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Don’t deport our students; classrooms should be sanctuaries

29 May

A few years ago, one of my students told me something that made me furious at the U.S. government: she said she was afraid to come to school because she thought ICE might show up in the classroom to deport her.  We strategized together about what to do if this happens.

I was left outraged that we even had to have this conversation. The classroom should be a sanctuary where all students can learn, without having to worry about being kidnapped by the state and removed from their families and communities.

This was just as heartbreaking as when another student asked me if you need to purchase a password in order to become an American citizen, as if the United States is a VIP club that is simply too expensive for people from his community.

These kinds of situations are becoming increasingly common; students will come in to class depressed, worried their parents or siblings are about to be deported.  Many are from working class immigrant communities that are slated to be left out by all of the comprehensive immigration reform proposals tossed back and forth in Congress.  They are the ones the Democratic Party is willing to jettison and the Republicans are ready to demonize as the “bad immigrants”, not the good Dreamers.  Many of them have gotten entangled in the criminal justice system because of racial profiling or because they had to hustle to get by since they can’t access legal jobs.  They can’t afford college because of rising tuition.  They are marked as gang members simply because of the neighborhoods they live in.  When congresspeople talks about increasing security, they mean kicking out people like them.

But where are they supposed to go?  Many Mexican youth can’t find jobs in either the US or Mexico, and are facing violence in both places.  They are a generation that is getting squeezed out of both countries, and have nowhere to go unless they fight back.  They are the North American cohort of millennial youth, children of the economic crisis who are facing a precarious future.  This generation is rising up all over the world, from the Arab Spring to the migrant worker strikes and riots in China’s Pearl River Delta.

Many of the mainstream immigrant rights groups don’t want to take up their cases because it is seen as too difficult to convince the government that they “deserve” to stay.  But when I talk with them, I don’t see threats to national security, I see intelligent, caring, creative young people who are active in their communities and are trying to build lives here.

As a teacher, I feel blessed to be connected with undocumented activists who are developing innovative organizing strategies for stopping deportations.  The National Immigrant Youth Alliance is at the forefront of an emerging movement of undocumented folks who have been reuniting families torn apart by deportation, particularly through the recent Bring Them Home actions. 

If I weren’t connected with these folks I’d be depressed and helpless when my students share these stories.  But now I can suggest some ways they can build solidarity to stop deportations, and I know there are skilled activists who can support them in this, people who come from similar backgrounds and have faced their fears together.

For this reason, I strongly encourage readers to support NIYA’s current efforts to free four young people from immigration detention.  One of these youth was deported right from his high school classroom, and has been imprisoned in detention for 71 days after trying to cross back into the U.S.

As a history teacher, I often facilitate conversations among students about past social movements such as the civil rights movement and Chicano/Chicana labor struggles.  Students will debate whether or not things have gotten better since then.  I think that 40 years from now we will remember stories of students being deported from our classrooms and will see ICE’s practices as barbaric, analogous to the oppression communities of color faced before the 1960s.  But that will only happen if we all take action to prevent the state’s ability to kidnap, deport, and imprison youth today.

Police arrest SPS “community partners” at Horace Mann during ongoing negotiations

20 Nov
Police making arrests at Horace Mann today; photo by Alex Garland

Police making arrests at Horace Mann today; photo by Alex Garland

Today the Seattle p0lice arrested four members of the Africatown / Central District community in the Horace Mann school building; they also took steps to prevent community members from retaking control of the building. One of the arrestees told me the police arrested them at gunpoint. 

While the mainstream media is presenting these men as “occupiers“, as a violent threat, or as some splinter group, they are, in fact, part of the  broad-based More4Mann movement: a coalition of predominantly Black parents, teachers, students, and community activists who want the Horace Mann building to be a public resource for the Africatown/ Central District neighborhood and for students across the district.  They want to use the building to create a school that can support Black students who are facing disproportionate suspensions and lack of culturally relevant education in the Seattle Public Schools.

As I wrote here, I was worried that the media and school district officials would try to separate the educators in this coalition from the people remaining in the building, splintering the broad-based nature of the movement.  But those divide and conquer tactics didn’t work; the entire coalition held a rally on Nov 8th to support those who remained inside the building after district and police threats had made it unsafe for the educators to continue holding classes there. The coalition put out a unified press release, which you can find at the end of this post.  The media was there interviewing people at the solidarity rally, but they didn’t actually publish what they saw, probably because it looked like this:

kids support More4Mann

And this clearly doesn’t fit with the narrative they’re trying to push.

People inside the building reciprocated this solidarity with their own public statements, like this one:

LET THIS BE KNOWN: I am a More for Mann Coalition Task Force member, seated to discuss the future use of the Horace Mann building with the school district, as are two of my co-workers, Gabriel Prawl and Purnell Mitchell. My two co-workers have asked me to post the following on behalf of all three of us: WE HAVE NOT AGREED TO MOVE, AND WE ARE ANGRY THAT MANY OF OUR TEACHERS HAVE BEEN PUSHED OUT INTO THE COLD BY DISTRICT THREATS AND INTIMIDATION! We don’t think it’s right that they were forced to shut down their classes or face the threat “tresspass” charges from the district. It isn’t right that the school district refused to sign the lease on the interim space it offered them. It isn´t right that the school district hasn´t cleaned the mold, filth and birds nests out of that space. It isn´t right for them top make our teachers teach in the rainy streets. It isn´t even right that the school district attorney Ron English and the board members who listen to him are bullying Superintendent Banda into threatening to throw the cops at our community, and are punishing Banda for even convening our task force at all.

So the mainstream media is either too lazy to investigate or too corrupt to tell the truth. It is crystal clear to anyone paying close attention, that those inside the building and those outside in the community are on the same team.  This means that Seattle Public Schools officials will not be able to make all of this go away by arresting a few people inside  – today’s raid will probably  galvanize the broader coalition to keep fighting against racism in the schools in general, and for community control of the Mann building in particular.

