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Review of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity by Micah Uetricht

8 Mar

Strike_for_AmericaThis is a book review submitted by my friend Dennis Gravey from Portland.  It is especially timely considering that the group Social Equality Educators in Seattle is currently running a slate of candidates for office in the Seattle Education Association, our local teachers’ union. As far as I can tell, they are inspired by the strategy pursued by CORE in Chicago.   Gravey assesses the strengths and weaknesses of that strategy.   I have some disagreements with his assessments and am skeptical of focusing on building union caucuses, as I had laid out here.  If I have time I’ll write a response to Gravey and Uetricht and post it on this blog.

Micah Uetricht’s new book on the Chicago Teachers Union and their historic 2012 strike, Strike for America, out from Verso Press with a Jacobin Press imprint, offers a useful and intelligent reflection on an event that has become a cornerstone of labor activists’ sense of recent history. It offers a number of useful analyses and accounts, and will hopefully become a tool both for activists within education and the left movement more broadly.  In addition, it poses some interesting and current theoretical and strategic questions that help us think through some of the toughest intellectual tasks of our time.

 

The book is organized around two essays first about the rise of CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators), of which the CTU strike leadership were members, and one on the strike itself.  These two are then followed by an extended reflection on the future, both of the CTU and the labor movement more broadly. On the rise and model of CORE the book offers a number of thoughts about strategies for rank and file renewal of existing unions and in particular the role of radicals in that project including strategies both once in leadership and for gaining power.

 

Uetricht counterposes two models for an organized radical force, boring-from-within, where radical elements attempt to influence existing leadership (pg. 30) and seizing control, where an organized faction takes power and makes unified decisions. Uetricht account of CORE’s model describes a subtly different path of an organization whose members assumed leadership, but maintained an autonomous ideological and organizational pole not only where strategy can be developed, but where dissent and education can take place. He explains that, “the caucus brought an insurgent leadership into power, but has acted independently of it” (pg. 42). This allowed the caucus to hold its leadership accountable, remain rooted in the rank and file, and become a pole for dissident rank-and-filers to gather organically and develop their insurgent potential. Without taking power, this pole would have been drastically less impactful, but without its independence and flexibility it is unlikely the result would have been as dynamic and exciting.

 

Uetricht acknowledges this model is not new, and is very similar to many experiments in rank-and-file organizing by American Left organizations in the 1970s, but it is an inspiring idea as more members of the activist left become engaged in workplace centered political work (the current IWW being a prime example of this). The rewards in this case are obvious, but the challenge will be figuring out how to continue the work of building a left pole outside of specific, if significant, institutions.

CTU organizer Brandon Johnson passes out leaflets and petitions to canvassers at Lewis Elementary.  Photo from http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3899

CTU organizer Brandon Johnson passes out leaflets and petitions to canvassers at Lewis Elementary. Photo from http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3899

Beyond the basic terms of strategy, CORE also offers an interesting example of a path to power. Rather than forming explicitly as rank-and-filers, and basing their organizing around the bread and butter interests of union membership, they formed around the more diffuse struggle regarding public education in Chicago. The roots of CORE lie not in previous union reform efforts, but in the struggle around school closings where leaders like Jackson Potter and Jesse Sharkey became recognized a leaders of a struggle largely driven by parents and students. Their identities as teachers was strategically useful in this context, but was not the main driving force for their involvement. Uetricht’s description shows an organization that initially had more focus on broader issues and ideological development, like reading Shock Doctrine together, and only subsequently moved to take union leadership after it became clear this was the only way to further the struggle for public education.

 

Discourse around union democracy and the political struggle in unions often centers on whether or not leadership serves the rank-and-files interests as workers, and imagines the project of union renewal as a project of forming better unions. CORE poses a serious challenge to this model in that it demonstrates that union renewal can, and maybe can only happen through a broader activation of workers’ sentiments for a better world and by forming organizations around ideological affinity, uniting around political vision and critiques, rather than bread-and-butter economism, i.e. following narrowly defined lines of economic interests as the foundation of union building. Of course there’s an argument to be made that teachers are more open to these more abstract forms than other workers, but there’s also an argument that economistic mobilizations actually tail more class-wide projects.  Indeed history casts severe doubt on the idea that one moves linearly from concrete, practical economic demands like wages to the more abstract, lofty demands for a radically transformed world.  We have to start seeing a more dynamic relationship between utopian dreaming, explicitly revolutionary activity, and the everyday bread and butter concerns that structure so much social tension and struggle, and this is what Uetricht’s account helps us do.

