Tag Archives: Activism



Eugene Debs did not have convictions. He had beliefs and was convicted for them.

Leftist groups in the United States have traditionally descended into cannibalism. At first, they start off well enough, find a unified vision and make some progress. Socialists did pretty well as third party candidates at the start of the 20th century, for example, by getting the votes of unions and other, ideologically less rigid, groups.

But making progress requires compromise; and compromise requires pragmatism. At a certain point, the most convinced ideologues (the Marxists, communists, anarchists, rigid socialists, extreme feminists, culture talkers, racial thinkers, etc.) draw their own lines in the sand and say “enough! No more compromise! After all, aren’t we fighting against a system of so-called ‘compromise’ as it is?” They then turn on each other, each accusing the other of being too soft, too ideologically impure, too (God forbid) conservative. Then the  flesh-eating begins.

There is a reason why ideologues like Lenin were able to take control of Russia at the start of the 20th century. They brought rigid, autocratic ideology to a country accustomed to autocracy. When the Bolsheviks started their purges of the bourgeois class, they were building on a tradition of autocratic purges Russians knew well, not the least of which were the frequent pogroms against Jews. Strict loyalty to the Romanov family and the Orthodox Church that served as its handmaiden was replaced by strict loyalty to the party. Dialectical materialism became the church. Pogroms against Jews were replaced by pogroms against monarchists and capitalists.

Do not be too enthralled with your own convictions. A conviction is merely a belief that has been allowed to fossilize. It is like going fishing, catching one fish and holding on to that one fish forever without ever bothering to fish again. In order to strengthen, broaden and deepen one’s beliefs, one must constantly cast their net into the pond to ensure a steady stream of fresh fish. If not, you starve and those who have done the messy work of fishing will grow fat and prosperous.

Convictions are dead fish, dead beliefs.

The real world, especially the world we call the United States (and double triple especially the world of New York City), is messy. It requires a messy mind, one teeming with all types of fresh fish, to keep up. Quite frankly, people so steeped in their convictions scare me. They are of the same ilk as religious fundamentalists, no matter what the religion is.

Now, this does not mean that all beliefs should be malleable so that one becomes a jellyfish with no core. What it means is that we must be open to having ALL of our beliefs, even our most cherished beliefs, reexamined and challenged from within. You might reexamine your beliefs and find that you believe them now stronger than you ever did before.

Who ever reexamines their convictions? Wouldn’t they cease to be convictions the moment one reexamines them?

Convictions are not open to reexamination. That is what makes them dangerous. Convictions, at their core, are enemies of freedom.

A word of caution to the activists.

Upcoming Events and Protests

Very busy day today. I will post these events in the sidebar later.

Tomorrow 3/15/12 (4:00pm): Rally @ 65 Court Street

In response to ten years of Bloomberg’s failed educational policies, concerned teachers, parents, community members, and elected officials  will gather on Thursday, 3/15 at 4 pm. Instead of holding our protest at Borough Hall as we did last year, Brooklyn has chosen to express itself closer to the source, across the street from the DOE Office at 65 Court Street. This rally is for EVERYONE with an interest in the public schools and ANYONE who is fed up with attacks on teachers, closing schools, release of teacher data reports, parents being cut out of the equation, and budget cuts to educational services.  Please bring your colleagues and remember to wear blue in solidarity.

Saturday 3/17/12 (2:00pm): Open Air Meeting @ Athens Square Park

Dear Friends,

I thought that you might be interested in an upcoming event in Astoria, Queens. Beginning on March 3, 2012, a small gathering of people, mostly Greek-Americans, gathered to discuss how to organize support efforts to help the people of Greece. As I am sure you know, the people there have been shattered by the machinations of the global banking elite. The group’s intent was to begin meeting at Athens Square Park every Saturday at 2 PM to discuss various issues that deal with the Greek crisis. However, Athens Square Park, which is located on 30th street and 30th avenue, seems to possess the potential of becoming a hot bed of local democratic action. It seems that the public education topic was one of the issues that dominated this panoply of areas of interest.

