A Rouge Forum Broadside

On March 4th:  Resistance and Fear

Rich Gibson, February, 2010

Joe put his good and honest question ("Does anyone else struggle with the reality that hits you when you know you could make the decision to strike or break your contract, but are held back by fear?") in the specific context of the upcoming mass school actions and strikes set for March 4th.

Let us look briefly at the background of the call for March 4th and then address the very real, heartfelt, issue of fear.

The March 4th school strike actions, as I understand it, came to be because students took direct action (building seizures, etc) in opposition to the massive cuts in California's already ruined, segregated, education system. Those actions were supported by some, a few, faculty. They initially came from the elite (“race horse” per the Chancellor) University of California system. Protests then popped up at both the “workhorse” California State Universities (CSU's) and the (“grade 13") Community Colleges (CC’s), and some high schools. Again, these protests, sit-ins, etc, were initiated by students, first in the UC system.

Why the UC's? And which UC's? Predictably, the first actions came in Northern California. They came in the UC's in part because the UC's faculty members are not represented by a union and in part because leftist and anarchist kids had been organizing in those arenas for a long time.

In regard to UC faculty, the AAUP was able to support the walkouts and job actions as they do not formally represent the UC profs---who are more free to act because they have no union contract. But the AAUP does have extensive mailing lists and used them to back the resistance.

The traditional trade-off in contract negotiations is this: Labor peace (no strikes) in exchange for dues check-off. The union leaders trade the labor of their members for money, the union bosses income and pensions.

The California Faculty Association, the faculty union in the CSU's, does have a contract. CFA, utterly sold out at the top, did all they could to ignore, diffuse and divert the initial actions--as they do today.

In San Diego, CFA held a rally. The keynote speaker was SDSU President Stephen Weber whose policies and programs (and institutionalized racism) demean scholarly life---but he's been backed by the passivity of the overwhelming majority of the faculty and by the corruption of the local union. Weber voiced the key lie that drives what passes for unionism in the US today: "We are all in this together to support and defend public education."

That's a dual lie. We are not all in this together. People join unions because, they think, the unions will offer solidarity in the struggle over the contradictory interests of employers and employees. Every labor leader of consequence in the US denies that, and acts on that denial. Hence, people are forced to pay union dues in order to unite with their bosses, unwittingly.

Secondly, there never has been a real system of public education in the US. Rather, it's been a system fully segregated by class and race, and it's never been for the public, but mainly against the public, promoting among others things, nationalism, which gives impetus to poor and working class kids going off to fight other poor and working class kids on behalf of the rich in their homeland.

One slogan adopted for March 4th is an opportunist mistake: Defend Public Education. That should be: Transform Education, or, Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes. There really is not much left to defend. More, defending public education seeks to strengthen a government that annulled any reason to support it.

But back to the job actions---a series of very large meetings, sometimes involving more than 800 people, took place in October, November and December. The largest, again, were in NorCal. In Socal and Central Cal, the meetings were much smaller, sometimes just coffee klatches in homes. I believe it was the October NorCal meeting that set the initial March 4th date as a day of strikes and actions.

Since then, direct actions have been largely put on hold, pending March 4th---an unfortunate mistake in my view.

Some state resistance groups picked up on March 4th. Most did not.

Notice about the March 4th strike has gone out mostly through online groups formed almost spontaneously and through the Rouge Forum as well. The unions, CFA and CTA, have not informed CC faculty about the actions at all, or not to my knowledge.

The education unions in California promised to support a day of action, but not a strike, a retreat on the part of their leaders who would have preferred this never happen, but a recognition that the rank and file is on the move. Labor bosses want to leap in front of the parade, then lead it over a cliff.

In the CSUs and k12. CTA and CFA leaders work hard to be sure that the action is well within the narrow bounds of their contracts, ever-so-legal, that picketing and protest is short and sweet, and most of the energy is spent urging people once again into the hopeless voids of voting booths where people choose who will oppress them best from the executive committee of the rich. Such is the nature of capitalist democracy married to corrupt unionism.

So, what will happen? My crystal ball is foggy, but my guess is that the actions in some of the UCs, especially in NorCal and at Santa Cruz may be really inspiring, creative, inventive, and rebellious. There will be some very real strikes, at the least.

In Central Cal, I think there will be less action as fewer people know about March 4 and far fewer have the experience of the earlier direct actions to draw on, to show them that things can be won by united people taking very real risks.