 

The idea that the project of reviving unions is centered outside the bread and butter, is deepened by Uetricht’s account of the strike itself and particularly the everyday solidarity present throughout Chicago during the strike. Not only did polls consistently show strong support for the teachers, Uetricht includes personal accounts that are difficult to fathom, receiving a free pastry and words of support from non-union baristas and even a free bus ride, all for merely wearing his union t-shirt. He implies that the real meaning of the CTU strike was not the struggle of workers against their employers, or even material effects of effective industrial action, but the work that the strike did on the class consciousness and collective sense of workers in Chicago.

 

Building off of CORE’s more ideological roots, the strike did more than create an effective union, it created an effective example of class struggle and helped build a sense of solidarity throughout the city and even activate sectors of the class seemingly far from their rank-and-file membership (though one of the unique aspects of public teachers are their embeddedness in the lives of working class families). Today it’s rare to see a union strategy so explicitly aimed at developing class consciousness and changing the collective sense of workers. Even more rare is this strategy being paired with effective, well organized, and dramatic action rather than the abortive or weak efforts at fomenting mass struggle like SEIU’s fast food organizing, UFCW’s Our Walmart campaign, or numerous IWW efforts.

 

Uetricht highlights that the overall result of this process was a destabilization of the ruling coalition of the Democratic Party. This offers an important question for Lefitsts: what is the relationship between this coalition and our revolutionary project? In some ways this is a fancy way of asking how relevant electoral politics are, but I want to highlight the lesson that Uetricht gestures at, which is that substance of this coalition is not which organizations do what and who gets in office, but how these movements affect the ideas, sentiments and activity of masses of people. The problem for the Democratic coalition posed by the CTU is not that it loses a funding source, which can easily be made up for from Wall Street, but that it loses the legitimacy among Chicagoans and poses a serious challenge to the possibility of an Emmanuel machine. The question is, what do we do with that lost legitimacy, do we run candidates, or do we build alternative power, and if we do run and win candidates, what will they be capable of? Uetricht cites the Teamster rebellion of 1934 in Minneapolis, which was helped along by the relatively sympathetic Farm Labor Party regime in Minnesota, but it was ultimately not those elected officials, but the strikers in the street that made one of the most important events of the American working class struggle.

 

Uetricht interlaces this account of union strategy with political and historical framing of the efforts to dismantle public education in Chicago. He identifies a “neoliberal” project of “privatizing” or “corporatizing” public education, through charters, philanthropic investment, school closing, and most centrally to the CTU, the attempts to break the teachers union. These strategies are in place throughout the country and have a great deal of unified coordination nationally through DC policy makers, ideologues, and monied foundations. The materialist core the analysis seems to be that Capital is using the financial crisis of 2008 to motivate a cycle of primitive accumulation over the public sector and use privatization of public enterprises as a new source of profit.

 

This analysis seems plausible, but I think falls short, just as the idea of the Prison-Industrial-Complex as a source of cheap labor fails to understand the real dynamics of social control as well as numerically not being substantiated (See the work by Loic Wacquant for a more developed account of this). It’s unclear if the potential profits garnered through this strategy are a viable way out of the accumulation crisis faced by Capital, and what’s more it tends to falls into a false narrative that counterposes privately held capital as “capitalist” and publicly held enterprises are more “socialist,” and ones that therefore might work to undermine capitalist hegemony. More than seeking profit, Leftists must ask why Capital sees it as advantageous to restructure public education when the system in place over the last three decades has been roughly successful at maintaining mass docility and a relatively easily exploitable labor supply. Austerity likely has more to do with shifting strategies of white supremacy, so called “surplus populations,” which are no longer useful to capital accumulations as either workers or consumers, and changing needs of the labor market due to automation than with a direct effort by Capital to use a formerly public sector as new grounds for profits.

 

As a final thought I want to discuss one of Uetricht’s boldest claims, that the CTU strike was a qualitative leap forward from previous movements like Occupy and the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol building. He writes that, “it was the CTU strike that first identified that rising tide in the form of an angry union membership and channeled it into an effective, militant political form, winning real gains and building power both for education workers and the communities they serve” (12). This will likely ruffle some feathers and I have sympathy with both the claim and the ruffle. I think it’s an idea that must be handled with care.

