Thursday, September 05, 2013

We the Parents Documentary Premiere

Tomorrow (Friday) evening, I am co-hosting the NYC premiere of the new documentary, We the Parents, about the first attempt to use California’s Parent Trigger legislation to take over a school, which triggered a HUGE battle (spoiler alert: the parents ultimately won!). You can watch the trailer here. – it looks AMAZING!

Here’s the review in LA Weekly:

We the Parents

Public education has been an American value since before the Revolution, and it has, to put it mildly, weathered its share of storms. While the decentralized nature of our schools has allowed flexibility, creativity and reform to take hold more swiftly than in other cultures, it also has allowed great inequities to become entrenched. With local property taxes the usual basis for funding, this is a system of "Them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose." James Takata's documentary chronicles the fight to pass and test California's Parent Trigger law, which provides a mechanism for parents to take on a failing school, possibly firing the principal or handing it over to a charter school operator. Takata masterfully tells a tale of struggling families in Compton who want more for their young children than the woefully inadequate instruction they get at their local elementary. These poor, non-college-educated parents, just like those in the suburbs, see great potential in their children and believe they're entitled to a good, even excellent, education. Takata shines a light on people's lives as they realize what power they have. Even in his news-feature style, he provides suspense, heartache, victory, defeat, hope. We the Parents is a must-see civics lesson, an example of the power of grassroots organizing and of having a good lawyer, and of how seemingly small ideas can make big waves.

It will be showing at 7:15pm tomorrow (Friday, 9/6) at the Quad Cinema, 34 W 13th St. (x5th & 6th). It’s almost sold out, so if you want to attend, you must buy your ticket immediately here – first come, first serve.

The screening will be followed by a short panel discussion that I will be moderating with the director of the film, James Takata, and key leaders from the story.

If you can’t make it on the 6th, the film will be at the Quad through the 12th – click here for showtimes and tickets.

If you don't live in NYC and would like to see the film in your community, please contact the producer, Jennifer Welsh Takata, at

Here’s the invite:

I’ve written extensively about the Parent Trigger, which is spreading across the country, and how important I think it is. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent in March 2012:

I think 90% of its power is the mere THREAT that parents could "throw the bums out."  This is an incredibly powerful negotiating tool – and the unions know it, which is why they're fighting like demons to kill it, both in state legislatures as well as at schools that try to use it.  I don't mean to diminish the importance of getting it right the 10% (or perhaps only 1%) of the time that it's used, but I'm far more interested in the 90-99% of the time that it changes the debate/negotiation.

My friend Heidi Landers saw the movie a couple of weeks ago and sent me this email:

Dear Whitney:

Last night I attended the LA premiere of "We the Parents", a documentary made by friends of ours about the first "parent trigger" effort in Compton, and the impact of that crusade.

This is actually our fourth viewing of the movie.  Jen and James Takata showed us an "in progress" cut for comments, and we then screened a still-rough cut for friends. Some time later, the California Community Foundation did a viewing for potential donors, which we attended, and last night we saw the – much improved – final version.

During that time, the parent trigger movement continued to evolve in ways that really strengthened the “We the Parents” story line.  While the movie originally ended on a bittersweet note with a procedural setback in court, the subsequent four successful ‘parent trigger’ takeovers allow the film to conclude on a far more hopeful note.  Watching the empowerment of the parents alone made my heart soar, a feeling clearly shared by the other people in the audience.  (Also, while I enjoyed “Don’t Back Down”, I think that having actual parents as the “stars” of this film makes it harder for the media to dismiss it as an ‘organizing tool’.)  The long gestation of this project has been a frustrating (not to mention financially draining) process for Jen and James, but the ultimate result, ironically, is far superior and more streamlined than the earlier version.  I know you have seen one of those other versions, but I strongly recommend you watch the finished product.

The pastor who helped facilitate the process attended the premiere and got an ovation, as did several of the Compton parents who had such courage in being the groundbreakers for this law. In retrospect, we look at what they did and think "Of course!" But you know as well as I do the threats and the pressure that attend attempts to fight the establishment, and these parents were not the empowered folks they are today. They were damned scared, to put it bluntly. Seeing them in person and knowing that thanks to their courage and initiative so much has been possible was very, very moving.  Ben Austin was also there and Parent Revolution will be doing a large education reform/political event on closing night, as they clearly think that the film is a great testimony to their work.

Jen and James are a young couple who plunged into this because Jen is in education and James is a filmmaker and they felt it was a unique opportunity to record a groundbreaking event in real time. They did it on a shoestring, with lots of volunteer services from friends and colleagues and money raised through their own credit cards and private contributions.  They are continuing fundraising through the crowd-sourcing site Indiegogo to try to retire at least some of their debts and pay the costs of distributing the film. It is a real testament to their commitment and character that they have been able to finish and polish this film and get it a premiere with their family (two very cute girls, ages 2 and 5) still thriving.

So please spread the word about this documentary and go see it yourself second time. I think you will be really glad you did.
 Best, Heidi

Lastly, below is a review in The Daily Beast, which begins:

There is a quiet war being waged in the Los Angeles public school system.

On one side: Parent Revolution, an advocacy group that helps parents invoke the state’s controversial “parent trigger” law, which gives them the power to turn their children’s schools into charter schools or replace the staff if enough parents support an overhaul. On the other: much of the state’s educational establishment and the staffs of schools threatened by the law.

Advocates of the parent-trigger law say it’s an empowering movement reminiscent of the battle for civil rights; its critics call the law a hostile takeover of schools that need to be fixed by professionals, not moms and dads. Now a new film is bringing the story of the law, and the battles it has sparked, to a broader audience.

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