Thursday, August 21, 2014

Schools play a big role in the Ferguson story. It's a teachable moment in time.

Fergson teachers would rather be with their students in their classrooms. Instead, they spend the day picking up debris, including tear gas canisters, from local streets. 

SELMA, Alabama -- A sixth grade teacher at a Selma elementary was placed on administrative leave after having students reenact the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown that took place Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. -- 
Ferguson schools remain closed today, 11 days after the killing of a local student and the ensuing protests. Why? It seems that the district leadership has abandoned its students completely to the streets. For many Ferguson students, school is where they get their only hot meal of the day. The Washington Post reports that a teacher in North Carolina has raised more than $80,000 in order to pay for food for kids in shuttered schools.

Ferguson-Florissant is considered a high-poverty school district because many of its students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches — 68% of them last year, though it is likely that the real percentage is higher as some families never filled out the paperwork.

CLASS WARFARE...The police shooting of Michael Brown and the ensuing protest is but one dramatic chapter in a much larger story of the widening black/white, rich/middle-class/poor economic and social divide and conflict.

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in this week's TIME Magazine ("The Coming Race Ware Won't Be About Race") that Ferguson is not JUST about systemic racism, but about "class warfare" as well  and how America's poor are systematically held back.  But if there's class warfare in the United States, it's mainly one-sided. Brown's death changed all that in Ferguson.

Kareem cites a 2012 Pew Research Center report showing just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

He might well have mentioned the schools in his portrait of growing economic inequality and accompanying racism. A look at Ferguson's two-tier school system would easily make the case. Michael Brown's own high school, for example, along with the district in which it resides, was stripped of its accreditation last year by the state, which then allowed students to transfer elsewhere with tuition and transfer fees paid by the unaccredited district, thus draining it of millions of dollars.

Compare this to Rahm Emanuel's closing of 50 schools, mainly in Chicago's black community. The only difference is that Fergusion's public schools system is suffering death by a thousand cuts rather than one.

EdWeek reports that black students in Ferguson schools are being suspended at much higher rates than white students and they are more likely to be stopped and arrested by white police officers outside of school. EdWeek also points out that these racial disparities in arrests and suspensions don't belong to Ferguson alone, but are repeated nationwide.

Art McCoy
There was some hope for Ferguson schools with the hiring of Ferguson-Florissant School District's first African-American school superintendent, Art McCoy. But the city's all-white elected school board (3/4 of district students are black) found itself at odds with McCoy's approach and soon forced him out. Students, parents and school activists have rallied around McCoy, demanding that the board to bring the superintendent back and even calling on them to resign.

McCoy tells Democracy Now:
As a school official and superintendent, part of my goal was to bring equity to the region by making sure that there was an adequate representation of principals and of teachers that matched the students that we served, and we made some strides in that area. The other initiative was to bring jobs. We were proud and I was proud to be a recipient of Harvard’s Pathway to Prosperity grant, one of three districts in the state to do so, to bring job-training skills, of advanced manufacturing and other skills, so that students can earn the skills, as well as receive jobs while they’re still juniors and seniors.  
More McCoy:
But I think riot is the language of the unheard, and protest is the speech act of a democracy that says, "You are a public servant and here to serve me, too." And I don’t blame those for voicing their opinion, but I do think we need people that are on the ground that represent all people, and not just by words, but by action, by deed, by creed, by ethnicity and intent. And so, I think that’s important.
ACROSS THE RIVER in Edwardsville, IL, teachers have been officially barred from talking to their students about the events in Ferguson. It's not a teachable moment, according to Dist. 7 Supt. Ed Hightower, who signed the memo banning any mention of Michael Brown's death or the ensuing protest. If students bring it up, ordered Hightower, "change the subject."
“Such comments have caused students and parents to lash out which is not healthy in the District 7 community,” says a memo to staff on Tuesday from Dennis Cramsey, principal at Edwardsville High School.
Teaching is not heathy. We get it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Battles are usually won or lost before they begin

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
For Karen Lewis, it's not just about a single election campaign but about laying the foundation for a movement. Ah music to my ears. Before she formally announces her candidacy, she wants to make sure she has enough troops in place behind her and a core group of progressives to run in city council races.