Therefore, next Saturday, March 17th, people from all over the city are planning to converge onto Athens Square Park, at 2 PM, in order to help educate our Astoria/LIC neighbors about some of the most important public education issues of our time. These folks intend to emphasize the closing down of local schools, the suspension of habeas corpus, the revitalization of Greek-American activism and many other important matters.

I hope that all of you will be able to join us since you clearly have a loud voice in the local scene of direct democracy. Also, we would be very appreciative if you helped us spread the word. Again, a group of unaffiliated individuals from all over the city will meet at Athens Square Park in Astoria at 2 PM. The park is on 30th street and 30th avenue. It can be reached by getting off at the 30th avenue stop on the N and Q lines. From there, it is a short one-block walk.

Lastly, it is interesting to note that Athens Square Park is a very symbolic park for many reasons. It is ordained by two statues that were gifts from the people of Greece. When you first walk in you will encounter Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Towards the back of the park sits Socrates, the philosopher that was poisoned for dissenting against the powers of his time. Lastly, adjacent to the park resides the Henry David Thoreau public school. As the author of Civil Disobedience this renowned American can act as a reminder for all present that we cannot remain silent in the face of so many injustices.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday 3/22/12 (5:00 pm): Occupy DOE @ News Corp HQ, 30 Rockefeller Center

Via Norm at Ed Notes. Check Ed Notes For The Full Flier

Educators Stand Up to the NY Post!

Protest the New York Post’s Decision to Publish Faulty Teacher Data Reports, Ties to Education Deform, and Distribution of Vile and Bigoted Pseudo-Reporting to Our Schools

The New York Post despicably published the Teacher Data Reports of some 1800 fourth through eighth grade teachers, with full knowledge of their many flaws from inaccurate class rosters to statistically irrelevant sample sizes and the massive opposition to their focus on high stakes standardized testing as the only means of assessing teachers and students. The Post’s parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has a history of connections to the worst actors in the movement against teachers and students, including hiring former New York City Chancellor of Schools, Joel Klein. This only adds to the already outrageous free distribution of the New York Post, a racist, sexist, pornographic rag of a newspaper, to our public schools.

Join Occupy the Department of Education for a protest at News Corporation’s Headquarters, and a tour of the publications that betrayed our teachers and students through the publication of teacher data reports.

Thursday, March 22

5:00 PM

Meet at 30 Rockefeller Center

Wear Black to mourn the “death of teaching” and your “scarlet number” to show we won’t be shamed!

Follow on Twitter #scarletnumbers

RSVP on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/387880417906717/

The Next Teacher Strike

The last NYC teacher strike drove a wedge between teachers and the communities they serve. The next one will bridge the gap.

New York City teachers are due for a strike.

Leo Casey claims (check the comments section) that the union will fight for something other than standardized exams on the local level. He claims that there are other types of assessments the city can use.

Sure there are.

But what happens when Bloomberg and Commissioner King say that they will not hear of anything else except local exams? How far will the UFT be willing to go to prevent our schools from becoming testing factories?

As Diane Ravitch has said, can you imagine a school system that tests kids 3, 4 or 5 times every year not to help them learn anything, but for the sole purpose of holding their teachers “accountable”?

How far is the UFT willing to go to prevent this madness?

The UFT already lost the fight in court to prevent unreliable, less than garbage “value added” data from being released to the public.  Despite the fact that Bill Gates (!) and Dennis Walcott (!) have warned against the unreliability of these numbers, every major media outlet is set to release them tomorrow morning. Even Gotham Schools, despite getting pats on the back (including from themselves) for vowing not release the reports, will still publish them in some form.

This is the result of a ten-year campaign of teacher vilification from the media, politicians and business leaders who have blamed us for urban poverty and an “achievement gap”.

Enough is enough.

