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Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

By James Davis

What do radical educators think about the charge that the #OWS movement is ignoring race?  Does it comport with your experience?  With the accounts of others you know?  Does the homogenizing rhetoric of “the 99%” obscure the disproportionate burden placed on African Americans and Latinos since the 2008 crash?  Does such a strongly class-inflected movement inevitably turn race into a subordinate, epiphenomenal issue?  How does the fact that the President is a Black man who polls very well among African Americans affect the way we approach these questions?  Below you’ll find some links I copied from the ColorofChange email I just received.

“Occupy Wall Street’s Race Problem,” The American Prospect, 10-24-11
“Is black America sitting out “Occupy Wall Street”?,” The Grio, 10-6-11
“Reflections on #OccupyWallStreet,” Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, 9-28-11
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/998?akid=2250.3176.IpDJHO&t=27 Huffington Post, 10-14-11
“Call Out to People of Color,” Racialicious, 10-6-11

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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 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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