 

There’s a danger in thinking that the ultimate success of a cycle of struggle lies in the way it transforms the leadership and activity of specific institutions, and Uetricht comes dangerously close to implying that the upsurges of 2011 are significant only insofar as they impact the halls of power. In contrast to this, the reading I’m trying to pull out from this book, albeit a bit against the grain, is that the ultimate arbiter of the significance of both the less coherently organized formations in 2011, and the more coherently organized CTU strike, is the relationship they have to the broader and more diffuse sentiments, ideas and activity of masses of people throughout society, within and without protest movements or the specific organizations. What matters is not the specific organized acts but the way these acts reconfigure the balance of social forces through changing the apparently unorganized activity of millions of people.

 

In this light the CTU strike offers and important lesson on the relationship between spontaneity and organization. The debate is not: organization good v. spontaneity good; or: material impact more important v. material impact less important. Rather, it must be about how specific forms of organization express and transform the activity of millions of people in such a way that it advances a revolutionary process. What’s important about the CTU strike is not that it made more material headway in combatting neoliberalism, and could have only done so by being an organized, institutional force. But rather, that as an organized, institutional force that was able to make material headway against neoliberalism, it had unique power and potential to transform mass activity outside of institutions and specific organizational wills, activity that in a conventional sense appears as unorganized. This dynamic played itself out again in Portland where the potential (though unactualized) teachers strike allowed the students and other sectors of the activist left to become activated in ways they were apparently incapable of doing outside the context of the organized institutional movement of the teachers. Many leftists are rightfully skeptical of the radical potential of the existing institutions, but then throw the baby out with the bathwater when they use this as an reason to refuse to actively engage in shaping the activity of these institutions. While their ultimate potential is highly limited, their actions may open many unique opportunities for things to appear, even if sideways and behind the back of their movement. The Unions, non-profits, and the like will be the first to be left behind by the masses, but this leaving behind might only be possible after these institutions themselves move. In this context CORE’s independence from the union leadership is a powerful positive example, and the last minute deal calling off the Portland strike is a powerful negative one.

 

At this point is should be clear what the true test is of Uetricht’s book: How will it relate to the broader sentiments, ideas and actions of thousands (maybe indirectly millions) and help develop the left as a pole within society. In the week leading up to the potential Portland teachers strike I saw my roommate, a young teacher relatively new to politics read Uetricht’s book with relish and become more engaged afterwards, the husband of a striking teacher mention CLASS Action (another Jacobin project Uetricht also contributed to) at a solidarity campaign meeting, and teachers, parents and students discuss how the dynamics playing out in Portland are part of a national attack on public education. All of these are small, but bode well for the daunting project of rebuilding a left in the U.S. that is mass, popular and actually capable of ending capitalism. This book is a small tool in that project, and hopefully folks can figure out how to use it.

Workshop And March Tomorrow: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

19 Jan
info graphic from SuspensionStories.com

info graphic from SuspensionStories.com

where:  Garfield High School, 400 23rd Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

when: Mon, Jan 20th, workshop from 9:30 – 11:00 AM

march begins at 12:30 –  if you want to march with us, we’ll be meeting right across the street from Ezell’s Chicken.

what: The workshop will expose and analyze how the system stratifies the population through a set of “pipelines”. While some students are channeled into futures in management and the professions, and some into a working class, however insecure, still others are left to expect the least opportunities plus the threat of incarceration in the largest prison system in history.

Teachers, students, former inmates, and activists, will share how this is all fitting into a pattern of especially insidious racism, as well as other forms of discrimination.

You are invited to discuss these perspectives, and your own, with us. We will also discuss how we can inform, agitate, and organize together, to undo and overcome this oppression.

This workshop is one of many that will be held as part of the larger, annual Martin Luther King Day event at Garfield High School.

We will be marching together in the larger march, with posters and chants against the school to prison pipeline.  Look out for us across from Ezells at 12:30 if you want to march with us.

A free-standing isolation booth, now banned in Oregon.  (Source: KATU News, posted on http://www.policestateusa.com)

A free-standing isolation booth, (Source: KATU News, posted on http://www.policestateusa.com)

One of the teachers speaking in the workshop is the author of this piece, about how she and her students turned the isolation room in their classroom into an art project.

Here is the Facebook event page for tomorrow.  Please invite your friends.

The workshop is being  organized by a really dynamic coalition of people, including  folks from Africatown/ More4Mann, some of the organizers of the Youth For Justice rally this summer, folks from Free Us All (the prison hunger strike support committee), artists/writers from  High Gods Entertainment, Creativity Not Control, and folks from Washington Incarceration Stops Here (the group organizing against the new juvenile detention center in Seattle.)