The last major teacher strike in 1968 drove a wedge between the city’s (predominantly Jewish) teachers and the predominately black school districts in Brooklyn.

The next major teacher strike will bridge that gap.

The common theme throughout all of these things is testing. It looms over the heads of students and teachers as a weapon used by people who know absolutely nothing about education to destroy public schools.

If teachers strike, the issue of testing must be the centerpiece. Everything else: the lack of funding for inner-city schools, the decline of teacher rights, the chartering wave, can all be tied (if tenuously) back to the central issue of testing.

Do the parents of New York City want their children to do nothing but take tests for 10 months of the year? Do they want the teachers of their students to be so repressed, so ill protected, that they cannot speak out against poor treatment and lack of services for their students?

Do the people who send their children to NYC schools, who are the same people being gentrified out of their homes, want to continue to leave the school system in the hands of the mayor responsible for their displacement? Do the inner city communities of New York City want to leave the school system in the hands of the same mayor who has given them nothing but “stop and frisk”?

Negotiating, compromising and lawsuits, which have been the preferred tactics of the UFT, have failed. They have done nothing but provide a rubber stamp for all of these atrocities perpetrated by the Bloomberg regime.

Yes, I know, without the union, things would have been worse. Yes, the union has cushioned the blow against many of these so-called reforms. Even if that is true, which I am not sure it is, that simply is not good enough anymore. Just like the Democratic Party, their “cushioning” ends in disaster for the people they are supposedly representing.

The only thing left is to opt out of this brutal regime. The only way to opt out is by using the only thing over which we have any control: our bodies.

They can make all the laws and evaluations they want. If people are not there to follow them, then it is all irrelevant.

The only thing left is a strike.

But it has to be more than a strike. It cannot just be one sector of workers or one group out for their own interests hitting the streets. This needs to be a movement. It needs to be teachers, administrators, parents and students. It needs to be an eruption of all of the people Bloomberg has tried to suppress. Veteran educators, oppressed minorities, children and the urban poor must hit back and hit back hard.

How fitting if we could get something like this off the ground when Bloomberg is on his way out? What better repudiation of his tenure, his legacy, his entire school-closing, stop-and-frisking, gentrifying, bike-lane drawing vision for New York than to have everyone victimized by this vision to take the streets and shut the city down?

We know the UFT will not support us. The first words out of their mouths will be “Taylor Law”, followed by all the usual hems and haws about why nothing of substance can be done to resist.

So it must be done by going around the UFT. It must be done by going around the entire Neoliberal apparatus in which the UFT has been complicit.

The only question is how? What strategies and what tactics should be used? How do we sustain this action in the face of court injunctions, jack-booted police and media ridicule that is sure to meet such action?

Those questions are still being debated.

But I am reminded of a quote by Nietzsche: “if one has his why, then he can put up with almost any how.”

Zuccotti Park Revisited: Reign of a Parade

The Giants had their victory parade down the Canyon of Heroes today. Their route took them through the heart of the financial district, including what used to be the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Zuccotti Park. Since November’s eviction, Zuccotti Park has been a wasteland of empty sitting areas, police officers and a few protestors (not all of them associated with OWS). Today, it was a place for revelers to take a load off (and even sneak a libation or three) after standing along Broadway for several hours. What a difference six months makes in the life of Zuccotti Park.

It was just this past September that a few dozen activists set up camp in the concrete square. That act alone awakened the conscience of a nation. Over the ensuing weeks and months, people like me were able to go to Zuccotti Park to talk about poverty, inequality, the environment, corporate greed and our morally bankrupt political system. Thanks to the brave people who held the park over the course of three months, issues that concerned citizens had been talking about in the wilderness for years all of the sudden took center stage. It was a shot of adrenaline into what normally was a sterile and farcical political discourse.

