously Mexican, obviously indigenous man.

Claim #4: “. . . Tracy’s closest connection to Spanish-speaking culture may be her similarity to Don Quixote . . .”

First, I’ve never claimed a connection to “Spanish-speaking culture.” In fact, I loathe the term “Hispanic.” It literally means a person who speaks Spanish. Um, hello… Europeans originally spoke Spanish. It’s a white-washing of Mesoamerican people. Second, my dad used to be proud of his Mexican heritage. I knew I was Mexican American because he taught me I was. It wasn’t until my dad became an ultra-conservative corrections officer that he started to work to distance himself from his brown skin and Mexicanness.

We didn’t speak Spanish because his father didn’t teach his children. At the time my dad and uncles were going to school, it was illegal to speak Spanish in California schools. My grandfather still speaks fluent Spanish, but he thought he was helping his children be better equipped to navigate a world of Whiteness by not passing that ability on to them. And though we didn’t speak Spanish, we were immersed in a world of Chicano, if not Mexican, culture. There was no way of avoiding it, especially as brown people named Castro living in Los Angeles. When my dad says we weren’t exposed to “Mexican culture,” he’s literally meaning culture from Mexico. He intentionally ignores that Chicano experiences are uniquely American.

my dad with his dad, Richard Castro, Sr., and my dad’s dog, Thor

In our conversations about why he agreed to speak with Rosiak in the first place, my dad admitted that he wanted to lash out at me. He eagerly named his anger about me telling our stories of poverty and economic struggles. I had to probe him harder about the identity piece. His limited response was that we aren’t “Mexican,” again, falsely attempting to equate our identities and experiences with people who live in Mexico. He was taught to assimilate, so he never had an interest in the Chicano movement of his time. During my dad’s formative years, people of Mexican descent living in the US reclaimed their indigenous heritage and forged a new, political identity – Chicano – that acknowledges our in-betweenness, or nepantla. Fortunately, I encountered Chicano contemporaries and learned about this from them. It felt like home for me as a mixed-race person who was eternally caught in the in-between.

Ultimately, WAESN is fine and I am fine. I decided to write this now because there has been enough distance for me to look at it more objectively. My father’s betrayal hurt for a long time, and it will probably always hurt. But this is what Whiteness does to people—to my dad and people like Rosiak. It renders them incapable of valuing their own humanity and the humanity of others. This entire story is a case study in the need for Ethnic Studies.

If You Believe Anything the Daily Wire Publishes, You Deserve Nothing But Ridicule; A response to Luke Rosiak’s irresponsible “journalism”

image of the SPS Math Ethnic Studies Framework taken from My Northwest showing the date of the draft as 08/20/2019

If You Believe Anything the Daily Wire Publishes, You Deserve Nothing But Ridicule; A response to Luke Rosiak’s irresponsible “journalism”

by Dr. Tracy Castro-Gill

Part One: Ron

It’s been about a year and a half since Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire published a hit piece on me titled, Meet the Seattle Schools Woke Indoctrination Czar Who Married a Child Molester. It is an excerpt from a book written by Luke Rosiak called Race to the Bottom: Uncovering the Secret Forces Destroying American Education. When the piece was first released, I wrote and published a short statement denouncing Rosiak, my ex-husband, Ron, and my father, Rick. I had cut all ties with my ex-husband years prior to the publishing of the article, but immediately texted my father telling him I never wanted to speak with him again.

It took a while for me to process the betrayal of my father. The lies Rosiak told didn’t bother me. I’m used to that. The betrayal of my father is what hurt the most. My father and I reconnected last fall and have had conversations about what he did. He said he wished he could take it back but refuses to make any public statements admitting his error in judgement. I think the biggest thing holding him back is his conservative identity. He can’t be seen publicly supporting his “woke” child. His commitment to Whiteness and conservative ideology – both of which require relinquishing bits of your humanity – has forced him to disavow one of his own children.

my parents and I at a sporting event

I will go deeper into how I’ve worked through the betrayal, but I want this post to serve as a point-by-point confrontation of the irresponsible “journalism” of Luke Rosiak. It’s important for me to revisit this, because people still use his piece to “prove” that I am unstable, untrustworthy, or unfit to be an educator. I hope that most sane people see it for what it is, but I know that even people who consider themselves progressive have used his work to judge me without doing their own fact checking.