Check out the links for more information, and check out those groups or others if you’d like get involved in struggles against the school to prison pipeline here in Seattle. There are lots of ways to get involved, from organizing and fighting back,  to educating and creating art and music on the subject.  We’ll see you out there!

Africatown and the schoolhouse-to-condo pipeline

14 Nov
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Photo by Alex Garland

I’m continually disappointed with the hostility that Melissa Westbrook from Save Seattle Schools blog has shown toward the More4Mann movement and the Africatown Innovation Center at Horace Mann.  As I argue below, if we want to fight privatization and save public school buildings from private use, we should be supporting the efforts in Africatown, not opposing them.

It strikes me that Melissa  is coming from an administrative, building-management perspective, rather than a holistic perspective that puts the students first.   For her, managing public school buildings is concrete, and the majority of her reporting on this story has focused on chiding the district for loosing control of the Mann building when community members refused to leave it.  She goes on and on about the polices around public building management, until  the purpose of public school buildings in the first place – educating students -starts to seem distant and abstract.

If I were an editor at the Onion, I’d write a satirical piece entitled “Education blogger takes on the achievement gap between buildings”.   Truly, it seems like Melissa wants to make sure that no building is left behind.  

This puts her on a collision course with the parents and educators in Africatown who have  focused their efforts around the students themselves and what they need.  They have continued to hold the Mann building because they have concrete plans for how to use it to help their kids – and all kids.  They care about the students enough to risk arrest.  They are impatient with the districts’ hand-wringing about the so-called “achievement gap”. They are not letting red tape stall the efforts necessary to dismantle the oppression Black students face in Seattle Public Schools.

However, I don’t want to dismiss Melissa’s care for buildings entirely.  She is right that there is a history of scandal and corruption in SPS around the mismanagement of public buildings.  Given this, bloggers and the public in general should be vigilant about how the district enforces or fails to enforce its own policies.  She is also right to fight the pro-privatization forces that are clearly attacking public school districts across the nation.  These astro-turf, billionaire funded “community groups” try to throw public officials and employees off balance, creating crises that can be exploited to sell off parts of the public school system at fire sale prices. They also use this chaos as an arena to research, test, and market new management and consulting services.  Diane Ravitch has documented all of this thoroughly in her new book Reign of Error.

The More4Mann Coalition is NOT this kind of group.  They are distrustful of Seattle Public Schools for good reason.  But this does not mean they are part of a corporate privatization agenda.  They have continuously said they want to partner with the public schools, and as a teacher I have experienced nothing but support and solidarity at Africatown events.

They are attempting to create a public educational resource rooted in the Africatown neighborhood, serving the public good in that neighborhood.  As longshore worker Leith Kahl pointed out at the Oct. 5th summit, these kinds of efforts are exactly how public education was founded in the first place.  The Africatown organizers are also committed to transforming public schools across the district through teacher/parent/student organizing and professional development for educators.

Even more concretely, they have an impressive track record of clashing with some of the very people who have been implicated in privatization efforts and corruption.  The article below presents some of the early history of the More4Mann movement, when the Umoja P.E.A.C.E. center, Decolonize / Occupy movement participants, and other  groupings allied to prevent condo developers from gaining control of the Mann building.   This article was originally posted in the comments section of a misleading report by the Stranger.

Please keep this article in mind when you hear people claim that the people in the Mann building are trying to take a public building for their own private reasons.  Also, please remember this when you hear district officials say they need to move Nova back into Mann in order to alleviate the district-wide space crunch.

Let’s ask why that space crunch exists in the first place.  I wonder – if the founders of the More4Mann movement hadn’t started taking direct action at Mann back in 2011, would the district even be trying to return Nova to the building?  Or would they be working with developers like LEXAS  to lay the groundwork for future condos and more gentrification?  

SEATTLE YOUTH RALLY TO PROTECT PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDING 
FROM PRIVATIZATION AND CONDOS
by Leith Kahl

The downsizing and privatizing of education in the US is a brutally physical process. Perhaps nowhere was this more clear than in Seattle´s Central Area on Veterans Day, when a crowd of young people refused to leave a public meeting about the future of a public school building at 24th and Cherry, which has sat vacant since the end of 2008. Police were called to eject the public from the building, and one youth and one community elder were arrested and charged with “tresspassing” and “disorderly conduct”.