This afternoon, supporters of the movement rallied outside the East Precinct where the people arrested were released. 

 Upon release, they called for everyone to mobilize tomorrow at the school board meeting at the John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave S., Seattle, WA, 98134.  

This could get really interesting, because supporters of the Indian Heritage School and AS1/Pinehurst are already planning on rallying at 3:30 before the board meeting, to prevent the closure of their programs.  On Facebook, leaders of the More4Mann Movement and leaders of the indigenous Idle No More movement have been exchanging statements of solidarity, supporting each others’ causes.   Thinking they just crushed a marginal opposition, school district officials may have just helped consolidate a multi-racial movement against them. 

The media is, as usual, missing all of this context.  By calling the men arrested “occupiers”, they fail to see that trying to use a public building for the purposes of publicly educating youth in your own neighborhood is not an act of occupation.  That’s like saying you are occupying a neighborhood park by allowing your kids to swing on the swingset.  But I guess this is how the pro-gentrification Seattle establishment views the remnant of the Black community in the Central Area – as squatters in their own ‘hood.

And yet, this is the same Seattle whose politicians like to make a public show of engaging in “dialogue” with communities of color.  In fact, the people arrested are part of  the  same exact More4Mann coalition that Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda has been calling “community partners”.  It is the exact same coalition that Banda and his staff are currently negotiating with to lease space in another district building while the district renovates the Mann building.

Contrary to the Seattle Times’s sloppy reporting, the district has not signed this lease yet, for the reasons outlined here. At least they hadn’t by Nov 10th, the date of the last post on More4Mann’s blog. Neither the district nor the movement has announced any finalization of the lease, so my assumption is the Times is going off of outdated promises that Supt. Banda had made publicly but the district never followed through on.  The deal was that the Africatown educators would move out of Horace Mann as long as the programs they were doing in the building continue elsewhere.  But no satisfactory place for these programs was every guaranteed in writing.  Also, the Africatown workers’  demands that Black folks have equal access to the school construction jobs were also not met. These are the reasons why people were still in the building today. 

So by asking the police to raid them, SPS is responsible for a raid on the very same coalition that has been running programming for Black youth in the Mann building for months, programming that Banda and other SPS officials recognized for its cultural relevance and  its alignment with the  district’s strategic goal of overcoming what they call the “achievement gap” between Black students and white students.

In fact, at least one of the people arrested is actually part of the very task force that Supt. Banda set up to negotiate with the Mor4Mann coalition and to work toward this goal. This means that Seattle Public school staff worked with the Seattle Police to arrest at gunpoint someone who they claim to be negotiating with, during ongoing negotiations over a new lease and new partnership. I guess that’s what “dialogue” looks like to them. 

It seems to me like one of two things is going on here.  Either 1)  the district leadership’s behavior is dangerously erratic and it’s policies around racial equality are completely incoherent or  2) the district is sending a clear message to all of its “partners” that negotiating  with politicians might involve them calling a group of people to kidnap you at gunpoint in your own neighborhood during the middle of the negotiation process. What a way to solidify a partnership! 

But all of this is getting obscured by the sensationalist media narratives.   Kiro TV claims that one of the people inside the Mann building called them and suggested they were prepared to snipe cops from the rooftop.  But nowhere does Kiro prove that this call actually represents anyone in the More4Mann coalition, or that it even came from within the building.  According to Seattle Weekly, Omari Tahir Garrett, one of the people arrested today, “claims the call was a prank from someone trying to make them look bad, and vowed to press on.” 

All of us should press on, despite all this negative media and and the police raid.  The issues that MOre4Mann has highlighted are still unresolved.  The community’s refusal to relinquish control of the Mann building has pushed the district  leadership to talk about these issues, but I don’t think we should take their words seriously since they also just coordinated the arrest of someone on their own task force.  

Let’s learn from Africatown, and start taking matters into our own hands.  Let’s organize in all of of our schools and neighborhoods, against racist discipline policies and in favor of culturally responsive education.  We could take direct action, such as campaigns to reinstate students who are unfairly suspended, or efforts to replace aversive discipline policies like isolation rooms.  And, most importantly, we should support Africatown and the Indian Heritage program tomorrow at 3:30 at the school board meeting. 

 

More4Mann press release (Nov 8th 2013, coinciding with a rally outside the Mann building): 

Imminent Eviction of Black Community Education Center by SPD

The Seattle Police Department has issued a notice to the Africatown Center for Education & Innovation to remove this needed community resource from its location at the Horace Mann School as soon as 6pm tonight, November 8, 2013. The Seattle School Board has refused to negotiate in good faith with Seattle’s Black community to preserve necessary programming at Horace Mann, Africatown’s only location, which benefits cross-cultural communities of color in Seattle’s Central District.

The Seattle School District has, in spite of comment from Seattle’s Black community, chosen to return the NOVA Alternative School to Horace Mann. Overwhelming community support in the Central District and among the Black community for continuing ACEI’s mission has been ignored by the Seattle School District’s push to relocate NOVA from its current spacious and sufficient location central to its student body on 20th Ave E.

ACEI has put down roots in reclaiming Horace Mann School *for* the Black community and has brought in cross-cultural programs that benefit many Seattle children, from bilingual Spanish/English education for grade schoolers through the Seattle Amistad School’s summer program at ACEI to fostering shared community responsibility through the Africatown Center Children’s Collective where we bring the proverbial village together to promote an Afrocentric curriculum for young minds.

