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Students fill the streets protesting tuition hikes in March
Students fill the streets protesting tuition hikes in March
Originally posted here
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Québec students organized a protracted strike earlier this year against the government’s plan for a massive tuition hike, and they plan to continue action in the fall. The leading force in the student strike was the Coalition of the Association for Student Union Solidarity (Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, or CLASSE).

In this manifesto issued in July, CLASSE calls on unions and other social struggles to join in the rejection of neoliberalism and build a different kind of future for students and workers.

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FOR MONTHS now, all over Québec, the streets have vibrated to the rhythm of hundreds of thousands of marching feet. What started out as a movement underground, still stiff with the winter consensus, gathered new strength in the spring and flowed freely, energizing students, parents, grandparents, children and people with and without jobs.

The initial student strike grew into a people’s struggle, while the problem of tuition fees opened the door to a much deeper malaise–we now face a political problem that truly affects us all. To find its remedy and give substance to our vision, let us cast our minds back to the root of the problem.

The way we see it, direct democracy should be experienced every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighborhoods. Our concept of democracy places the people in permanent charge of politics, and by “the people,” we mean those of us at the base of the pyramid–the foundation of political legitimacy. This becomes an opportunity for all those who are never heard. It is a time for women to speak up as equals and to raise issues that are too often ignored or simply forgotten about.

The democracy we see does not make promises: it goes into action. Our democracy banishes cynicism, instead of fuelling it. As we have shown many times over, our democracy brings people together. Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free. We are talking about shared, participatory democracy.

Democracy, as viewed by the other side, is tagged as “representative”–and we wonder just what it represents. This brand of “democracy” comes up for air once every four years, for a game of musical chairs. While elections come and go, decisions remain unchanged, serving the same interests: those of leaders who prefer the murmurs of lobbyists to the clanging of pots and pans.

Each time the people raises its voice in discontent, on comes the answer: emergency laws, with riot sticks, pepper spray, tear gas. When the elite feels threatened, no principle is sacred, not even those principles they preach: for them, democracy works only when we, the people keep our mouths shut.

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OUR VIEW is that truly democratic decisions arise from a shared space, where men and women are valued. As equals, in these spaces, women and men can work together to build a society that is dedicated to the public good.

We now know that equal access to public services is vital to the common good. And access can only be equal if it is free.

Free access does more than simply banish prices: it tears down the economic barriers to what we hold most dear. Free access removes the stumbling blocks to the full flowering of our status as humans. Where there is free access, we share payment for shared services.

By contrast, the concept of price determination–the so-called “fair share”–is, in truth, no more than veiled discrimination. Under the supposedly consensual “user-payer” principle, a surtax is in fact charged to people whose needs are already at the bottom of the heap. Where is justice, when a hospital can charge the exact same fee from a lawyer as from a bag clerk? For the lawyer, the amount is minimal; for the bag clerk, it is a backbreaking burden.

This burden is one that we all shoulder, each and every one of us, whether we are students or not: this is one lesson our strike has taught us. For we, students, are also renters and employees; we are international students, pushed aside by discriminating public services.

We come from many backgrounds, and, until the color of our skin goes as unnoticed as our eye color, we will keep on facing everyday racism, contempt and ignorance. We are women, and if we are feminists, it is because we face daily sexism and roadblocks set for us by the patriarchal system; we constantly fight deep-rooted prejudice. We are gay, straight, bisexual, and proud to be. We have never been a separate level of society. Our strike is not directed against the people.

We are the people.

Our strike goes beyond the $1,625 tuition-fee hike. If, by throwing our educational institutions into the marketplace, our most basic rights are being taken from us, we can say the same for hospitals, Hydro-Québec, our forests, and the soil beneath our feet. We share so much more than public services: we share our living spaces, spaces that were here before we were born. We want them to survive us.

Yet a handful of greedy persons, answering to no one, is hard at work devastating these spaces–and they are getting away with it, with projects such as Plan Nord, shale gas and more. For these few, who view the future in terms of the next quarter’s profit, nature has value only when measured in economic spin-offs.

Blind to the beauty of the common good, this clique is avid and unpredictable, with eyes only for its faraway stockholders. It caters to those stockholders’ whims in colonial style, with no consultation. The primary victims of this wholesale sell-off are Native women, far from the media, poor and easily ignored.

Fortunately, though our Native peoples are displaced each and every time wealth is found under or on their land, they have kept up the fight. Some of these ruthless exploitation projects have been put on ice due to the women and men who have dared to defy them. These men and women have stood their ground against this plunder of resources, despite dire warnings that our economic survival depends on the speedy exploitation of our underground wealth, whatever the price.

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TOGETHER, EACH and every one of us will be affected by the waste of our resources, because we are concerned, not only for those who will come after us, but also for the people with whom we now share these spaces–we want to think better thoughts: we want to think ahead.

This is the meaning of our vision, and the essence of our strike: it is a shared, collective action whose scope lies well beyond student interests. We are daring to call for a different world, one far removed from the blind submission our present commodity-based system requires. Individuals, nature, our public services, these are being seen as commodities: the same tiny elite is busy selling everything that belongs to us. And yet we know that public services are not useless expenditures, nor are they consumer goods.

Together we have realized that our underground wealth cannot be measured in tons of metal, and that a woman’s body is not a selling point. In the same way, education cannot be sold; it ought to be provided to each and every one of us, without regard to our immigration status or our condition. Our aim is for an educational system that is for us, that we will share together.

Because education is a training ground for humanity, and because humanity does not bow to economic competitiveness, we refuse to allow our schools to bend under the weight of well-stocked portfolios. Together, we call for an egalitarian school system that will break down hierarchies, one that will pose a threat to all those men and women who still think they can rule over us with a free hand.

In providing everyone with the resources they need to develop their full capacities, we will succeed in creating a society where decision-making and the ways in which we organize our lives with one another are shared. This is the heart of our vision. Education is not a branch of the economy, nor is it a short-term training service. Our educational system, which is at the root of all knowledge, can allow us to pave the way towards freeing society as a whole; it can provide a liberating education that will lay the foundation for self-determination.

We believe that if our educational system is to be seen as a space where universal knowledge is shared, it must banish all forms of gender-based discrimination and domination. And yet a woman in the current educational system walks a path just as difficult as the one she walks in today’s society.

It is futile to believe that unequal status is no longer reproduced in the halls of academe: we are disgusted to see that the professions traditionally associated with women are still undervalued, and that it is still mostly women who study for these professions. We women are numerous in Bachelor’s-level classrooms, but how many of us climb to the highest rungs of the academic ladder?