To start off, I just want to put the farcical journalism of Rosiak and the Daily Wire into perspective. After the piece was published and went viral, several other news outlets attempted to get statements from me. This isn’t my first foray into viral conservative media attacks, so I knew to ignore them. I happened, however, to answer my phone absentmindedly one day, and on the other end was a reporter from the New York Post (NYP). The NYP is the preeminent tabloid of our time. People expect falsehoods from the NYP, and most media bias charts rank the NYP as a deeply conservative news outlet that frequently publishes false and misleading content. The reporter’s first question was about my father’s claims that I’m a race fake like Rachel Dolezal. My response was, “How do you think I got the name Castro if Gill is my married name?” She said, “Oh, right. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check sources.” Even the NYP ridiculed Rosiak’s story and opted not to report on it.

I’m going to break this down into the claims my ex-husband made, the claims Rosiak made, himself, and end with the claims my father made, because, interestingly, those are the claims people repeat the most when trying to discredit me and my work.

Ron’s Claims

Claim #1: “She married a convicted child molester and moved her young daughter in with him.”

Partially true. My late husband, Brian, was a convicted sex offender for sex crimes committed against a minor. Where this statement gets fuzzy is that I didn’t flippantly move my child in with him. This happened after Brian and I had been together for several years and was the result of a court order. A family court judge determined that Ron was neglecting our youngest child while he had physical custody and ordered that Brian and I be granted physical custody as a result. The judge was made fully aware of his criminal history and spoke on it while reading her verdict. The judge in our case happened to be a former criminal attorney who prosecuted sex crimes against minors. She was convinced, through evidence and testimony, that Brian would make a better father than Ron.

Claim #2: “ . . . she pressured her child, who has serious mental impairments, to become gender-nonbinary.”

There are a few things in this claim. First, Rosiak admits he got this intel from Ron, a devout transphobic misogynist who once asked me why I let our child cut their hair short and, “look like a dyke.” Second, my child does not have “serious mental impairments.” My child has several learning disabilities and generalized anxiety disorder. They’ve since graduated high school, held a long-term job, and will start college in the fall. My child is fully capable of knowing who they are and how to express that best.

screenshot of a text I received from Ron after he saw a picture of my youngest child’s hair

My child no longer identifies as “gender-nonbinary.” They identify as trans masc. When my child first broached the subject of being trans, we had a long conversation about what that meant. I asked if they had body dysphoria, and they said no. I supplied them with reading materials so they could learn more about gender identity. In fact, my child and I frequently argue about how they choose to identify. What they share with me sounds more like rebelling against The Patriarchy than being trans, but that’s my take, and I respect my child’s expertise on their own identity.

Claim #3: “Tracy’s avatar became the ‘submissive’ to Brian’s ‘dominant’ in violence-tinged online sex games.”

Wow… first, Brian and I did meet in Second Life, an MMORPG. Again, all this intel is coming from Ron. Ron knew and was friendly with Brian on Second Life. In fact, Ron had his own second life where he would engage in sexual role play and eventually meet one of his virtual lovers in person shortly after our separation. This statement, while technically isn’t false – except for the “violence-tinged online sex” – is a gross misrepresentation of what both Ron and I did in the virtual reality Second Life.

Claim #4: “Tracy Hammond was a classic California housewife, a stay-at-home mother of three whose husband provided for her.”

It’s so hard to read this and not laugh hysterically. Ron is a perpetually unemployed high school dropout. We were mired in deep poverty the entire 17 years we were together. In fact, we were audited one year by the IRS, and when I asked the auditor why, he said, “Since Ron was 1099’d, and the earnings you reported for last year weren’t enough to provide for basic needs, your return was flagged for an audit.” We were audited for being too poor! If we had any stability, it was because I was employed. There were large chunks of time I was a stay-at-home mom, but it was mostly because it was more cost effective than paying for daycare. What really enabled me to do that was the fact that Ron’s mother was wealthy and bought us a house. During much of our relationship, I worked full-time and/or was a full-time college student. 