It is imperative for Seattle’s Black community that we retain this resource and that the School Board speak to us in good faith about discussing future possibilities for Africatown at Horace Mann. We can work with the Seattle School District to create a better, Afrocentric focus for Horace Mann School, a school in the very heart of the Central District and we are more than willing to do so. However, the Seattle School District has given ACEI nothing but bad faith and now impending eviction.

For more information on the programs offered by Africatown Center for Education & Innovation, please see http://www.africatownseattle.org/africatown-center/.

Protest Weds to save the Indian Heritage Program

18 Nov

uwgvrdUHZfyghYc-556x313-noPadThere is going to be a protest to save the Indian Heritage program, Weds at 3:30 before the school board meeting.  The organizers  state “it is unconscionable that resources been completely withdrawn from Native programming and services, while SPS acknowledges the statistical facts illustrating disproportionate academic performance, disciplinary action, and highest dropout rates for Native learners.”

I agree.   I’ll be there, and I encourage everyone to come.  Between this and the fact that the district still hasn’t signed a lease with the Africatown educators (and are still threatening a police raid instead), the district is looking mighty callous in how it relates to communities of color.

This also seems to be part of the ongoing standardization of curriculum and undermining of alternative education, which we also see with the suppression of the race and social justice  curriculum at the Center School, and the closure of Pinehurst/ AS1.   I’m still learning about this, but the sense I’m getting is that supporters of  AS1/ Pinehurst are  advocating that the district create a new, combined AS1- Indian Heritage Program with culturally responsive services and Native-focused instruction, instead of closing both programs.   This also seems to be a demand that Idle No More organizers from the Native community will be raising at the rally on Weds (see the list of demands below).

At the school board meeting on Weds, Supt. Banda will be proposing the closure of Pinehurst.  But this amendment and also this one propose merging AS1 and Indian Heritage instead.

It should be another very interesting and heated board meeting.  Hope to see ya’ll there.

——-

The facebook page for the protest is here.  Here is the call to action, from WA state Idle No More:

There will be a rally for the Indian Heritage Program
Wednesday November 20, 2013 from 3:30 – 6:30 pm
John Stanford Center
2445 3rd Ave S., Seattle, WA, 98134

Seattle Public Schools HAS CLOSED the Indian Heritage!! Please come and support our Native youth! If you are available to come and give public testimony of your support on Wednesday you need to CALL IN MONDAY 11/18/13 at 8 am (206) 252-0040 to get on the agenda.

Please WEAR RED SHIRTS at the rally in a show of unity and solidarity as a collective voice opposing closure of Heritage and in support of new k-8 ‘Native Heritage ‘ ASI school and Indian Heritage at Ingraham/West Seattle school ( Fall 2014).

**************************************
After nearly 40 years of operation, the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) announced the closure of the American Indian Heritage Middle College High School, a.k.a. Indian Heritage, located at 1330 N. 90th Street, Seattle, WA.

José Banda the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools presented a public statement last July 2012 expressing commitment to consult with the Native community on ‘next steps’ in consideration of revitalizing the Indian Heritage, the pending BEX Levy, demolition of the Indian Heritage facilities, and the preservation of the murals created by Andrew Morrison. Instead the Indian Heritage and Native students suffered continued decline in 2012-2013 being reduced to digital learning, no Native-focused instruction, no Native-infused curriculum, and a new instructor unfamiliar to Native students, parents, and community. The Native community proposals and concerns addressing these drastic changes have been ignored by SPS.

After the May rally to save the Indian Heritage program SPS had met with Native community members and said the Native students would be temporarily relocated to Lincoln High School during construction of the new school, that SPS would work with them in revitalizing Indian Heritage, that the murals would be preserved, and Indian Heritage would come back to the new school. Instead SPS claims the Indian Heritage was eliminated because there were ‘not enough kids’, but SPS never contacted the students about the plan and made no effort to recruit new students, the Native students have now been forced to assimilate into an entirely different program and relocated to Northgate Mall.

It is unconscionable that resources been completely withdrawn from Native programming and services, while SPS acknowledges the statistical facts illustrating disproportionate academic performance, disciplinary action, and highest dropout rates for Native learners. We want SPS to address why 30% of Native students are in Special Education, we want to know why SPS fails to comply with Individualized Education Program and 504 Basic Plan, and why Native students are underserved and over represented in this area of education. The trajectory for Native learners in SPS is of tremendous concern given the districts decisions to eliminate Indian Heritage and displace current programs functioning at the Indian Heritage facilities.

At this time we will again initiate and voice our opposition with Seattle Public Schools plan to eliminate Indian Heritage. We as a community will invite SPS to listen to our viable plan that includes our recommendations to revitalize the Indian Heritage program by:
• Temporarily relocate the Indian Heritage program to Lincoln High School as planned NOT to Northgate Mall until the new site has been completed in 2017.
• Revitalization of Indian Heritage program at Ingraham H.S. and West Seattle H.S. location
• As SPS is a recipient of Title VII federal funds for enrolled Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native students, we ask that they comply with regulations that include:
(1) meeting the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives;
(2) the education of Indian children and adults;
(3) the training of Indian persons as educators and counselors, and in other professions serving Indian people; and
(4) research, evaluation, data collection, and technical assistance.
Thus as Title VII Part A states, “ensuring that programs that serve Indian children are of the highest quality and provide for not only the basic elementary and secondary educational needs, but also the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of these children.” Currently there is absolutely no demonstration of this in SPS relocation program.
• We recommend that all the murals that were made by artist Andrew Morrison (Apache/Haida) be preserved and incorporated in its original form into the new school (and not be replicated as Mr. Morrison requests).
• Rename the Wilson-Pacific School ‘Robert Eaglestaff School thereby keeping a promise made to the Native community in 1996 by John Stanford and echoed by Norm Rice.
• Provide support for new a ‘Native Heritage’ AS-I school with Native focused instruction/curriculum and culturally responsive services.
• Preserve the Sacred Site of the Duwamish Licton Springs.

