To distill a different democracy: M4, a thousand more

Adam Renner


There is a war going on for your mind.


The Flobots, in their recent album, reveal as much.  We should take heed.


On March 4, 2010 people fought back, struggling to wrest back control of our own minds.  We must.  It was an important step. And, we are not finished.


In recognition of California’s deficit of billions of dollars, and in response to the proposed cuts in educational staff, as well as the increases in fees—more than 30% in the University of California system—many walked out on the first day of classes, September 24, 2009.  In addition, buildings were occupied. A month later, educators, activists, and students up and down the state met to determine the next steps.  In addition to further occupations and an analysis that linked the shortfall to a critique of capitalism, a day of action was planned for March 4, 2010 (March Forth): strikes, occupations, marches, demonstrations, etc.


There is more than enough money to pay for education, so attention must be drawn to budgetary decisions and priorities.  Noting that the US spends nearly $1 trillion (that we know of) on the military, annually; that $700 billion have been designated for “troubled assets” of those dubbed “too big to fail”; and that, in California it spends less than $10000/year to educate a child in K-12 schools and nearly 5x that amount to incarcerate its citizens in prisons, capitalism and its twin—imperialism—indeed become central to this analysis.


Under a broad theme of defending public education, those that came together on October 24 in northern California laid out the following demands:

  Defend Public Education!

       Fully funded, free public education from preschool through graduate school and adult education

       Open admissions

       No privatization; no charter schools

       No union-busting

       End No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top

       Student, faculty, staff, parent, and working class community control over the entire public education system, from preK-12 through graduate school and adult education

  Protect Jobs and Social Services!

       Full funding for all public and social services

       Restore all cuts and expand vital public programs

       No foreclosures

  End War and Close Prisons!

       Money for jobs and education, not war and incarceration

  Defend Immigrants’ Rights!

       Full citizenship rights for immigrants

       No ICE raids, no deportations


In southern California they demanded the following:

  Restoration and expansion of funding for education to provide jobs, education, health care and social services for all

  Increased funding by taxing the rich, divesting from War and the Prison Industrial Complex.

  Ensuring a livable wage is paid to all workers, alongside with an end to ALL budget cuts and the privatization of our schools.

  Democratic voting of laws and officials in all educational governments along with the repeal of the 2/3 vote in legislature.


On March 4, my partner and I joined the march from Berkeley to Oakland and later joined the mass at the Civic Center in San Francisco.  Approximately, 1500 people participated in the march, joining another 1000 already assembled in Oakland under the surveillance of Oakland police in riot gear.



Along Telegraph Ave., which connects Berkeley and Oakland, we encountered signs like:



Do UC what I see?

Chop the top

Occupy Everything

Drop fees, not bombs

Save public education

Beware: Educated person of color

Fight Back: Today, May Day, Everyday


Educate the State

Don’t throw our families under the bus

Money for jobs and education,

not war and incarceration

Schools, not prisons

Celebrate diversity, don’t price it out





And, we encountered many children taking part in the day’s events; some already having begun to grasp the gravity of the struggle:


As well, we encountered a vital scene in Oakland:

And, suddenly, it is March 5 and beyond, and we consider the extent to which we can move the struggle forward, continuing to connect workers and students in this transformational work. We also note the need to move this struggle beyond the borders of California, as many signed on in solidarity prior to March 4 and many had demonstrations of their own, both nationwide and worldwide.  This solidarity, this consciousness-raising, this action must continue.


The Rouge Forum, who has attempted to be a solidaristic partner in the struggle in California, across the US, and in international venues, continues to join the conversation on next steps and will call educators, students, parents, activists, cultural workers and anyone else who works on the better half of humanity to Wisconsin from August 2-5 for the annual Rouge Forum conference.  We will gather under the theme of Education for the public interest (, nuancing the M4 theme since we suggest that the current public education we have may not be something we want to defend; rather, perhaps it is more appropriate to suggest that it is something to be wrested away from the ruling elite. 


In a more transformational turn, we seek the construction of something likely to serve the interests of all people.  We take note of tracking trends which continue to disenfranchise children who are poor and children of color.  We trace the historical roots of the achievement gap.  And, we witness the return to educational Apartheid in schools. 


In a more hopeful twist, however, we locate schools as possible sites of resistance in which a mass class-consciousness can be formed in order to meet injustice. Consequently, this revolutionary project is, in part, a pedagogical one.


We seek, then, to distill a different democracy.  Articulating a wide range of more progressive ideologies, we seek shades of a Freirean dialogical democracy, a Westian hopeful democracy (preferring hope to optimism), and/or what Michael Lebowitz calls a “protagonist democracy” (a democracy that is participatory rather than representative).


Our experience tells us that when capitalism meets democracy, particularly representative democracy, democracy usually doesn’t win. So, we must distill a different democracy; one which keeps capitalism at the forefront of our action and critique.


Given Rich Gibson’s observation that schools are a central organizing principle of industrialized capitalist centers, we seek to breed resistance there. As a beginning point we suggest distilling a different democracy through critical conversations which help us craft more transformational teacher education programs and construct freedom schools that run parallel to (at the start) or wholly replace current public schools (eventually).


We seek a process of systemic contamination that will enable such a distillation, a constant mixing and settling out, mixing and settling out. 


This process keeps our focus on overcoming alienation—the disconnection wrought by the mutually confirming systems which comprise a capitalist ideology.  As educators and students we witness this alienation through:

Š          loss of control of our schools (whether through corporate control—textbooks, tests, funding—or school boards or state/federal education departments run by the power elite);

Š          loss of control of the curriculum (scripting);

Š          fear of the loss of jobs (creating unnecessary competition among workers);

Š          merit pay and Race to the Top funds (exacerbating such competition even further); and

Š          increased distance between teacher and student through inauthentic curricula and “banking” approaches to pedagogy.


As well, this process keeps our focus on embracing occupation.  That is, we consider the extent to which we need to re-occupy our lives whether that is through a deepened consciousness (replacing the master’s narratives) or reclaiming the space(s) that capitalism has removed from us.


And, this process keeps our focus on liberation.


We seek these ends through solidarity. We can do this by resolving the contradictions in the relationships of teacher/student, oppressor/oppressed, server/served, etc.  In dialog and side-by-side work we can build solidarity among colleagues/parents/students. We must take charge of curricula and change our unions. We must create a compelling public education system premised, primarily, on equitable conditions not the meritocratic notion of equality of opportunity. Education should not be a commodity. Markets should not mediate human relationships.


Schools can be resistive sites of massive organization of all peoples interested in social justice.  It may be the lone constructive site we have left.


There is a war going on for your mind.  We can fight back. M4, a thousand more.


You are welcome to join us.


Fight Back.jpg

All photos and video by Gina Stiens and Adam Renner