We are against prolonging this discrimination against women as well as against people who are in any way shunted aside by society. Our aim is to make our educational system well and truly a space where equality reigns and differences are respected. Our fervent wish is for an educational system that allows each and every one of us to blossom.

In choosing to strike, we have chosen to fight for these ideas. We have chosen to create a power relationship, the only mechanism that will allow us to tip the scales. Sharing this responsibility together, we can accomplish a great deal: but in order to do this we have to speak up, and speak up forcefully.

History has shown us eloquently that if we do choose hope, solidarity and equality, we must not beg for them: we must take them. This is what we mean by combative syndicalism.

Now, at a time when new democratic spaces are springing up all around us, we must make use of these to create a new world. Now is no time for mere declarations of intent: we must act. In calling for a social strike today, we will be marching alongside you, people of Québec, in the street tomorrow. In calling for a social strike today, we hope that tomorrow, we will be marching, together, alongside the whole of Québec society.

Together, we can rebuild. Share our future.

Translated by Tamara Loring for Rouge Squad. First published at StopTheHike.ca.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor explains how the police, rather than protecting and serving, maintain a system of racism and inequality.

Originally posted here

Terrorists in blue

“TO SOME Negroes, police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a ‘double standard’ of justice and protection–one for Negroes and one for whites–a deep hostility between the police and ghetto…was a primary cause of the riots.”

The passage quoted above was from a government-commissioned investigation into the causes of urban rebellions throughout the 1960s. For four years, from 1964 through 1968, hundreds of thousands of African Americans rose up against the racism and injustice across the U.S. In dozens of cities, the causes were the same: unemployment, substandard housing, and police brutality among many others.

This report was published in 1968, and yet the description of the police’s relationship to Black communities sounds very familiar. The only significant difference now is that in many urban areas, Black and Latino cops make up a larger part of the police forces.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Stand with family members of victims of police brutality. Find out more about the National Alliance of Parents Against Police Violence on Facebook.

In some cities, there have even been Black police commissioners and superintendents along with Black political representatives, whether it be mayors, city council members or other ranking officials. These changes in the demographics of the police and city administrations that govern them haven’t changed the way that police departments regularly occupy, harass, intimidate and terrorize communities of color.

The reason behind this continuity is something that people in these communities already know: the police do not exist to protect and serve but are here to maintain racism and inequality.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory but is demonstrated in multiple ways, whether it is the disproportionate way that Blacks are arrested for drug crimes compared to whites or the way in which African Americans and Latinos are “legally” stopped for no reason at all.

The New York Police Department’s policy of stopping and frisking young men of color has resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of stops for random searches in hopes of finding contraband. In more than 90 percent of the stops, nothing is ever found, but the possibility of being stopped is a way of intimidating and controlling the movement and presence of Blacks and Latinos outside of spaces they are presumed not to belong.

Police operate in Black and brown communities as if the Bill of Rights does not exist–randomly stopping people for no reason, conducting searches without consent, and arresting and holding people with no charges. It is also infuriating because they operate with impunity. It is next to impossible to have a dirty cop charged with a crime or even disciplined for illegal or unethical behavior because the cops police themselves.

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BEYOND THE daily harassment, more than ever, the police are being used to hem in the potential for protest and resistance to the social crisis that is consuming Black communities across the country.

Black America is being ravaged by unemployment, growing rates of poverty, public school closures, and rental evictions and home foreclosures, to name only the most extreme conditions. In the absence of any real solutions to the economic crisis in communities hit the hardest, more police violence and intimidation are prescribed to keep them in check.

In Chicago, for example, growing poverty and disillusionment with any notion of social mobility in this society has given way to desperation and horrible violence across the city’s Black neighborhoods, but instead of addressing what is painfully obvious–some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the U.S.–local officials periodically suggest new, esoteric policing strategies to address crime.

These policies include neighborhood sweeps of young men, a growing number of surveillance cameras, and an increased police presence in these neighborhoods. These measures, of course, do nothing about crime except add to the number of young Black men with criminal records and thus increase the likelihood that they will never get employment, exacerbating the central problems of unemployment and poverty.

Not only can’t the police do anything about the conditions that give rise to crime but they actually contribute to it. In Chicago, the police have been found to be involved in crime rings that sell drugs and guns.

The combination of growing racial and economic inequality with aggressive policing and the criminalization of Black youth is resulting in even more police violence and even murder at the hand of the cops. According to a report published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Collective, since January 2012, 110 African American men and women have been murdered either by the police, security guards or white vigilantes–almost a person every two days.

Despite the continuity over time of police violence, there’s a perception that it’s getting worse. Because of social media and networking, it’s easier for recordings of police terror to “go viral” and be seen across the country in a matter of hours.

The media initially ignored the murder of Trayvon Martin, but word of the racist killing of the Florida teenager exploded via social media, and the case morphed into a national symbol of racism and police corruption.

Protests against a police riot in Anaheim, Calif., were captured on video, and people around the country were able to see what the police tried to cover up. The mainstream news reported that police offered to buy cell phones from those who recorded the police actions for fear that word would get out.

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THESE ACTIONS point to a greater reality that, while police terrorism is intensifying, so is the willingness to confront it and organize against it. The time is ripe for a movement against the police.

In New York City, activist organizing and an emergent movement against stop and frisk has the NYPD on the ropes, and the potential to end that legalized racism is within sight. Earlier in the summer, more than 13,000 people in New York marched silently to dramatically demonstrate against stop and frisk.

In Anaheim, where the police executed a young Latino man in cold blood, community members rebelled and lashed out at cop terror. In fact, after an evening of being shot with rubber bullets and arrests, community members demonstrated inside of the police department demanding justice.

In Chicago, a “people’s hearing” against police violence brought out more than 100 people, despite city officials’ efforts to thwart the meeting by forcing it to relocate. Across the country, communities large and small are organizing vigils, marches, demonstrations and community organizing meetings to speak out against police violence and murder against African Americans and Latinos.

At the center of much of this organizing are the family members of the victims of police murder who bravely and heroically are finding each other across the country and joining forces to demand justice and speak out against this racist terrorism. The outpouring of protest and organizing in response to the lynching of Trayvon Martin showed that the potential for a movement against police brutality, murder and corruption is vast.

Police terror may be a permanent feature of a system that is as economically unequal and unjust as this one, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make demands for police accountability and beyond. Our growing movement should demand an immediate end to the legalized racial profiling of stop-and-frisk programs in New York City and everywhere else variations of it are used.

We should call for federal investigations of local police murder and brutality cases because we know that the police can’t police themselves. We should demand elected and accountable police review boards that can independently investigate police crimes. We should demand an end to laws that criminalized the filming or audio recording of police as these are often the only means capture “proof” of their crimes.

