Commentary: The Day The Statehouse Turned Red
By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – The signs at the Statehouse told the story on Red for Ed Day.
Most were hand-made and handwritten on pieces of poster board. The white of the boards stood out against the red of t-shirts thousands of protestors wore.
They could be seen in the crowd sitting and standing at the rally held just outside Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office on the Statehouse’s second floor.
They could be seen ringing the rails on the third and fourth floors, where red-clad rally goers stood to listen to and cheer the speakers on the small stage below.
They could be seen in the hands of the protestors who came streaming in through every public entrance to the building.
One sign read: “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”
Another read: “We taught you better.”
Perhaps the funniest was the one held by Cheyanne Trawick of Hebron High School.
“IF U KEPE HURTIN EDUKASHUN MORE SINES WIL LOK LIK DIS.”
Trawick, a 17-year-old senior, said she traveled for more than two hours, each way, from her northern Indiana home and school because she doesn’t think Indiana teachers are being treated fairly.
“It’s the most important job there is,” she said as we talked at her spot on the third floor just above the stage one flight below.
Trawick told me that she hopes to own her own business someday. She’s already working hard at a part-time job. She puts in the hours around her schoolwork.
She said she thinks it’s a shame that there are people who work in her school make less money than she does.
“I don’t have a degree and I make $10 an hour,” she said, clutching her sign tightly as she spoke.
Trawick was one of more than 14,000 educators, parents, students and others who had signed up to attend Red for Ed Day.
The crowds came with a specific list of goals. They wanted more pay for teachers. They wanted schools to stop being punished if students’ standardized test scores weren’t deemed satisfactory. They wanted a repeal of the requirement that they work outside of school for 15 hours every five years.
But, really, their demands were more basic than that.
As I wandered through the crowd and talked with the red-clad protestors, certain phrases popped up again and again.
Parents wanted to know that their children’s education mattered as much to state officials as the educations of the students in charter or private schools.
Students want to know that their futures matter.
Teachers want to know that their work is valued.
Everyone used the same word. They used it again and again.
The word was “respect.”
They said they were tired of having public schools and public-school families slapped around and disparaged. They were sick of being told that the only people who shouldn’t have a voice in determining Indiana’s policies are teachers.
Most of all, they were fed up with hearing that what they want and what they care about just doesn’t matter.
As I buttonholed one protestor after another, the speeches continued from the stage. The speakers’ words bounced off the stone walls of the Statehouse and echoed through the vast open space of the old building, making them hard to hear.
It didn’t matter.
The crowd didn’t need speakers to fire them up. The people in the red shirts brought energy to them. As more and more of them gathered, that energy grew.
And still, the red shirts kept coming.
They continued to file into the building. They found perches on every floor of the Statehouse. And they filled the lawns, sidewalks, and streets around the state capitol.
Red for passion.
Red for anger.
FOOTNOTE: John Krull is the director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheSatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.