April 27, 2018

Public schools champion tells it like it is

Public education champion Cecily Myart-Cruz poses with members of Corporate Accountability's food team (Deputy Campaigns Director Sriram Madhusoodanan and National Campaign Organizer Alexa Kaczmarski) in front of a mural in Corporate Accountability headquarters.

You may remember when the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution to end McDonald’s McTeacher’s Nights last year. This recent milestone in the campaign to end McDonald’s predatory marketing to children was driven by our partnership with Cecily Myart-Cruz, who is now the Vice President of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) / National Education Association (NEA). She visited Corporate Accountability’s campaign headquarters shortly after we celebrated this joint victory.

As we talked about public education, privatization, and corporate power, she captivated everyone with her smart analysis, sharp sense of humor, and keen commitment to justice for students.

Last month, thanks to our continued organizing with UTLA, the California Federation of Teachers passed a statewide resolution denouncing McTeacher’s Nights. We got on the phone with Cecily to get her thoughts on the current state of public education, McDonald’s marketing, and our collaborative work.

We’re thrilled to bring you this Q&A with Corporate Accountability advisory board member, Cecily Myart-Cruz.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Please introduce yourself. Who is Cecily Myart-Cruz?

A fierce, strong, independent woman. Tenacious, determined, not willing to take “no” for an answer. I’m an advocate, organizer, educator, rabble rouser. I’m willing to do what is right at all times.  And I will fight to the death to protect public education.

How do you see the impact of corporate power in California schools?

Privatization is the ultimate inequity in education. Our district is so large, and you have the “haves” and the “have nots.” California is the sixth largest global economy in the world, but we stand 46 in the nation when it comes to per pupil spending. With all the millionaires and billionaires in Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach! Why are they privatizing and not doubling down and putting their money into public schools for children?

Education should not be like that; education should be the bridge builder. We need to start holding these billionaires and corporations accountable. We need to tell them: “If you want to play in the education game, put the money into the public schools without strings attached.” That is the fundamental piece we need to make real change happen.

So UTLA is doing work on legislation to make corporations pay their fair share. Places like the Staples Center — the stadium for the Lakers and the Clippers — are paying a corporate tax rate from 1970 on that square footage. They are raking in millions and millions of dollars a year and not putting their fair share in.

How do junk food corporations like McDonald’s affect the communities you serve?

When I was teaching, I could see that McTeacher’s Nights were about exploitation.

This is why: You can go down Crenshaw Boulevard or even La Brea and you will see in the Black and brown neighborhoods a preponderance of fast food stores. So the way I see schools and the privatization game is they make the schools seem broke on purpose — because they starve us. They sell us a lie but they also try to sell us false solutions — “fundraisers” like McTeacher’s Nights are an example. Then you have people saying: “Oh McDonald’s isn’t harmful. In fact, it brings money to our communities.”

We know it is harmful. But if I’m a single-earner family and only have mere dollars to spend on food for my kids, it’s appealing to have a dollar menu. And when there are no healthy options in the neighborhood, then of course I’m left to my own devices.

But the problem is more systemic because then you also have McDonald’s execs saying, “We do so much for the Black and brown community. Look at all these scholarships.”

Listen, I would rather trade scholarships and “charity” for wholesome goodness.

This is how McDonald’s sells a lie and sells fake solutions.

What connections do you see between ending McDonald’s marketing in schools and your work with UTLA/NEA?

When we talk about justice, we can talk about racial justice, social justice, economic justice, food justice. But it all comes down to privatization. Whether it’s in schools, in food, or economics, it’s a huge privatization struggle. And in education, students are at the core. We passed a resolution to end McTeacher’s nights locally, we did it statewide, and we got the conversation flowing at the national level. So now what’s the next step? I want to have some student convenings. I really feel students are going to be the ones to lead this movement.

Is there anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?

I feel inspired by this work. I would like to see other people inspired and wanting to do this work as well. It’s a collective effort. It’s all of us working together to change this corporate power-structure — really toppling it, dismantling it, and calling for a new and different vision.

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