There has never been a more urgent need to build a movement against racist, police terrorism in the U.S. There is another reality to consider as well. If the police continue to kill Black men and women with impunity, the possibility of the kinds of urban rebellions that shook American society in the 1960s is a distinct possibility.

One must consider that this isn’t the 1960s, but it’s the 21st century–and there’s a Black president and a Black attorney general and people surely expect more. Moreover, in just the last several days near- riots have broken out in Southern California and Dallas, Texas, as the police, growing more brazen in their disregard for Black and brown life, have executed young men in broad daylight, out in the open for all to see.

In Dallas, people watched the police shoot a man in the back as he was running away. Hundreds of people gathered in response to the Dallas Police Department’s deployment of a SWAT team and riot police.

There’s a growing feeling of exhaustion with the vicious racism and brutality of cops across the country and the pervasive silence that shrouds it–and people are beginning to rise against it.

New elections have been set for June 17 in Greece, and the far-left SYRIZA alliance is currently favored in opinion polls to take first place. If that happens, it would be a stunning blow to the austerity agenda that the bankers, bosses and political elite of Europe have imposed on Greece, in the form of the so-called “Memorandum.”

Originally Posted here

A first set of elections on May 6 dealt a devastating blow to the country’s two main parties, the conservative New Democracy and the center-left PASOK—which together ended up with fewer than half the number of votes they won in the previous election. SYRIZA, which stands for the Coalition of the Radical Left, catapulted from small-party status to second place. None of the three top finishers could form a government, so new elections have been called.

SYRIZA endured intense pressure to capitulate on its platform of repudiating the Memorandum and rolling back the austerity measures that were a condition of a financial bailout by the European bankers. With that stance gaining in popularity, SYRIZA is calling on left-wing party, including the Communist Party and the smaller anti-capitalist alliance ANTARSYA to work in alliance with the aim of forming a government of the left.

Antonis Davanellos is a leading member of the Internationalist Workers Left, a revolutionary socialist organization that was a cofounder of SYRIZA in 2004. He spoke to Ahmed Shawki and Alan Maass about the outcome of the May 6 vote and what will come next in Greece.

Greek workers march during a general strike last year
Greek workers march during a general strike last year

CAN YOU summarize the reasons behind the stunning result for SYRIZA in the May 6 election?

THE MAIN factor was the resistance of the workers and the people in Greece. In the three years that followed the signing of the Memorandum with the troika–with the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF–we saw huge resistance from the workers, from the youth and from the popular masses. This was not just inside Athens, but everywhere in the country. This is the most important factor.

SYRIZA was, from the beginning, very clearly identified as the part of the left that said a clear “no” to the Memorandum and that, at the same time, stood side by side with the people who were fighting. That was very important. And it was easier for us because of our policy of the united front–of the unity of the left and the unity of the movement–is a main characteristic of SYRIZA.

So in their day-by-day experience, people came to the understanding that SYRIZA was a good way to escalate the resistance. That was a major achievement by SYRIZA in the years before the election.

But also, some months before the election, SYRIZA made a point of saying that we can win. That was important because the Communist Party, which is bigger than SYRIZA, was saying that we can’t do anything. As we wrote in DEA’s newspaper: “They chose to proclaim to the people that any effort they make to change their lives today, rather than in some sort of ‘people’s power’ regime of the distant future, is a dangerous illusion.”

So before the elections, SYRIZA was the only part of the left that was saying that we can win–that we can overthrow the current government and propose a new government of the left. We said that we must take this possibility to put an end to the Memorandum and all of the austerity measures, and permit the people to turn around the cuts in salaries, in pensions, in public schools, in the public hospitals, and in measures of support for the unemployed people.

We faced a very big question on this: Where will you find the money? And on that question, SYRIZA was also very clear.

We said that, first, we will stop the payments to the international and local banks–to the IMF, the European Central Bank and so on. We will stop paying the debt. Second, we said that we will tax the rich in Greece–the corporations and the wealthy. Third, we said that we must take public control of the banks–put the banks under democratic and workers’ control.

These answers of where we will find the money are very near to the feelings of huge numbers of people. So that’s why there was a popular tide of support to SYRIZA. Before the election, I think that I felt very optimistic in expecting that we would win between 12 percent or 15 percent. At the end of the day, we found ourselves with 17 percent.

This was a political earthquake. Around 3.4 million voters moved away from PASOK and New Democracy, compared to the last election–mainly to the left, though there was also growth for the Nazis. But it’s clear that SYRIZA was the main recipient of many of these votes.

TELL US more about SYRIZA. What is its presence like in struggles and in neighborhoods?

SYRIZA IS a coalition of parties and organizations, and but there are also unorganized people of the left who participate. There is no unified political line within SYRIZA, but we have a strong agreement on the main points of the current period.

SYRIZA is organized into local committees. Its connection to local struggles has been very important over the years. And SYRIZA is also supporting a coalition of rank-and-file union workers of the left inside the factories and inside the public sector. At this rank-and-file level, we have very strong relations with the comrades of ANTARSYA. On many levels, we are acting together–in the unions, at the demonstrations, in the big struggles.

So people have seen members of SYRIZA on the front line of everyday struggles. But it was also very important to have a presence at the national political level. People know from what SYRIZA was saying at the parliament, and in the newspapers and the media, that it was supporting the different struggles.

We have faced real pressure, as well. If you remember some years ago, in December 2008, there was a rebellion of the youth in Athens after the police killed a 15-year-old student. For a month and a half, Athens was burning every night. And SYRIZA was the only party that was saying, “Continue to demonstrate, don’t go back.” This was at a time when SYRIZA suffered a big loss of votes.

But now we are winning the votes of all these people around very important demands of a change from the austerity measures. People have come to understand they can trust SYRIZA.

In this last parliament beginning in 2009, we had only 13 members, but they did good work. The president of our parliamentary group, Alexis Tsipras, was a sharp and explicit critic of the government, in a way that expressed the anger of the people. There are also members like Panagiotis Lafazanis, who raised in parliament all kinds of questions critical in workers’ struggles–the cuts in salaries and pensions, the changes in laws that have made strikes more difficult.

And so people understood the general political message of SYRIZA to be that we must resist and that we can win. Both parts of this message were important to our victory–not only resistance, but the slogan of a government of the left that can scrap the Memorandum.

WHAT HAS taken place since the election?

AFTER THE election, the bankers and the industrialists in Greece insisted that there must be a government, and so the two main parties, New Democracy and PASOK, pushed very hard to create a government of national unity or national salvation. They were promising almost anything to SYRIZA if we joined a government of national salvation.