An advertisement in the The Facts Newspaper had clearly invited the general public to this meeting. The meeting called by the leaders of an organization called “Family Life Center”, a ministry of Peoples Institutional Baptist Church, which also sometimes does business under the name “Work It Out”.
This entity was awarded a lease on the building by the Seattle Public School District about a year and a half ago, even though their lease bid was neither the highest bid, nor was it a bid that contained any committment to the school district to use the building for any purpose relating to public education. Their were other bids which did offer such an explicit committment, including one from the nearby Umojafest Peace Center which has a track record of turning blighted buildings into vibrant centers of community programming with almost no budget at all.

The United For Youth Coalition, a coalition of which the Umojafest Peace Center is a member, called upon its members and supporters to attend this public meeting and voice their concerns, which they did. When the “Work It Out” entity reacted to the presence of these youth by first cancelling the meeting, and then asking the Seattle Police Department to eject the public from the building, the Coalition responded by staging a protest on the sidewalk immediately outside of the building. Some members of Occupy Seattle and other local groups also attended both the meeting and the protest which followed it.

In the significant time that has passed since the “Work It Out” entity was awarded the lease on the property by the school district, the impressive building and the grounds around it have continued to sit fenced, empty and vacant, except for a few occasional days when work parties of volunteers organized by the Umojafest Peace Center were allowed into the building by “Work It Out” officers to perform the grunt work of cleaning up the facility. Although the “Work It Out” entity holds the lease and the keys, it has no budget of its own sufficient to pay for the lease that was awarded to it, and is only able to make the payments on this lease by means of a public grant of over $100,000 that it is recieving from the City of Seattle´s Department of Neighborhoods. The “Work It Out” entity has also recently announced in The Facts Newspaper that a religious organization will be moving into the building.

The Seattle Public School District has already established its reputation for privatizing public buildings this year, and for doing so in a manner that has become infamous for intrigue and cronyism. The most well know example was the controversial sale of Martin Luther King elementary school to a private religious organization, which in turn was issued public funds with which to purchase the now vacant and derilect school. (See Seattle Times article June 5th, 2011 “State investigates Seattle district´s sale of MLK school” – seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews…; ).
As a matter of fact, the Seattle Schoold District even has a page on its website dedicated to the “property leasing and sales of closed school buildings”:
http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/cm… . “The Seattle Public Schools leases out portions of operating school buildings, closed buildings, and conducts sales of surplus buildings from time to time”, this website proudly proclaims.

The very idea that a public school district would use the term “surplus” to describe any of its facilities at a time when prisons and detention centers are still being rapidly constructed throughout the country displays a certain degree of contempt for the public trust that has been invested in this school board. The recent financial scandals that have led to the termination of former superintendent Goodlowe Johnson and the arrest of the scam artist Silas Potter further illustrate the school districts contempt for that public trust.

Is this pattern now repeating itself yet again in the case of the Horace Mann school building?

Why would a building leased to a private organization at public expense proceed to sit vacant for over a year and a half? The reason why becomes apparent, even to the amature investigator, when we simply examine who sits on the “Work It Out” project´s steering committee (workitoutseattle.org/staff.html).

This ten person committee nominally claims to include eight members of the Peoples Institutional Baptist Church community, including Jocquelyn Duncan and Charelyn Stennis (daughters of the late Bertha Jinkens), Charisse Cowan Pitre (an associate professor of Teacher Education at Seattle University), Erin Fleeks (a staff member at the Central Area Senior Center), Loris Blue (Vice President of enrollment at SCCC), and local Seattle DJ Guy Davis.

There are, however only two members of this committee who are directly connected to the Seattle ruling class power structure and the investment capital behind it. These two are Kristen M. Link and Sheryl Frisk, Investement Associate and Vice President, respectively, of a real estate investment and trading firm called LEXAS Companies (www.lexascompanies.com).

LEXAS Companies publicly describes itelf as “a private real estate investment company that creates value in quality projects with distinct competitive advantages” organized to “strategically select geographical areas, submarkets, product, and cycle timing to create superior risk adjusted returns”.

The company website goes on to state the following about its “KEY EXECUTIVE TEAM”:
“The LEXAS Companies is lead by Joseph Strobele, a former senior executive of Legacy Partners and Lincoln Property, Co. along with John Midby, also Chairman of The Midby Companies, a Las Vegas developer with over 40 years experience in developing a diverse array of assets. Additionally, our company recruits, develops and retains only the most highly skilled and experienced professionals. Together our long term experience in several geographical markets along with our expertise in the development field has resulted in an array of successful projects in the Puget Sound region and has poised us to expand even further.”

