Demand …Or Be Damned

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I was invited by Kevin Zeese to contribute something to Popular Resistance a while back, to contribute a call for an action in response to current education reform policies, including but not limited to, any piece of fecal detritus spewed by Betsy Devos and company.

I struggled to formulate a response to that request mostly because my feelings were two-fold: 1) I couldn’t generate any ideas not already being developed by others (i.e. call your state legislator, sign XYZ petition, speak up at PTA meetings etc etc…) and 2) I wasn’t sure where I stood in relationship to ESSA.

Generally speaking, I am opposed to supporting ESSA because of the devil in the details (the ways in which it is opening the flood gates for private interests in the form of vouchers, charters and online providers). And yet, as Trump and the clown car call for the dismantling of the US Department of Education and eliminating federal mandates, I am instinctively opposed to that too- much in the way one might instinctively oppose having a nail driven into their eye (the way I feel about anything attached to Trump’s name or policies). Besides, lets face it: Looking back historically, our track record for actually putting our democratic money where our mouth is, is less than stellar. Between high stakes testing and school to prison pipelines, we have done little in our policies to genuinely support disenfranchised youth and communities. So what are we hanging on to? And, if we let go of what we have, what will be in store for us? And who will decide?

So…. to be, or not to be? That is the question. Call for actions to support ESSA? Or to not support ESSA? That is the question. The answer is that it doesn’t matter. Why? Because RIGHT NOW, either road leads to the same ends, paved by the same people: privatization, profit and corporate ownership of students.

The policy makers that came before Devos (such as Arne Duncan and co.) might not have been so (openly) dim witted as to call for guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears. But education policies under Obama, and Bush before him, and Clinton before him all the way back to Reagan….all have been leading to the same neoliberal agenda. ESSA, as written and supported by Lamar Alexander will lead toward the same outcome that we would arrive it if we oppose or eliminate ESSA (that is, when the alternatives to ESSA are driven by the same policy makers that have been driving education agenda for thirty years).

What haven’t we tried? Rather than putting energy toward choosing sides drawn for us by the same corporate reformers who have been driving the bus for decades, and either being PRO ESSA or opposed to EESA, we should put our energy toward something we haven’t tried yet. DEMANDING, and TAKING DIRECT ACTION TOWARD enacting a system of policies crafted by us: Educators, parents, students and communities, especially and most necessarily, by and with those teachers, parents and students in communities that have been historically marginalized (unfunded and rendered invisible). Why don’t we stop focusing on whether or not to support policies crafted by others (the corporate and political elite), and begin really building from the ground up the demand for an agenda made by the people who live that agenda every day? Our energies and focus of strategic actions need to be redirected.

Why not tell our state and local representatives, union leadership, and boards of education: “Either you write policies that include OUR agenda, or WE-WILL-NOT-VOTE-FOR-YOU.”

It’s not like we haven’t crafted suggestions for system of policies or demands that we COULD use a starting outline. It not like we DON’T have alternatives. We DO. Numerous groups over many years have been advocated for them:

SOS demands for public education in 2012

United Opt Out demands for public education current, and also originally in 2013

BATS demands for public education

And most importantly: The National Student Bill of Rights

I think we’ve got a good start just with these alone. I am sure there are more. They’re all generally demanding the same things, since basic human rights for students and communities are the basic undercurrent of each of them. Within these organizations and other such as the teachers unions who have similar demands (really, rhetoric since they lack actionable substance) there are thousands of people who, if we redirected our focus toward OUR demands and less on debating about their offers, we could make SUBSTANTIAL and SYSTEMIC changes.

I know the first response of my readers  might be “That is just impossible.” Maybe. But it’s becoming increasingly evident that the only alternative to the impossible now is the unimaginable. If we continue on this current course of asking “Mother May I” and buying the solutions sold to us by the same folks who created the problem, we will wind up with the unimaginable.

I would rather fight for the impossible then accept the unimaginable. What about you?

  • Steve1027

    I love the tact/mentality the author has with respect to quibbling over the lose-lose bullshit the elites sell us. True freedom comes from self-determination and making your own policies for politicians to follow sounds like true grassroots democracy. Maybe we need “A People’s ALEC” to create model legislation for a bunch of issues? Maybe a “People’s ALEC” already exists! Perhaps someone could start drawing up a Green New Deal?