In reality, the pressure was to push SYRIZA inside a government that would continue the policies of the Memorandum, which capitalism needs, not only in Greece, but which the European Union is demanding as well.

It was very important that SYRIZA resisted this, and it was a huge battle every day to do so. All the parties were demanding that SYRIZA take part in the government. And we were saying no–we will not participate in a national unity government. We said that we have declared before the people that the only government we will take part in or form is a government of the left, a government that will change the Memorandum and all the laws that of the last three years, during the period of the crisis.

Now, the efforts to form a national unity government have collapsed, and we are facing new elections in a month. Many polls are saying that SYRIZA will be in first place in the next election–with 20 or 25 percent of the vote, and the expectation is that this number will only grow.

We have an incredible situation. This is not revolutionary, not pre-revolutionary, but we are confronting the fact that in a month’s time, SYRIZA will be the leading party in the country.

So we will be called on at that point to form a government that can transform things for the people of Greece. But we also know the reality of our organized forces and what we have inside the banks, inside the army, inside the police. So we understand the challenges.

SO WHAT will it mean to prepare for this next election?

THAT’S A very difficult question because we have a huge responsibility to the people who are supporting SYRIZA. We must ask all the real questions–what is it we want to change and what is it we can change.

We also have a responsibility to transform the situation of the left. We will call again on the Communist Party to have a relationship of unity with us. And we will also call on ANTARSYA to recognize that it would be silly to operate separately in this election–that it’s very important to work with us and confront all these very serious challenges together.

At the same time, we must state clearly and honestly inside the people’s movements that the only way that we can achieve real changes is when people are organizing and protesting in the streets and in the workplaces–when people get organized and struggle around many different issues, as well as the larger questions about society.

In the week after the election, when the pressure on us was huge, with groups of capitalists and officials of other European governments demanding that SYRIZA go back and accept the national salvation government, SYRIZA called open general assemblies of people in Athens–65 in all–to discuss the issues.

The participation was greater than anything we’ve seen before now. For example, in one poor neighborhood between Athens and Piraeus, where a meeting called by SYRIZA might have drawn 30 or 40 people, there were 1,000 people at the general assembly.

IS THERE anything that the left internationally should do to support the efforts of SYRIZA?

ABSOLUTELY. ONE big difference between SYRIZA and the Communist Party, as well as some “national” currents of the revolutionary left, is that we have always insisted that the solution to the crisis must be a European solution. When we say that, we aren’t talking about currencies–the euro or a return to the drachma. We mean the solution lies in the relationship between the working-class movements in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland and so on.

This is what has historically changed the history of Europe. So we strongly support the building of relationships between the left in Greece and left organizations and parties throughout Europe. If Greece can set an example, then we can change the direction of things in Europe. But we need strong support in this, because alone, we can’t do much.

We are keeping our eyes on the huge forces of the working-class movement in Europe, which has traditionally been in Italy, France, Spain and so on. We need the help of all these forces.

It’s not a fantasy to look to this kind of solidarity. I remember last year, during one of the worst nights of police violence we had here in Greece, that after many hours of facing tear gas in Syntagma Square in Athens, I got back home and I saw on television some pictures of a demonstration in Spain, with the slogan, “Our brothers in Greece, hold on, we are coming.”

That sense of solidarity from below, between the workers of Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and so on, is what we need to change the situation.

I think it’s very possible that we’ll face some major provocations in the coming weeks. The rulers of Greece are very frightened right now. Until last week, they were hoping that the bourgeois parties would find a solution and create a government. Now they know that hope is finished, and they are very afraid about what comes next. If the elections happen and SYRIZA comes in first place, it will be more difficult for them to stop us–I don’t mean it’s impossible, but it will be more difficult.

So there are many possibilities of what they could do in a crisis–like close down the banks or stop paying pensions or things like that. And at that moment, we will desperately need the support of the European movement. If Angela Merkel of Germany or any other political leader tries to strangle the government in Greece, we will need the intervention of our sisters and brothers there on the left.

Transcription by Karen Domínguez Burke

Gary Lapon and Julian Guerrero report from New York City on an angry protest–one of many across the country–against the killing of Trayvon Martin.

March 22, 2012

Marchers took to the streets in New York City to demand justice for Trayvon Martin (Nisha Bolsey | SW)
Marchers took to the streets in New York City to demand justice for Trayvon Martin (Nisha Bolsey | SW)

THOUSANDS of people gathered in Union Square in New York City March 21 for a “Million Hoodie March” to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, as outrage at his racist murder continues to spread across the country and the world.

Trayvon was gunned down in the central Florida town of Sanford in late February as he walked to the home of his father’s fiancé. His killer was George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who was patrolling a gated community when he spotted Trayvon. To judge from chilling 911 recordings, Zimmerman decided that the African American 17-year-old was “suspicious,” began stalking him and then shot him at point-blank range.

Police questioned Zimmerman, and then released him because he claimed he killed Trayvon in “self-defense”–though Zimmerman outweighed Trayvon by nearly 100 pounds and was armed with a handgun, while Trayvon possessed only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Nearly a month after the crime, Zimmerman has still not been arrested.

Trayvon’s parents led the protest in New York City. Demonstrators wore hoodies as a show of solidarity–Trayvon was wearing one when he was murdered–and to dramatize the statement from the organizers’ Facebook page that “a Black person in a hoodie isn’t automatically ‘suspicious.'”

New York’s was the largest, but not the only demonstration to express the growing anger at Trayvon’s killing–and more actions are planned in cities around the country in the coming days.

In Orlando, only a few miles from Sanford, hundreds rallied at a protest organized by the Florida Civil Rights Association to demand that the state to revoke the concealed weapons permit issued to George Zimmerman. Later that night, in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, more than 200 supporters gathered, carrying bags of Skittles and cans of ice tea. “I wanted to come ‘armed and dangerous,'” said teacher Suneeta Williams.

The night before, in Sanford itself, some 1,000 people packed a town meeting led by NAACP President Ben Jealous, along with leaders of the ACLU and Nation of Islam. As Jealous told the crowd, “I stand here as a son, father, uncle who is tired of being scared for our boys. I’m tired of telling our young men how they can’t dress, where they can’t go and how they can’t behave.”

There were plans for another protest in Sanford on Thursday, this one led by Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network. In Atlanta, activists booked several buses to make the nearly eight-hour drive to Sanford–and sold every seat in advance.