LEXAS Companies describes its Vice President Sheryl Frisk thusly:
“In the capacity of Vice President, Sheryl Frisk is responsible for the acquisition and management of income producing projects for The LEXAS Companies and its subsidiaries. Sheryl manages all phases of operations of the real estate process, from locating and acquiring assets to the repositioning and disposition of investments. Sheryl serves as the key liaison with banks, investors, and Board of Directors on all aspects of the projects she develops. Sheryl is responsible for managing project specific sales teams, construction companies, consultants, and administrative and on site employees.
“Prior to joining The LEXAS Companies, Sheryl worked for the Seattle Monorail Project as the Right of Way Acquisition Manager. She was responsible for development processes including contract negotiation, managing all acquisition, property management and relocation contractors, as well as coordinating with land owners, tenants, and city officials. Sheryl’s background in land acquisition, development, property management, construction and mechanical contracting give her a keen understanding of the acquisitions and development process making her a positive asset to our team.”

LEXAS Companies is clearly not in the business of educating young people. It is in the business of deriving profit from real estate investment transactions.

Peoples Institutional Baptist Church is an old, venerable, and relatively respected institution in the Central Area, but it does not and never has weilded power within the the downtown city machine or within the world of major investment capital. Anyone who thinks that PIBC, on its own, is capable of developing the Horace Mann building is not thinking realistically. In this case, the church is being used as a pawn by LEXAS Companies, a tool with which to occupy a space on the real estate chess board which the school district is either unable or unwilling to protect for the benefit of our children.

In this writer´s opinion, the church will only be useful to LEXAS until the real estate market and the political climate are ripe for LEXAS to make its move to develop the site into high priced and profitable condominiums, just as the Housing Resource Group corporation has done with 90% of the space inside of the old Coleman building, a small corner of which is still laughably touted as the “Northwest African American Museum”. Until then, LEXAS just needs the “Work It Out” steering committee to maintain a pretense in the media that some community activity is taking place under its auspices, while ensuring that the building itself remains empty and fenced off.

That is the reason why the ministers of “Work It Out” believed they needed to summon the Seattle Police to eject members of the public from a publicly advertised public meeting in a public building on Veterans Day of 2011. They are loyally protecting the real estate interests of downtown investors who are unlikely to ever reward them for this favor.

Peoples Instututional Baptist Church can change this course of events by directing its ministry to unite with the Umojafest Peace Center and the United For Youth Coalition to actually produce public programming in this public space for the benefit of the young people who need it most.

In the meantime, people of good moral fibre should continue to support the Umojafest Peace Center and United For Youth Coalition in their efforts to protect this valuable public resource from the opportunistic and creeping acid of private investment capital. The United For Youth Coalition´s position on the matter is excellently presented in a youtube video at the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBNrSOUdA… .

Leith Kahl

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.

———————-

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!

Jock Culture, Rape Culture, and the need for Educator Hiring Halls

26 Oct

img_4351*trigger warning: sexual violence*

Following up on Veryl’s post about coaching yesterday, I’d like to share this article from the Nation about how jock culture supports rape culture, as well as this article about sexual violence at Notre Dame, my alma mater.  Both report stories of young women who were raped by members of school athletic teams, and then faced terrifying retaliation for speaking out.  Between these atrocities and the notorious Steubenville case, it should be increasingly clear to the public that America’s schools are breeding grounds of misogyny and rape culture, and that we need to put an end to this. 

Our comrade Kloncke has written some insightful and practical analysis of the struggle against rape culture in Steubenville, emphasizing the need to seek justice outside the court systems which perpetuate patriarchy and white supremacy: 

One thing is certain: none of the steps toward legal justice, halting and probably insufficient though they may be, would have happened without the bold interventions of ordinary people.  If Alexandria Goddard hadn’t grabbed those horrific tweets before the cretinous creators had a chance to delete them; if Anonymous and KnightSec had not continued releasing media to the public; if people of Steubenville, Wierton, Pittsburgh, and other surrounding towns had not come out to protest LOUDLY, over 1,000 strong in a town of 18,000; the police and the courts would have dampened and silenced the story of the assault, and Jane Doe would never have received support from all over the world — Malaysia to Minnesota, Warsaw to Wheeling.