Also, there is a petition to investigate the elimination of the program.

The struggle for Horace Mann is not over: time to get clear on a few things

8 Nov

Since the summer, members of the historically Black central district community in Seattle have taken back the Horace Mann building from the Seattle Public Schools (SPS). Calling out the district for it’s racially biased suspension rates, lack of culturally relevant curriculum, and general oppression of youth of African descent, they have been running their own educational programs in the building, called the Africatown Innovation and Education Center (AIEC).  Hundreds of Black youth have participated in learning activities there over the course of the summer and fall.

 The school district wants to begin renovations on this building immediately, so that it can be turned over to a majority-white alternative school called Nova (even though many Nova teachers, parents, and students do not want to displace the AEIC).  Africatown residents have refused to move, delaying construction and creating an accelerating political crisis for the SPS leadership.    For background info, click here and here.

Horace Mann is located at 24th and Cherry St., Seattle.  Barring a police raid, there will be a Black labor movie night and disucssion there on Fri at 6 PM.  I encourage everyone to go by and check it out for yourself.

This week, the struggle kicked into high gear. In this post, I’ll attempt to provide an update based on my own observations as a participant in recent movement activities, as well as  info from reliable sources within the movement.  My goal is to provide an orientation for supporters who might be starting to get involved right now.

It’s especially important to orient ourselves because there’s been a wave of negative media attacks on the More4Mann movement  that threaten to sew confusion among supporters.  The movement responded with a powerful press conference on Saturday, and a strong presence at last night’s school board meeting.  As Kiro 7 reports, the board meeting was packed, with people waiting in line to get in.

The agenda for the Nov 6th board meeting was supposed to include a vote on whether the school district would lease space to the AIEC  to continue the educational programs they had started in the Mann building while Mann is being renovated.  This was part of Superintendent Jose Banda’s public, verbal promise to help facilitate their temporary move to another building, part of the partnership he said he wanted to develop with the AIEC educators to help close the racial achievement gap.  However, SPS legal counsel Ron English later informed him – suspiciously late in the process – that he could not make this sort of deal on his own and that it would have to be put up to a school board vote.  This delayed the negotiations, causing libertarian-minded opponents of  both Africatown AND Banda  to become more and more enraged about how much money is being lost due to delays in renovations at at Mann.

The board was supposed to vote last night, but Banda asked for a delay, using the excuse that he wants  more time to negotiate an effective solution.  I wonder if the real reason might be that he was worried he might loose the vote if it was taken tonight. This would be a problem for him because  he has staked a good deal of his political capital upon presenting himself as someone who can dialogue with activists from communities of color, and if the board prevents him from bringing a deal to the table, then he can’t claim he diffused the crisis and instead the community might just turn up the heat on the district even further.

Two of the board members (Patu and Peasley)  seemed supportive of Banda last night, and another two (Debell and Carr) seemed openly hostile.  The rest seemed on the fence, but I think they’re leaning against Banda because they kept criticizing him for “losing control of the building” and allowing Africatown residents to “occupy” it, violating district policies.   Ron English intervened only once in the meeting, reminding the board that Banda couldn’t just table the vote on the lease- that  the decision to table it would  itself have to be put up to a board vote.  They eventually did vote to table it, but some of us read this as Ron English and his bureaucracy reminding Banda who really calls the shots.

It is important that supporters of Africatown pay attention to these serpentine political twists.  I’m not saying we should have faith in any of the politicians, or see any of them as our allies.  But we should take inspiration from the fact that the actions at Horace Mann have created political tensions among the city’s managerial class, tensions that we could possibly exploit to further push our own agenda.

Banda’s opponents seem particularly angry at him because they think he has been too soft on people who have “broken the law” by holding a building to pressure the district to negotiate.   Lynne  Varner, Seattle Times mouthpeice for the corporate education “reformers”, has this to say in her recent blog post:

“ Banda has the right instincts to listen when people demand attention, particularly when it comes to the long-standing problems around academic disproportionality.  But he should not put up with, nor subject his employees, to bullying, threats and intimidation. At this point, talks about a district-Africatown partnership ought to be off until cooler heads prevail. If the group wants to get serious, get rid of the fringe element  horning in on what could be a promising community partnership.”

Melissa Westbrook  from the  Save Seattle Schools blog is worried that other groups will get the idea that they can also occupy buildings in order to get what they want.  For example, will Pinehurst  / AS 1 families and teachers occupy their school in order to prevent the district from closing it?  As I wrote here , I agree with Melissa that a cascading chain of direct actions is a possibility right now; while she thinks it’s a looming disaster, I think it’s a great idea.  In fact, I think the kind of direct action that Africatown folks have taken is exactly what we all need to do to save Seattle public schools – and transform them to meet our needs.  Black folks in the Reconstruction South took action to create public education in the first place, and it’s no surprise that the attacks on quality, relevant, anti-racist public ed. have focused most viciously on Black communities, from Philly to Chicago to Seattle.  So it’s also no surprise that the fightback is beginning most intensely in Black communities, and the rest of us should spread it into our schools and neighborhoods.

To keep this pressure going, activists at Horace Mann have set up barricades (visible in this news report).  Supt. Banda and Peggy McEvoy announced at the board meeting tonight that they were coordinating with the Seattle Police to forcibly remove people from the building.   Both sides are entrenching, and things are clearly coming to a head.

As a result, people across Seattle, and across the country are paying closer attention to this struggle, and to the much needed conversation that it has provoked about racist practices and policies in Seattle’s schools.  As numerous speakers asked on Sat’s press conference and tonight’s meeting: “would the district even be addressing these issues of racial inequality if people had not refused to leave the Mann building?”

