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Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

By James Davis

It’s hard not to feel moved by the sheer enormity of the encampment at Occupy Wall Street.  I went with my family on “Columbus day” and was inspired by it despite (and maybe because of) its messiness, its unruliness, and the irreducibility of its many messages to a unified political position, much less a policy proposal.  But even though I find the criticism of the occupiers misplaced (“What do they even want?” “Why don’t they offer solutions?”), I’m no anarchist and my enthusiasm was tempered by the sobering realization that what the occupiers actually spend a lot of time doing is defining their own internal procedures.  Admittedly I’m saying this based on limited exposure to one General Meeting.  But even as the occupation has taken on broader symbolic significance over the past two weeks, prompting unions, community groups, and even the Democratic party to gamble on affiliation or endorsement of various kinds, its participants have been compelled to turn their attention inward toward Zucotti Park as much as outward toward Wall Street, the media, and their fellow travelers on the Left.  In this respect I left feeling like Occupy Wall Street has a lot to tell us about radical teaching and radical learning but maybe not in the obvious ways.

Never mind (for the moment) the substantive claims the occupiers make about the depredations of the financial system, I’m talking about how a community that’s as closely scrutinized and as committed to egalitarian principles as this one even functions and sustains itself.  The group was caught up with issues that, on one hand, seem exceedingly mundane given the vast political energy they’ve tapped into: proper vs. improper ways to get “on stack” to publicly address the group, what kinds of body language constitute “violent” behavior toward others, etc.  On the other hand, it was also caught up with some fairly urgent internal procedural matters: what to do about the fact that some people are doing drugs in the park at night, the fact that some occupiers aren’t even necessarily aware of the political dimension of the demo, or the fact that the commitment to non-violence has not been practiced consistently among the demonstrators.  These are difficult issues to resolve for a fluid group keen on inclusivity and the decentralization of authority.  They were trying hard, however, and it struck me (and I guess this is an implicit question to readers) that in addition to teaching about radical ideas themselves, perhaps a bigger challenge to radical educators is to create spaces and institutions in which people can practice alternative procedures to those that prevail in most of the contexts in which we operate: that is, extremely hierarchical ones with clearly centralized authority.  Whatever happens to Occupy Wall Street, its fate seems tied to the occupants’ ability to manage the tension between its ethic of decentralization and its burden (if it can be put that way) to channel the discontent and the imagination of the political Left.  What are the radical spaces and institutions that prepare people to perform a task this challenging and complicated?  A person doesn’t just step into that park knowing how to navigate it and articulate that knowledge to others.  How might radical educators teach the procedural skills of radical movements in the process of teaching what we might call content?

Finally, in terms of teaching ABOUT Occupy Wall Street, I wonder whether people are using amateur video footage in (or out of) their classrooms?  Here is a clip that I found very interesting, amateur in one sense, though the videographer is actually a professional filmmaker (“The Battle for Brooklyn,” on abuse of eminent domain to create The Atlantic Yards, is his latest).

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By Paul Lauter

I read regularly a kind of groan about the current economic and political situation of the United States.  “Don’t the millionaires and billionaires,” it says, “understand that by resisting the need for them to pay their fair share of taxes, and the consequent defunding of education from pre-school to the University of California, they are undermining America’s future?  We need to call this error in their ways to the attention of the rich.”

Bullshit.  Most of the rich know quite well what they’re doing.  What they see that the Dimocrats seem not to see is that the United States is heading down the tubes.  Seeing that, it follows like cramps after spoiled hamburger, that you would get as big a piece of the action as you can . . . while the action lasts.  Why put good money into education—or other social services, for that matter—if the payoff for doing so, a) won’t occur until long after American society, as we know it, has hit the iceberg and, b) will provide life-jackets for others rather than for you and yours?

Are they right?  Well, it does not take a cynic to wonder whether the Disunited States, like the Soviet Union before it, will survive as an entity.  To be sure, the USSR faced the problem of disparate nationalities preferring not to continue to fetch and carry for Moscow.  They spoke different languages in different churches, mosques, and markets.  Whereas here, there are plenty of birthers even in the Peoples’ Republic of Vermont and plenty of agitating foreigners even in Corporative Arizona.  We’re much more mixed.  Or are we?  And will we stay that way?