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AT UNION Square, thousands of people turned out for the quickly organized protest. The multiracial crowd wore hoodies, scores of people defiantly held up bags of Skittles. One Black youth of elementary school age held a sign asking, “Am I next?” A man held a sign that read, “Racism is not a fringe issue,” and listed, “George Zimmerman, NYPD, Newt Gingrich, Jan Brewer, and on and on and on…”

As one protester, Aisha Mays, said:

Things like this happen all the time because Black men are targets. You see the worst of this here, but you also see it everywhere–in the schools, the workplaces. I’m glad that people are here. We have to continue these speakouts and rallies, we have to continue to talk about these issues and bring them out in the open, we have to break down these racist barriers. We have to take action.

Alia, a white woman who attended the rally with her 7-year-old son Sam, said “I’ve got kids, too, and I know that Trayvon was somebody’s baby. We have to be here for them because of that. This is the only way to have a better world.”

Sam added: “I’m here because I’m really angry at the man who killed Trayvon. He must be crazy, out of his mind to do what he did. We should protest the government until it gives up and stops racism!”

Speakers at the protest highlighted the racist double standard of police doing a background check and drug/alcohol test on Trayvon, but not on Zimmerman, the shooter. A lawyer for Trayvon’s family pointed out that without the support from activists and the hundreds of thousands who signed petitions demanding justice for Trayvon, the case would never have gained the prominence it has.

After he finished speaking, the crowd parted and began chanting “Justice for Trayvon,” as Trayvon’s parents made their way to the front to speak.

Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, said, “If Trayvon was alive, he’d be on these steps with you rallying for justice. Trayvon Martin did matter. We’re aren’t going to stop until we get justice for Trayvon!”

His mother Sybrina Fulton thanked the crowd for their support. Choking back tears, she said, “Our son did not commit any crimes…Our son is your son. Justice for Trayvon!”

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CHANTING “WE are Trayvon Martin!” the crowd in its thousands poured into the streets to march for justice.

This echoed the chant of “We are Troy Davis!” that rang out in Union Square six months before as about 1,000 people marched in the “Day of Outrage” protest on September 22, the day after the state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis, an innocent African American man. A number of people at the rally for Trayvon had marched for Troy.

Initially, the march made its way west down 14th Street, taking over two full lanes of traffic. Demonstrators chanted, “They don’t care if Black kids die, protect and serve, that’s a lie!” Police attempted to corral marchers back onto the sidewalk. They succeeded for a brief time, but were overwhelmed as the crowd took the streets again. Eventually, marchers made their way back to Union Square.

New York has also seen growing anger and action against police abuse and violence at home. There is a growing movement against the racist “stop and frisk” policy of the NYPD, whose 2,000 or so victims each day are overwhelmingly Black or Latino. Plus, activists in the Bronx have organized a number of demonstrations this winter against the police murder of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed Black teenager killed in his own home, and the beating of another Black teen, Jateik Reed.

The spirited demonstration for Trayvon is a further sign that a new movement for racial justice is emerging in New York, as it is in other cities. As protester Lupe Rodriguez said, “People are fed up about hearing these stories of people of color being beat down and shot down by cops. There have been too many of them brought to light in the last couple of months, and Trayvon is the tipping point for these communities.”

One influence on the new movement is Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which argues that mass incarceration of people of color is a system of racist social control akin to Jim Crow segregation and slavery. The many signs and chants that drew connections between the murder of Trayvon and instances of police brutality and racism made it clear that people don’t view this as an isolated incident but as a broader system of racism and injustice.

As another marcher, Armani Williams, said:

It makes me really angry to be a young Black male who knows that in 2012, I can be shot and killed, and the police don’t do anything…Black people are sick of how police terrorize us…This country was built on racism, and honestly, I feel that if the roles were reversed, if it was a white boy named Travis Martin who was killed by a Black man called George Jenkins, without a doubt, the killer in this instance would be in jail right now.

Nicole Colson contributed to this article.

Don Lash reports from New York City on two terrible examples of police brutality–and how the community in the Bronx is organizing to express its outrage.

Originally posted here

Demonstrators against police violence wound their way through a busy Bronx shopping area (Gary Lapon | SW)
Demonstrators against police violence wound their way through a busy Bronx shopping area (Gary Lapon | SW)

TWO RECENT police attacks on young Black men in the Bronx–one the brutal beating of an unarmed man by a crowd of officers, and the other the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in front of his family in his own home–have intensified and focused the community’s anger and outrage against the NYPD.

These incidents are part of a pattern of routine harassment and abuse, punctuated by regular episodes of brutality. Police violence in New York City is by no means confined to the Bronx. But it is bound to be more commonplace in the borough with the lowest per capita income of the five and with a population that is 90 percent people of color. To Bronx residents, the police resemble an occupying army.

The beating of 19-year-old Jateik Reed took place on January 26. A neighbor made a video of the assault by the four officers, who clubbed and kicked Reed in front of his residence. Officers then threatened the neighbor with pepper spray.

Witnesses said Jateik was beaten because he complained about being questioned and frisked while standing in front of his building. Police said he resisted when officers attempted to arrest him for drug possession. Initial reports included the police claim that an officer had been injured, but the video doesn’t show any injured officer, and none has been identified.

Jateik’s mother, brother and several friends went to the 42nd Precinct following his arrest, and three of this group ended up arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after refusing to leave.

When the video of the beating surfaced, the four officers were placed on modified desk duty, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claims the incident is being investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau. But lawyers for Jateik dismiss the ability or willingness of the NYPD to investigate itself and are demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor.

The second attack took place on February 2, 2012. Eighteen-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by police in the bathroom of his home, in the presence of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother.

The NYPD version is that officers saw Ramarley on the street and observed what they thought was a gun in his waistband. They allege Ramarley fled when asked to stop, and that they followed him into his home in “hot pursuit.” A surveillance camera, however, filmed Ramarley walking at a normal pace as he approached the front door of the building, followed shortly thereafter by an officer without his weapon drawn–not what one would expect in a “hot pursuit” of a suspect believed to be armed.

What is undisputed is that Ramarley was shot in his grandmother’s bathroom, and no weapon has been recovered. Police claim they were allowed into the home by a resident, although this has been denied by people present in the building. Initial reports featured a claim that the shooting followed a struggle with Ramarley, although police have since abandoned that story. Marijuana was allegedly found at the scene, and police speculated that Ramarley was flushing marijuana before he was shot. The officer who shot Ramarley and his partner have been placed on modified desk duty.

Incredibly, Ramarley’s grandmother was taken to the precinct and questioned for over five hours immediately after her grandson was killed. She says she was forced to give a statement, and a family friend who went to the precinct at the request of Ramarley’s father said he was denied access to her. A police department spokesperson confirmed the length of time Ramarley’s grandmother was questioned, but said there was no record of her requesting to leave.

As for Commissioner Kelly, after acknowledging that Ramarley’s grandmother had just witnessed him being gunned down, he said, “I would hope she was shown sensitivity to that issue.”

