Tag Archives: courageous action

Breaking News: SPS “Hearing” Today vs. More4Mann / Africatown Arrestees

12 Dec

The following is  a press statement released yesterday from the More4Mann Coalition. It concerns a public hearing today, Dec. 12th, at 3 PM.  Readers of this blog are encouraged to attend as supporters and witnesses.

 According to the press release, organizers expect that they will encounter a talking-to, not a genuine hearing.  Have the district officials already made up their minds to approach their so-called “community partners” with coercive discipline  instead of genuine dialogue?  Have they already decided to expel these activists from district buildings without due process?

If that’s the road they choose to go down, all I can say is that they will have chosen to treat parents, teachers, and community activists the way their schools all too often treat Black students. And that would simply highlight the importance of the More4Mann coalition’s original demands, the demands that folks were arrested while trying to make.  It would also highlight the need to resume the culturally responsive programming that the coalition was doing in the Horace Mann building before they were interrupted by the arrests.

 In any case, this whole situation is far from over.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE! / FROM: THE MORE 4 MANN COALITION

 

SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

CONVENES KANGAROO “HEARING”

AGAINST THE MORE 4 MANN ARRESTEES of Historic Africatown

Seattle Public Schools appears to continue doing everything it can to pretend that African Americans in Seattle don’t exist.

For several years now, a broad coalition of Seattle’s African American community and its supporters have been (alongside the Federal Justice Department) calling out this School District for its over-50-year-long record of absolute failure to serve the educational needs of its African American constituents. The More 4 Mann coalition even mobilized volunteers, free of charge, to activate an impressive array of programs in the public Horace Mann School Building, which the District had not used since 2009.

This August, the District claimed that it wanted to embrace and enter into partnership with this pro public education grassroots civil initiative, and engaged the More 4 Mann Coalition in several months of dialogue. The District and the Coalition convened a community task force that issued a progressive set of recommendations in favor of African American inclusion and involvement, both intellectual and manual, in the renovation of the Horace Mann Building, as well as in the curriculum and programming to be provided in that building when its renovation is complete. The task force also recommended a series of mitigating measures to prevent any complete displacement of the Africatown community from that historical address, either during OR after renovation. The District then signed a letter of its intent to adhere to these task force recommendations.

Apparently, an old guard faction within the District then proceeded to reassert power, countermand the pragmatism of the Superintendent from LA, and to dictate his next actual moves as well as those of the Seattle Police. Electricity to the building was unilaterally shut off on November 9th, which interrupted many of our programs. Those programs which managed to continue were then also interrupted on November 19th, when Seattle Police raided the building without eviction notice or search warrant, unilaterally arresting three programmers (including a task force member) and one member of the general public who happened to be visiting the building at the time.

While under arrest, these four were all handed an “Exclusion” flier by a representative of the District, which claims that they are forbidden to attend any School District meeting or set foot on any District property for one year, but that they may appeal this decision to an internal hearing process under “Board procedure F44.01”. This is clearly an attempt to prevent the More 4 Mann Coalition from presenting public grievances to our government, especially as it came only six days after another SPS “Admonishment” flier, which threatened to exclude a More 4 Mann task force member from School Board meetings if he made any more public criticisms of the District´s powerful and influential, but apparently incompetent General Counsel Ron English.

Naturally, our coalition and its attorney have appealed these SPS fliers and demanded a public hearing. The District agreed to set this hearing for3 PM tomorrow, Thursday December 12th, at the John Stanford Building.

However, the District has just informed us this evening, the night before the hearing, that not only have they already, in effect, rendered their decision as to its outcome, but that…

THE PERSON WHO WILL RENDER THIIS HEARING’S DECISION IS THE SAME PERSON WHO AUTHORED AND SIGNED THE SPS FLIERS THAT WE ARE APPEALING!

While we cannot consider this to be a legitimate hearing under such conditions, we shall still attend it to show our respect for civil procedure as community volunteers behind the School District’s stated mission of education and opportunities for all.

We therefore encourage all members of the press and the public at large to show up and witness this kangaroo court in action:

Tomorrow, December 12th, 2013, 3PM

Safety and Secuity conference room on the first floor of the

Seattle Public Schools

John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

2445 3rd Avenue South

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

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

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

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

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

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

kids support More4Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Imminent Eviction of Black Community Education Center by SPD

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

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

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

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

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

Africatown and the schoolhouse-to-condo pipeline

14 Nov
1452032_10102030412768570_2079111469_n

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!