Claim #5: “One night at 3am, Ron woke up and found her sitting in front of her computer, entranced by the game. . . . Soon after, Tracy told Ron she was going to Vegas for the weekend with a girlfriend. Then that friend called Ron looking for her. By Monday, Ron filed for divorce.”

Oh. My. Gawd. Almost none of this happened. Ron and I separated in 2008. I met Brian in Vegas in September of 2009. The girlfriend in question was my life-long friend, Leslie, who knew I was going to Vegas and why: to meet Brian in person for the first time. The lie by omission is that on the same weekend, Ron was on a train to Arizona to meet his virtual Second Life lover. Ron didn’t file for divorce until I moved to Seattle in 2010.

Claim #6: “Tracy wanted to take their four-year-old daughter and move to Seattle to live with Brian. The judge overseeing the custody case barred the girl’s move and ordered that the minor have no contact with the sex offender.”

This claim is referring to a custody hearing that took place prior to my move to Seattle. It’s true that the first judge assigned to our case in 2010 denied me the ability to bring my child with me to Seattle. Initially, I decided to stay in California. A few months later, however, I received notice that I had been accepted to the University of Washington. This was significant because the university I had been attending, Cal Poly Pomona, cut my program because of statewide cuts to the Cal State system. My choices were move to Seattle and complete my undergraduate degree or stay in California separated and homeless with a small child. I chose the former. No judge ever, at any time, limited Brian from being near my children.

Ultimately, Ron is an angry ex-husband who continues to be perpetually unemployed, failed to pay child support for years, rarely sees his youngest child, regularly disappoints his youngest child, and occasionally tries to harass me about getting back together. In fact, about a year after Rosiak’s piece was published, I received an Instagram DM from Ron trying to rekindle a relationship. I simply responded, “What makes you think you have a right to speak to me?” then blocked him.

Breaking the Model Minority Myth

This month’s post comes from a student of Dr. Castro-Gill’s American Ethnic Studies course at the University of Washington. It is written by Sophia Mai.

By taking AES 340 – Race, Ethnicity, and Education, I have learned about how systems of oppression, especially racism and classism (which are intrinsically linked due to the historical and systemic oppression of Black Indigenous people of color) affects our education. Learning about many of these concepts challenged my thinking and made me reflect on and question many of my past experiences and presumptions. More specifically, learning about the importance of teaching critical race theory and the negative impacts of valuing schools and communities based on standardized testing has also made me think about how these issues are reflected in our society on a larger scale – not just in education. This class has taught me a lot about the world around me, but more specifically how to reflect critically on my own experiences as a person of color that has grown up in America and been taught, especially history, from a very Eurocentric point of view.

In history classes, I was taught about historical events in a way that praised the actions of White people and excluded the narratives of people of color. My first experience of learning about people of color was in my second-grade class the week of Thanksgiving. We sat obediently at our tiny wooden desks, the sounds of crayons and colored pencils scraping against the cornucopia coloring sheets droning in the background as our teacher told us about how the great Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492. She described him in a reverent way and made it seem like his actions were something to aspire to.

Asian Representation in American Schools

In our class of around twenty-seven students, there were only five Asian students, and in all the books, lessons, etc., I never once saw myself being represented in any way. Even outside of the classroom, kids would make jokes about Asian eyes or accents, but I always figured that it was supposed to be funny, so I laughed with them without realizing that they were laughing at me. During 3rd grade, I moved to an Asian-majority school. Despite this, I still rarely saw myself being represented in lessons. Growing up, I was never consciously aware of the impact it had on me back then, because the erasure of people of color was the only thing I had ever known in my education, and I assumed it was normal.

In class, I often felt disengaged from what we were learning about, because I could not relate to it and assumed that because of our lack of representation, people of color had not made significant enough contributions to this country to be mentioned or taught about. Through this class, I learned about how the experiences of people of color, specifically Asian Americans, affect the portrayal of them in history textbooks, and, therefore, why it is important for children to be taught critical race theory, which includes teaching history from marginalized perspectives.