In SoCal, Los Angeles is likely to see some heated action as teachers and students from reconstituted schools can use the moment to rise up. There is even now considerable pressure on the United Teachers of Los Angeles to take action.


San Diego’s huge Education Association is in bargaining now, dealing with a contract that expired 18 months ago. School workers are focused on negotiation maneuvers and are, overwhelmingly, unwilling to make the logical like of tying a March 4th job action to building a more powerful base of bargaining support. Even with leadership that appears more militant than most, the SDEA members participated in the regimentation of their curricula, high-stakes exams, and only a few tried to drive the military recruiters off their campuses—hence building their own scaffolds, set the stage for concessions bargaining.

I see March 4 as practice for the upcoming Mayday, the international workers' holiday that began in the US, but is now upended here. It's the day we are to celebrate our loyalty and obedience (the ethics of slaves) to the law---Law Day! Some education achievement. In any case, March 4th is just a start (even if to some of us it's a long awaited one).

What context does this all take place in?

In North America, schools are the centripetal organizing point of daily life---supplanting industrial workplaces.

Today, the US is engaged in several wars, losing or being fought to a draw in all of them. About 1.5 million people, soldiers, and at least 300,000 mercenaries have been involved in the wars, some of them returning to the fields of battle three to five times. The military is stretched very thin. There are nearly 50 million children in public schools, about ½ of them draft eligible in the last five years.

It was easy to see these wars coming, but not these specific wars. Ruling elites foresaw war, and foresaw the need to gain greater control over schooling, shortly after the US fled Vietnam, an ignominious defeat and a cowardly retreat. The military was almost demolished and the schools out of control. Elites saw the relationship of one to the other and moved to ensnare them both. That worked, so far.

At the same time, in the last decade, but in the last three years especially, inequality boomed in the US. Last year, the US military's number one estimate of critical social problems that might require troop intervention was internal to the US, civil strife and uprisings caused by the economic collapse, unemployment, and the domination of the banks, first, and industrial capitalists, second, over the government. That estimate, real enough, proved wrong. What might the dubious success of schooling have to do with the absence of well-deserved civil strife?

In any case, the social context is a dual one: The education agenda is both a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda. This is an inexorable fact. Those who think they will be able to teach or write their way out of this context are flatly wrong. When they hold leadership positions, they are misleading others.

People have resisted, fought back in any number of ways, but they have been a small minority of the people in the US. That is true in k12 schools, in colleges and universities (where the defining by-words can be summed up as cowardice, opportunism, racism, and sheer ignorance), and in the military.

In schools, some of us fought the development of regimented curricula, high-stakes exams, and militarism, for fifteen years and more. We know that many others came before us. So far, we enjoyed only small victories. Test boycotts did appear in the mid-west, northeast, south, and to a quiet and limited extent, in California. The military has been remarkably unsuccessful in, for example, San Diego schools, the most militarized county in the US. Persistent community activists, not teachers, deserve the main credit for that.

As we fought the regulated curricula and exams, we also pointed to the future: the shoes that would surely drop next: Merit pay, benefit and pay cuts, layoffs, some privatization (but only as a second tier effort), and the economic collapse that we described in some detail long before it happened. Again, no crystal ball is claimed. It was easy to see every one of those things coming, many people did, and now the attacks have arrived.

Teachers in the last twenty years, more than 90 percent of them, remained missionaries for capitalism and schools its missions. Historically, teachers have been conservative nearly everywhere. Those people do not matter, are of no account.

Resister educators have mattered. A virtual handful of teachers can make a terrific difference. We can see that in Mexico, China, Peru, South Africa, Grenada, all over the world. School workers are pivotally positioned not only to teach reason, but to connect that to power and foment social change.

Movements for change are very rarely sustained by communities. Rather, they need an anchor. In the US, the anchor can be schools.

What of the US population as a whole?

Most people in the last decade followed George W. Bush's advice that they go shopping while he made war. Before that, they reveled in the Clinton scandals, completely unaware that Osama Bin Laden was making a fool of Clinton in the Middle East. And before that, very few Americans knew the Soviets fled Afghanistan in 1989, ruined by a CIA sponsored mujahadeen force, and that event led to the end of the USSR. Most Americans did not understand that they deserved a Peace Dividend, nor did they miss it when ruling elites, instead, continued to pour money into the military.

Over time, the shopping populace, flocking to carefully supervised spectacles, became utterly fickle--vacillating like fireflies from one attractive flame, and lie, to the next, all eager to have someone tell them what to do as long it was distracting, immediately pleasurable.