I've got a good one for her out in the 35th Ward -- solid, young, progressive Carlos Sosa who has the backing of State Sen. Willie Delgado and State Rep. (elect) Will Guzzardi, two guys who know how to beat the machine.

Forgive the war metaphor, but Karen should expect nothing less from Rahm Emanuel and his gang. One thing we've learned from many campaigns is that battles are usually won or lost before they begin, sometimes without firing a single shot (metaphorically speaking, that is).

While big money usually wins elections, it can't match the power of an energized popular movement fighting for a just cause. That said, I'm glad to see that the AFT has pledged $1 million to Karen's campaign, should she formally announce. Thanks Randi. Thanks rank & file. That's a big improvement over IEA leaders pouring money into the losing campaign of ALEC boss Kirk Dillard, the supposed "lesser-evil" opponent of Bruce Rauner.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Today's test question: Why do police wear camouflage?

WATCHING FROM CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Worst Media Coverage Ever Award belongs to CBS News for this morning's headline: Michael Brown Protests in Ferguson Hijacked by 'Criminals' : Cops. Unless by "criminals" the headline was meant to refer to the Ferguson PD.

As the violent and terrifying Ferguson siege by militarized police forces, heads into Day 10, I'm still awed by the courage, anger, and desperate resistance shown by the mostly-peaceful and disciplined community protests against overwhelming odds. More live (on MSNBC) late night images of courageous youngsters ducking and dancing their way past armored vehicles, through the barrage of rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters, even daring to pick them up and return them to their rightful owners, jar memories of Watts '65, Harlem '64, Prague '68, Chicago '68, Tienanmen '89, Tahrir Square '2013 and Gaza last month.

Yes, 10 days since the murder of Michael Brown by Officer Wilson and still no arrest. Still no charges filed. What we know for sure from the various autopsy reports is that Brown was shot 6 times (including once in the palm of his raised hand and one in the top of his skull) as he stood passively, hands in the air. How many more autopsy reports do we need to see and how many federal investigations do we need to take place before an arrest is even made and charges filed? The struggle continues. No justice, no peace!

CAUTION... Three of Ferguson's four public schools remain closed but that doesn't mean children aren't getting Civics lessons from street teachers after being abandoned by city leaders and school administrators. A note posted on the Jennings School District website said the decision was made "out of an abundance of caution," and that the district anticipated starting the school year today.

No gas or shots fired against Cliven Bundy
I almost forgot another near-battle scene, this one handled with patience and restraint by authorities. That would be the confrontation in April between feds and an armed band of white-supremacists led by robber of public lands, Cliven Bundy. Yes, race matters when it comes to administering justice. Another Civics lesson for Ferguson kids.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Ferguson Protester Lisha Williams. 
"It was no fight, it was no shots fired. The only ones who fired was police. All we did was march to the command center to fall to our knees and say, 'Don't shoot.' And they started shooting." --CNN
Malcolm London
Chicago poet, Malcolm London
"They don't talk about white-on-white crime in the news." -- Huffington 
Attorney Benjamin Crump
"What we're really asking for is simple justice. We're not asking for anything extraordinary. They just want what anybody else would want if their children were shot down in broad daylight." -- CNN
Justice Taney
Melissa Harris-Perry
 In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that [Dred] Scott had no right to sue because as a black man he was never intended to be an American. Speaking of the clause in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” Taney wrote:
“It is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.” Taney went on to say that black men “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” -- MSNBC
 U.C. Prof. David Kirp
While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element. -- Sunday NYT, "Teaching is not a business"

Friday, August 15, 2014

Militarization vs. the Network Society

I was deeply moved yesterday evening, to be standing with more than a thousand fellow Chicagoans, hands raised in a gesture of solidarity with the family of Michael Brown and the courageous people of Ferguson, MO. Similar demonstrations are taking place in dozens of cities and on university campuses.