More and more I hear of parents moving because they do not want to bring their children up in a state in which a main concern is flying the Confederate flag, or building a Berlin wall against infiltrators from the south.  There were, and are, many Russians in Estonia, for example, which has not prevented the government from pursuing a nationalist, and often Russophobic line.  What degree of lunatic fundamentalism—market or Christian—in a state will begin to alter its population significantly, drawing some, exiling others?  Are we so sure that “it can’t happen here”?

However that might be—and perhaps this is more of a fantasy for graphic novelists than politicians—the behavior of those with a superabundance of wealth and power cannot be changed with the hope that the truth will make them, and us, free.  Let’s start from the idea that the rich know what they are doing, that there is a method—traitorous to the future of the United States—to the apparent madness.  What then?  How does one deal with traitors to the polis?

 

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By Joseph Entin

On Monday, September 26, I, along with at least 3 other folks from the RT board, and 500 other members of our union, PSC-CUNY, descended on the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting to demand that the university adequately fund health care for adjuncts, who do more than half of the teaching on CUNY campuses. About 100 of us made it into the meeting room, where we stood silently in the audience holding paper signs urging CUNY to “DO THE RIGHT THING.” Early in the meeting, as CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein was droning on about CUNY’s participation in various economic development projects, all of which sound as if they are designed to reinforce various corporate initiatives, someone next to me starts rustling his sign. The rustling makes a low noise, and I think I see Goldstein glance up briefly, as if looking for a fly he hears buzzing across the room. A few other protesters gently shake their signs, and the signs in unison create a rustling sound that reverberated around the cavernous meeting space. Soon everyone in the room who is holding a sign starts waving them, and a tide of sound builds, gently at first, and then louder and louder, until Goldstein is almost inaudible, drowned out by a hundred rustling pieces of paper. Some of the Trustees glance around, or fidget, or sniffle, apparently uncomfortable. Then, Goldstein looks up and addresses those of us assembled in the room, reading from a prepared statement: he admits that we have a “legitimate concern” and announces that, for the first time ever, he is going to include funding for adjunct health care in the budget request he will submit to the state legislature. Stunned, and gratified, we applaud and file out. As we gather with our colleagues who have been demonstrating outside the meeting, our union president announces the victory, while warning us that it is, of course, merely a first step, and will require a great deal more collective action to enforce.

In general, I feel remarkably pessimistic about the present political conjuncture, and many signs – from the prolonged high unemployment in the face of historic corporate profits, to the execution of Troy Davis—give me little hope. But I was heartened that Goldstein publically admitted the ethical force of our demand for adjunct health care, and it made me wonder if a new outrage about economic inequality, at least — if not about racism, and militarism, and sexism — may be brewing. In addition to Goldstein’s decision, this week saw the circulation of sensate candidate Elizabeth’s Warren statement, captured on video at campaign event, that “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” and the growing attention to Occupy Wall Street, which is being led by many college and college-aged people, and links to which students in one of my classes posted on our course blog. Maybe I’m grasping at straws, and maybe these seemingly positive signs do not amount to anything. Any optimism I feel tends to be fleeting, and may only last as long as the caffeine coursing through my system thanks to the strong up of coffee I had this morning. But I had to ask: do you, radical teachers, see any evidence of emergent, progressive possibilities in the current moment?

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By Paul Lauter

I was fortunate enough to be on leave during the spring semester and so was surprised to learn at the first faculty meeting that Trinity College, where I teach, had launched a new initiative to partner with the Hartford Magnet Middle School (HMMS).  The Hartford Magnet Middle School, located right across Broad Street from the College, is one of the nation’s most successful.  About half its students, selected strictly by lottery, come from Hartford, one of the nation’s poorest and largely minority cities; the other half come from the surrounding towns.  Trinity is a small, selective, and expensive liberal arts college, one of only two or three located within a substantial city; its campus is on the edge of Hartford’s Latino/a barrio, about a mile from the Connecticut State Capitol, in the middle of Hartford.  A decade or more ago, Trinity had been instrumental in developing a plan to turn an ancient trolley and bus barn across the street into a Learning Corridor containing a small group of schools, including the HMMS.  Now the College was challenged to take a next step in its relationship to educational institutions in the city of Hartford.