Residents of the Central District/ Africatown, members of the Black community more broadly, veterans of the Occupy movement, and others have been attending events at Mann, and I would not be surprised if a lot of people decide to mobilize in defense of the movement if Banda does call in the cops.

At the same time, racist elements are also showing up.  Last night, a white man came by the Horace Mann building and called several of the people there “racist n*****s” .  At the school board, a man said that Africatown’s anti-gentrification rhetoric is simply designed to manipulate “people who don’t understand the hard work involved in owning property.”

Given these rising tensions, it’s especially important that supporters of the movement seek clear information from More4Mann organizers, and that we don’t trust the distorting narratives that will inevitably be spread by district officials, cops, mainstream media outlets, and hostile social media forces.   Here are some predictable  narratives we should refuse to fall for:

  1. “squatters” vs. “phds”

Tonight at the school board meeting, Superintendent Banda recognized a fact that the movement stressed heavily on the Sat press conference – that the curriculum for the AIC is being developed by highly experienced teachers, professors with PhDs, researchers, and educational consultants.

This is true. But the movement also includes working class parents and students, including folks with a wide range of experiences, from Microsoft tech workers to people who did time in prison.  Movement spokespeople have been stressing the presence of folks with PhDs  so much recently in order to counter a backlash  of distortions coming from folks like Melissa Westbrook and others who have described Africatown as a bunch of squatters with no expertise and no capacity to actually teach students.  These people are putting pressure on Supt. Banda, calling him irresponsible for even negotiating with the More4Mann movement for this reason.  (it’s worth noting that Westbrook is something like a “kingmaker”; she was influential in taking down a previous superintendent, Dr. Goodloe Johnson).

Tonight, it seemed like the Africatown Educators and Supt. Banda were both trying to convince the fence-sitting board members to recognize the expertise that the educators bring to the table, so that the board would sign the lease allowing the educators to rent space from the district (in portables at Mann and possibly at Columbia Annex) where they can run the AIC programs until the Mann building renovations are complete.

This rhetoric of “squatters vs. phds” might be a turn off to those of us who believe that education should not be something that only state-certified teachers can do;  many of are fighting for a future where teaching and learning are infused throughout society instead of enclosed within narrow professions.  We are trying to create a present where teachers, parents, and students all learn from each other.

This rhetoric might also alienate possible supporters from the Occupy or anarchist movements.  Many of them have experience squatting or occupying buildings in order to survive,  and/or because they are trying to take back resources from the system to start building a life worth living.

It’s important to keep in mind that when Africatown educators say “we are not squatters”, this is just a  temporary tactic being used by people who have themselves been taking back a building from the school district in order to build the kind of future they want.  It’s also just one tactic within a broader diversity of tactics that make up the overall strategy the movement is putting forward.

Finally, taking back the building has not just been a bargaining chip in a grand reformist strategy.  People have been serious about creating a free, autonomous zone at Mann, and the building has functioned as a hub where people can meet each other and grow community; in that sense, going there has reminded me of some of the best moments in the Occupy camp (but without some of the problems that came along with Occupy’s majority-white demographic).

Finally, people are rejecting the “occupier” and “squatter” labels because it’s  insulting to be called a squatter in a building that was once a historically Black school in a neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified.  Africatown folks insist they are not occupying the building, they are simply taking it back for their neighborhood, and if the district comes in and takes it over, they will be the ones “occupying” it through the force of their occupying army – the Seattle Police.

2) Responsible activists vs. violent radicals

Tonight Banda introduced another, more divisive element to the mix.  He said that the “responsible” educators he is negotiating with have all left the building, and that those who remain in the building are not part of Africatown and hence are not part of the ongoing negotiations.  Right after Banda said that,  Peggy McEvoy reported how she was working with the Seattle Police and their legal team to prepare to remove these “other people” from the building even as Banda continues to negotiate with the educators.  Banda openly supported this.

 While Lynne Varner is trying to lump the people in the buidling in with the educators in order to shame Banda, Banda is trying to separate the two groups in order to make himself look like someone who only negotiates with what he called “certified community organizations.”  Personally, I don’t trust Banda and I think that most of his attempts to negotiate have been attempts to coopt and diffuse the movement.  But, in the  the face of mounting pressure to his right, he might exchange the carrot for the stick; he might decide that he needs to send in police in order to show his critics that he can take charge of the situation.

He had tried cooptation first because he probably knows that violent repression could just create a bigger backlash of anger against him and against the city government.  So if he does opt for the stick over the carrot, then he will probably instruct the police to apply force in a very precise and strategically focused way, in order to shape the political narrative in ways he can control.

Based on my experiences in past movements, the media often assists the police and politicians with this sort of operation, manufacturing the false claim that certain crucial elements of the movement are somehow outside of it, in order to isolate these elements and control the movement as a whole.  We saw this with the whole “good Occupiers” vs “violent anarchists” divide that Dominic Holden and other journalists pushed during Occupy, which helped the police justify some of their repression.   I predict there will be an increasing slew of media reports presenting the people who stay in the Mann building as violent extremists in order to justify a  violent police attack on them, sending a clear message to other movement participants that they will be spared this repression as long as they distance themselves from the people inside.

We should all resist this pressure to distance and isolate them. 

It is important to emphasize that this rhetoric about a split in the movement is Banda’s and the media’s, and is NOT coming from the Africatown educators themselves.

It is true that the Africatown educators are negotiating with Banda and the school board to rent a new space for their programs.  It is also true that they made a tactical decision to move their educational programs out of the Mann building temporarily in order to secure their classes and equipment, leaving other movement participants to secure the building itself.  Folks can certainly debate the pros and cons of this tactic, but we need to be clear on this: it is NOT true that they have given up on trying to take back the Mann building. Noone has publicly renounced that strategic goal which has always been central to the movement.  More importantly, noone has denounced the Africatown residents who continue to hold the building.