In both cases, police immediately released arrest records to discredit the young men they beat and shot.

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OPPONENTS OF police violence, including friends and family of the two victims, and their supporters from throughout the Bronx and beyond, mobilized in response to each of these incidents.

On the night after his death, a solemn, angry crowd gathered at a makeshift memorial in front of Ramarley’s house and then marched to the 47th Precinct.

Meanwhile, growing crowds have attended each of Jateik’s court appearances, despite attempts to intimidate supporters. For example, one man reported having been targeted for harassment by court officers who objected to a button he wore demanding an end to “stop-and-frisk.” After he was ejected from the courthouse, a woman he had been speaking to was told that her bag would be searched for a second time. When she refused consent to search, she was arrested. Nevertheless, the number of supporters grew with each appearance.

On February 4, family members of the two victims were joined by hundreds of supporters, including Take Back the Bronx, which arose out of the Occupy movement. Following a press conference hosted by local politicians and clergy, at which both the families of both Jateik and Ramarley were represented, a march headed for the 42nd Precinct.

Most of the marchers were aware that they were taking to the streets 13 years to the day after Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was shot 41 times by police who claimed to have mistaken the wallet he was attempting to show them for a gun.

Outside the precinct, the march paused in front of a tense line of officers guarding the station house, while Rob Starz of Rebel Diaz Art Collective, a local venue for hip-hop culture and political activism that itself has harassed by police, read the names of the five officers involved in the beating of Jateik Reed. As each name was read, the crowd pronounced them “Guilty!” The list continued with the names of the police commissioner and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The march moved on, winding through one of the busiest shopping areas in the Bronx, with some shoppers joining the march and others showed solidarity with cheers or raised-fist salutes. Eventually, the march concluded at the steps of Jateik’s building. Jateik’s mother and other relatives greeted the marchers, and Jateik’s lawyer asked supporters to pack the courtroom for the next court appearance two days later.

That day, February 6, Jateik was released on anonymously posted bail. He was greeted by a crowd celebrating his release and vowing solidarity in his fight to expose the police cover-up.

A second march and vigil was held for Ramarley Graham on the evening of February 6. Approximately 500 people lit candles at the memorial outside his home, and again marched to the 47th Precinct. Ramarley’s parents and siblings led the march and were joined by the mother of Malcolm Ferguson, a 23-year-old who was shot by the police nearly a dozen years ago.

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AS OUTRAGEOUS as the facts are surrounding the shooting of Ramarley Graham and the beating of Jateik Reed, it’s important to see the larger context in which these incidents of police violence occurred. Police oppression of people of color is nothing new in the city, but in recent years, the NYPD has aggressively pursued and defended policies specifically targeting young men of color.

According to the city’s own data released by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the “stop-and-frisk” program, which expanded the use of “noncustodial” pat-down searches, resulted in a five-fold increase in such searches between 2002 and 2006.

For every period looked at, African American New Yorkers are grossly overrepresented. In 2010, for example, NYPD conducted over 600,000 stop-and-frisks–over half were against Blacks, who comprise about a quarter of the city’s population. Whites, who comprise over 40 percent of the population, accounted for only 9 percent of stop-and-frisk searches.

One favorite justification for the searches is that individuals are targeted in “high-crime” areas. But this simply means that young men who live in areas defined as high crime are subject to search and harassment any time they leave their homes.

The NYPD justifies the expansion of stop-and-frisk as a preventive measure, claiming that it removes weapons from the street and makes communities of color safer. In a variation on the same theme, landlords can opt into an “Operation Clean Halls” program, inviting police to conduct stops inside apartment buildings, leading to reports of residents being harassed in their own buildings.

Press reports have documented the pressure within the NYPD to use stop-and-frisk. One officer has come forward and alleged that she was told she had to make a daily quota of stop-and-frisk searches. The non-police witnesses to Jateik’s beating describe it as a stop-and-frisk encounter turned violent.

And it’s undeniable that officers have been known to punish people who complain about being stopped. Recently, an officer was recorded boasting about having falsely arrested a man on Staten Island–he described it as “frying a nigger.”

Related to stop-and-frisk is the continuing over-representation of Black and Latino youths among those prosecuted for marijuana possession. Although young whites are statistically more likely to use marijuana, whites account for only 12 percent of New York City marijuana arrests on average, while Blacks and Latinos account for 87 percent.

The relationship to stop-and frisk was confirmed when Commissioner Kelly issued a memo in September 2011, noting that the department had been criticized for its disparity in marijuana arrests and directing officers to use their discretion not to make arrests when small amounts of marijuana are discovered during a stop-and-frisk.

The number of marijuana arrests declined after the memo for a brief time, but the NYPD quickly returned to business as usual, and made a record number in 2011.

Shortly before joining the march on February 4, Take Back the Bronx conducted its General Assembly in the shadow of Mott Haven Houses, a large public housing complex in the South Bronx.

Residents joined the GA and reported having frequently stopped and searched frequently, and more or less randomly. Several reported having their doors kicked down for searches, and two showed copies of search warrants from different dates containing identical language about what police asserted they were told by a confidential informant.

At the press conference on February 6, elected officials voiced the anger of the community, but it was clear that the marchers and Bronx residents cheering them on from the sidewalks had demands that were far more militant than the politicians. While the politicians asked for meetings with the police commissioner, departmental investigations and cultural sensitivity training, the signs of marchers demanded an end to stop-and-frisk and other abusive practices, the firing of Kelly, and an end to racially discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws.

Lichi D’Amelio contributed to this article.

New York City teacher Megan Behrent describes why Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to “turn around” her school sacrifices a rational approach to helping students.

February 7, 2012
Originally posted here

Parents, students and teachers join in an "Occupy the Schools" protest against proposed closures in early February (Mike Fleshman)
Parents, students and teachers join in an “Occupy the Schools” protest against proposed closures in early February (Mike Fleshman)

‘TIS THE season for school closings in New York City.

In what has become an annual tradition, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his puppets on the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) celebrated the holidays with the announcement that another 25 schools in New York City are slated to be closed completely or undergo grade truncations (primarily to remove middle school grades from formerly K-8 schools).

Hearings are currently underway in the affected schools around the city, and on February 9 the PEP is slated to vote on the fate of these schools. The majority of the PEP is appointed by the mayor, and the only time that mayoral appointees to the panel threatened to vote against the wishes of the mayor, they were fired and replaced.

It’s a pretty safe bet as to which way the PEP will vote this time.

A trip to the PEP is like a trip to Versailles, pre-French Revolution. As hundreds of eloquent and passionate speakers fight for their schools, members of the panel play games or text friends on their Blackberries and mentally plan their next cocktail party. You can almost hear them muttering, “Let them eat cake,” under their breath.

