The right wing says: because taxpayers put food on our table as teachers, you each get to be our bosses and you get to micromanage every minute of our time. If we care for your children in ways that appear inefficient, you can fire us. They would never tell the shareholders in a company that they get to directly manage production line staff, nor would they tell taxpayers that they get to directly manage the daily routine of the president or the joint chiefs of staff, who they also claim “work for the people”. In fact, they don’t think working class people should manage anything. But, curiously, they do tell white hetero men that they get to manage how their wives spend their time and how they raise their kids- “because they put food on their table”. Now, consider that the majority of teachers are women, and that we participate in the upbringing of children. Does anyone else see a pattern here?
On March 1, 2012, uplifted by the spirit of Occupy, a group of us picked a fight with the largest private foundation on the planet.
Two years later, we are now facing the very real possibility that in addition to reproducing the education pipelines that lead to prison, precarious labor, or privilege, Bill Gates is encouraging his fellow billionaires to railroad highly explosive Bakken shale oil and Tar Sands bitumen through the middle of our city.
“The 99% Challenges the Gates Foundation to an Education Policy Throwdown”
Back in 2012, we challenged the education policy experts at the Gates Foundation to a street-style debate as part of a coordinated National Day of Action for Public Education. (We even delivered a fancy engraved invitation .)
We joined together to protest the outsized influence that the Gates Foundation wields to push its neoliberal education model. To our amazement, their staff actually came out to debate with us when about 300 or so of us descended on their palatial headquarters in Seattle.
Frankly, considering that this was their full time job, the Gates Foundation policy experts were woefully unimpressive in this General Assembly style interaction. The parents and teachers in our crowd gave them quite a drubbing over some key issues that these “experts” are clearly getting wrong:
Standardized Testing and Teacher Pay – the Gates Foundation was (and still is) one of the major players in the push to tie teacher pay to standardized test results. A member of the crowd (an editor at Rethinking Schools magazine) nailed them over the numerous studies that showed the volatility of test scores from year to year. Teachers with stellar scores one year are painted as failures the next. Gates Foundation experts sheepishly agreed.
Racist Origins of Standardized Testing – Another participant stumped them completely by asking about the origin of standardized testing. The Gates Foundation experts were not aware that the tools they promote were originally designed by the Eugenics movement to apply assembly line models to classrooms in attempt to prove the ‘genetic superiority’ of whites. Standardized tests continue to do what they were designed to do — maintain a system of racially segregated education.
Charter Schools – the Gates Foundation was (and still is) one of the major players in the push to advance charter schools. As we have pointed out repeatedly in words and actions, the public schools are failing youth of color and working class youth. It is understandable that many parents, communities, and progressive teachers will want to build alternative schools that have some degree of autonomy – ability to develop their own curriculum, to set their own schedules, etc. Many people start charter schools thinking that they will offer such freedom; Bill Gates, on the other hand, wants charters in order to help take capitalism to a whole new level.
The charter movement may have started with good intentions but it has rapidly become a tool of corporate privatization rather than a viable laboratory where new forms of teaching can blossom and spread throughout the public system. Charter schools become just as bureaucratic and authoritarian as public schools – some even more so, because charter-ization often paves the way for military academies or militaristic, heavily disciplined forms of teaching. Many charter schools have admissions requirements, which makes it easier for elitist schools to maintain class and race segregation; this can also lead to discrimination against students with disabilities, which federal public education legislation was designed to prevent (whether it actually does that effectively is another whole conversation, but charters can make it worse).
Many charters are non-union, which means their teachers are more stressed out due to longer hours and lower pay. This can make it harder for them to focus on building relationships with students. It can also mean the teachers have less academic freedom and can be fired more easily for teaching something that the administration doesn’t like.
When Bill Gates and his foundation push for charter schools they are not pushing for the dream of parents and teachers who want to opt out of an oppressive public school system. They are pushing for their own dream – a corporate controlled education system with fewer public roadblocks in the way of billionaires who want to fashion education to suit their own goals.
The crowd made these criticisms of charter schools perfectly clear to the Gates Foundation.
People over Experts
At the “Education Policy Throwdown” we learned firsthand that what these “experts” are doing is not driven by observation or science. They are paid pseudo-scientists who are paid to go find facts that support the preconceived ideology of Bill Gates. They manipulate public policy behind the scenes by selective funding of research and by creating an atmosphere where everyone in academia is afraid to point out that the 800-pound gorilla has no clothes.
We also learned that they are vulnerable. When called out into the streets to actually explain themselves to the public that they foist these policies upon, the Gates Foundation is simply defenseless.
Gates’ Policies Are Still a Train Wreck
So, what else have they gotten wrong regarding education?
Small Schools Initiative: The Gates Foundation spent over $2B convincing school districts to break their large schools into smaller “academies”. Gates later admitted that the results were “disappointing” AFTER districts spent their OWN capital dollars physically re-architecting their campuses around a rich guy’s baseless hunch. (BTW, ask the folks at Seattle’s Cleveland High School about this one.)
Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project: The Gates Foundation spent years trying to validate their preconceived belief that teacher effectiveness can be scientifically measured. They were wrong. According to the National Education Policy Center, their “…results do not settle disagreements about what makes an effective teacher and offer little guidance about how to design real-world teacher evaluation systems”. (This study even won the NEPC’s 2013 Bunkum Awards, recognizing lowlights in educational research).
Bill Gates and his foundation get it wrong because their policies are based on the neoliberal belief that the most important dimension of a human being is their contribution to the economy. This ingrained belief expresses itself in systems that make the role of education to simply prepare workers for the labor market.
