January 26, 2021

Knoxvillians unite to denounce DeVos, predicted Secretary of Education pick

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Market Square on Monday night to protest Betsy DeVos’ confirmation for Secretary of Education.

Credit: Bradley Blackwelder

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly 250 citizens gathered in front of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s downtown office to protest the likely appointment of Betsy DeVos to the office of Secretary of Education on Monday, Jan. 30.

Those in the crowd insisted that DeVos was not qualified for the job due to her lack of experience in public education. Many also expressed frustration with Alexander’s apparent lack of response to their calls to oppose the appointment. Despite these concerns, attendees said that they felt better knowing that they were at least able to find some level of local support.

“I don’t think Trump would ever pick a good Secretary of Education, but he can certainly find somebody better than DeVos,” Stephen Wilke, an attendee, said. Wilke led several of the crowd’s chants and held a sign reading “Dump DeVos”. Another sign he carried read, “Education is a right, not a [expletive] privilege”.

Dave Gorman teaches seventh-grade science at Cedar Bluff Middle School, and has been in the profession for 16 years. Gorman said that he does not think DeVos is qualified because she does not know enough about the public school system, and does not seem interested in learning. “The questions she was asked [in her confirmation hearing] about federal laws – she didn’t know those things, and didn’t think she needed to. She hadn’t prepared, and you don’t prepare when you’re arrogant. She felt it was in the bag, I think, and that’s unfortunate.”

Kevin Rowland is a teaching veteran with 20 years of experience under his belt. He said that one of the major sources of his frustration has been what he describes as silence from Sen. Alexander, which makes him wonder if anyone on the other end of the phone line cares enough to listen. “Senator Alexander has a history of being willing to reach across the aisle if need be, to work with people who hold different points of view. But for some reason, on this issue… it seems like he’s completely shut himself off from his constituents, and I think Senator Alexander is better than that.”

Although the crowd’s frustration was palpable, there was also talk of inspiration and hope for the future.

“There’s been a chant that this is what democracy looks like, and it is. This is what America looks like,” Gorman said. “Somebody in this crowd is thinking, ‘I’m gonna be the one that’s gonna help make a change. I should run for office. I’m gonna make sure I’m registered to vote. I’m gonna make sure my friends are registered to vote.’ These are the things that inspire people.”

Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the Secretary of Education on Tuesday morning. This is unlikely to deter protestors, though, if Gorman has anything to say about it. “We’re fighting, and we will continue to fight and protest. It’s inspiring to see this many people here. This is where it starts.”

Additional coverage of this event and protest footage can be found here.

Featured image by Bradley Blackwelder

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

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