Another side to the SOS rally and march... Sex, Lies, and SOS

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, 2011. One of the statements made by the participants in the SOS rally and march was the graveyard on the edge of the rally site. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.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.

Many of the marchers noted the hypocrisy of President Barack Obama. Race to the Top was not being applied to his own children. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.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).

One of the largest contingents or organized union teachers came from the Boston Teachers Union, Local 6 of the AFT. Union teachers who participated in SOS were asking where the national union leadership was. AFT President Randi Weingarten was conspicuous by her absence. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.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 four 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.

The occasional sign (like the "Impeach Obama" sign above) criticizing Barack Obama or calling for the ouster of Arne Duncan was noteworthy because there were so few of them. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.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:

Homemade signs and banners were the norm. Substance photo by Susan Zupan."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?

The hypocrisy of the Obama administration has been on display since the U.S. Department of Education praised the charter school takeover of the New Orleans public schools following Hurricane Katrina. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.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.


August 6, 2011 at 1:45 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Calling out Obama

"President Obama, why don’t you come and join me in a crucible of accountability. We have talked enough about the speck in our teachers’ eyes, let’s talk about the plank in yours." John Kuhn, July 30, SOS march

But you're right as usual, Susan. There wasn't enough criticism.

Why not more activist teachers? One reason, I think many teachers are so involved in the overwhelming aspects of teaching that they don't think they can spare the time to understand, get mad, get busy working to change. Especially when we buy into the message that the answer is "we just need to ramp it up in our classrooms." (Quote from a dedicated teacher in my building, who keeps his head in the sand). We need the unions to lead. Aren't the NEA and AFT capable? Our only chance at a mass movement?

Sorry to add this clunker of a comment to the end of this brilliant piece.

August 6, 2011 at 3:55 PM

By: Ashley Kia


I really appreciate your comments- There is much to what you say.

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