In fact, this is the explicitly stated goal of their post-secondary education program: “Our goal — to ensure that all low-income young adults have affordable access to a quality postsecondary education that is tailored to their individual needs and educational goals and leads to timely completion of a degree or certificate with labor-market value.”
Bill Gates is also wrong because he is a hypocrite. He brags about the quality of his own relevant and relationship-based education at Lakeside, yet funnels everyone else into the pipeline that creates worker bots.
Preach One Thing, Invest in Another
Hypocrisy, or something darker, must motivate the investment portfolio of the Gates Foundation. According to an analysis of their 2012 tax returns by Mother Jones Magazine:
They preach nutrition, but invest billions in MacDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Burger King, etc.
They preach support for the working poor, but invest billions in Walmart
They preach about fighting climate change, but invest billions in fossil fuels like Exxon Mobile, Arch Coal, Peabody Coal, Baker Hughes, etc.
WORST OF ALL, they preach that they will not invest in companies with “egregious corporate activities”, but invest in private prison companies like GEO Group and G4S Corporation, which operates 19 juvenile prisons in the US. (GEO Group publicly stated that their profits would suffer from “reductions in crime rates” that “could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences,” along with immigration reform and the decriminalization of drugs.)
The Gates Foundation directly profits from maintaining the School to Prison Pipeline and from maintaining the dysfunctional economic status quo.
However, as we have written about on this blog before — our struggle is not JUST against the School To Prison Pipeline, but against ALL of the pipelines that systemically strip people of power and possibilities. The pipelines to prison, to precarious employment, to overworked technology labor, or even to the stressed managerial class* are ALL BAD for the people in them. (*Note that suicide now kills more 40-60 year old white males than car accidents).
Next Target, Higher Education
Bill Gates and his foundation continue to build the pipelines that perpetuate privilege for some and prison for others. Their latest target is now the university system, which they seek to destroy and rebuild in their own techno-capitalist vision.
The Chronicle of Higher Education released a detailed report that sharply criticized their new approach, which they state is “designed for maximum measurability, delivered increasingly through technology, and…narrowly focused on equipping students for short-term employability.”
One structural change promoted by the Gates Foundation is the channeling of Federal Student Financial Aid toward schools that do not require ‘credit hours’, instead allowing students to demonstrate competency by completing online training.
According to the Chronicle’s report, the tremendous financial power wielded by the Gates Foundation creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within the administration of colleges and universities. Few are willing to speak out against Gates’ vision of education as job preparation. If schools follow this vision, we all lose the many other critical roles that colleges have played in society. The university will no longer be a place for reflection on the meaning of human existence (or other such “non-productive” activities).
Automation and Education in the Era of Robots
The Gates Foundation goals are shaped by Gates’ plans for the next era of capitalist accumulation. As Gates, Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com, and other tech company titans push for increasing automation of the workforce, more and more workers will be replaced by robots. As this happens, society could be increasingly divided into new classes – those who own the robots, those who manage them, those who serve these two groups, and everyone else who is deemed a “surplus population” and targeted for mass incarceration and other forms of social destruction.
If this stratification proceeds, the corporate owners would need to reproduce it in the schools. Since charter schools make the education system more flexible, their presence might help speed up this process. Gates and his technocrats might push for elite, holistic, creative schools for the future robot owners, heavy STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) schools for the future robot operators, discipline-based job training programs for the future servants, and prison-like schools for everyone else. Some teachers might become highly-paid professionals training the global elite and their programmers and engineers. Others might become low-paid service industry workers who deploy automated “teacher-proof” online curriculum, punishing students who don’t pay attention to what Bill Gates wants them to see on the screen in front of them.
The Gates Foundation is already deploying electronic bracelets on students’ arms that measure their arousal levels in the classroom; they could use this data to help automate teaching, creating online and cybernetic technologies to replace teachers. This might seem far-fetched, and it is admittedly decades away at least. But the world we live in today would seem extremely far-fetched to early 20th century auto workers. Little did they know that the time-study researchers watching them do their jobs would use this data to replace them with robots.
Bill Gates Might Just Blow Us All to Hell
Clearly Bill Gates has been wrong about many things before and will be again.
However, one his miscalculations may cause immediate searing and painful death to some and will likely accelerate the death of all of us through climate change.
You see, according to Forbes Magazine, Bill Gates is the person that convinced his friend Warren Buffet and his investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, to invest in Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) and Canadian Railway (CN).
Bill is pretty clever, and he saw that all of that Tar Sands and Bakken Shale Oil might not be able to get to market in China, ESPECIALLY if the Keystone XL pipeline was not approved by the Obama administration. So, Berkshire Hathaway invested heavily to increase the capacity of these rail systems so that they could carry more of these petroleum products.
The cruel irony is that last month, the State Department ruled that Keystone XL will have no impact on CO2 emissions because, even if it not approved, the oil/tar in the ground would get to the market anyways via the newly expanded rail capacity. The result is that the staggering amounts of Canadian Tar Sands will now be strip-mined and sold overseas, accelerating the pace at which the planet will become a climate-ravaged hellscape.
The Gates Foundation holds more than $10B worth of Berkshire Hathaway. They took a minimal risk in the railway investment — even though the rail lines may have profited more without Keystone XL, they win. They can afford to take risks and lose a few.
However, folks in the pathway of their rail cars filled with these highly explosive materials are not so lucky. Perhaps Bill Gates should have educated himself on one of the key themes of Greek literature – Hubris. His unwarranted self-confidence puts our schools, our communities, and our climate at extreme risk.
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:
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:
“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
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!
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.