Note to Pinehurst: hunker down like Africatown

29 Oct

Pinehurst is an alternative school in Seattle that emerged out of the social justice movements and cooperatives of the 1970s.  Now, the school district is trying to close / move it.  As Melissa Westbrook at Save Seattle Schools blog suggested, maybe the Pinehurst community should take note of what’s happening at the Africatown Innovation Center at the Horace Mann building, and should simply refuse to leave.

According to Pinehurst’s website, their “staff work with students using an alternative pedagogy that emphasizes experiential learning, differentiated instruction and connecting classroom learning to real-world contexts.” I met a Pinehurst teacher when we were tabling at the NW Teachers for Social Justice conference, and he emphasized that Pinehurst emphasizes hands-on learning outside of the classroom, and they also connect with various social justice efforts to provide students with chances to grow as active members of society.  This all seems worth supporting and defending in an era of increased centralization, standardization, routinized classroom boredom, and top-down control.

Though they serve  different communities with different demographics,  advocates for Pinehurst might be able to learn something from the struggle of parents and educators of African descent, who  are organizing themselves to build a school called the Africatown Innovation Center at the Horace Mann building.  A broad coalition of educators and activists are arguing that the district’s pedagogy, curriculum, school cultures, and disciplinary methods are not working for Black youth, and they aim to build a center that can create a model for effective, community-based education rooted in African-centered values.

Melissa Westerbrook, over at Save Seattle Schools blog, is no supporter of Africatown.  In fact, she seems highly anxious about the fact that Black folks are taking matters into their own hands; she is particularly upset they are refusing to leave the Horace Mann building until the district meets their demands.  She seems to suggest this is a threat to law and order and is advising the district to crack down.   She doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the political controversy that would erupt  if the district and/or the mayor order in cops to colonize and displace people from the building.  The images of the police brutality involved would quickly spread across the country, mingling with images of Chicago and Philadelphia youth protesting school closures in Black neighborhoods.    Melissa chides the district for not asserting proper control of the situation; maybe the district politicians understand better than she does just how angry people are about the current state of our public schools.

keep calm

A liberal is someone who asks the question: “is it legal” instead of  “will it bring us closer to freedom?”   By that definition, Melissa is definitely a liberal.  I wonder what she thinks of  the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement which straight up broke the law, or the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast programs which were public resources run  by everyday people, not by the state bureaucracy.  These sorts of efforts tend to fill  liberals with fear because they cannot be controlled.  They also send a clear message to everyone in society that direct action gets things done much faster than waiting on lawyers, politicians, or PTSA and union bureaucracies.

Melissa seems especially concerned that  other people might get the idea that they can just take over schools if the district doesn’t do the right thing fast enough.   She writes:

I have asked but have not seen any kind of temporary lease agreement (but now, it’s onto public disclosure).  What seems to be the case – outwardly – is that the district is allowing whoever to stay in the building – probably for free – until the district finds them another space (I read Columbia Annex).

I’m done with asking the Superintendent, the staff and the Board about this.  Clearly, no one is in charge.

Note to Pinehurst; hunker down and refuse to leave.  It seems to work well for others.

Maybe Pinehurst folks should take her advice?  She probably means it sarcastically, but I think it’s actually a  good suggestion, one that might be effective in the current political climate.  What if Pinehurst supporters refuse to leave their own school until the district meets their demands AND the demands of the Africa-town Innovation Center?   

I wonder, is Melissa trying to do some pro-bono consulting work for the district leadership?  Is that her intention in warning them they might soon have a bigger problem on their hands if they allow the Africatown folks to set a precedent?  Perhaps she is correct in that assessment.  I’m not sure if Pinehurst folks or other groups across the city are as prepared to take direct action as the Africatown community.  The possibility that they might be seems to fill her with dread, while it fills me with hope.

imagesWhen Black folks take matters into their own hands,  this tends to open up cracks in the power structure.  All of the skeletons that the passive aggressive white liberal politicians have hidden in their closets start to come out, and everyone has to deal directly with the contradictions of race and class that run deep through our society.   Because institutionalized racism/ white supremacy is such a key stabilizing factor in our society, when it’s challenged a lot of things become possible, not only for the Black community, but for  every group of people that is not happy with the status quo.   Remember when the Black liberation struggle of the 1960s inspired a new wave of feminist and LGBTQ liberation struggles? Or when wildcat strikes by Black auto workers in Detroit inspired white workers to walk off the job protesting unsafe working conditions?  Who’s to say it can’t happen again?

The district officials are educators, or at least claim to be.  So they probably know some of this history, and maybe that’s why they’re hesitating to crack down.  Do we know this history?  And more importantly, are we willing to continue making it?

Maybe  the Africatown struggle will teach folks at Pinehurst (and at other schools across the district) how to win demands from school district leaders who seem to understand bold actions much better than petitions and polite complaints.

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.