  • mwildfire

    I don’t know much about the education debates, but on the strategic focus, this guy is right on. It’s the same thing Flowers and Zeese have been saying about healthcare–we just might have better success if we stop quibbling about ACA versus AHCA and just demand universal healthcare–since that would be much cheaper, much more effective, is a multiply proven solution, and is what the public wants even after decades of disinformation or censorship in the govermedia.

  • DHFabian

    You nailed it with, “Why don’t we stop focusing on whether or not to support policies crafted by others… and begin really building from the ground up the demand for an agenda made by the people who live that agenda every day?” This goes well beyond the issue of education, of course. Part of the reason is that we’ve disappeared those at the bottom for years. (They are priced off-line, off course.) Recent decades consisted of being presented with problems with only two “options,” evil or viciously evil. We choose (what is perceived as) the lesser evil. Each year that the issue is raised, the less evil choice grows worse, but we settle for it.

    I’m not optimistic about building a broad movement, necessary to push back against “Trumpism,” because of a point raised here, this time about “the human rights of students.” What do people here think “human rights” means? These are actually defined as, “…something to which you are entitled by virtue of being human.” But we don’t agree on what those are. The UN’s UDHR lists the most fundamental human rights as “food, shelter and medical care” — even for the jobless poor. Americans disagree, obviously. If we don’t support these most basic of human rights, just what are our values?

  • DHFabian

    The issue comes with a built-in barrier. What would be the logic of providing more than emergency room services to our very poor, just to dump them back on the streets? Lack of adequate food and shelter take a very heavy toll on human health. In fact, the overall life expectancy of the US poor, since Clinton ended basic poverty relief, has fallen below that of every developed nation. Of course Congress is well-aware of the fact that, under these circumstances, providing more than emergency room services to our poor would be like trying to fill a sieve with water.

  • DHFabian

    That doesn’t make sense. “Self-determination and making your own policies” to apply even to those who disagree? This eliminates their option of self-determination.

    You must first figure out who is meant by “us” and “them.” Don’t expect the masses of poor to Stand in Solidarity to protect the advantages of the middle class — those who stripped the poor of the most basic civil and human rights.

  • Jon

    Yes, and while that is a good direction, both of them (Kevin and Margaret) are stuck in the position of having to convince Congress (those people??) to do it. My suggestion, that I have posted several times is that we self-organized to create our OWN single payer system, probably by region rather than whole country all at once. That way we sideline BOTH the super greedy insurance companies AND the obstructionists in Congress who feed off the campaign contributions (bribes) of those same rascals.

  • Jon

    Have you not heard of Jill Stein’s Green New Deal? It is quite complete and comprehensive. She spoke of it all through her 2 campaigns. Also, please see my comment above in response to Mwildfire.

  • Jon

    “I’m not optimistic” Right! you are consistently pessimistic Fabian and rarely have any solutions, just carping about the ultra poor “with no direction home, like a rolling stone.” Again, what do you propose that will be enlightening?

  • Steve1027

    Of course I’ve heard of it. I never saw any specifics though.

  • Steve1027

    The middle class took from the poor? The middle class has been shrinking while the 1% wealth continues to skyrocket. That’s nonsense. The professional class has done well in the neoliberal era, but the middle class is shrinking. That’s just divide and conquer rhetoric meant to turn us on one another instead of focusing on the thieves at the top of the pyramid scheme that is capitalism.

  • mwildfire

    But then don’t you have the same problem at the state level? Or are you thinking this could somehow be done without any legislation? Some areas might theoretically be progressive enough at state level,,,but look at what happened with the GMO labeling legislation. Overwhelming support in CA, WA, and brought in via initiative so the legislators didn’t have to be brought on board. But Monsanto threw enough money at it to squelch it in every state but Vermont, and then got a national override to squelch it there. If California, say, passed something like this, we would soon have a two-tier medical system with people moving to California for the first-world medical system, either after developing a serious condition or just for the safety of it. This would be intolerable to the insurance companies, and a threat to the drug and hospital companies–they would HAVE to stop it.

  • kevinzeese

    She put forward specific plans, of course the corporate media did not cover them. Here is a link.

  • Jon

    You say “But then don’t you have the same problem at the state level? Or are you
    thinking this could somehow be done without any legislation?” YES! Think of it as a huge cooperative, like the local food coop, only bigger. We bypass government, except for complying with reasonable rules about licensing of medical personnel.

    Your second point is well taken and we would need some safeguards so as not to overwhelm the system