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Harnessing People Power: Lessons from North Idaho Triumphs | Chris Parri

November 30, 2023

In the realm of education advocacy, our most potent weapon lies not in political maneuvering, but in the raw strength of our communities — it is our people. Recent triumphs in Coeur d’Alene School District and West Bonner County School District underscore the undeniable power of unity and grassroots efforts.

In May, the Coeur d’Alene Education Association (CEA) emerged as a driving force in a community coalition determined to rectify a failed levy election. Working hand in hand with IEA, CEA orchestrated an impressive campaign involving door-knocking, phone banking and texting initiatives. This strategic approach, complemented by the support of fellow community members, played to the strengths of our members and their ability to build trust with their neighbors.

IEA polling affirms the trust your neighbors place in you, as an educator, positioning your association as a formidable asset in direct voter interactions.

Faced with formidable opposition from the far right, whose influence often hinges on misinformation and low turnout, CEA and their allies delivered a resounding victory, passing the May 2023 levy by a staggering margin of 2 to 1. This success fortified their students against the incursion of far-right ideologies and anti-education politics.

Similarly, in August, the West Bonner County Education Association rallied with their community to rectify their district’s course through a pivotal recall election. Two far-right, anti-public education school board members needed to be removed after their opposition to the district’s must-pass levy election in May, which voters rejected. This financial setback jeopardized vital programs and staff, necessitating immediate action. The extremist board members not only opposed the levy but exploited the situation to appoint an unpopular, ideologically-driven superintendent who mirrored their anti-public education sentiments.

To right this wrong, and undeterred by the rural setting, community members and educators embarked on a door-knocking campaign across the district, employing the power of people to counteract the misinformation disseminated by these far-right board members, administrators and their allies on social media.

Their tenacity paid off. On Aug. 29, the two extremist board members were unseated by significant margins, with voter turnout nearly hitting presidential election levels. After that success, the extreme anti-public education superintendent hired over the summer was fired. And on Nov. 7, WBEA secured a pro-public education majority on the school board.

These victories resonate with a crucial truth: when educators engage in genuine conversations with their communities, the far-right’s fear tactics crumble. Resilience, compassion and transparency strike at the core of far-right activists who thrive on division and paranoia. Our educators are pivotal to defending our public schools and students in our communities. The successes in North Idaho serve as a clarion call — your voices will be heard, provided we summon the courage to speak.

In the face of political challenges, always remember that your most formidable strength as an IEA member lies within your collective resolve. By leaning into your role as trusted educators and mobilizing your communities, your influence can drive positive change in our schools. Together, IEA members have the power to shape the future of education in Idaho.

Chris Parri is political director at the Idaho Education Association.

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