Having spent some years in the activist scene of the Bay Area and other places, I’ve seen a lot of rallies and protests.  But the February 2nd protest in Steubenville was one of my favorites.  For one thing, it felt truly “survivor centered,” without losing touch with the political context — a difficult balance to achieve.  Brave people stepped up to the mic to tell their own stories or read aloud the stories of others: for some, this meant breaking a silence of 20, 30 years, or more.  It was breathtaking.

I also admired the rally because the audience would just shout out their opinions, unsolicited!  It was a call-and-response with the emcee; it was a conversation.  In an era of progressive NGOs in bed with politicians, or top-down protest styles that expect only two responses from the audience — cheers or silence — this protest was a refreshing example of mass participation, though still in small, nascent form.

We need more of this.  We need democratic, mass organizations linking up rural, exurban, and urban areas so that when shit goes down (and it will, again and again), we can decide, through organized bodies of people, how to take action.  When it comes to that democratic participation, and weaving together of neighboring towns, the Steubenville area could really get ahead of the curve.

At the same time, Kloncke points out that we need to move beyond simply responding to flashpoint crises: “Support is clearly necessary, but the problem is rampant, so the danger of burnout looms large…  In addition to supporting survivors of sexual assault, we must ask ourselves how to drain those stagnant pools: how to intervene in the conditions that allow rape culture to thrive.” 

I agree.  Education organizing and feminist anti-violence organizing should not necessarily be separate “issues”; the struggles we are waging in our schools should challenge rape culture on a day-by-day basis, as I wrote here.   Kloncke lays out some suggestions for the kind of demands and goals we could fight for in our schools: 

Sports. A focus on sports institutions as locations of rape-enabling power and authority would be great.  This is not to vilify organized sports, or lump  all athletes together as domineering scumbags.  But statistically, athletes are shown to have more rape-supportive attitudes.  And let’s remember: playing on a sports team, especially in high school, is a PRIVILEGE, not a RIGHT — even if the football team is the biggest social or economic game in a deindustrialized town.  It’s a little mind-numbing that Big Red has yet to exact any penalties on other players associated with the Rape Crew.  Why should they leave it up to the courts?  The Ohio High School Athletics Association specifies penalties for playing on unauthorized teams, for using drugs and alcohol, and other infractions.  NO MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.  That needs to change.  Parents, teachers, staff, students, and supporters, together, can make it change.

It says something profound about our economy and prospects for young people, as well, that commentary on the Rape Crew includes hand-wringing about whether the case will ruin Mays’ and Richmond’s chances at a decent future.  If their prospects are so bleak, what about other young people who would never qualify for an important sports team?   Throughout the country, as sports maintains its role as an economic juggernaut (from high schools to colleges to the pros), we need to demand decent resources for everyone, according to need — not just for the MVP’s.

Accountable Coaches. The second reason a school-and-sports-based strategy is useful is because it reminds us that we, the people, ought to be able to demand high-quality, well-trained anti-rape role models, educators, and resources in public schools.  Young people deserve nothing less.  And while the intention of the NFHSA reform is commendable, it’s also naïve.  A single mandatory course is not going to significantly shift the attitudes of those coaches (not all, but many) who’ve believed their whole lives that “boys will be boys” and sluts deserve what’s coming to them.  Again, these misogynist views are opinions held by a significant proportion of our society.  Why wouldn’t we demand more of our public figures, our educators, our mentors?  Instead of offering education to incumbent coaches, why not make them prove they are capable of upholding the anti-rape responsibilities that (should) come with their position?  An exam or licensing process, with a certain Pass/Fail ratio and follow-up training to support even those who pass, might not be out of the question.  (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)  And it’s weird that we’d even have to say this, but here goes: any coach who allows something like a “Rape Crew” to form among their players, under their watch, is clearly incapable of doing their job properly, and should be relieved of their duties.

Meaningful Education. Finally, in addition to demanding accountability from educators and coaches, working-class people can demand relevant and meaningful education for students — including education about rape (tellingly, many of the witnesses on the stand today didn’t seem to know what it is), rape culture, and the failures of the criminal justice system to address the root causes and conditions that allow sexual assault to flourish.  When public school teachers in Seattle, Washington recently organized with students and parents, refusing to waste precious life energy on useless standardized testing, the struggle awakened people’s imaginations to all the important knowledge that could be created in the classroom, instead of teaching to a test.  Rather than perpetuating a culture where survivors are shunned and silenced, we could be supporting students, young and old, in developing their own brilliant responses to sexual assault independent of the legal system.

