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The strike wave rolls on, with Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United

Arizona may well be the next state to see a massive teacher strike, as they voted last week for a Thursday strike deadline. Part of the wave of teacher militancy, the #RedForEd movement began through a Facebook page with support from existing unions, and has led to a point where 78 percent of the 57,000 teachers who participated in the strike vote last week voted to walk out. Noah Karvelis was one of the founders of Arizona Educators United, the Facebook page that helped spur the movement, and he explains why Arizona joined the wave.

A lot of our kids here in Arizona don’t have textbooks that they need to be successful. They stop at President George W. Bush, for example. They don’t have working desks and a lot of the classes don’t have paper towels and just the bare necessities that you need for a classroom. What is happening is we have an entire generation of Arizona citizens who haven’t been given a chance at academic success. It has been thrown away by the state, any chance that they had of academic success. Which is incredibly maddening, especially as an educator. So, what happens, in addition to that, is educators are working in, just really bad, bad situations. Then, on top of that, they are getting underpaid. We have the worst pay in the nation for elementary school teachers and we have the second-to-worst pay in the nation for high school teachers. What we really have is an education crisis because our students don’t have the resources that they need to be successful, our teachers don’t have the resources they need to be successful or to even stay in the job, and our public school infrastructure is crumbling on top of it and we are hemorrhaging teachers.

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Striking Against Privatization and Charter Schools in Puerto Rico, with Mercedes Martinez and Liza Fournier

Puerto Rico’s teachers are fighting a bill that would turn all their schools into charters, by any means necessary. While teacher strikes are roiling the mainland United States, teachers in Puerto Rico have gotten comparatively little public attention. But they too have struck for their public schools–first underfunded, then left damaged after the hurricane, now on the verge of being turned over to private companies. I spoke with two Puerto Rican teacher unionists at this past weekend’s Labor Notes conference about their struggle first to get their schools up and running again, and then to save them from privatization.

LF: Right after the hurricane…I work in a school. I am an active teacher. We went back a week after the hurricane. Schools were completely damaged by trees, trash, structures had fallen down. So, the teachers were the first ones who got at school. We were the ones with the machetes, cleaning the schools, taking out all the garbage, trying to get schools fixed as soon as possible to bring students back. But, guess what? They didn’t let us open the schools. My school was ready to be open like two weeks after the hurricane, but we opened in November. So, my students were two and a half months without going to school. Not because we weren’t ready or it was our fault. It was because they didn’t let us open. Mainly, the teachers and organizations and the community were the ones who really cleaned the schools to reopen.
MM: After the hurricane, teachers, as Liza said, were the ones that reconditioned the schools. A lot of women. 85% of the teachers are female in our country, a lot of mothers. They were ready to receive their children. Every psychologist knows, they will tell you, after a disaster like the one we had, a category five hurricane, you need to come to some type of normalcy again and the Department of Education was denying our children their right to an education.
It is very important that after the hurricane happened, even though the schools were ready, they denied the schools to open, but school communities that had no light, that had no water, that had no communication organized themselves. There were multiple protests in our country. Five or six schools per day, the Teachers Federation was in a lot of communities organizing the parents and requesting the Secretary of Education to open the schools.
When she denied that after the protests, we performed a civil disobedience activity in her office. 21 of us got arrested for requesting her to open the schools of our country. People in Puerto Rico were with us. After that, she still denied the schools to be opened, so we took her to court. When we started the court case, she had 300 schools – that was in November – that were still closed. For the first hearing, when the judge ordered her to tell us why the schools were still closed, when we went to the first hearing, she had already opened 260 schools, leaving only 40 closed, so the protests, the civil disobedience, the pickets in front of her office, plus the court case stopped her from implementing the agenda that she had.
She said that she was going to shut down 200 schools during the hurricane and the community organization, plus all the activities that I mentioned, stopped her from doing that, from converting Puerto Rico into the New Orleans of the decade.

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Serve your constituents or grow your own wealth, with Campus Action for Democracy

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana is one of the richest members of Congress; he is, as the members of Campus Action for Democracy point out, a prime beneficiary of the Republican tax bill poised to pass. On the other hand, in the middle of his district–Indiana’s 9th–is Indiana University, where students, campus workers, and graduate students make up a large part of his constituency. The rest of the district is largely working class. When a group of Campus Action for Democracy and Hoosier Action members went to his office to ask to discuss his vote for the tax bill, they were met with stonewalling–for eight hours. They share their story, and the organizing they have been doing to challenge the tax bill and more across Indiana.

 

THG: The congressman has never been available publicly to his constituents at either office, anyway. We really felt when we went there yesterday like we don’t have the opportunity to have any kind of communication with this person who has been elected to represent us and is supposed to be our voice in Congress.
And over 8 hours yesterday he really proved that point to us, that we actually have no way to communicate with him. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think we all had similar experiences. I felt really dismissed and disrespected and honestly disenfranchised by that experience yesterday, by the way that he and his D.C. office coordinated things around us without engaging us. It was a really troubling and upsetting experience as a constituent and a voter.
JK: We felt that the only recourse that we had to communicate with our congressman was to show up in his office and refuse to leave or else, perhaps, get arrested, we really honestly thought that was the only way we could get in contact with him. And it didn’t work. Maybe it would work if we went to D.C. and did this. But, again, the idea that you would ever have to leave your own state to communicate with your congressman is pretty patently insane.

