The Olympia School Board’s unanimous decision to appoint Talauna Reed to the board has sparked vocal ire cloaked in concern. Ms. Reed is the first African American board member and has criticized the police in the past.
People are so upset that her appointment was recently covered by Fox News. Local anger was on full display during the tense November board meeting where 30+ people gave public comments, all but one regarding Ms. Reed. Angry commenters pounded fists and shook their heads while denouncing the board and expressing outrage over Ms. Reed’s past. The bashing of her beliefs, lived experiences and qualifications were stated by two speakers to be “not racism,” but concern for students.
Roaring applause after hateful comments was met with solidarity from people who actually know Ms. Reed. An Olympia Student Equity Committee member countered the fear mongering that this appointment jeopardizes student safety, by sharing that they look up to Ms. Reed as “a community organizer and inspiring woman who is doing the kind of work to help underserved people and make positive change that I want to do in my future.”
The truth, as expressed by students, alumni, parents, workers and community members at the podium, revealed that Ms. Reed is a compassionate, community-building visionary, one pursuing a holistic, justice-centered approach to safety.
In a public statement, Ms. Reed shared her goal of restoration and giving children and adults hope while utilizing trauma-informed practices in order to not cause further harm. She wrote that “Safety starts from within by creating a school culture where all students, staff, and community members are treated with dignity and respect.”
The appointment of Ms. Reed has elevated the vision of a liberated world with systems of care ensuring all people are free and have their basic needs met; where safety is secured through love, empathy, and solidarity instead of legality, enforcement and surveillance.
Talauna Reed’s appointment will engage more people in cultural diversity and de-escalation training, restorative justice models, anti-racism, and trauma-informed care. In sticking to her values, she has legitimized other crucial work like mutual aid, political education, and direct democracy to build communities that provide for their own safety and wellbeing.
By reorienting us to the reality that we keep us safe, Reed challenges the dominant narrative that safety is maintained externally by police. That helps us understand that we can have safe communities if we create a culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect—things the police routinely discourage.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley validated this when he asserted, “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.” That is, disorder for the working class, marginalized peoples, the poor, and those pursuing a better world, in order to maintain racial capitalism (a term acknowledging how capitalism developed as an inherently racialized system which uses differences between people (like skin color) to justify exploiting some people over others). The direct lineage between slave patrols and the police is a history that has been systematically ignored.
The opposition in response to the Olympia School Board’s decision is an important example of the way in which our system has succeeded in dividing people and stripping them of their humanity. It has instilled fear, competition and delusion to the point where they defend inhumane institutions over the wellbeing of their neighbors. As one student commented, “Many people have a hard time with change, and as it has been said, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equity feels like oppression.”
The school board’s appointment is a significant step towards necessary change. The struggle for equity just got a boost in Olympia.
Steven Marquardt is an Olympia-based educator and organizer working to improve the lives of students, workers, the unhoused and indigenous peoples, among others.