Exploitation at all levels of life, long an anathema to Americans born in opposition to tyranny, became fashionable. Pole dancers, publicly financed stadiums, women vying for rich millionaires, all that and more grew popular, to the point that Judge Judy became America's last moral compass.

Today, most Americans hold the potential to be the worst people in the history of the world.

What rises up around them are all the institutional vestiges of the corporate state, fascism, both within the US and in the world as the main world social system with some modest variations between, say, China, S. Africa, the US, Japan, Germany, and Great Britain. Most Americans have no idea what fascism is despite the fact that 500,000 of their fathers and mothers fought and died to kill it just 65 years ago.

How could that be? For one thing, history is eradicated in schools so completely that author Chalmers Johnson rightly says, "Americans cannot connect cause and effect." They know nothing important but are willing to believe, for example, that Saddam Hussein had a connection to September 11. He didn't but 1/3 of America believes he did even today. In schools, history when taught is an excuse for sanitized promotion of nationalism.

What of the formal organs of resistance?

The unions collapsed, became what they claimed to oppose even before WW2, but after Vietnam every major union in the US habituated their members to a series of full retreats, concessions, on the grounds that concessions would save jobs. Concessions never saved jobs, but they did become so much a part of union culture that members couldn't even imagine any kind of victory. Union bosses in education did well. NEA's Dennis Van Roekel will make more than $400,000 this year, live on his expense account, and dine with Arne Duncan at the White House.

The anti-war movement and related social groups collapsed under the mis-leadership of bogus left groups like the Communist Party USA which dominated the now nearly defunct United For Peace and Justice. The CPUSA, no more communist than an Egg McMuffin, shoved people into the electoral arena, systematically disorganized demonstrations, discouraged both democracy and militancy, and voted Obama. He won, doubly so. He won on the behalf of the banks, and he won in that the UFPJ base of people vanished, went with him, then feeling betrayed, went home---or they are still wistfully, but hopelessly, trying to convict Dick Cheney of some charge he will never be tried for. Today there is no anti-war movement in the US to speak of—a full crack up from the million people who hit the streets at the outset of the debased Iraq invasion.

Now what?

I say now things are getting better, somewhat. As we see with the events before March 4, and the plan for the day itself, people from many sectors are fighting back. They have to. They must fight back to live. There is no social safety net. Hundreds of thousand of people have been evicted. Real unemployment is at 20 plus percent. Many people are cornered. Many more will be. (Granted, millions of people will watch the Superbowl, under militarized conditions that are hard to imagine---great practice for a military that projects the real chance of dangerous internal civil strife).

But just because people fight back does not mean they will make sense of why they must fight back---a key prerequisite to developing strategy and tactics that can win anything.

Many people already fight back in segmented ways: Teachers battle for teacher jobs, support workers for support jobs, nurses for nurses, students against tuition hikes, etc. We have yet to see education workers really strike against attacks on students, for example. The theme has been, “Save MY ass!” That narrow focus will lose, falling right into a divide and conquer trap that elites don't even have to set. It's right there in the nature of things---the economy.

The economy is capitalism. Today, it's clenched-fist twin is imperialism. If we do not identify that as the whole of our context, we will lose. We might win something for the moment, but over time we will lose everything. Capitalism and Imperialism need to be named and understood. At base: exploitation and war.

Capitalism in the US is in rapid decay as deindustrialization, the loss of good jobs, flushed financial capital, and failed wars demonstrate.

In rising imperialist countries like China, capitalism may appear to be very powerful. In some senses it is. The Chinese have a huge, motivated, military. Their ambassadors of empire are all over the globe (they just bought up Afghanistan's copper mines, now guarded by US troops). But the fascist Chinese government had to put down 70,000 different instances of insurgency last year, in most cases using the not-so Red Army. Maybe those who have read Marx remember that "all of history is the history of class struggle."

And this is a struggle. It is a fight. It is not just a chat. Yes, surely we must reason with people, write letters, write books, and articles. We need to do that, mainly, with our own outlets, our own press and online groups from Susan O's web site, to Epata, to the Rouge Forum, and to the hard copy Substance. We must not rely, in the main, on the capitalist press as that is all it really is: Their press, not ours, just as it is Their government and not ours.

It is a fight for the rest of our lives, and the lives of many of those who will come. It's a life and death fight. We should plainly see that elites are quite prepared to kill us, or people just like us, by the millions. They just did that in Iraq, a relentless fact that cannot be erased.