Rape culture is so pervasive that it can seem overwhelming and impossible to confront.  I think Kloncke’s suggestions  provide some concrete starting points for possible struggles in the schools.   They highlight the kinds of demands we might be able to win if we develop our capacity and build a broad-based and militant teacher-student-community alliance. 

Kloncke’s point about accountable coaches also gets at a core issue in teacher/ educator/ staff organizing that I’ve written about here.   In reaction to the corporate ed reformers’ emphasis on teacher evaluation and accountability through standardized testing, a lot of Leftist and liberal teachers  have fallen into the trap of trying to defend the public schools as they currently exist.  This is not tenable, because our schools are breeding grounds of white supremacy, patriarchy, and class stratification.  We need to transform the schools, and this means being accountable to working class communities, NOT corporate think tanks and hedge funds.  Teachers and coaches should welcome  working class feminist efforts to fire coaches who condone “rape crews” and to replace them with coaches who can serve as anti-sexist role models. In fact, we should join such efforts, and look for moments in our schools where we can initiate them ourselves.  No amount of seniority and no union contract should protect a coach if there is clear evidence that he is complicit in encouraging rape.  

As a long term goal, I think we should fight for the power to make hiring and firing decisions that affect all teachers , coaches, and anyone else who works with youth, instead of leaving these decisions up to unelected administrators.  Teachers, students, and community members should be able to decide who teaches and coaches our youth.  Port workers demanded and won control of hiring and firing on the docks in the 1930s, ending the racist and humiliating shape up system (similar to the process by which day laborers are hired at Home Depots today).  However, over time these hiring halls became nepotistic and exclusive because they were run by the union itself as a private club,  not as a public organization run by the working class as a whole. Hence workers had an incentive to try to get their brothers, sons, and inlaws onto the job, which in Seattle has resulted in discrimination against Black workers.  To avoid this kind of outcome, a teacher/ coach/ education worker hiring hall would have to be run democratically with input not only from teachers but also from students and their families.  

Ultimately, this would be a revolutionary demand, because it would point the way toward a society of popular councils, assemblies, and committees instead of  one that is run by professional classes above society.  In the meantime, we can prefigure this goal by organizing ourselves and taking direct action to push the administration to fire individual misogynistic coaches and to hire coaches who know how to challenge rape culture. 

 

 

Support Needed for ACIC @ Horace Mann!

11 Oct

THIS SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2013 @ 9AM

THE AFRICATOWN CULTURAL INOVATION CENTER @ THE HORACE MAN SCHOOL ON 24TH AND CHERRY

Do you believe in justice and equality for all?

Do you believe in equitable education for all?

Do you want to see more effective education for all students in Seattle Public Schools?

So do we!

We are faced with a crisis in Seattle Public Schools!  Black children and families across the district are not receiving the education and services they deserve. The opportunity gap continues to grow! Now is the time bridge the opportunity gap.

The More4Mann Campaign seeks to partner with Seattle Public Schools to assist in advancing the achievement of black children by decreasing and ending the opportunity gap.

We are actively providing culturally relevant education for black children and families.

The More4Mann Campaign is working to establish a the AfricaTown Cultural Innovation Center in the Horace Mann School on 24th & Cherry. The Central District of Seattle is an historically black neighborhood and Horace Mann is an historical landmark.

The More4Mann Campaign is working to further establish AfricaTown Cultural Innovation Center in the Horace Mann building on 24th & Cherry and  WE NEED YOUR HELP.

We are still working with Seattle Public Schools to achieve an agreement that benefits both the district and the community. This plan will:

1) Provide AfricaTown with accessible and comparably affordable space until the completion of the renovation on the Horace Mann School.

2) Will provide future space and partnership in the Horace Mann School post the completion of the renovations.

3) Will be as community partnership that will assist the school district in achieving it’s goal of decreasing and ending the opportunity gap.

We are asking organization in support of the Campaign to:

1) Invite your constituents to the Mural Installation this Saturday, October 12th @ 9am. Seattle Public Schools invited us to design, paint and install murals at Horace Mann to beautify the space for renovation.

2) Send a member of your organization with a banner that has your name and/or Logo OR send members of your organization to the event to create a banner. These will be hung on the building as a public display of the organizations that are in support of the More4Mann campaign.

We will provide breakfast and family friend activities.

We need:

1) Art supplies

2) Paint & Spray

3) Banners

4) Ply wood

If you have questions please email us at:

More4Mann@gmail.com

Find the event on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/events/562909970423081/?context=create&ref_dashboard_filter=calendar#