Friday, August 5, 2011

Susan Ohanian: Sex, Lies, and SOS

 If I had to name the reasons I wanted to go to SOS so badly, seeing Susan Ohanian and Juanita Doyan again were right at the top. I only met them once before in March 2003 at the WOO in Birmingham AL where 20 activists (including John Lawhead who I roomed with - 6 months later we formed ICE) from around the nation gathered to give WOO director Steve Orel a Courageous Educator  award for his battles defending the poor students who were being pushed out of the schools based on high stakes tests. Steve (now deceased - and how wonderful it would have been to see him at SOS) was fired for his efforts. At that point we as a group took a strong and principled stand opposing NCLB (which the AFT/UFT supported) and high stakes tests in general. It took 8 years for the rest of the world to begin to catch up. To my mind Susan is the real superstar of the resistance because she has been doing it forever. And George Schmidt, her partner in crime, who was also at SOS.

So, I'm just about to start writing my magnum opus on my SOS experience when along comes this spider. Here Susan gives voice to some thoughts that kept springing into my head but I keep pushing away so as not to spoil a rousing aura of good will to all. I know, I know, one step at a time. But Susan and I are getting too old to wait much longer. Look for my mag op later or this weekend.

Sex, Lies, and SOS

Publication Date: 2011-08-04
For all the music and praise of teachers, the SOS march had a more troubling side.

We all know that Superman isn't going to rescue public schoolchildren. But let's face it: Neither is Action Hero Matt Damon. At his educator mom's request, Damon traveled from a movie set in Vancouver, British Columbia to speak out for public schools at the SOS march in Washington, D. C. on July 30. Inexplicably, most of the D. C. area teachers stayed home.

Longtime educator Gary Stager, who red-eyed from California, asked an important question : "Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home?" A subway ride away and they couldn't make it?

Please don't say these hundreds of thousands of teachers were scared. What should scare them is the reality of their profession being systematically destroyed.

I'm naive enough to have been stunned by the low turnout at the SOS march, but I think I've figured it out. Both the NEA and the AFT made a show of donating $25,000 for necessary basics like lots of water, a medical station, and so on. But union leaders didn't come and they didn't bother to mobilize teachers to show up. A dozen or so people worked the crowd handing out souvenir fans (compliments of WTU/AFT Local No. 6 AFL-CIO) but there was no mobilization of DC teachers.

I didn't see thousands of New York City teachers either. I hung out with GEM (Grassroots Education Movement) a dissident activist group within UFT. They made the film "Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" which got a great reception Friday night before the march. I met Norm Scott, one of the GEM leaders eight years ago when we were in a group traveling to Birmingham, AL to pay tribute to the World of Opportunity (The WOO). I mention this because I also met my SOS roommate Juanita Doyon, the WA state mother who is national Button Queen, at the WOO in Birmingham. And John Lawhead, who rode his bike from New York City to the DC march. And Nancy Creech from Michigan who has had two salary cuts of $9,000 each in the last two years was also at the WOO. She told me, "Now they are after our pensions." With the price of gold up, Nancy sold jewelry to finance her trip to D. C.

I mention this WOO connection just to show the commitment of teachers and parents who showed up at SOS. It was very good to mingle with them and with new friends--a teacher who came alone from Norman, Oklahoma, a Colorado mom whose children were kicked out of charter school when she insisted on opting out of the state test (people on a very small discussion each donated $50 to get her there), two teachers from North Carolina, a Florida activist who is neither a teacher nor the parent of a school age child--but someone who knows that public schools are vital to democracy. And many many more. I now kick myself for not writing down names.

And here's a shout out to those young GEM teachers who recognized how hot this old lady got during the march itself. Where they got it I don't know, but they kept bringing me bags of chipped ice.

The march itself was short. Before that, I walked around for 4 hours at SOS, talking with earnest, hopeful, angry teachers and parents from across the country--people thinking they were going to an event that would be start of a resistance movement. They didn't realize the unions had sold them out from the get-go. They didn't realize the featured speakers had a limited agenda, speaking passionately but not moving beyond equitable funding, an end to high stakes testing, a richer curriculum.

Seems like we've heard this a few hundred times before.

Those speeches from the podium didn't clarify things, didn't even mention the deliberate and systematic plan in progress to destroy social and educational contracts made over the past decades. Teachers aren't going to be stirred to save themselves unless and until they understand why these terrible things are happening to them and the children they teach. Teachers need to understand the corporate plan progressing since the Business Roundtable first outlined it in 1988.

Why didn't anybody at the podium call out Barack Obama, whom Black Agenda Report editor Glen Ford describes as the corporate Democratic Trojan Horse? Not only is Obama setting in motion "a rolling implosion of Roosevelt's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society," he's data bombing the principles of John Dewey, Paulo Freire, John Holt. . . and every thoughtful practitioner in the country today.

If you think that's harsh, take a look at this:
U.S. President Barack Obama is singularly the most dangerous, anti-democratic president in the history of this nation. He has used his pigmentation as as a shield for corporate fascism and the emaciation of everyday, ordinary Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow people in this nation and around the world.
--Larry Pinkney, Editorial Board, Obama's Bait and Switch Game: Otherwise Known As B. S. Aug. 4, 2011

Maybe this is way over-the-top, but why did Obama get a pass at SOS? Ask the NEA. Ask the AFT. Ask the SOS speakers.

Maybe it's to be expected at an event underwritten by a union that has already endorsed Barack Obama for a second term that the only visible criticism of Obama at SOS was provided by someone in the crowd from LaRouche who showed up with a poster depicting the President with a Hitler mustache.

D. C. union (WTU) president Nathan Saunders welcomed the crowd to the SOS march. Last December, soon after his election, he told the Washington Post: "I've got more skills to solve problems than practically any president that's ever run WTU. I also have formalized training in problem resolution. My masters is in negotiation and management....Part of the Harvard Trade Union Program is conflict management. And so I think I have some unique skills to solve problems." He added that he absolutely does not believe in confrontation." He added that " confrontation is not the first order business."

How many teachers' careers have to be destroyed before confrontation does become the first order of business-- in DC-- and across the country?

Confrontation will be difficult. Teachers are by their nature people pleasers. We don't like to say "No." We like to cooperate. But to save the profession, teachers will have to be willing to ramp up the rhetoric a thousandfold from what they heard at the SOS. Ramp up the rhetoric and the collective action, too. Teachers must be willing to strike; they must refuse to give the tests. I'm not talking individual heroic acts here. I'm talking mass action, hundreds of thousands of teachers standing up and shouting that they're mad as hell and not going to take it any more.

More from Susan on SOS and Obama
A Letter to President Obama from the SOS March
Ruth Rodriguez
undelivered speech at SOS

I wish Ruth Rodriguez had been able to deliver her speech at the SOS march. It would have been the one statement from the podium that laid school woes directly at the feet of President Obama.

Ruin-Nation: The Obama Catastrophe
Glen Ford
Black Agenda Report

MUST read. MUST read.

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.

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