Back to School: Why We Organize

By: Emily Tseffos

Last week parents across Outagamie County sent their children back to school. As we packed backpacks, picked out the first day of school outfits, and looked forward to a new year, there was one hot-button issue we were also grappling with: universal masking.

When the AASD school board voted to make masks optional in late July, a group of of parents in the district and I decided we needed to be sure to apply public pressure demanding that the district follow the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. So we began to collect signatures on a Healthcare Provider Letter, which we submitted to the board and sent as a press release. Then we gathered names of parents, caregivers, and concerned community members on a petition. Submitted to the board and sent to local media. We organized speakers both in person and virtually for the next meetings, and provided content to share on social media. We aimed to engage all of the stakeholders in this community in these efforts and do it in a way that was scientifically-based, compassionate, and centered on the wellbeing of our youngest community members.

It was a multi-pronged approach that I believe eventually helped in the board’s reconsideration of their mitigation plans as our kids went back to school, and taught many of us an invaluable lesson:

WE NEED TO ORGANIZE. We need our voices to be a part of every conversation, and we need to look out for our most vulnerable populations, always. We need to educate ourselves and others, converse with our neighbors in a way that is compassionate and measured, and not back down – even if the opposition is more vocal and aggressive in their rhetoric and actions.

We are a part of a vibrant, diverse, and engaged community. It’s our responsibility to remain engaged and vigilant in moments like this and the ones in between to ensure that Outagamie county is a safe, inclusive, and welcoming place for each and every one of us. Sometimes this means working directly through our county party, and sometimes it requires grassroots organizing outside of our group. We must consider the most effective vehicle and go for it.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.