According to Brother Preach’s interview with Kiro News , the folks inside are staying there in order to create a place to educate Black youth.  In other words, they continue to reiterate the main, shared goals of the overall movement.

It is unclear to me exactly what the educators are demanding in their negotiations with Banda.  They may be demanding the right to return to Mann  in the fall after renovations, or they may be  demanding a permanent presence during renovations.  At several of the educational summits, spokespeople for Africatown have suggested they want to maintain a presence during renovations, and at the summits, press conference, and school board meeting, several organizers argued  that the portable space offered by the school district negotiators is not adequate.

This statement was just released by people who have remained inside the building, arguing that

“The portable they have offered, and essentially forced upon Africatown educators, is unsafe, unclean, has no bathroom, and is not ADA compliant. Also, there is a birds’ nest in the ceiling. (see attached pic. And, the portable is open for you to see for yourself). More pics to be posted at allpowertothepositive.blogspot.com and elsewhere. The 2nd portable on the property is full of mold and unsafe, as is the Columbia Annex. Because of this, the educators cannot fully move out of Horace Mann and/or do youth programs, since they cannot set up in hose portables in that condition or store their stuff in any of the offered locations!”

One Africatown source said that it may be possible to  continue educational programs in the Mann building itself while the new extension is built, then they could conduct these programs in the extension while the old building is renovated.

Africatown folks will handle all these details in the course of their strategizing and negotiations.  But what all of this adds up to is this: there is no split in the movement, just a diversity of tactics.  The people who remain inside the Mann building right now, behind the barricades, are also part of the More4Mann and Africatown movements, and are also fighting to create a community there, where Black youth can learn and grow.   They are not some radical “break away faction” or “violent extremists” or whatever else the media will want you to believe.   They have the same goals as the educators  and folks with Phds who are trying to negotiate with the district.

3. negotiations vs. direct actions, or “control your people, then we’ll talk”

Significant pressures might be put on the Africatown educators to get the other Africatown residents out of the Mann building. The district and opponents in the media might argue that the none of their demands will be met until they convince people to leave.  Or, the district might offer a barely inhabitable building for their programs, saying “we would have given you more if those people resisting the police eviction hadn’t given you all a bad name”.  It’s kind of like a union negotiation where the bosses say they’ll only give the union leaders what they want if they show they’re able to control the rank and file workers, e.g. sucessfully convincing people to end a strike.  Usually this doesn’t work because it is exactly the threat of disrupting business as usual  that brings the bosses to the table in the first place and when that’s taken away, the bosses can do what they want.

In fact, right now – before any eviction defense actions – the district isn’t offering much; hence, the lovely portable with a birds nest in it.

The best way for the educators to get what they are demanding is for all of us to keep up the pressure, through a variety of tactics focused at Horace Mann and throughout the city. Some people might continue to hold down the Mann building.  Others might provide them with food, water, etc.  Others might engage in social media outreach.  Others might start organizing  direct action campaigns against suspensions or racist discipline on a school-by-school basis.  The key thing is that we all need to remember that the act of refusing to leave Horace Mann is what sparked this movement in the first place.  Without that direct action, everything else we do could easily be brushed back under the rug and ignored.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Africatown is a neighborhood, not an organization.  It is a term that residents of the Central District have given to their neighborhood, signifying their desire to counter gentrification and to create a vibrant cultural hub among people of African decent.  Just like there are many organizations and political tendencies in Chinatowns with different priorities, so too are there different tendencies within Africatown.  The task force of Africatown residents that has been negotiating with Supt. Banda never claimed to represent or govern all of Africatown, and should not be held responsible for everything that people in Africatown or their comrades might choose to do.

It’s an old white supremacist tradition to collectively punish people of African descent for the behaviors of one or two people who the colonial settler judicial system / lynch mob decides are “criminals”.  It’s also an old white supremacist tradition to tell Black leaders that they can only get respect if they separate themselves from the rest of their people.  Non-black supporters must  separate ourselves from the  mob mentality that produces both of these pressures and must confront this bullshit whenever we see and hear it.

4)  white outside agitators

One thing we know for certain is that the power structure is going to move swiftly against both those in Africatown  who move from Mann and those who stay, so long as the Africatown movement keeps effectively developing a specifically pro-African public education project.  As the empire attempts to crush yet another Black renaissance in Seattle, workers and peoples of all nationalities and cultures must decide which side they are on. Trying to be neutral simply means to side with the empire. At the same time, those who aim for the principled course of supporting and defending their Africatown neighbors must realistically expect to be branded as “outside agitators” by media and even by some fellow activists.

This is a predictable tactic that we’ve seen deployed in the Oscar Grant rebellions and the East Flatbush actions against police violence.  By claiming that all direct action is done by  “white anarchists from the suburbs”, the system can try to silence and preempt direct action in communities of color. Ultimately, this claim rests on the racist idea that Black people are too cowardly or too stupid to take action to benefit themselves, and that when they do take action they must be manipulated by white agitators.

In any case, the facts are clear: those who began the action at Horace Mann are people of African descent, and so are the majority of people who continue to hold the building. If you see non-Black people there, this is simply a testament to the broad-mindedness of Africatown organizers who are building a beautiful home and are graciously inviting in guests.  It should also serve as a slap in the face of all the critics who are crying “reverse racism”, claiming that being pro-African means being against every person of European descent.

Here is my advice to those of us who will inevitably be called outside agitators:  it is a lump that can and must be taken in stride, as Seattle’s Black population deals with much worse stress on a daily basis than being called a negative political term. The key is, while not being intimidated by such terms, to also not behave in any ways that said terms would accurately denote. In other words, respect the  self-initiative of folks in Africatown, and its truthful saying that “nothing about us without us is for us”. This doesn’t mean uncritically deferring to every Black person you meet or waiting to take initiative until someone gives you orders.  If you have concerns or disagreements, don’t hide them.  But don’t come in telling people what to do or acting like a condescending savior either.

