Mark Kurlansky has been known to write some great works of history. 1968 traces the crescendo of the protest era right before its crash and the ensuing backlash. One of the lessons of the book is that the end of liberal protest was a global phenomenon crashing over the planet like an historic tidal wave. In both Europe and the United States, student protestors had overplayed their hands.
The hope is that we are now seeing the high tide of the corporate conservative era, the era that had replaced the protests of the 1960s.
France had an important election last week. Socialist candidate Francois Hollande beat out incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been a darling of the corporatists throughout his term. Hollande made it clear that he will not maintain France on the austerity path that has caused so much misery throughout the European Union. The banksters have been sucking Europe dry with the budget-cutting meat axe, aided by the likes of Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But the focus in Europe will be the future relationship between France and Germany. They are the two largest nations in the European Union; essentially the nucleus of the whole operation. Their historic rivalry and their shared border has been the source of much European conflict, including two massive world wars. The EU was a way for the two nations to foster cooperation, bury their past animus and pool their economic resources in order to compete with the American juggernaut across the pond. With the election of Hollande, it is clear that the two nations will be embarking on different paths in the near future.
Hollande has signaled that he is willing to compromise with the Germans on austerity. The major test of his presidency will probably turn on how well he straddles the line between compromise and carrying out the anti-austerity mandate he has from the French people. The world will be watching, including Americans who are looking for a sign of hope that the global corporate monolith can be reined in.
There are signs in the United States that corporatism has reached its crescendo as well. The 2010 Tea Party movement was, essentially, an austerity movement that had the same singular preoccupation with budgets as the bankers at the EU. Two years of their presence in Congress has done nothing but bring deadlock to Washington. The American people have seen through it and seem poised to turn the bums out of office come November. Retrospectively, the Tea Party might be what I hoped it would be when it started: the last dying gasp of the corporatists.
A year later, Occupy Wall Street demonstrated that a wide swath of the country yearns for something greater than the corporate welfare that has defined government policy for the past three decades. Rather than an expression of a moribund philosophy, like the Tea Party was, Occupy was the morning star of a new, hopeful era of American politics. It seeks to fulfill the promises of hope that swept Obama into office four years ago. It seeks to fulfill these promises because it is obvious that Obama has not.
Since the eviction of occupations across the country, it has fallen to us to give the nation heart that the era of corporate control is in a stage of overreach. By “us”, I mean those who speak and act against the latest battleground of corporate domination: public education.
It may have started in earnest with the victory of the Congress of Rank and File Educators in Chicago. CORE took the lead of the Chicago Teacher’s Union by standing on a platform that opposed the tools that make corporate education reform possible: mayoral control, charter schooling, high-stakes testing and teacher-bashing. While their grasp on the CTU is not absolute, they have moved themselves into a position that makes effective resistance to school privatization possible.
Pineapplegate served to fuel a United Opt-Out Movement that had been growing stronger every day as it was. It has brought home, in patently obvious terms, the problems with determining a child’s future and a teacher’s career with exams made by unaccountable corporations. The blogs and the news stories that have made their rounds over the past few weeks show that average Americans are pulling back the curtain on what corporate education reform actually means for America’s children.
To be clear, the backlash against corporate education reform will go nowhere without the cooperation of teachers and parents. The victory of CORE and the growth of United Opt-Out are two threads that, at some point, must be woven together.
This is where the teachers of New York City come in. We here in NYC have the privilege of not only working for a mayor and governor who have hitched their wagons to the star of school reform; we also have the privilege of belonging to a union that has done the same. The United Federation of Teachers under Randi Weingarten negotiated the contract that made administrators lords of their own fiefdoms. It also created the Absent Teacher Reserve crisis that, as we speak, demoralizes veteran educators every single day. The 24 schools that will be closed after this year will only further bloat the ATR pool.
It is also the UFT, along with NY State’s union, that negotiated the recent evaluation system that makes high-stakes testing king. Not only does it promise to test every student in every subject at least twice a year, its teacher rating system short-circuits teacher tenure. Pineapplegate would have not become the scandal it deserved to be if it took place in some other state. Teachers, administrators and parents shudder at the thought that we all will be judged by exams mired in stupidity by 2014.
This is why a cadre of NYC teachers have created a new caucus: The Movement of Rank and File Educators. Much like CORE in Chicago, MORE stands against the things that make corporate education reform possible. This includes a union that has been complicit in these reforms.
MORE has the opportunity to take hold at a time when the ground is more fertile than at any previous point in recent memory. This means, most importantly, building those bridges with parents that will make or break the backlash against corporate education reform. Those bridges were blown up with the 1968 teacher strike. Not only that, it can be argued that the strike poisoned the well for the entire idea of local school board control, paving the way for Bloomberg’s dictatorial Panel for Educational Policy.
Those bridges must be rebuilt. As the name suggests, MORE is not just a union caucus, but a movement. Sure, it seeks to restore dignity to the teaching profession in NYC. However, it also seeks to harness the historic tidal wave symbolized by what is happening in France, Greece, Britain and the Occupy movement in the United States. It seeks to be the next progression of the anti-corporatist backlash. This means activating teachers, parents and students. This means replicating what Occupy was trying to do for America as whole (namely, reducing the corporate in favor of the people) within the context of the education system in NYC.
And there can be no more appropriate place than in NYC, the land of Wall Street, Cuomo, Bloomberg and Weingarten. Much like all of the forces of corporatism converge in this one place, all of the forces that will bring corporatism to a halt must converge here as well. Today it is Francois Hollande in Paris. Tomorrow, there is MORE to come in NYC.