When I read the article Disrupting Curriculum of Violence on Asian Americans by Sohyun An, I learned that this lack of representation was something nearly all Asian Americans experience if they are educated in the United States, and that this erasure makes students feel like they have no worth or value to their country, which is exactly how I felt when I was younger. In this article, An clearly explains many of the thoughts I have had about these topics, which was very impactful. For example, when she discusses how the “model minority” stereotype is detrimental to Asian Americans because it, “lumps diverse Asian Americans into a monolithic category and…dismisses the diversity and complexity of struggles within the Asian American community shaped by class, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and the like” (An 7). Through this article, I also learned about how the historical treatment of Asians in America, like the restriction of Asian immigration and naturalization and the exploitation of Asian labor for the Transcontinental Railroad, was connected to us being portrayed as perpetual “foreigners” or the “model minority” and how those stereotypes provided “justification” for us to be excluded from history textbooks. By reading this article, I was able to connect my knowledge of history about the treatment of Asian Americans to why we are portrayed the way we are now and better understand the importance of teaching children about the experiences of marginalized people, because, otherwise, they will feel the same isolation and disengagement I felt when I was younger.

Chinese immigrants provided much of the labor required to build the Transcontinental Railroad which was deadly work.

Through this class, I also learned about how the purposeful omission or downplay of contributions of people of color is used by those in power or those who benefit most from our society to maintain control and continue perpetuating systems of oppression. Before this class, I vaguely understood the concept that education was taught in a way to make marginalized people seem less important than the white, straight, cis, rich men that we frequently saw in textbooks, but did not fully grasp how education is used to continue the operation of oppressive systems. I learned that by keeping marginalized people out of history and other subjects, we are more likely to believe the narratives we are told from a Eurocentric perspective because we do not have other information telling us that those perspectives are not the whole truth, making it is easier to keep these systems of oppression in place, and thus the people in power will continue benefiting from them. Having grown up in a lower-income area with mostly white people and middle-class neighborhoods with significant Asian populations for most of my life, I never saw the struggles of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities, and by being ignorant, I was more susceptible to racist stereotypes and assumptions. This applies to other communities as well: without exposure to the struggles of others, we are less likely to question things such as the model minority stereotype, which lumps diverse Asian Americans into one category and ignores the struggles and experiences that result from intersecting identities. 

The Model Minority Myth has been perpetuated by various institutions, including mass media since the advent of racial categories.

After reading about this in An’s work, I reflected on my experiences and noticed that those who have a closer proximity to those at the top of our society, or people that benefit most from systems of oppression (white, cis, wealthy, Christian, able-bodied men) often succumb to these myths about race, class, etc. Because these people do not have intersecting marginalized identities, it is harder for them to understand the struggles of others, and are thus more likely to perpetuate these systems of oppression on other marginalized groups. Specifically in the Asian American community, I have noticed that because we are deemed more “intellectually competent” by White people and “allowed” to benefit from some systems of oppression, many will unknowingly buy into oppressive ideologies.

The theory of Racial Triangulation explains how the Model Minority Myth is used specifically to further oppress Black Americans.

Standardized Testing, Meritocracy, and the Model Minority

My parents and grandparents (and a significant portion of the Asian American community) believe that standardized testing is an equitable way to “measure intelligence” and evaluate students. Because of this, growing up, my parents placed significant value on education. Throughout middle and high school, I spent my Saturdays going to supplementary classes to improve my math and eventually standardized testing skills. Prior to taking this class, I felt that standardized tests were more objective than other measures because I did not know better and did not understand that test scores are used to sustain oppressive systems under the guise of “progress” and “equality” through presumptive objectivity. By using lower test scores to devalue students, lower-income schools with less resources will continue to have less resources than their wealthier counterparts because there is seemingly no reason to invest in those schools if they are performing “badly”, further exacerbating the issue of education inequality.