Note: This is also about equal access for Black workers 

The folks who are staying in the building are also protesting the fact that Black construction workers are not being given clear information about where to apply for the construction jobs at Mann and at other school renovation projects funded by the  BEX levy.  For more info, see the open letter  from members of the African American Longshore Coalition and A. Phillip Randolph Institute, or check out their film series

Conclusion 

I encourage everyone reading this to get involved in the movement.  This is a crucial struggle that will shape Seattle public schools for years to come, and could forge the kinds of solidarity necessary to reverse the attacks on public education and to challenge institutional racism in our schools.  Don’t believe the hype, investigate everything you hear critically, and stay in touch with the Africatown organizers.  There are many ways to take action – choose one and take it as far as you can!

Why we should all support Africatown right now – Rally and Press Conf. Sat

1 Nov

Below is a call to action from the More4Mann coalition regarding the future of the Horace Mann school building, and the future of Black youth across our city.  There is a rally and press conference at 2 PM at Mann, 24th and Cherry  in Seattle.

Whether or not you agree with the tactics  and rhetoric of  More4Mann and the Africatown Innovation Center they are building , you have to admit they have created a situation where the severe obstacles facing Black youth can no longer be hidden behind school district smokescreens.  They have refused to leave the Mann building until the  District takes these issues seriously, and partners with them to actually do something about it.  This is a historic opportunity to start head-on confronting the institutional racism that our passive aggressive middle class politicians want us to ignore.

Needless to say, every powerful act of Black liberation in the US tends to create a backlash from people who are scared to do what it takes to dismantle white supremacy, and are even more scared of the  new world that young black geniuses might build if they’re armed with a powerful education.  

More4Mann_banner3

There has been a media backlash this week against the More4Mann movement.   I’m worried that it might be part of certain faction’s efforts to sabotage the Africatown programs and to force Supt. Banda to back down from the public comittments he has made to partnering with the More4Mann movement.  Banda had said publicly, on record, that he would  allow the Africatown Innovation Center to rent space in another district building during construction at Mann, and to return to the Mann building in the fall.  We need to hold him to this promise, because the district has not yet committed to it in writing. 

  We encourage everyone to engage in the debates and to write comments on these articles: 

Even more importantly, everyone in the city who cares about fighting racism in the schools, and anyone who cares about Black youth should come out to the press conference on Sat at 2 PM.   This is  bigger than simply a local struggle in the C.D.   It is a growing, broad-based, city-wide, multi-communal movement with leadership from accomplished educators and activists of African descent.   

I went to the Black Education Summit held at the Mann building on Oct 5th, and I was totally energized and inspired to hear the presentations of educators like  Dr. Joye Hardiman, Marcia Tate Arunga, and Dr. Debra Sullivan.  As a teacher who works in the ‘hood, I’ve sat through hours of boring, useless, naive, and dishonest professional development trainings on race and diversity. All of them talk about race very narrowly in terms of multiculturalism and awareness of white privilege.   This may be better than nothing,  but they fail to recgonize the need to decolonize our entire curriculum, to change every aspect of the learning culture and institutional structure of our schools in order to meet the needs and desires of students of African descent.

None of those trainings have really illuminated  the cultural assets and intellectual strengths that  students of African descent bring to the classroom.  None of them have really helped me relate better to my students.  None of them have affirmed my love for my students, or my efforts to be a part of their community, on their terms, in ways that can help them see their own potential, their own futures, not some  teach-for-america-white-guilt-freedom-writers-I’m-gonna-save-the-poor-black-kids bullshit.

I knew Africatown was the real deal the minute I heard highly experienced Black educators speak about things I’ve experienced in the classroom and have never head any teacher,  from any racial background, talk about.  Like the fact that students need to see us teachers as whole, three dimensional people, not simply as distant, flat authority figures who fill bureaucratic roles.  Many Black students want to pose and answer high-level critical questions and want to co-create knowledge with their teachers.   They love to play with langauge and to create rich, literary narrations of every aspect of life, including informal interactions.  They are bored answering questions if they think their teachers already know the answers to these questions and  are not telling them.

I had learned some of these  things from my students, my friends, my mentor teachers, and my coworkers.  But I was constantly looking over my shoulder, doubting this knowledge, thinking maybe I was being “unprofessional” for teaching this way.  These aspects of my teaching seem to work for my students,  but I’ve been worried some district official will walk into the room and censure me.  It was incredibly empowering to hear accomplished educators with years of teaching and research experience affirm that yes, this is how we should teach.  It made me want to put every ounce of energy I have into teaching and learning with my students.  

Imagine if every teacher in the district could experience that?  Imagine if the Africatown educators set up a thriving pilot program at Mann.  Imagine if they research and analyze their own practices over time.  Imagine if they offer professional development to teachers in other schools based on their findings, so that we can replicate their successes in our classrooms?  

Despite what the critics are saying, the Africatown educators are not being racist when they say that Black students learn differently.  They are  simply pointing out a fact you will NOT learn in a 28 day Black history month unit that spends the first two weeks on slavery.  That fact is this: the  Black community has not only experienced oppression and victimization but also resistance, creation, and cultural brilliance.  The community has struggled hard to maintain and grow aspects of what several of the Africatown educators call an “African centered epistemology” – the belief that human beings are inter-related and we can only  know ourselves and grow ourselves through each other.  This is such a powerful antidote to all of the individualism, competition, standardization, and bureaucratic boredom of capitalist education that we’ve been railing against on this blog.  It is a unique  cultural expression of the idea of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” that many of us are fighting for in all aspects of our lives.

