People Power Helped Prevent a War -- Is a Transformational Moment Upon Us?
In the last two weeks we witnessed the rise of the American people against a war in Syria. Two weeks ago we described how Americans opposed the war and were organizing against a military attack. Last week we described how the new opposition to war crossed the political spectrum with people pushing a cross-partisan coalition in Congress that created a lop-sided majority so large Obama knew he would lose a vote. This right-left coalition of the American people stopped a war, handing President Obama a defeat as he became the first president who announced a bombing campaign and was stopped by the people.
Those who have been involved in antiwar campaigns know this may be a temporary victory, but the broad opposition to war indicates that bombing Syria will come at a high political cost for Obama and his party. Our hope is not only that this opposition will continue, but that it will rise to the challenge put forward by President Putin in the NY Times. This could be the beginning of the end of the war on terror with its constant destruction and embarrassing U.S. violation of international law. The U.S. is stuck in a never-ending-war quagmire that the people, not the politicians, must end.
Related to the war quagmire is the economic domination of the U.S. by transnational corporations. Again, a cross-partisan effort is needed in the next big battle – the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This secretly negotiated agreement will affect every issue that we care about and it is at a critical stage. President Obama formally requested Fast Track which will allow him to negotiate and sign the agreement and prevent a transparent and democratic process of review in Congress. We must demand that Congress vote “no” on Fast Track this fall. Click here for more information on what you can do.
This week, we want to focus on one of the fundamentals for the advancement of all societies, and certainly a foundation for the development of all movements – youth organizing for better education and a more just world. When we think back to other successful movements in the U.S. and around the world, youth have been a key force as they challenge old ideas and bring energy to new ones.
We saw the beginning of the youth movement in Occupy which, while multi-generational, was energized by youth mistreated by two decades of government that cut services and privatized everything for the benefit of the wealthy. The result for the youth of today is high tuition and college debt, privatized and corporatized education, professors who juggle insecure adjunct teaching with other jobs rather than being tenured with academic freedom, and an employment market that promises low wages and insecurity. This all adds up to a well-justified youth revolt.
The success of stopping a war, and the activism among America’s youth among other signs, is showing that we may be at one of those moments in history where a dramatic political shift is occurring. We may be in the midst of major change, and not even realize it, as so often transformations are only evident when they are behind us.
There is a growing resistance around education and youth issues. The defunding of public educational institutions and increasing privatization (and corporatization) of our schools is part of the neo-liberal economic agenda. Neo-liberal refers to the loosening of regulation and openness to privatization. This defunding has resulted in record high tuitions and debts for college students.
In addition to that, the growing wealth inequality and poverty caused by our economic system which continually funnels wealth to the top are two of the top reasons why our educational outcomes are so poor. If we care about creating an educated population, then students must have adequate housing, food and health care and parents must have time with their children rather than slaving at multiple jobs and juggling their lives to make ends meet. We wonder if we will see events soon like what occurred in one area of Spain that is very poor; parents raided a department store for school supplies and invited the press to watch.
Good quality education, including affordable post-high school education, in the United States is no longer treated as a right and a responsibility of the government to guarantee. Like so many other public services, education has become a profit center, a commodity. From teacher training materials to text books to tests and preparatory programs for those tests to charter schools and student loans, every opportunity to make a buck is exploited, no matter the human cost. Schools are also being used by the wealthy to advance particular political agendas as Lynn Schusterman, the wealthy widow of an oil and gas tycoon, is doing by funding pro-Israel programs within Teach For America. People are becoming more aware that Teach For America is a dangerous scam, indeed graduates, alumni and current teachers of the program are organizing against it.
The good news is that many people have reached the boiling point and are engaging in the work of reclaiming education and their integrity as teachers, students and parents. At every level, people are talking and writing about what education should be and could be. Some are fighting the corporatization of education through protest and others are building new institutions that are rooted in participatory democracy. This is part of rebuilding the commons to counter the predatory market economy, as we recently described.
The protest movement for equal access to high quality education for everyone has been particularly strong this year. We watched throughout the summer as parents, students and teachers from coast to coast fought the closing of schools, which are happening primarily in low income and minority neighborhoods, with occupations and marches, particularly in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Now the students in Chicago are organizing by creating a student union in order to have a voice in decisions that affect them. They hope to eventually have members in every public school in Chicago. And parents have joined the struggle to stop standardized testing from dominating the curriculum and being used against schools.
One sign that the transformation of education has reached a tipping point is the tremendous response to a new group of 27,000 self-identified Bad Ass Teachers that promises to take the struggle to a higher level of resistance. Their mission statement reads:
“This association is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.”
You can follow what the Bad Ass Teachers are doing through their Facebook page.
Perhaps the place where the teachers who are the most Bad Ass live right now is Mexico. The President is pushing a No Child Left Behind type of agenda, and the teachers aren’t standing for it. They have been on strike and protesting by the thousands since August 19. They’ve blockaded a road to the airport and closed other forms of transportation. They are currently occupying a plaza in Mexico City.
College-age youth are organizing across the country, recognizing that the same ideas behind the much-hated No Child Left Behind are being pushed on higher education. They see the Obama administration focusing on measurable outcomes like graduation rates without addressing the deeper issues of funding, tuition, debt, adjunct professors and access.
Students at Cooper Union in New York City continue their struggle to bring the school back to its hundred-year mission of free education for all. They’ve formed a working group to study an alternative solution rather than charging tuition, and the Reverend Billy is giving them a hand. The value of free education to society is far-reaching, as this student writes, because it makes education possible for those who have a deep desire to learn but lack the funds to pay for it.
Several schools saw the year start with protests against the twin evils of corporatism and militarism. In Ontario, students attended an orientation event to bring the entering class’ attention to issues affecting students. They were removed despite the fact that plenty of groups marketing goods to the students were allowed to stay. At CUNY, students and faculty greeted their new faculty member, General Petraeus, with protest. Petraeus was offered a salary of $200,000 to teach one three-hour class a week – a real slap to the hard-working adjunct professors. And this week, the University of Denver gave former President G. W. Bush a Global Service Award although thousands from the university signed a petition opposing his nomination. A protest was held outside the hotel where the award ceremony took place.
Militarism has infected many academic institutions, and is pervasive throughout our society, so it is great to see awareness of this by students. Stopping our endless wars will require a culture shift that values and celebrates those who empower our society such as youth and teachers rather than glorifying those who kill for corporate profit as the military does. We will have to stop the economic draft as well. One place to start is by organizing in schools against militarism and military recruitment. Here is a counter-recruitment kit that provides tools to show the reality of the military culture.
It really feels like we are at a turning point. As Medea Benjamin said in this week’s Resistance Report with Acronym TV, “People from many backgrounds came together to stop a war.” It is getting harder to fool the public. Our eyes are open.
As usual, there is a lot going on in the resistance movement around the United States and globally, we can never cover it all in this column. If you visit PopularResistance.org and look at the first few pages of stories, you will get a good sense of the strong work being done by many different groups on continuing the fight for justice for Chelsea Manning, to protecting the environment from extreme energy extraction and toxic pollution; and battles for worker rights and ending the injustice of Guantanamo.
The movement is having an impact. Stopping a war, even temporarily, is the most obvious sign. Next on the list is the global corporate coup, the Trans-Pacific Partnership which can and must also be stopped. It is exciting to see that the debate is shifting in ways that are evident if we stop and look.