After reflecting back after reading those articles and the lessons in class, I realize that I was only able to do well on standardized tests because of the test prep classes I had taken, my parent’s ability to pay for those prep classes, and going to a very good public school that had a rigorous curriculum as well as mock exams. Because public schools are funded by property taxes, students in low-income communities will not have the same access to resources, teachers, etc. that wealthier areas do, and because of this, their test scores are lower. Meritocracy 2.0: High-Stakes, Standardized Testing as a Racial Project of Neoliberal Multiculturalism by Wayne Au explains that by legitimizing standardized testing, we create markets related to education, (ie. those prep classes I took) and identify low-scoring schools as “failures”, leading to their closure. By pushing a narrative of presumptive objectivity about standardized testing, people begin to believe in the idea of meritocracy, which asserts that everyone has equal chances of success, and ignore the struggles that marginalized people face in order to obtain that success.

Upon reading this article, I reflected on my community of middle-class Asian Americans and noticed that many believe that if someone works hard, they can be successful because that was the story of many Asian immigrants – my family included. However, because many Asian Americans were allowed to benefit from society in order to be placed on a pedestal in order to compare us to other people of color, we see this myth of meritocracy as truth because we have not faced the obstacles others have faced ourselves. By learning about these concepts in this class, I intend to deepen my understanding and further my knowledge by doing my own research on these topics to learn more. I also intend on listening more to BIPOC experiences, especially with people whose experiences differ from mine in order to learn from them. I also hope to take this information and teach my peers, family, and community members in order to spread awareness of many aspects of how our modern education system today is deeply rooted in systemic oppression (like standardized testing) and how implementing things like teaching critical race theory will allow students to have a more diverse and complete education.

Olympia, Washington’s 2023 Legislative Session Recap: 105 days of purgatory?

By the WAESN Legislative Committee

It’s a wrap! Or is it? After a 105 day session from January 9th to April 23rd, retiring Governor, Jay Inslee, called legislators back for a special session to pass legislation near and dear to our hearts: a wealth tax, free school lunches, special education funding, and ending isolation of minors. Just kidding. Jay Inslee called back legislators to pass bills criminalizing drugs… There is a lot to unpack from this legislative session, so in this blog we are going to recap the session, what passed, what failed, and where we go from here. 

With control over the legislative and executive branches, we are one of 17 states nationwide with what political nerds call “trifectas.” Yet Washington’s Democrats failed to pass most of the crumbs of progressive legislation that WAESN followed this session. With this being their first, back-in-person session post-pandemic, lawmakers said they could finally have “thoughtful conversations” in the halls of Congress; the product of these “thoughtful conversations” is evidence that maybe working from the office actually isn’t more productive. 

If you didn’t follow along this legislative session, who would blame you? To get more involved in upcoming legislative work, please complete this form and we will reach out with opportunities to join our work. You can have zero experience. We are all self-taught and happy to share our experience with new members! 

What Crumbs did our Democratic Overlords Bestow upon Us? And How did the Far-Right respond to these Democratic “wins”? 

TLDR: Free Lunches! More SPED funding! And Assault Riffle Bans! with a side of musings regarding the role of parents vs. the government in caring for our youth.****** 

*****Before we are called out for being ungrateful, idealistic, and entitled, let’s recognize what our state legislature “accomplished” this session. The most significant education bills that passed were Inslee’s “Free Lunches” bill (HB1238) and the increase of SPED spending bill (HB1436). While both bills passed, each was watered down greatly from their original drafts. With the passing of HB1238, if you are in grades K–5 by 2025, you will receive free lunches so long as your school has at least 30% low income. The original bill called for K–12 free lunches without the classic liberal means testing of 30% low income, a standard that simply doesn’t account for student need. As we move into the short session next year, we will advocate for a full K-12 free lunch and breakfast program, as it was a program of the Black Panthers

For HB1436, which will increase the spending limit on special education from 13.5% to 15% of the total education budget, will bring an extra $417 million to special education this biennium. Legislators originally requested in earlier drafts up to 19% of the district’s budget, yet many districts have needs that are much higher, closer to 25%. Senator Rolfes is calling this the greatest increase of spending on education since the McCleary ruling, but with impending lawsuits, it’s clearly not enough to meet our basic education needs. 