In other words, I think that an African-centered learning process is not only different from what other district schools have to offer.  It is better.  Students of all races could benefit from learning this way.  The haters should step out of the way and the district should partner with More4Mann and allow them to work with teachers across the district to make this happen.

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We are hosting a Press Conference this Saturday, November 2nd at the Horace Mann Center (24th and Cherry).

MORE 4 MANN

THE POWER OF WE!

The community mobilization around the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation at Horace Mann has reached a critical moment, and we need all hands on deck.  Many of you are also working on developing an African-American education agenda for Seattle Schools and we invite you to join us this weekend.  Let’s unify, and shift the paradigm for our youth.

We intend to announce the positive educational outcomes and programs we plan on developing for our youth in the community; and announce our forthcoming partnership with Seattle Public Schools. Come and learn about many of the successful programs created and organized by parents and community members.

We need every parent, child, youth, and community member that is able to attend in support.  We want to present a unified community and message to the media.  We are taking responsibility for the education of our children and providing the district an opportunity to rectify past inequities and ineffective methods to educate our children.

We will no longer accept and allow sub-standard resources, results, programs and policies directed to our young geniuses.  The 2012 Seattle Public Schools Data for African-American Students highlights the crisis-

  • Only 48.5% of African-American 10th graders met or exceeded standard for Algebra
  • Only 29.1% of African-American 10th graders met or exceeded standard for Biology
  • 26.9% rate for short-term suspensions for African-American middle schoolers (highest number in the district)

We will no longer accept these types of results.  We have amazing parents, students, activists, educators and leaders in our community.  We have resources, and we have the solutions.  We will only accept a narrative that begins to aim for 100% graduation, 100% African and African-American students ready for college AND career, and 100% of our students matriculating to post-secondary options with a network of mentors, and a strong positive identity in-tact.

Join us Saturday. Facebook the event. Invite a friend. Bring your children.

  • If you only have only 1 hour in the day- I’ll see you at the Press Conference at 2 pm.
  • If you have an extra hour- arrive at 1pm and join us for a meal beforehand.

The paradigm has shifted, and we’re not turning back.

See you Saturday!

Flyer To the Nova Community About the Mann Building

7 Sep

At the last school board meeting, and NOVA parent and contributor to this blog read this open letter to the NOVA community regarding the current debate over the use of the Horace Mann building in the Central District.  We also passed out the flyer below, which summarizes the points in his letter, and folks are also sharing these with the NOVA community.   If you know anyone who studies or teaches at NOVA, or parents who have students there, we encourage you to share this with them.

Why Nova Should Support the ACIC  pdf

Flyer for the NOVA community; summary of an open letter by a NOVA parent

Flyer for the NOVA community; summary of an open letter by a NOVA parent

The Speech I Gave at the Youth for Justice Rally

24 Jul
Youth for Justice Rally

Youth for Justice Rally

The Youth for Justice rally today was amazing!  Over 100 high school students in Seattle came together in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  They also expressed solidarity with the ongoing prison hunger strike, and  demanded an end to ICE Holds. (ICE holds are when  the King County jail holds prisoners to be deported; inside their chambers, the County Council was debating whether to drop this policy, while we rallied outside).

The students were better organized than many adult activists, and they spit some powerful poetry expressing a sharp analysis of the system we live in, including the education system.  Their solidarity and care for each other was moving, especially since it crossed racial lines.   The mainstream media coverage doesn’t really do it justice – if the youth share their experiences, poems, speeches, or videos of the rally, I’ll post them here.

In the meantime, here’s the speech I gave, calling for teacher-student solidarity in the struggle against white supremacy:

I am a public school teacher.  And there are some politicians out there who think that my role should be to stand up in front of you and list a bunch of  facts about history.  They want me to make you write these  down so you can regurgitate them back  on a standardized test.  If I don’t do that, they will try to get me fired.  What  those people don’t understand is that truth is not in a textbook or a test, it is out here in the streets.  Truth is here in your poetry and your courage and your unity. It is here in the fact that you are not simply learning history, you are making it.

So I am not going to stand up here and lecture you.  In fact, you are the teachers, and I am and the student.  Because what I’ve learned from you today is that solidarity is alive.  It is not just an idea or a slogan, it is here in your words and your actions.

  In the California prisons, the Black and Latino gangs have declared a truce so they can strike against the prison guards who deny them an education and torture them in solitary confinement.   You have taken that spirit of solidarity from the prison yards into your neighborhoods, your classrooms, and here into this park.   I see  non-Black youth here supporting Black youth who are being targeted by the George Zimmermans of the world.  And I see non-immigrant youth here supporting immigrant youth who are being targeted by La Migra, and the ICE holds that the politicians up there enforce.   This is the kind of solidarity we need to tear down white supremacy and to replace it with freedom.

You’re giving me hope that we can build that kind of solidarity between students and teachers. We all know that Black youth are 3 times as likely to be expelled from Seattle public schools as white students.  If you all decide you want to fight that, some of us teachers will get your back.  We all know that they are cutting funding for education and youth programs, while they’re spending 210 million on a new juvenile detention center to lock ya’ll up.  If you want to fight that, we will get your back.    We all know they are trying to deport immigrant youth who they label gang members, and we know that they put that label on you simply because of who you kick it with at school.  If you want to fight that, we will get your back.

Teachers across the country are fed up with this system.  Seattle teachers successfully boycotted the MAP test this spring and defended a teacher at the Center School when he was transferred for teaching anti-racist curriculum.   So if they try to  get us fired for teaching about the Black Panthers or the Chicano movement, will you get our backs?    If we demand smaller class sizes and enough time to build caring relationships in the classroom, will you get our backs?

This, right here, is where the real learning happens, not on some scantron bubble test.   We make the road by walking it.  We write the story by living it.  And together,  we can tear down all the borders and prison walls that divide us.