GAZA, MO...Coming on the heels of the Israeli assault on Gaza, the events in Ferguson, after the police killing of Michael Brown, raise so many questions. So many connections are being made. For one, I am fascinated by the role social media has played in both events, as a participatory, community and movement-building alternative or supplement to an ever-more tightly controlled news media. The military and police attacks on and jailing of journalists and censoring of news reports were central to both.

SEARCHING...As I was posting this, I did a Google search to find the articles I had previously read from NYT and other sources regarding Israeli censorship of  Gaza reports. I tried searching, REPORTERS CENSORED IN GAZA. Do it and see what you get. All the stories from NYT and others, seem to have been scrubbed and most of what you'll get are stories about Hamas censorship of reporters via Hillary and Netanyahu. How did they do that?

CASTELS...Preparing for the fall quarter which begins in a few weeks, I've gone back for a look at the writings and research on the topic of the network society by Spanish sociologist and USC prof, Manuel Castells. He was awarded the 2012 Holberg Prize, for having "shaped our understanding of the political dynamics of urban and global economies in the network society." 

The social networks, including live, amateur video streaming were key is raising awareness about the transformation and militarization of many of our local police forces.

I was also amazed to see how Twitter lit up during the #Ferguson siege with tweets even coming in from the West Bank, (many thought they were coming from Gaza -- they weren't) offering advice to protesters and residents about how best to deal with tear gas and chemical attacks.

Yesterday in Chicago
MILITARIZATION goes way beyond the police departments. You'll find it in the schools -- Chicago leads the nation in replacing neighborhood public schools with military academies -- and across the culture (movies, TV, advertising, sports, etc...).

But the militarization of police departments is the scariest, especially in black communities, where all-white departments, armed to the teeth with Afghan war killing power, seem more like an occupying force than anything to do with serve-and-protect. See  Bill Moyers' piece"Not Just Ferguson: 11 Eye-Opening Facts About America’s Militarized Police Forces." Moyers says:
The “war on terror” has come home — and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police...Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.
WAR COMES HOME...Driving much of this is the Department of Defense's 1033 program, which Congress passed in 1997 to expand on a 1991 initiative, initially aimed at encouraging private sub-contractors to sell surplus military equipment meant for Iraq and Afghanistan to police departments for use in counter-narcotic and counter-terrorism situations. Of course there's no point in cash-starved communities spending billion on this stuff unless they are to be used. Look for two-three-many Fergusons to follow.

This from the Washington Post:
"We went through some pretty bad areas of Afghanistan, but we didn't wear that much gear," said Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran and former security officer for the State Department. Dykstra specifically pointed out the bulletproof armor the officers were wearing around their shoulders, known as "Deltoid" armor. 
"I can't think of a [protest] situation where the use of M4 [rifles] are merited," Fritz said. "I don't see it as a viable tactic in any scenario."
NOWHERE TO RUN...I'll end now. My head is exploding with the sound of low-flying bombers and fighter planes buzzing my humble abode in Logan Square. Yes, Logan Sqare, NOT Gaza or Kabul. Speaking of militarization, it's the damn Air and Water Show. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Waking up to a not-so-new American morning

"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; ...or the right of the people peaceably to assemble" -- 1st Amendment, U.S. Constitution
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” -- Dr. M.L. King

Shaken, disturbed, angry...that describes me this morning after watching the live streaming and follow-up news coverage on MSNBC of the violent, militarized police assault on the black community in Ferguson last night. The sounds and images of an unprovoked, small-town, 94%-white police phalanx moving on a crowd of unarmed, peaceful mainly black citizens, firing rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades as they came, rekindled disturbing flashbacks of Watts 1965 and Chicago, 1968 -- two events that greatly shaped my own political consciousness.

Al Jazeera crew flees after taking a direct hit.
This was no police riot, but a well-executed Gaza-style assault on a defenseless community, still in shock after the cold-blooded police murder of Michael Brown.