But we have an advantage: No time-line. For elites, it’s a fight for another dollar. For us, it’s a fight for honor, equality, freedom, respect, and life–forever. The slaves will never fully give in to the masters until mastery itself is ended.

Given our circumstances, it makes sense to be afraid. A.S. Neill wrote a lot about fear in his fine book, Summerhill (vanished into the vapors along with Educational Foundations classes). Let's listen to Neill for a minute:

"Fear is always egoistic; we fear for our own skins, or for those we love. But most we fear for our own skins...Fear must be egoistic because every fear is ultimately a fear of death.....A hero is one who can change his fear into positive energy. The hero harnesses fear. The fear of being afraid is the most distressing fear of a soldier. The coward is incapable of converting his fear into positive action. Cowardice is much more universal than bravery. We are all cowards. Some of us manage to hide our cowardice, others betray it. Cowardice is always relative. You can be heroic about some things, cowardly about others....."

Neill, who psychologizes fear while I tend to politicize it, has an important point.

We have reason to be afraid because we who think and hope to act (sensibly) too, are relatively isolated. That's true here in San Diego, less true in Oakland or San Francisco, but true there too. We have reason to be afraid because we can see that our opposition has lots of resources, whether that's the money and lawyers of the union or the guns and laws of the government.

We have good reason to temper what we do to the relative conditions we face. Tactically we should take our powerful adversaries very seriously, attacking them when we can, articulating our views when that is all we can do, in order to find more friends.

Strategically, however, we should realize that elites in the US are infirm. They lose wars when they meet serious opposition. They are bankrupt. Nobody who has any sense believes anything they say. They have no compelling ideas. They cannot offer people meaningful work, or even work. They are stretched thin all over the world. Their troops are getting antsy. Their technological superiority loses again and again, and they cannot grasp the secret about why. The secret is elementary. They cannot make friends with the masses of people because those people know, as we should, that elites are their to rob them. Their local minions are corrupt and stupid. Their police are thugs hated by masses of people. Their schools are disintegrating even as the ruling classes try to seize greater control over them. They are divided and bicker with one another. They can only organize decay.

They are clearly unfit to rule.

Strategically, we should see that we can win. But we cannot win if we only chat.

The mass of people, who I think I have demonstrated might really join a popular fascist movement with many tentacles (religious fanatics, anti-abortionists, Minutemen, skinheads, bikers, Gang members, returned mercs, imported fascist living here from all over the world, rightist Catholics, evangelicals, racists, the Mob, patriotic VFWs Tea Partyites,  ---there is no shortage of dangerous bodies for a mass base for fascism) vacillate now, but they may rush for the brown shirts. The union halls may well be where they pick them up.

To meet this challenge we need to think tactically, to organize the left (egalitarian, democratic, internationalist, anti-racist/sexist, etc) to win over the center (vacillating people) and isolate and hurt the right. We should not organize around the lowest common denominator of what is acceptable, as with refusing to name capitalism, as that simply leaves things as they are, or actually contributes to organizing the decay.

While Marxists will be appalled, I don't think there is any historical reason to believe that one's class origins have a decisive role in where one fits on that spectrum, or where a person moves.

People who we hope to move will respect and join people who actively fight back. They will not respect or even recognize people who only chat.

That is why the growing resistance of March 4 is important.

It's not merely a demonstration to show the powerful that we are unhappy. They know that, predicted it.

March 4 is at once a test of our forces, a chance to educate ourselves about the nature of the struggle and our internal workings--as in who can be trusted---and it is practice for future forms of resistance. It is another step in building our base. It may also be a useful diversion for people who want to escalate in surprising ways---away from picket lines. Good wishes to them.

It's clear to me that at the outset, students will lead: Act. They are under severe attack. Those in the UC system often have resources and, sometimes, volunteer lawyers and faculty money for bail. That's less true in the CSU and still less in the CCs though over time the latter may be more volatile.

We know that in France, 1968, students and, later, workers, nearly made a revolution--until they were betrayed by the Communist Party (also as Communist as an Egg McMuffin). Why did students act? It wasn’t so much a tuition hike, but the fact that all hope was being eradicated by the wreckage of the education system. Hope is a vital product of schooling–real or false hope.