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By James Davis

At the Jersey shore over Labor Day Weekend, two newspaper items sparked my interest and raised questions. One was an announcement in the local free weekly of an event Remembering 9/11 at a branch of the public library.  No surprise there; what institution is missing the occasion to memorialize the events of that day?  But the description caught my eye: The program is designed for children. If they’re children, they don’t remember 9/11 anyway.  No one under age 10 was born yet.  The audacity of the project to provide children with pseudo-memories of an event they did not experience was striking.

As the date draws near of the tenth anniversary the attacks, I wonder how teachers are handling the inevitable uptick in nationalist propaganda.  Specifically, another newspaper article–this one in the NY Times–made me wonder whether anyone will have the occasion (or the stomach) to bring to the discussion the near-coincidence of the anniversary with the impending U.N. vote regarding the status of Palestinian statehood, scheduled for September 20.  The article indicates that the U.S. is seeking to delay the vote in order to forestall the political fallout of either of its options: voting to approve (unlikely) or casting a veto vote (very likely).  As our ritual of national memory compels a corresponding amnesia about the role of U.S. foreign policy in galvanizing anti-Western sentiment among Arabs and Muslims, the prospect of an American veto and the subsequent backlash against the U.S. among Arabs and Muslims would be an inconvenient reminder.  It would also represent an undesirable counter-narrative to the one emerging last week from Libya, which is being trumpeted as a triumph of U.S. diplomacy and intervention.  In other words, I wonder whether radical teachers are finding ways to teach the acts of national memory being performed throughout the coming weeks in critical relation to the existing conditions of the present?

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By Sarah Roberts

To my out-of-state and international friends who want to know what to do: I recommend you do your own phone banking or mass emailing event. With a little review online you can find out the names/numbers of Wisconsin state GOP senators and Assembly reps who are supporting this bill. You can also find out which ones are in danger of recall.

Then, you can have your callers explain to the legislator’ staffers on phone or in email that you consider the Wisconsin state line a PICKET LINE. No more dollars into Wisconsin. No more purchasing of Wisconsin products. Publicity ALL OVER YOUR LOCAL AREA (issue a press release) of what you’re doing. This is my advice here.

I can try to get more info regarding names and numbers, or if someone has a cheat sheet, please let me know.  You can start with this list from the Daily Kos:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/19/947160/-Recall-Wisconsin-Republican-Senators

And use lookup info from: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/contact/EmailDirectory.aspx?house=senate

http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/contact/EmailDirectory.aspx?house=assembly

Hopper, in particular, is vulnerable, having won by only 163 votes, in 2008. In addition, you can get information about the unbelievable provisions of SB 11, including:

– the privatization of state-owned power plants, to be sold on a no-bid basis to whomever the state decides

– the rejection of MILLIONS of federal dollars for public transit, due to contingencies around collective bargaining for employees, that will SHUT MUNICIPAL BUSES DOWN, stranding thousands upon thousands who rely on bus travel to work every day

– the decimation of state heath care funding for those who have no other heath care

These are just a few of the other items not receiving as much coverage, but worthy of immediate action and mention.

Finally, in other quarters, Walker’s appointees are rejecting millions from the federal government for state broadband service, intending to funnel state money to Walker campaign donor AT&T:

http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/education/local_schools/article_28c5e5c6-3882-11e0-8bd0-001cc4c03286.html

Please mention any or all of these issues in your communications with Wisconsin state legislators.  Thank you.

Would you like to donate some funds to a clearinghouse group coordinating efforts on the ground? Visit: http://www.defendwisconsin.org/

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By Sarah Roberts

As I write to you from inside the Wisconsin State Capitol, the jubilant cacophony of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters both inside and surrounding the building is echoing off the walls.  People have arrived on this Saturday from all over the state of Wisconsin – firefighters from Eau Claire and Green Bay, teachers from every corner of the state, steelworkers, iron workers, municipal workers, police, teamsters, nurses, graduate students, and their friends and families.  Solidarity caravans of people have come from Illinois, Washington state, Iowa and elsewhere to support the people. All have descended upon the state capital of Madison to defend the rights of working people to organize and bargain on their own behalf – not just in Wisconsin, but across the country and across the world.  The showing it Madison is the civics lesson you had in elementary school in action.  As the chant refrain goes, “This _is_ what democracy looks like!”

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