The popular “victories” of Democrats this session were controversial items that enraged the right perhaps more than CRT and ethnic studies. While not education, these issues are still central to one theme: our youth. Under the banner of “Protect our Children,” Democrats and Republicans both claim to have a policy that will “save our kids” from either guns, trans, the state, their parents, or the myriad of other threats to innocence in the 21st century, TikTok. The anti-CRT godfather, Christopher Rufo, theorized in his recent video that “the left” are not just Marxists, but “Synthetic Organizers” trying to wage an ideological war using “Trans Kids” as a “totem” for a “non-Normative future” of “trans Utopia.” ****These quotes are directly from the video. He’s not fully wrong here, as both sides are using the child as a marker of “innocence” that must be protected from some dangerous dark force. In this case, guns! and trans! are those specters. But these issues are not so black and white. 

The much celebrated ban on assault rifles, HB1240, makes Washington the tenth state to ban selling assault weapons, read more here. Of course, this regulation enraged many gun rights activists on the right, especially when viewed through the framework of taking away individual rights. To add fuel to the fire, the state also passed legislation that would, according to the right-wing, empower the state to “kidnap” youth from families who denied them gender-affirming care. Democratic advocates supporting SB5599 consider this “disinformation,” as they cite that, “Under current law, licensed shelters must notify parents if a child comes into their care, unless a compelling reason applies. This legislation allows licensed shelters to contact the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in lieu of parents in certain additional instances, like when a young person is seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care.” Right-wing protesters gathered at the capitol in Olympia on April 21st for a “Protect Our Children: Stand for Parents Rights” rally, but this didn’t stop SB5599 from passing. While this bill doesn’t criminalize parents, nor does it remove children from unsupportive homes, it presents a challenge to the value that parents have full rights over their children. This question is as old as education in America. How do we respect the interest of protecting one way of life, but not at the expense of others? Parents rights vs. State rights. Who is entitled to make decisions for minors? The question of who decides what we learn and how in education should be done by all, not the few of us, not with mono-cultural puritanism or multicultural neoliberalism, but with a collective and democratic approach focused on justice and a vision for the people we want to become. The words of Emma Goldman in 1916 seem relevant here: 

The two-legged animals called parents lack both. Hence, they make their children pay for the outrage perpetrated upon them by their parents–which only goes to prove that it takes centuries of enlightenment to undo the harm wrought by traditions and habits. According to these traditions, “innocence” has become synonymous with “ignorance”; ignorance is indeed considered the highest virtue, and represents the “triumph” of puritanism. But in reality, these traditions represent the crimes of puritanism, and have resulted in irreparable internal and external suffering to the child and youth. 

While we might not call parents “two-legged animals” like Emma Goldman, there is a more nuanced position to take when it comes to answering the two fundamental questions we are at war over: “What should we learn?” and “How do youth learn best?” The phrase, “it takes a village,” comes to mind. While waving the banners of “Protect our Children,” both Democrats and Republicans are failing to keep kids safe in our schools, not only from guns, but from the injustices of punitive practices, white supremacist curriculum, and the inequity of our education funding. Parents, education experts, community members, and youth should all be involved in determining how we answer these questions, but our legislature, as you will see in this next section, doesn’t know how to envision a process to mediate our current crisis in education. 

Because it takes a village, we invite you to attend our upcoming Legislative Recap, where we will discuss not only what happened this session, but also invite our community to begin envisioning the next steps in our legislative advocacy work. To join us, register here

Far Right-wing Legislation: a loud but unsuccessful campaign

WAESN began its focus this session following right-wing attacks on public education policy, namely Republican Representative from the 19th District, Jim McCune, and his Conservative Ladies of Washington backed “Parents’ Education Bill of Rights,” which we analyzed in a previous blog post. While only a greatly watered-down piece of the original legislation made it to a hearing (the first step after being read by the Education Committee), his bill SB5558 didn’t make it out of the Education Committee (the second step before being considered by the full House of Representatives). A small victory for teachers’ email boxes and mental health, as this bill would have put teachers under greater scrutiny from parents without a clear process of arbitrating and navigating curriculum/parent conflicts. We need a system of transparency and family involvement in our education system, but we do not need to rush to create a system of accountability that lays the onus on individuals, teachers or parents. If you are an educator or parent, fill out this survey to tell us more about your experience navigating curriculum conflicts.  

