Teachers and the Occupy Movement

In the school of class struggle, the educators must first be educated.  The Occupy Everywhere Movement represents a major professional development opportunity for those teachers feeling bogged down by the grind of corporate education reform.  In general, there is a tremendous importance to the links that the Occupy movement can forge with organized labor; in particular, unionized teachers have a tremendous amount to learn from this new, international movement.

The Occupy Movement is the concrete expression of the deep, gut-level anti-capitalism that has been fermenting in the minds of hundreds of millions of workers in the U.S. and internationally.  It’s a hitherto almost completely unconscious lens through which most people have seen the world, without even recognizing the difference between that lens and the distorted funhouse mirror of the mainstream media.  The MSM, by the way, has been caught utterly unawares by this movement.  They appear to be completely befuddled by how a movement of hippies and socialists, unemployed kids and professional activists, could so quickly rise up and double the popularity of their darling, the Tea Party.  The fact of Occupy Wall St. and its satellite occupations all over the world has completely changed the political discourse in all of society—and that without making any concrete demands!  The message of “we are the 99%”, for all the problems with that formulation upon closer inspection, has been wildly successful at restating the question on the proper basis.

The Occupy Movement is not simply an expression of outrage at the system, but also a sign of bigger things to come.  One of the first proto-programmatic statements of the movement was the page wearethe99percent.tumblr.com, on which people started to post the now iconic images of themselves holding up signs about the dire economic straits they’re in.  It’s a sure sign of radicalization when people start to generalize about their conditions, and lose the shame of suffering in isolation.  Even more promising is the fact that police repression in New York and Boston has completely failed to stem the tide of the movement.  But perhaps the most promising thing about the movement is the potential for people to generalize from the occupation of public places to the occupation of their workplaces.  To the extent that this movement links up with organized labor (and with unorganized labor in the process of getting organized), it will concretize its demands in far more effective ways than by simply coming up with a laundry list in a General Assembly.  And, to the extent that this happens, the labor movement in this country will be reborn and regenerated, given new life and a new source of energy with which it will transform the society at large.

Some of this has already started to happen—and to happen specfically with teachers.  Here are a few highlights, starting with the labor march in solidarity with Occupy Wall St. that took place on October 5.  In this video are a number of activists with the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), the group that produced the film “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman”.  In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers’ Union passed a resolution in solidarity with Occupy Chicago.  In Seattle, teacher Jesse Hagopian spoke to the crowd at Occupy Seattle’s October 15 labor solidarity and antiwar rally.  And in Los Angeles, a second occupation has started: Occupy LAUSD, which is occupying the space in front of the Los Angeles Unified School District Headquarters.  This is especially significant, given the tremendous numbers of teachers and educational staff who’ve been laid off in LA and around the country over the past three years.  The layoffs are on the order of more than 250,000 jobs in public education in that time, even as the number of children living in poverty—those who need the most in services—has grown tremendously.  And here in Providence, the October 15 march to kick off Occupy Providence featured an elementary school teacher speaking out against the attack on public education led by the supposed leader of the public schools, Deb Gist, who has been working hard with other bureaucrats to introduce Achievement First charter schools to Rhode Island.

The broader significance is this: the Occupy Movement has reignited the notion that ordinary people should be allowed to speak out, should be allowed to protest, and most important, should be allowed to control their own lives.  If this notion makes headway within the public education sector, it will mean that teachers, parents and students should control education.  It means that, rather than viewing teachers as greedy individuals out to harm children for their own benefit, we are actually all together the 99% who have to struggle collectively against the impact of budget cuts, the social factors that make education harder, and the fanatical drive toward standardized testing and “accountability” that is making the educational experience intolerable for teachers and students alike.

So, if you’re ready to find an occupation, here’s what you can do:

1.  Join Occupy Providence (or the occupation in your area).

2.  Attend the Coalition to Defend Public Education’s Teach-in on Achievement First.

3.  Come to the protest we’re organizing against US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is speaking at a $300 a plate dinner in Providence on November 2.

Teachers, students and parents: we are the 99%!


About riredteacher

I'm a foreign language teacher and socialist in Rhode Island.
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