But then the eviction came. The White Shirts and beat cops gave way to riot police. They took the park by storm in the middle of the night, ripping up tents and burning books in an inquisitional orgy of repression. The movement certainly did not die that day, but no longer would the protestors be able to use Liberty Square as their base of operation. The police promised them that the square would be open to the public the next day and then ringed the block with barricades and blue shirts for the next month. All signs of life and community vanished from the area. There was very little liberty to be had in Liberty Square.

Today’s parade was a mockery of what the occupiers started to build six months ago. The occupiers held the park in an exercise of mass awareness and citizenship. Today, red-cheeked and well fed onlookers stood facing Broadway, their backs to the park, in order to catch a glimpse of their favorite millionaire athletes. It was an exercise in mass distraction. Bars in the area quickly filled up at midday with partiers intent on keeping the mass distraction going. They spilled out into the street, making noise, slapping hands and blocking crosswalks. Yet, there was no pepper spray, no mass arrests, no White Shirts and nobody was dragged to the paddy wagon. Nobody questioned them as to whether they should be at work or whether they might find better things to do with their time. No sanitation worker talked down to them or called them lazy do-nothings. Instead, they dutifully followed behind the revelers, cleaning up ticker tape and other assorted refuse. When normal life resumes in the financial district tomorrow morning, it will be like nothing had ever happened.

That is why, on this day especially, it is important for us to remember the work that started at Liberty Square 6 months ago.

The Fault Lines of Education Activism

I will never know what it is like to be black. Despite the fact that I grew up in black neighborhoods, went to mostly black schools, keep black friends, teach black students, listen to black music and, sometimes, use black slang, the truth is that I will never come close to knowing what being black in America is like. Furthermore, I cannot begin to fathom the types of advantages conferred upon me merely for being a white man (a tall one at that). Despite the fact that I grew up poor and my ancestors were Eastern Europeans who never owned slaves, I know on some level that the color of my skin has played a role in where I am today. When approaching the race issue, a healthy amount of deference must be paid to these factors.

Education reform, and the backlash against it, largely turns on issues of race. Elitist reformers try to occupy the moral high ground by implying that their programs are designed to uplift the chocolate parts of urban areas. The results of these reforms, especially in places like Washington, D.C., speak for themselves. The “achievement gap” is as wide as ever. In New York City, the schools that have been closed have been the ones that serve minority students. After 10 years of No Child Left Behind, not to mention the Race to the Top initiative that has accelerated NCLB’s goals, it is safe to say that the elite’s concern with children of color has proven to be disingenuous.

On the other hand, the people who stand against these reforms do have a genuine concern for children of color. Educators, parents, students and concerned citizens that have endured these reforms are under no illusions as to what they have done to inner city schools. The reason why so many veteran teachers like me harbor a deep mistrust of the Teach for America program is because we know the philosophy that gave birth to it. Teaching in the inner city is not charity work. If you are not in it for the long haul, then you should not be in it at all. If your concern with the schooling of brown children is about allaying your own liberal guilt, then your concern is not real.

Ironically, the activists who are genuinely concerned with children of the inner city are divided on the race issue. On the one hand, there are those who point to the persistent achievement gap and segregation in public schools as evidence that race needs to be the starting point for the battle against education reform. The other hand points to the impacts of poverty on schooling and believes class struggle needs to be the centerpiece of public education activism. These types of squabbles over strategy and priority have traditionally torn leftist movements asunder in the past. The one thing both camps have in common, and the thing that distinguishes them from the elitist education reformers, is that they actually believe what they claim to stand for.

Unfortunately, a genuine concern for public education is not enough to take back our schools. At some point, we will need actual victories and concrete plans. I do not know how to reconcile the two camps and I do not know which side has the better strategy. What I do know, however, is a little bit of history.

Historically, movements that have centered on racial issues have had some success. The abolitionist movement, despite initially being reviled by most whites, helped nudge the north and Lincoln over to its cause. The civil rights movement was wildly successful in getting the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed through Congress. During the 1990s, the culture wars led to more sensitive treatment of minority topics in public schools and universities, ushering in the era of “political correctness.” This was on the heels of decades of affirmative action programs that were, albeit, continuously weakened over the years . With the exception of abolition, these victories were limited, but they were victories nonetheless.