Here, it's not hard to imagine a united social movement of immigrants, workers (longshore workers, transport workers, nurses, educators, communications workers, industrial workers, miners, etc) and students involved in a series of massive general strikes. Even troops will join in, especially when the honest ones are told to turn against the citizens they volunteered to protect---their neighbors and relatives. All that has happened before. In the long run, we need the military, or a significant part of it. Welcome mutineers!

Long term, we need to organize for real control over our workplaces and communities, the ability to strike, to pull together general strikes, and take aim at the system of capital itself. A narrower view of heaping reform on reform, absent the vision of a real overturning, not only will lose, but will contribute to the systematic rot around us.

Between today and whatever uprisings that we might foresee is probably a long way. But who knows? Who could have guessed what would happen after the Greensboro sit-downs of 1960?

Any kind of change is going to take sacrifice. Nobody should pretend that ending the attacks on schools and societies will happen without people being suspended, fired, jailed, hurt, etc. That's part of the risk that upstanding people take.

That is not to say, Joe, that you or anyone else should deliberately become martyrs. We have had enough of martyrdom. Someone has to go first, as the Greensboro Four did in 1960, but that does not mean that tactics cannot be developed to minimize whatever pain is forthcoming.

Rather, we need to overcome the isolation that produces well-reasoned fear. We would not be so fearful if we all knew that 2/3 of the workers in our schools, and most of the students, were going to strike on March 4th. We wouldn't be afraid at all. Instead, our enemies would be terrified. That's they're usual state, if we think about it. They are always more afraid of us than we know. That's why they do all that planning to defeat us.

Isolation is overcome through organization and action, as well as reasoning with people. The organizations exist already, from the Rouge Forum to the NorCal student/educator/community groups and others in between. We have our own online media and Substance News too.

We have reasoned with people for years and years. Now, for March 4th the thing to do is to take the sharpest action that you can, depending on relative conditions---as Neill says. Just think twice about what might be done. Think what might be done once, and then what might be done just a little more, the second time.

The core issue of our time is the reality of booming inequality and the promise of perpetual war met by the potential challenge of a rising mass class conscious movement prepared to act over time.

Up the rebels!

Good luck to us, every one.


The Original Inquiry:

At 08:19 PM 2/1/2010, you wrote:

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Last summer many of us got together to concentrate the number of resisters in one room for the purposes of coming up with ideas for direct action that would ultimately end high stakes testing. Now, I know I'm a bit of an optimist when I say that, but hey, that's what we fight for is it not?

I wanted to share my feelings with you all because EPATA, when it was created locally, was to allow teachers and parents a safe haven to come to to express their anger, frustration, and pain with regards to our current education situation and also to change things.

I go through an ebb and flow of what I am able to do and not able to do for this fight. Sometimes I am super energized to write letter after letter and other times it's like, "Ehh...". I appreciate all of this group's input, especially Stephen's and Susan O's. All of you force me to look at the truth and not cave in to the massive pressure that I feel in my classroom. More and more, my freedom is being taken away from me at school. We are supposed to engage kids, yet we are taught that "EDI" (explicit direct instruction) is the norm. These are the antithesis of each other! We truly have idiots ruling us.

I was recently emailed off list by a member who asked me what our local group was doing for the March 4th date. We have been designing ways to present information to local school boards to change their policy. Our group had not focused on that strike. So, I talked to my local CUTA rep about getting teachers to at least protest after or before school. She said teachers wouldn't do that because their scared of losing their jobs (we have over 60 teachers that WILL lose their jobs this year). We have even had some people who were going to come to our local meeting drop out for this reason.

I have felt very alone in this fight here. When I was posed with this member's email, it struck me that maybe I am not the raging anti-tester I thought I was. I mean, what are my letters REALLY doing? The email made me think, "Am I really tough enough for this gig? Am I really willing to risk my family's well being to fight this in Fresno? Maybe I AM all talk. Maybe I'm not willing to face the real fire of protesting in the face of hell."

Rich Gibson's points that we have to have sit-ins, shut down classrooms, etc. is probably right in order to send a message and ultimately get a change. But am I willing to do that? I really fight with that one.

And if I fight with it, with all that I know and have read, regular teachers outside of us must be terrified or are choosing to let themselves be swept away.

I am embarrassed. That is the truth of my feelings. I don't know how else to put it. I am with you all in this, but I don't have an answer.

Does anyone else struggle with the reality that hits you when you know you could make the decision to strike or break your contract, but are held back by fear? I sure would like to know.


Joe Educators and Parents Against Test Abuse

Fresno, CA ----------------------------------------------------------

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