As a result, since the 2003 implementation of mayoral control of the schools, more than 100 schools in New York City have been phased out–an “accomplishment” that in any rational system would be evidence of the failure of the mayor and his PEP puppets. In the Orwellian world of the Department of Education (DOE), however, this is claimed as a success: a victory for those who believe that destroying schools and the communities they serve is the best way to improve education.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO

New Yorkers should join a protest to occupy the Panel for Education Policy meeting on February 9–to open it up as a democratic forum for parents, students and teachers. Meet at 5:30 p.m. at Brooklyn Technical High School at 29 Fort Green Place in Brooklyn.

For more information, e-mailoccupythedoe@gmail.com or visit theOccupy the DOE website.

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So it should come as no surprise that Bloomberg is now targeting another 33 schools, including my own, as part of a strategy that makes schools nothing more than collateral damage in the mayor’s all-out war on teachers and our union.

Finding ourselves at the confluence of Obama’s Race to the Top initiative and Bloomberg’s Children First, we have become victims of the anti-teacher (and anti-public education) agenda that masquerades as “education reform.” These 33 schools are now facing Bloomberg’s “turnaround” model in which the entire staff of a school is removed and forced to reapply for their jobs–with the provision that a maximum of 50 percent can be rehired.

Why is this happening? Because Bloomberg wants to completely eliminate due process from the new teacher evaluation system that is being negotiated. Thus, schools like mine are being held hostage in Bloomberg’s war on teachers and our union.

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IN JANUARY 2010, my school, along with another 32 others, became a casualty of New York state’s Race to the Top application when state officials deemed it “persistently low-achieving” (PLA)–because our four-year graduation rate was slightly below the city’s average.

This designation is a byproduct of the New York’s application for federal Race to the Top funds, which require states to identify such PLA schools and impose one of four models to restructure the school as a condition of receiving school improvement grants.

As a result, my school became a “transformation” school–arguably, the least draconian of the four models. We were given three years to raise our graduation rate and required to implement a variety of changes, including piloting a new teacher evaluation system. The evaluation system has been contentious since its inception, because for the first time, it requires test scores to be used to determine 20 to 40 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation.

While mandated by state law, much about the new evaluation system was left up to negotiations between the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)–the union that represents more than 100,000 educators and support staff in New York City’s public schools. The fallout has made absolutely clear the impossibility of any “collaboration” with management when it comes to our rights.

On December 31, the city’s DOE officials walked out of negotiations with the UFT despite a deadline imposed on them by the state that threatened the loss of all Race to the Top funds should they fail to reach an agreement.

The sticking point? The UFT wanted some semblance of fairness for appeals by teachers deemed “ineffective” two years in a row. An unpublicized change in the law means that, whereas in the past the burden of proof was on the DOE to prove that a teacher is incompetent in order to take away his or her license, it is now up to the teacher to prove that they are, in fact, competent.

The stakes are high. Without an appeal to an impartial source in these cases, teachers effectively lose all due process and become victims of the whims and vagaries of administrators.

With millions of dollars in funding at stake, Bloomberg went on the offensive. Unable to reach an agreement through negotiations, he reached into his union-busting arsenal and announced the newest weapon in his war on our schools–33 schools which had been deemed “restart” or “transformation” were now to be subjected to the draconian “turnaround” model (made famous in Central Falls, R.I., in 2010), complete with the firing of the entire staff and the maximum 50 percent rehired provision.

Bloomberg used his State of the City address to put forth this proposal. The next day, even before the staff at my school had been given the details of the plan, we were asked to distribute to students a letter to their parents that was an unabashed piece of anti-union propaganda.

A letter from School Chancellor Dennis Walcott explained:

[U]nfortunately many of the conditions the UFT insisted on would have made it harder for us to replace a poor-performing teacher with someone who will better serve our students. As a result of our inability to get the UFT to agree to real accountability, the State Education Department suspended your school’s grant funding.

The letter went on to explain the benefits of the “turnaround” plan, which was described as an admittedly “aggressive” plan that would nonetheless allow the DOE to “screen existing staff using rigorous standards for student success, and to re-hire a significant portion of those staff,” thus “enhanc[ing] the quality of teaching and learning in your school.”

In other words, the letter placed the blame for the situation squarely on the teachers–while relying on those very same teachers to distribute this blatant anti-teacher propaganda to our students in order to tell them how awful we are.

Furthermore, in its infinite wisdom, the DOE disseminated this information at the end of the day on a Friday before a long weekend–and before the staff had been apprised of any of the details. As a result, students were sent home in a fog of confusion amidfinals and one week before Regents Exams, when the last thing they needed was to worry about the future of their school. So much for “children first.”

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THE IDEA that removing 50 percent of teachers in a school would be anything but devastating and disruptive to a school is insane, but it fits in with the general logic of education reform–according to Bloomberg and Walcott. In this dystopia, eliminating schools improves them. So, too, does eliminating teachers apparently make them better teachers.

It’s amazing how “concerned” Bloomberg was a few months ago about the disruptions caused by layoffs if seniority provisions weren’t eliminated. In that case, he argued this would have a destabilizing effect on schools with a large number of newer teachers who would thus be disproportionately affected. When it comes to my school, however, firing half the staff of my school is not destabilizing, but progress.

As a high school English teacher, I can’t help thinking that this is what Orwell’s 1984(perhaps it should be republished as a DOE guidebook) refers to as “doublespeak” and/or “doublethink.” It is a symptom of the complete lack of a rational or equitable impulse in what passes as educational policy

Of course, the whole proposal is completely illegal, potentially violating both city law and the UFT contract. To get around this small detail, the masterminds at Tweed (as the building that houses DOE headquarters is known) found an ingenious loophole. They could “turn around” the school if they pretended to close it, and reopen it one day later, thus doing an end run around the contract, and allowing them to ignore job protections and seniority rules in order to displace staff at will.

As a consequence, my school (and the other PLA schools in the city) will close on June 30 and reopen the next day–in the same building, with the same students, but with a new name and new number. Because our school will then have been officially “closed,” we would supposedly no longer have any claim to a job in the school and would become ATRs (Absent Teacher Reserves, who maintain their current salary, but are shuttled around the city as substitute teachers).

Sure, we would be allowed to reapply for our jobs–with the understanding that, at most, 50 percent of us would be rehired. And we were advised to begin preparing portfolios so we could demonstrate our effectiveness and begin the arduous process of competing against our coworkers for jobs that we have been “highly effectively” performing for years.

In invoking the school closing argument to carry out what is, in effect, a “turnaround” model (in the federal government’s education jargon), the DOE has run into some problems justifying what they’re doing.

