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What Would Atticus Finch Do?

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.
The Assembly gallery is packed by folks awaiting debate

Every picture tells a story, don’t it? (Rod Stewart)

Debate in Trenton yesterday on the education funding bill recalled a scene seared in my memory. That moving scene – from the movie of one of my favorite books “To Kill A Mockingbird” – was of the packed balcony of a southern courtroom, where black folks came to demand justice

Yesterday, lots of folks – black and white – came to Trenton to demand justice in educational opportunity and school funding.

But they were frustrated.

The Assembly debate, scheduled to start at noon, was long delayed. For hours they waited in vain.

Vote on school funding draws throngs to Trenton
Monday, January 7, 2008

Busloads of families from Paterson, Newark, Jersey City and Asbury Park descended on the State House Monday morning, in advance of a vote on a proposed new school funding formula.

Lawmakers in the Assembly began a marathon voting session around 1 p.m. Monday, and announced it would be much later in the day before any vote on the aid plan. The Senate, which must also approve the plan if it is to head to Gov. Corzine for his signature, had not begun meeting by 3 p.m.

The legislators just waited them out. After long delays, frustrated folks caucused in the hall outside the Assembly chamber.

citizens confer outside Assembly Chamber after long delays on education funding debate

Guess the legislators weren’t used to large galleries and couldn’t take the heat from the folks that would be hurt by the bill they passed. I spoke with several families in attendance. They had very similar concerns as those quoted in today’s Bergen Record:

“NAACP member Kathleen Witcher, who taught for 34 years in Irvington public schools, said she was disturbed that the bill wouldn’t change the state’s reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools.

“It needs to be reformulated where school funding doesn’t rely on property taxes,” she said.

“It’s not going to be enough to pass this in a few hours during a lame-duck session.”

“This bill will have a lot of impact on my children’s education and futures,” said Audrey Jackson of Paterson. She and her three children were among 50 city residents in Trenton Monday. “A 2 percent increase won’t be enough. We’re asking them not to pass this bill today.”

The citizens who went to Trenton to hold their representatives accountable and demand justice missed what they came for.

Hours late, the debate finally began, but the audience was long gone before Assemblyman Craig Stanley (D/Irvington) delivered an impassioned speech that shamed his party’s claims to represent the children and communities of New Jersey most in need.

Assemblyman Craig Stanley (D/Irvington) rises to deliver a powerful speech in opposition to Corzine school funding bill

At the close of the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” after a sham trial, justice is denied an innocent black man. As Atticus Finch, his lawyer, dejectedly leaves the courtroom, the black gallery rises in hopeful respect. The admonition from the local preacher to Atticus’ kids who had joined them in the gallery still draws tears to my eyes:

“Son, stand up, your father’s passing”.

Sadly, there was no Atticus Finch in Trenton yesterday.

  1. nohesitation
    January 8th, 2008 at 13:24 | #1

    “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
    [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – from his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” April 6, 1963]
    Link to full text of letter

  2. hglindquist
    January 8th, 2008 at 14:53 | #2

    To my way of thinking it really doesn’t matter which side of education funding reform you are on on … this was no way to handle legislation of this importance that is going to have such a major impact on our future together.
    This wasn’t about the future of education in New Jersey, it was about Governor Jon Corzine’s political future.
    This was politics past.
    What did the Gov give to get that last vote? Whatever it was, if it was his to give then it was a bribe, wasn’t it? And if he gave something that belongs to us (in the spirit of compromise) then we have the right to know what it was, don’t we?
    After I moved here I used to tell my friends on the West Coast, “It ain’t as bad as you’ve heard.”
    I was wrong.
    It is.

  3. VillaColonia
    January 16th, 2009 at 12:13 | #3

    Atticus Finch was great! Where is Atticus now?

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