During our WAESN Organizing Assembly in late April, we unpacked what we learned from following right-wing organizing efforts in education. While their legislation failed overwhelmingly, their voices are loud, their organizing is well-funded, and their rhetoric shapes corporate Democratic thinking and policy. Washington’s chapter of Conservative Ladies of Washington, much like Moms for Liberty (recently named a hate group by SPLC), who organize nationally, are active in many different committees. Alongside the think tank-like groups, “Family Policy Institute” and “Washington Policy Center,” these groups make up the brains and brawn of right-wing organizing in Washington state. Nationwide, there are other groups like Moms of Liberty, that have a strong presence in many School Board races. From gun rights, trans issues, education, taxes, to drugs, these moms (and now dads, so inclusive!) are actively organizing a powerful group of ultra-conservative community members. Locally, they provide training, education, social events, wine hours, legislative reports, question and answers with legislators, Facebook groups and forums, and paid memberships with added benefits we can only dream of! Check out “Washingon Parents Rights in Education” facebook group for the best example of their active digital organizing platform. The efforts of right-wing groups is neither to be focused on, nor dismissed, as their organizing efforts have demonstrably created an environment in which Democratic legislators acquiesce to their far-right, Euro-centric positions. 

Democratic “Progressive” Legislation they couldn’t even pass:

There are a number of bills that we were in tepid support of that didn’t pass this legislative session. We testified, provided some education on our Instagram, and mobilized our community members to sign in pro to some of the following bills. We will keep some of these short, as we have varying degrees of involvement in each piece of legislation. 

SB5019: School Safety Staff

This bill would have closed a loophole that allowed for money meant to go towards counselors to go to cops. The Democrats love cops in schools and fail to ensure enough mental health services. 

SB5441: School District Curricula

This bill was developed by LYAC, a program that has been active since at least 2008, that serves as the official nonpartisan 14-17 year old youth advisory body to the state legislature. LYAC consulted with WAESN in the language of SB5441, and while we made suggestions, we also considered the bill to not go far enough to include community organizations, provide proper teacher training, and clear expectations and funding for the proposed new role of a “regional inclusive curricula coordinator.” Part of the bill was dealing with the question of what to do with two related issues: 1) formalizing a process to navigate parents’ complaints about curricula (from both sides) and 2) establishing an “inclusivity” framework through which to assess and screen curriculum content. In other words, this bill would have created a position to establish new standards, a mechanism to regulate classroom curriculum, and a system to maintain family communication. If that wasn’t enough, they would have to also develop an “open” resource database for pre-screened materials. The scope and breadth of this work is enormous, and the bill enshrines each district’s school board individual responsibility for this work. To measure the proficiency of each districts’ “inclusivity screening,” the districts must provide criteria, a rubric, and scores for superintendents, classified staff, certified staff, and all staff related to curriculum. This bill’s scope was too big for one new role district-wide, without a clear plan for family and community engagement. The bill also mentions that these new “inclusivity” standards would align with “best practices” of ethnic studies according to OSPI, but OSPI has all but shut down their ethnic studies work and the legislature has all but shut us down. We would love nothing more than a process to formalize this work, and we will be working in the legislative committee to develop a revised policy proposal on this important issue in the coming months. 

HB1377: Continuing Education K–12

This related bill tried to amend an issue of previous legislation (HB1426) of Education Chair Rep. Tomiko Santos’ to limit who could be considered a clock hour provider. The bill would give the Professional Educators Standards Board (PESB) the responsibility for establishing standards for who is a certified clock hour provider in order to fix the exclusionary policy. You might ask, why is it a problem to leave this discretion to the very board that is responsible for establishing these standards, but our experience at WAESN can speak to the volatility of OSPI, who currently manages clock hour providers. WAESN was removed, without notice, process, or communication from OSPI’s ethnic studies professional development providers list after a complaint that our organization is “too political.” This brings up the questions: what is allowed by our professional standards board? What is considered political? What do we do with complaints from families and communities? 

