Sunday, May 17, 2015

Who's Listening In Newark?

The mayor of a state's largest city joins protestors in blocking the main street during rush hour. Just imagine how that would play out anywhere else. Bill DeBlasio joins high school students to stage a protest shutting down Times Square. Rahm Emanuel joins members of the Chicago school community to bring traffic through downtown Chicago to a grinding halt (okay, that last one might not actually be noticeable).

But when Mayor Ras Baraka joined a student protest on Newark's main drag last Wednesday, it was if New Jersey media had collectively decided they were going to silence the dissenting voices of Newark. Go ahead and search for news about the protest on google-- you'll find nothing. You can find an account from independent journalist Bob Braun and not much else.

The protest was just one more in a long series of protests featuring the Newark Students Union and students from East Side High, groups that have consistently called attention to the embarrassing educational train wreck that is Newark.

Here's how reformsters keep telling us this is supposed to work: After collecting data that shows Certain Schools are failing, the Powers That Be will rush to make sure those schools get the assistance and support they need. That data will make sure those students (who often turn out to be not white and not wealthy) are not invisible. It's the civil rights issue of our era!

Here's how it actually has worked in Newark: After collecting "evidence" that the schools of Newark were in "crisis," the state took the district over, pushing out the superintendent and the elected school board. Today, Newark Schools are run by an outsider who won't meet, speak to, or respond to the students, parents and citizens of Newark, saddling them with a school system that is a bedraggled mess. They have elected a mayor to speak for them on this issue, and he, too, has been ignored. It has taken a series of demonstrations and protests to get the students and citizens of Newark any kind of attention at all. It's almost as if they're invisible.

Newark is what the solution to the "civil rights issue" of our time looks like. An entire community silenced, cut off from access to any power over their own schools, forced to create a larger and larger fuss just to get people to notice and acknowledge that Things Are Not Okay.

People want to be heard. When they are ignored, they just raise their voices, and keep raising them. The strategy of the PTB in New Jersey (which includes the news media) has been to ignore those voices, and to keep promoting a charterized system as a great way to meet the needs of the people, even as the people are out in the street blocking traffic and explaining just how un-met their needs are.

As quoted by Braun, here's what Ras Baraka had to say last Wednesday:

“This struggle is not emotional. It’s not about us being angry at Cami Anderson. I don’t want to make it about her and me or make it about her personality. We’re opposed to what’s going on and, who’s ever down there doing it, is wrong. No matter who they are or where they come from, it’s wrong.

“We’re not against it because she’s from New York, but because she’s wrong. We’re not mad about her personality. We’re mad because she’s wrong. We’re not upset about anything else except for the fact that she wrong.

“She was supposed to be here helping public schools grow, not closing them down. That’s what we’re upset about.

“Why am I upset? Because we have a 70 million budget deficit for the Newark schools that keeps growing because she keeps putting teachers on the EWP list, putting them in rubber rooms, putting administrators on the list, too,  and making the city pay for it. The taxpayers are paying for it—not just the state taxpayers but Newark taxpayers—are paying for that, too. That’s why we’re upset.

“We’re upset because she keeps ‘renewing’ schools and it’s not working,  the renew school thing is not working, but she keeps doing it and it’s not working.

“We’re upset because she says she’s going to turnaround  schools but that’s a code name for closing them down. She’s getting money from the state for the turnaround and we don’t see any of that money. The state is supposed to be working with the schools for the turnarounds but that’s not happening either.

“We’re upset because she is splitting people’s families up. Because she’s sending kids with special needs to schools and the schools  don’t offer special needs programs. We’re upset because she’s sending English language learners to schools without English language learner programs.

“That’s why we’re upset.”

Cami Anderson must go, he concluded. “Not tomorrow. Today.”

The mayor of New Jersey's largest city stood in the street, blocking rush hour traffic with students and community members, and the press chose to ignore it.

I do not know how folks like Cami Anderson and Chris Christie imagine this is going to end. Do they really think that at some point, the citizens and students and parents and community leaders of Newark will shrug and say, "Well, we tried, but I guess they're going to ignore us, so let's go home and just quietly enjoy being disenfranchised, ignored, and silenced. It probably won't be so bad." Is that what New Jersey's bosses think is going to happen.

The whole business reminds me of Patrick Henry's Speech in the Virginia Convention and his response to those who insist that more "proper" and "quiet" means of trying to resolve differences must be tried.

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! 

I don't know how things are going to end in Newark. The activists of Newark are thoughtful and committed. I admire how they have been able to respond to the situation with strong concerted action, but without lashing out in anger. As they raise their voices louder and louder, nobody will be able to ask why they didn't try more reasonable or appropriate ways to be heard. What people should ask is why in all that time, nobody in the halls of power bothered to listen.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for giving a wider audience to what is happening in Newark. It's shameful and incidentally illegal what Cami Anderson is doing. But you are right in that NOBODY in the media will give coverage to the issue - those of us in Newark or who may not live/work there but just care about the largest public school district in a state which is rated one of the top in the U.S. year after year are in shock. We don't understand how the situation can be ignored, but ignored it is!
    Thanks for your re-posting of Ras Barak's inspiring words.