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Taxing people out of higher education, with Tom DePaola

One of the remarked-upon features of the House version of the Republican tax bill currently headed to reconciliation is that it would tax tuition waivers given to graduate students who do much of the teaching and research workloads on campus as income. (To explain: When I was a graduate student teacher, my stipend–the money in my pocket–was around $16,000 per year. Tuition for my program was nearly $30,000, but was “waived”–no checks were written, no loans taken out. The GOP plan would tax me as though I made $46,000 for that year, taxes I would have to pay out of my measly $16,000 to live on.)

Graduate workers, though, have been organizing their workplaces in recent years, and are ready to fight. A group of graduate workers organizing with SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign went to Washington, D.C. to greet Paul Ryan and ask him why he wants to raise their taxes. When Ryan wouldn’t talk to them, Tom DePaola and others were arrested. DePaola, an education PhD student and researcher at the University of Southern California, talks to me about the tax bill, the Republican attacks on campus, and the universities’ ambivalent response to the Trump administration.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread and butter issues as opposed to what we might call social movement unionism where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other. USC is the largest private employer and the largest private export in the entire city of LA. We have the most international students of any private university in the country. They like to say that this the evidence that their fundamental valuing of diversity, but when we saw the immigration ban rolling out, we saw DACA, all of these things, the university was basically silent. A couple of memos went out, “Oh, we respect everyone. Oh, if you need some advice, head on down to the law school and maybe someone can talk to you there.” If I were an international student who was scared, that would have done nothing to assuage my fears. We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn’t going to protect us. I have tons of work to do. None of us have the time for this. None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan’s office to get arrested. But, at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us and our ideals and intellectualism at large.

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What could we spend $95 million on rather than police? With Monica Trinidad

Chicago plans to spend $95 million on a new police academy, but Chicagoans are organizing against it. A coalition of groups that have worked together successfully to bring about reparations for police torture survivors and to replace state’s attorney Anita Alvarez has now turned its attention to demanding that the money earmarked for the new academy be spent on things that the city actually wants and needs. Monica Trinidad of For the People Artists Collective and People’s Response Team explains why the fight isn’t over despite the city council’s vote for the academy.

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for running 259 mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build 6 new Chicago Public Library branches. $15 million is the cost for a new library that happened in Chinatown. We are being given this one option from our city that says, “Oh, we are going to give you more policing.” Then, people say, “Okay” because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, “What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?” That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, “Here are all the things that we could actually incredibly benefit from in our city and here is what they are proposing.” This is not okay. This is not right. And, also, just making it clear that this isn’t a transparent process. This plan was well-developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input at all whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making this clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input in a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to. That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let’s ask our communities and folks that are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, “What actually would make this violence stop?” That would be job training, that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

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Taking back control of Philadelphia’s public schools, with Antoine Little and Arielle Klagsbrun

Philadelphia’s public schools have been a political football for years, under the control of the state and systematically underfunded. But after sixteen years of organizing, a new mayor and a new governor, the Philadelphia school district is going to come back into the city’s control. Arielle Klagsbrun and Antoine Little of the 215 People’s Alliance and the Our City Our Schools coalition join me to explain how, in the midst of a war for public education, they won a victory for public control.

Our City Our Schools coalition started about a year ago, under the 215 People’s Alliance umbrella. We started this fight a year ago because we knew that our children here in Philadelphia deserved more, so we decided to take on the challenge of getting rid of the SRC either through self-dissolvement or through whatever method needed to be done to get it done. We took on the fight.
It was a hard fight because we had to go out and organize communities, we had to have tons and tons of meetings with the powers that be, the stakeholders that are in place, and we had to sit down and have conversations with them and give them our vision of what the fight would take and what we would have to do in order to win the fight and be able to move forward and to regain local control.
Now, for myself, I got involved with the school situation when they decided to close sixty-four schools. One of the schools that they were deciding to close was, number one, my old alma mater, T.M. Peirce Elementary School, but it was also the school that my children attended. And not just my children, but many children in that school and from that neighborhood would be forced to walk almost over ten blocks just to get to the next school that they were talking about sending these children to. So, I got involved to say, “Hold up. No, we can’t do this.”
We went out and we organized the community, sat at different SRC meetings, testified, meeting after meeting challenging about having to walk this distance that some of these children would have to walk through and some of the communities and the neighborhoods that they would have to walk through in order to get to this school weren’t the best. So, we had to show them what he was deciding to do with this one particular school and then, from there, T.M. Peirce was one of the schools that was saved, but unfortunately, many of the other ones weren’t able to be saved. But, again, they were only in the Black and Brown communities.