In this video our Legislative Committee testified: 1377 Testimony

We see a lot of hope in developing legislation around regulating clock hour providers. We have a lot of ideas to include community partners, families, and youth in the important work of collectively determining the fundamental questions of, “What is worth knowing?” and, “How do our youth learn best?” 

HB1479: Student Restraint and Isolation

We didn’t work closely on this bill, but many did. There was a lot of community organizing and support for this bill including the ACLU, TeamChild, OSPI’s Crisis Response Workgroup, PTAS, disability activists, youth activists, and other organizations. Testimonies were incredibly emotional during the session and are worth watching to understand the horrific practices at our schools. To learn more about this legislation, check out this Cross Cut article, TeamChild’s Call to Action, and League of Education Voter’s video discussion. We look forward to partnering with community partners on future legislation, so reach out to us! 

HB1432: Juvenile Justice

Organizers from Stand for Children Washington (SCW) and the Center for Children and Youth Justice (CCYJ) led advocacy for this important legislation, which would simply reduce the imposition of a cycle of poverty and debt for youth who are trying to reintegrate after incarceration. Like HB1479, this isn’t our main focus at WAESN, but we are excited to partner with these organizations to mobilize stronger action in the upcoming session for updated versions of these bills. For more information, check out CCYJ

HB5616: Nothing About Us Without Us

This bill would have enshrined that all special committees created by legislation relating to identity-specific issues must include representatives of that population. It was called: “Nothing About Us Without Us,” a Latin classic slogan of democracy: Nihil de nobis, sine nobis. This bill, no surprise, did not pass, despite already being a de facto practice in many existing committees and boards, such as PESB. This legislation would not have gone far enough to ensure that identity representation leads to ideological representation. As Obama showed us, skin folk are not always kinfolk. Representation is step one, redistribution must come alongside it. Speaking of redistribution…

HB5486: Wealth and Property Tax

A tiny 1% tax on wealth (not income) of Washingtonians greater than $250 million, which would impact somewhere between 300-700 Washingtonians failed. One woman testified she was sick and tired of seeing palms out. The delusion that this tax would ever impact those who testified was terrifying. Here is our Legislative Committee testifying on the bill: HB5486 Testimony

SB 5486 had a companion bill in the house, HB 1473, a technique to increase the likelihood of legislation passing both houses. Republicans and corporate Democrats used the rhetoric of “capital flight” over and over again, suggesting that this legislation would lead to mega-job creators to flee the state to evade taxes. We call that tax evasion, but it’s a free country. In order to combat tax evasion, over 8 states were running legislation to implement a wealth tax. These states represent 60% of the US’s wealth and are Democratically controlled. This is important to consider when business interests and liberal Democrats fearmonger that billionaires will leave Washington state if we pass this legislation. It seems like  “billionaire flight,” the elite form of “white flight” is a large concern of Democrats, despite their repeated virtue signaling to tax the rich.

SB5486 would have provided $3 billion in new revenue, one third of which would have gone to the general education trust. $1 billion dollars is a 3% increase in yearly state funds for our education budget. That is not enough in the first place, but this bill didn’t even pass. We will be pushing more wealth taxes connected to education spending, as this state faces increased pressure from pending lawsuits that echo the troubles of the McCleary era underfunding.  

In late May, it was reported that the recent Washington State Supreme Court approved capital gains tax brought in $849 million in revenue. Progressive “experts” predicted it only to bring in $248 million. This shows billionaires and ultra-millionaires are worth more than we expected, hoarding billions of exorbitant profit. While businesses and “soon-to-have” American dreamers might protest this tax as wage theft, it feels more like a very minor victory of economic justice, of redistribution. 

Next Steps: Join us for our Legislative Recap on June 9th

We did a lot of losing this session, but we also did a lot of learning. We know where these bills died, we know who chairs these committees, so we can begin the work of identifying chair members and articulating our policy positions. But in order to do that, we need you! 

Next month, WAESN’s legislative team will be hosting a Legislative Recap, where we invite our community members to come and discuss our ideas for not only coming up with policy, but strategies for pushing this legislation next session. 

If you read this far, don’t be afraid to sign up, watch, listen, ask questions, or share your voice.

Join us, July 9, 2023, 11am – 1pm on Zoom. REGISTER HERE.