On the other hand, movements that have centered on issues of class have largely failed. The Populist Party of the late 1800s took form after uniting white and black farmers in the west. Indeed, many of their early victories on the local level were due to the combined voting power of black and white men. But with the advent of women’s suffrage in western states, the co-opting of the Populists by the racist Democratic Party and the institution of Jim Crow in the south, ruling elites were effectively able to drive a wedge between the races of the lower classes. The communist protests of the early 1920s were viciously suppressed by the Palmer Raids. The Black Panther Party, which really was a movement that attempted to fold all oppressed people under the umbrella of communism, was hounded and eventually destroyed by the FBI. (You can read my treatment of the Black Panthers here). Martin Luther King himself was assassinated when he started concentrating on the rights of poor workers. Something seems to scare the ruling elites about overtly class conscious movements, causing them to work overtime for their destruction.

In a book that I often cite on this blog, “Downsizing Democracy”, the authors dedicate some time to modern civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They point to their fights for fairer hiring and promotion practices in corporate America, as well as their battles over use of the “N” word, as bread and butter issues of middle class blacks. It is unlikely that the poor minorities of the inner cities cared much about these things. Perhaps they have learned from history to keep issues of poverty and issues of race separate.

In the end, I do not know the best route to take for public school activists. As a white man, it is easy for me to lump race in with issues of class and tell black leaders that they should hitch their wagons to the star of economic equality. What I do know for a fact is that whether we stand against education reform because it is racist or because it is classist, our convictions are genuine and born out of first-hand experience with what has been happening to our schools. Perhaps this should be our starting point. Perhaps instead of trying to push our individual agendas to the forefront, we should unite over the issues that promise victories against education reform. I have no answers to provide in this regard. But perhaps education activists can unite behind the practical question of from what direction is our next victory likely to come?

Attend the State of the Union Conference This Saturday (2/4/12)

Teachers across New York City who are concerned about the education of their students and the state of the profession need to attend the State of the Union Conference this Saturday February 4, 2012. It will be held at the Graduate Center for Worker Education at 25 Broadway in the financial district of Manhattan.

Registration information and directions click here.

Public education is under attack! Stand up, fight back!

As educators we are strongest when our voices are united.

That is what a UNION is for. The UNION makes us strong.

For far too long the leadership of our union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), along with the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have been silent, thrown up minimal defenses too little too late, and have even collaborated in the assault on our profession, our students and their families.

It is time to re-imagine our teachers’ union.

Imagine. . .

A union with true democracy.

A union where members’ concerns, ideas and opinions form the union identity.

A union that works to educate, organize and mobilize its members in support of public education, our careers as professionals, and our students, their families and communities.

A union that works to end mayoral control and other racist policies that have removed the voice of educators and parents from decision making.

A union that works with individual schools to recruit and train chapter leaders and delegates who share this vision.

A union that supports Chapter Leaders in struggles with administrations and in their work to educate and organize members.

Join rank and file  union members and their parent and community allies at The State of the UNION Conference Come meet other UFT members who want a new kind of union, while learning about the history and functioning of the UFT in workshops facilitated by rank and file members, union delegates and education activists.

Workshops include: What is Social Justice Unionism? Organizing 101: Parents and Teachers Working Together-a Vision for a Community Oriented Teacher Union What happened to Brown vs. Board of Education: Resegregation of our Schools. The Disappearing Black and Latino Teacher and the Deprofessionalization of Teaching. What’s the 1% Want with Our Schools? (Privatization 101) Mayoral Control vs. A People’s Board of Education Know your rights: Civil Disobedience and Student Organizing. Strategy & Tactics: After OWS, What’s Next for Our Movement?