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Disrupting education for fake free speech, with Thomas Gunderson

The battles over “free speech” on campus have loomed large in the era of Trump, with conservative provocateurs invited to campuses across the country only to claim that they are being silenced when students protest them. In one of the latest salvos in the battle to claim “freedom of speech” for the Right, Scott Walker and his allies in Wisconsin are pushing a policy that would suspend or expel students for protesting in ways the university deems infringe on the free speech of another. Thomas Gunderson is a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and is organizing against the policy.

It is especially annoying that they are just trying to do this in the UW system right now, because just in the recent year they have politically attacked both professors and students. Members of the state legislature have openly attacked professors and students whose expression, whose free speech they have found disagreeable. For anything like a free speech legislation to have any sort of legitimacy to it, the restrictions upon free speech have to necessarily be viewpoint and value neutral restrictions. That this would be the case in the UW system at the current moment is just completely unrealistic. I think that is what has many students, at least in my circles, very concerned about this, that they will be people who are targeted. Particularly a lot of minority groups at the university, those that are here are really worried about it.

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A platform for progress, with Nina Turner


Since the 2016 election, there have been a lot of debates about the direction in which the Democratic party should go. Our Revolution, the organization that grew out of the Sanders campaign and now headed by former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, has been working to provide an answer to that question, and is now backing a “people’s platform” of legislation to tackle inequalities of all kinds, from voting rights to abortion rights to slowing climate change. The Democratic leadership, though, didn’t exactly welcome Turner when she went to deliver the platform.

The reason why we decided to take legislation is because we did want it to be tangible. Sometimes we talk about these issues in ways where people can’t see that they can be realized, and the beautiful thing about the People’s Platform and the coalition that we have of supporting organizations of the People’s Platform is that it is tangible, it is real. The Education for All bill has been introduced that will require the federal government to pay 2/3rds of college. We know how important that is to make sure that we have a workforce that is highly educated and highly skilled. That is what this is about. It is about making that kind of investment.
Medicare for All, which is the signature, was the signature of Senator Sanders campaign. It is the foundation of what we do, which is affirming that we as a country can have Medicare for All, we can create an environment that doesn’t leave anybody behind, that is not attached to a job. To me, that kind of thing can spark an entrepreneurial spirit if somebody knows that their healthcare is not tied to a job and they can dream bigger and they can do things that probably ordinarily they would not do.
And what we are saying to the Congress, but particularly to the Democratic Party, particularly to the Democrats that serve in the Congress is “Here it is. Your members introduced these pieces of legislation. Sign onto them and let us show the people of this country, the folks of this country that this is what we stand for, this is what we are fighting for.” It is important to have all of these options, because for some people the environment might be the most important thing, to other people economic justice might be the thing, for other people racial justice. So we have something in the People’s Platform for everybody.

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An equitable infrastructure plan, with Bishop Dwayne Royster

Donald Trump’s plans to “Make America Great Again” included promises of massive infrastructure spending, but it turns out he’s mostly interested in privatizing what’s left of the American public sector to make his cronies rich at the expense of everyone else. But infrastructure spending is desperately needed, so the “Millions of Jobs” coalition is coming together with a big, positive, public-oriented vision for infrastructure that goes beyond roads and bridges to the infrastructure of care. Bishop Dwayne Royster of the PICO Network is part of that coalition, and he explains:

I think Trump and others are trying to make deals and they are trying to maximize the profits for their friends and the other billionaires that they care about. But, when we think about infrastructure I think we have to think about the whole in terms of how we are building out our country, our nation, how we are building out future generations. Any infrastructure project is a project that you are looking at that has to last several decades. What better investment in infrastructure could there be than building up solar energy, building out education priorities for our kids, making sure that we are creating job opportunities for people that have been locked out of those opportunities by creating good-paying middle-class jobs? I think that is infrastructure, as well.

I think infrastructure is much bigger than just looking at roads and bridges. Of course, they are incredibly important, don’t get me wrong on that. But, it is important that we are looking at the infrastructure of a nation which also includes the human resources that we have, as well.

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The optics of education, with Elijah Armstrong

Betsy DeVos and Paul Ryan were both greeted with protests last week when they visited educational institutions; DeVos at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, and Paul Ryan at Harlem Success Academy, a charter school in New York. Education organizer Elijah Armstrong explains what the two have to do with one another, and why, even when education policy isn’t at the top of our lists of things being affected by Trump, it is always there.

EA: To me, education is always there. Now, whether it is talked about in a way where folks can see the direct connections, that is different. But, it is very prevalent in all things. Even with the healthcare piece. Most of the folks that need healthcare also go to schools that are 95% or 100% Title I schools, in highly impoverished areas that are all kind of pushed together in one area so they are all completely underfunded. Those kids, their parents, their families are the ones that are suffering the most from also this healthcare piece. It is just like how now in the school system where they can do re-zoning and make sure all these schools are supplemented with enough resources for them to be sustainable, but they purposely make sure that these schools are highly concentrated with poverty and then those are the schools that are always subject to low test scores and the schools that need to be improved and things like that. But, if these kids don’t have the resources, you are literally stripping them of their resources that they need and then calling them failures and saying it is their fault. The same way that they are stripped and they don’t have the services that they need, it is the same thing that is happening with healthcare. The folks that are the most affected, those students go to those schools, they come from those areas.

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