High on the list of targets was the press with reporters being told to leave, turn off their cameras and stop recording well before the assault began. A camera crew from Al Jazeera was fired upon and reporters from the Huffington Post and Washington Post were roughed up, arrested and then released with no charges. A St. Louis alderman was also jailed. Many of the police had removed their badges and identification and arrested reporters tried in vain to get the offending cops to identify themselves.

 You can read WaPo reporter Wesley Lowery's chilling report of his arrest here. But while many in the media passively complied and others resisted as best they could, one courageous indy-media guy (I am Mike Brown Live) braved the bullets and gas and kept the live stream coming, capturing both the violent horror and the brave acts of resistance.

Twitter was also alive with reports and commentary. My own tweets were being re-posted faster and with greater frequency than ever before. I couldn't even keep them on screen long enough to read. Among the most interesting were the solidarity tweets coming in from Gaza, advising people in Ferguson on how to deal with tear gas.

 THE FIRE NEXT TIME...According the the Washington Post, St. Louis is among the most segregated metropolitan areas in the nation. Ferguson, one of the 91 municipalities in largely white St. Louis County, has seen its population shift in recent years. About two-thirds of the city’s 21,100 residents are black. That’s a significant increase from 2000, when blacks made up just over half of the population. White residents, who had accounted for 44 percent of the population, now make up just under 30 percent.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Chicago, and it's re-segregated inner-ring suburbs are only a hop, skip and a jump up I-55.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lazy-Ass Reporters (LARs) on top of Karen's vast real estate empire

Karen Lewis leads Rahm by 12 points in the polls. Desperation time.
After reading the "expose" in today's Sun-Times, one couldn't be blamed for thinking that poor Rahm's re-election campaign is really in trouble. Not only is he trailing even Mickey and Mike in the latest polls, but his meager $10M war chest is dwarfed by the vast real estate empire of none other than potential challenger Karen Lewis. At least that's the way lazy-ass reporters (LARs) Dan Mihaloupolos and Chris Fusco paint it.

According to the LARs, career science teacher and current CTU president Lewis and hubby (a retired Chicago physical education teacher)  have amassed, not only their own southside dwelling, but two (count 'em, two) time-share vacation getaways. One is in the  "upscale Harbor Country” area of southwestern Michigan (a short drive from Rahm's lakefront mansion) and the other in Hawaii, "a short drive from an oceanfront lined with Fairmont, Hilton and Marriott luxury resorts." Yes, both are that close.

And Lewis has the nerve to label Rahm as Mayor 1%.

My compliments to Rahm's army of media consultants for knowing just which reporters to call on this one. They somehow knew they would find the LARs at their desks with nothing much to do, who would be eager and willing to run with this crap. Nice going team Rahm.

Thanks to Mark Anderson at the Ward Room for setting things straight.
To be clear, let’s stake out who we’re talking about. On the one hand we have our current mayor, who, while positioning himself as a liberal Democrat, has in fact enacted policies that benefit corporations and campaign donors, slashed social services and public education, starve neighborhoods of resources, diminish public service pensions, spy on political enemies and more. There’s a reason why, in this town, Rahm Emanuel is known by some as “Mayor 1%”. On another, we have Chicago Teachers Union president and potential mayoral challenger Karen Lewis. Despite the fact that she hasn’t even announced yet that she’s going to run, the Chicago media has created a bit of a feeding frenzy around her, all in search of copy for political reporters.
Anderson takes a direct shot at the LARs:
 The one on Lewis, entitled “3 homes, $200,000-plus pay for possible mayoral candidate Lewis”, takes great pains to point out that the trappings of a solidly middle class lifestyle Lewis has earned after a lifetime of teaching and union service is somehow the equivalent of the multi-millions of dollars Emanuel made during previous careers as an investment banker and power broker in national Democratic politics.
 That’s not the job of journalists. Unless, of course, they’re just looking to fill some column space. 
Yes, Rahm's campaign is in trouble all right. You can tell by their desperation in trying to dirty-up his opponents even before they have announced.