Now, more than ever, I find myself thankful for those who resist. Those who remind us of our higher common values. The fact-checkers and truth-tellers. Those who build bridges in communities instead of walls to segregate. The ones who stand up and speak out against injustice.
Where would we be without groups like Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families reminding us that the tax plan now before Congress vastly benefits the most powerful corporations and billionaires among us, at the expense of nearly everyone else?
Lawmakers fund this tax giveaway to the most powerful by eliminating tax deductions for teachers, raising taxes on college students and seniors, and making health care even less affordable. They pay for it with cuts to job training, education and our social safety net. They explode the national debt, leaving the bill to our kids. And they give a loophole to expand dark money in our elections, cut America's green energy investment and end protections for the Arctic National Refuge.
But these facts didn't come out in congressional hearings because they didn't have any. Community groups speaking out is how we've exposed this terrible tax plan.
Thank goodness for the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign, Rural Community Alliance, Campaign for Grade Level Reading, Forward Arkansas, Arkansas Education Association, Grassroots Arkansas and others who've held the state's feet to the fire for effective improvements in our schools.
The good news is that Arkansas has made major strides in recent years by investing in research-proven reforms like improving our curriculum, raising teacher quality, and expanding pre-K. We have a long way to go, but there is near universal consensus about the next steps among teachers, administrators, school boards, parents, community groups and education experts.
Sadly, big money is driving another education agenda that ignores the data and insists we need radical privatization instead. Never mind that its experiments in other states failed. Never mind that it's diverting attention and resources away from far more effective strategies. Never mind that many of the charter and private schools it advocates for segregate based on race, ability and income.
Thank goodness for the huge cross-section of people who care about quality public education holding the line against much better funded and more connected school privatizers.
And thank goodness for groups like Audubon Arkansas, the Sierra Club and the Citizens Climate Lobby who are telling the truth about climate change.
President Trump and a majority in Congress deny the science that climate change is a massive threat to our future. They deny even as we have record hot year after record hot year, despite record storms, droughts and fires. They deny the economic opportunity of transitioning the American energy sector, leaving us decades behind other countries. But Arkansas policymakers know green energy is good for consumers, our economy and for our planet because we have strong energy advocates.
There are so many more issues where Arkansas grassroots and nonprofit groups are making a huge impact. Concerned Citizens of Monticello Area countering the resurgent KKK with a Love Not Hate campaign. The ACLU going after courts that are criminalizing people for being poor. Concerned Citizens in Prescott working with school leaders to make discipline policy more effective and fair. Health advocates that helped Arkansas maintain our Medicaid expansion — offering life-saving health care to over 300,000 Arkansans. Thank God for the women across the country exposing sexual harassment, and the activists exposing systemic problems with our criminal justice system. The list goes on and on.
I'm privileged to work with many of these leaders and groups at the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Citizens First Congress. They inspire me daily.
This Saturday, Dec. 16, we are having a day of action. It starts at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of the state Capitol with a rally against the terrible tax plan advancing through Congress. It continues from noon to 4 p.m. with a meeting of the Citizens First Congress to plan next steps on several key issues. And we are having a party from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center to celebrate one another and recharge for the work ahead. Join us. There's lots of room for you in this movement, too.
Bill Kopsky is the executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.