At least seven of the schools, including mine, have received As or Bs on the report cards that the DOE gives schools. As a result, even the New York Post, usually the vulture of the anti-union and anti-teacher movement, has questioned the DOE’s logic.

As an example, my school is a PLA school because our four-year graduation rate is below 60 percent (it’s 59 percent). We got an A on our report card five years ago and Bs every year since. Our “college readiness” statistic is the same as the city average (which is based on standardized test scores).

That we are suddenly deemed a school to be closed demonstrates the hypocrisy and absurdity of determining a school’s worth by such capricious standards. It says far more about the failure of the DOE than it does about my school.

To justify this about face, Walcott has argued, “It’s not just the letter grade–and the letter grade is extremely important, we take great pride in the letter grade…but you also have to take a look under the hood.”

Which is precisely my point. These reports and evaluations of schools don’t tell the whole story. For years, activists demanding an end to school closings have been making this very case.

So what is made clear by the DOE and Walcott is that, despite the blind spots of their own evaluation system, an F is enough to close a school, yet an A or B will not guarantee that it stays open.

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THE REALITY is that the “data” cherished by education reform demagogues says little about what really goes on in a school. When we look at graduation rates and test scores, and then assign a letter grade to a school, we miss what’s most important about what’s happening inside the walls of that school. What disappears are the students who attend it–their needs, their hopes and their aspirations.

If you look at my school on paper, you will find a student body made up of more than 3,000 students with a graduation rate that is only a few percentage points below the city average. Dig a little deeper, and you will see that more than 40 percent of our students are classified as “English language learners” by the DOE–though they should more accurately be referred to as “emergent bilinguals” so as to acknowledge the fact that they already speak two languages.

In absolute terms, this means that my school has the largest number of emergent bilinguals in the city (about 1,300 at last count). Many of these students are recent immigrants who have understandable difficulty graduating in four years.

The reality is that all accepted research on language acquisition shows that it takes at least five to seven years to become academically proficient in a language–if the students are already proficient in their own language, which is not always the case for those whose formal education was interrupted.

As one teacher at my school explained recently, the reason students don’t learn faster is “because they’re human, with human brains.” And the scientific consensus is that human brains take five to seven years to develop academic proficiency in a second language.

This is the “data” that the DOE loves to ignore.

But leave it at that, and you’ll still miss what is so special about a school like mine–what eludes the “data sets” used to evaluate any school.

Beyond every piece of data on a page, there’s a story. A school like mine has more than 3,000 stories. Many of those stories begin in Albania, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, the Fujian province of China, Pakistan, the Dominican Republic, Tibet and Mexico. Many of these stories involve limited access to schooling. They are stories told in at least 37 different languages.

To be privy to such diverse and amazing stories on a daily basis is the highlight of being a teacher. No data can ever encapsulate the amazing lessons one could learn from the student population in my building. There’s no space on a school report card to measure the joy of watching “emergent bilinguals” (also known as human beings) compare village life in Bangladesh and China, or to watch students share their ideas, cultures and histories at the myriad events that provide the space in which genuine multiculturalism thrives.

To reduce all these stories to a school’s graduation rate is to ignore everything that is fundamental in education. Far from increasing accountability, it puts pressure on schools to ignore what students need in favor of what looks good on paper.

For example, the state doesn’t take into account our five- or six-year graduation rate. This puts pressure on a school to graduate students as soon as possible–even if there are students who might benefit from staying a fifth year to improve their English language skills (and thus avoid having to pay for costly remedial classes at CUNY).

Thus, in yet another bit of twisted Orwellian logic, improving our “college readiness” (a new criterion being used to judge schools) could make us even more persistently low achieving and vice versa.

The latest attack on the 33 schools is yet more proof that none of the policies governing education today has anything to do with students, their parents or the communities in which they live.

Along with 32 other schools, the staff, students and parents in my school have become pawns in the mayor’s war against our union, held hostage by interests that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with the privatization of our schools. This free-market ideology promotes competition instead of collaboration and Wal-Mart-style skills, rather than genuine critical thinking and inquiry.

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BLOOMBERG HAS made it clear that he will wield school closings as a political tool to combat the UFT, no matter what the cost. At the same time, we must acknowledge that the UFT itself has paved the way to the current crisis with concession after concession.

The UFT’s acceptance and endorsement of the change in state education law that led to this new evaluation system is a case in point. At the time, the UFT argued that, because the DOE was forced to negotiate with the union on the implementation of this system, this was a step forward that would lead to a more objective system of evaluations.

So much for that.

The DOE has made it clear that this type of collaboration is not one that will result in a real voice for the UFT. Furthermore, the UFT has already agreed to the use of test scores in evaluations and to an expedited procedure for getting rid of teachers who are given an “ineffective” rating two years in a row–no matter how bogus the charges.

It’s important that that the UFT has held its ground in the current standoff, but the reality is that the stakes are high because we’ve already given so much ground. To give in further could lead to the end of job security and tenure in any meaningful way, resulting in a scenario in which any abusive or anti-union principal could use the new system to target union activists or dismiss people at will.

While the media’s frenzy over the “bad teacher” narrative has made teacher evaluations a politically precarious issue, the reality is that the entire approach is based on the distorted view of “education reform” that has dominated public debate.

Why do the majority of teachers leave within the first five years? What can we do tosupport new teachers rather than evaluate them into oblivion? How can any teacher be the best s/he can be with 150 students and no budget for classroom supplies?

These are questions we should be asking. In addition to funds, what schools really need is a greater sense of collaboration and support, not an evaluation system that is based on the myths about the “bad teacher.”

In this regard, the nation of Finland, where one of the best educational systems in the world eschews evaluations altogether, points the way forward. It focuses on recruitment and creating a professional atmosphere in schools in order to foster genuine collaboration and support among teachers. Not surprisingly, it is far more effective at retaining good teachers and providing the encouragement and support that they need to thrive.

Despite all rational evidence to the contrary, the education deformers plod forward with their project of privatization, competition and the complete destruction of our schools. On its own, this picture looks bleak.

But the Occupy movement has provided a ray of hope that has inspired a new generation of radical educators to take their struggle beyond the classroom to fight for quality public education for all. Occupy the DOE–the public education working group of Occupy Wall Street–is organizing to prevent business as usual and reinsert the public into debates about public education.

When they say a school should “phase out,” we should say, “Occupy!” When they close schools, we should re-open them.

For all too long, being a teacher has meant being on the defensive, being a target for the privatizers’ agenda for education. But no longer. It’s time to take back education from the control of the 1 percent and fight for a public education agenda for the 99 percent.