“Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed from one form to another.”

This lesson learned in elementary science class rang through my mind Monday as I weaved between the tens of thousands of teachers and students at the Capitol. The energy was palpable. Signs held high stated, “Education is Power .” A voice over the loud speaker implored advocates to not stop fighting once the protest was over, but to continue demanding adequate funding for schools, to continue talking to legislators, and to run for office. As the Government Affairs Director for a Muslim civil rights organization, the last bold invitation struck me the hardest.

Everyone should care about adequately funding education, but you may be asking yourself, why does CAIR Oklahoma, specifically, support the teacher walkout?

It is a tenet of Islam to do what we can to ease economic inequity. Education is one of the great equalizers. Although we may not be able to ensure every child has a loving and supportive family, or access to wealth and opportunity, we can as a state ensure every child has access to a quality education.

An educated mind leaves little room for ignorance and bigotry.

One of the ways teachers are drawing attention to their plight is through posting pictures on social media of duct taped text books, broken chairs, and other necessary items in disrepair. These images show why teachers continue to march despite a pay raise. When we don’t fund education, we send a message to our children they don’t matter. We tell them they are not worth the tax increase, the late-night debates on the House and Senate floor, and we are failing to make the connection that their future is our future as a state.

Teachers deserve to make a living wage. Many educators have been publicly sharing their struggle to make ends meet, working two and three jobs or more to support their families. We want the people who care for and educate our children to have the energy needed to pour into this important work.

But like the voice on the megaphone said, it doesn’t stop here.

No amount of 2018 legislation is going to fix the problem indefinitely. We need people in touch with our students’ and teachers’ needs to run for elected office, especially those living in districts of legislators who have not been supportive of education. That energy electrifying and engulfing the Capitol this week needs to transform from words on signs to names on ballots. It’s a sometimes and heavy and scary responsibility to take on, but in this too, we need to send the message to our children that they are worth it.

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