Freedom Summer

in jackson, mississippi, civil rights veterans, activists, organizers, and youth gathered to commemorate freedom summer 1964 with freedom50, on a college campus that was once a plantation, in a state that appropriately names cities, towns, and rivers after the original people whose lands and lives were taken

the people in attendance are love, beautiful and amazing, interactions and personal stories had rooms crying, hearts aching but triumphantly surviving and smiling, yet as we convened and held panels, learning about our past apartheid state, the new jim crow stared us in the face with prison laborers working the grounds in striped green and white jumpsuit flannels

we heard and heard again the names of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, but still forgotten are all the names we don’t know, the countless others who died and will never be heard, will never have their stories told

touring philadelphia, mississippi, the bus felt like a time machine, and the long division had my mind jumping from 2014 to 1964 to 1980 and back again, flying through the streets of philadelphia i thought not only about Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, but also when ronald reagan proudly proclaimed his belief in state’s rights on the very same ground

we are learning things we should’ve already learned, but the 2nd reconstruction demands we have a 2nd civil rights movement, and i believe that we will win

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The Dream Defenders with Chokwe Antar Lumumba

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SUPE’s Students Resisting Teach for America Campaign

Originally posted on inspirEDucation:

As you may have already heard, my organization, Students United for Public Education, is preparing to launch our first national, student-led campaign:

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On October 1st, we will be announcing our official launch, but before then, we’ve decided to hold a fundraiser to support our campaign, since we are a completely grassroots, student-led org with little to no funds. In about 3 days, we’ve successfully raised over $1200 thanks to the generosity of so many justice-minded educators, parents, and students.

We are so grateful to everyone who is helping make this campaign happen, but we’re not done yet! We still need your help to reach our goal of $1650! So please, if you can and if you haven’t done so already, please donate to this campaign. I promise that we at SUPE are working tirelessly to make sure that your donations have a very large impact.

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“Why I SUPE” – Andrew Ginden

“Why I SUPE”

Education is powerful.

Education and schools exist in the realities of our history, culture, and society. Throughout the history of this country, and still today, those in power have tried to suppress, restrict, and control education.

Our country is rife with poverty and food insecurity (especially for our children), wealth and income inequality, unemployment, underemployment, and unlivable wages. Zero tolerance policies feed the school to prison pipeline. School closures disproportionately impact poor, minority, and special needs students. Our cities and schools are victims of double and triple segregation.

I am one of the very fortunate few to have been born and raised in a family that was able to send me to both exclusive private schools and strong public schools because of our affluent zip code. I had 2-3 years of pre-school and early childhood education. I had a tremendous support system when it came time to take the SAT’s, ACT’s, and apply for college. Every child deserves these opportunities, regardless of who they are or where they live. We must not only increase our investment in public education, but also attack poverty and its devastating impact.

The current trends in educational policy to privatize public education perpetuate segregation and exacerbate inequalities. The actions pushed by the corporate “education reform” movement with their conservative and neo-liberal political ilk are backed by billionaire foundations like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and The Walton Family Foundation. Groups with misleading names like Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach For America, and Students For Education Reform try to sell this corporate education reform package in a social justice ad campaign, saying their brand of corporate education reform follows the lead of the Civil Rights Movement, with complete disregard to what the Civil Rights Movement was really about and fought for. Their audacity makes me want to throw up.

Teachers and schools must prepare students for life and democracy, not work and capitalism; well rounded human beings, not worker bots trudging through their existence. Teachers and schools are not to blame for our society’s injustices and inequalities, and using data points, test scores, and a “free market” approach to punish them for it hurts everybody.

A young child’s imagination and humanity cannot be encapsulated in a test score. Standardized tests cannot measure if a student is curious. A test score will never reveal a child’s personal growth, or ability to overcome life’s hardships. How can you quantify love?

“Intelligence plus character, that is the true goal of education.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

via “Why I SUPE” – Andrew Ginden.

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Did You See The School Rating?

The real estate website zillow.com has a commercial out called “Long Distance.”

A young family is communicating to each other via skype or facetime because one parent is serving in the military. The couple is looking at different properties, trying to decide on a new house. The commercial ends with the soldier surprising his wife and daughter in their new home, with tearful smiles, hugs, and loving embraces.

The commercial begins:

“So what’d you think of the house?”

“It’s got a great kitchen, but, did you see the school rating?”

“Oh, you’re right.”

The flawed school rating system perpetuates both the educational inequity crisis and the segregation we see in cities and schools. In Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, a school’s “bad grade” or “poor/under performance” is used as a cudgel to impose a racist education policy in line with the so called education reform movement, closing public schools and devastating minority communities.

School closures disproportionately harm poor, minority, and special needs students. Mychal Denzel Smith, writing for The Nation, calls these school closings blatant and obvious racism, and decries those who avoid doing so. “As long as the education we need costs more than we are willing to invest there are going to be budget issues. But we don’t call it racism when the budget shortfalls wind up shortchanging people of color first and hardest, even though that’s what it is. And we’ll continue to live with this problem so long as we’re afraid to name it properly.”

Politicians cry broke in this age of austerity, forcing draconian budget cuts on social services, yet tax dollars are going towards expensive and imposing prisons and basketball arenas.

Michelle Rhee’s group StudentsFirst (the irony of her group’s name makes me want to throw up) put out their own education report, ranking each of the 50 states based on whether or not that state espouses the same ideology, philosophy, and policy Rhee and the rest of her corporate, conservative, and neo-liberal ilk are pushing. According to StudentsFirst, the two highest-ranking states are Florida and Louisiana, two states not usually known for excellence in education. “Here’s a list of 5 reasons why this State Report Card is a veritable wish list for privatization advocates and a recipe for failure for everyone else.”

This well funded and well organized attempt to privatize public education has an agenda that includes, but is not limited to, expanding high stakes standardized testing, the proliferation of charter schools, attacking teachers unions and demonizing teachers. Lives are being destroyed and our institutions bankrupted by the neo-liberal transfer of wealth through corporate welfare and tax cuts, coupled with severe budget cuts and the selling off of public goods to private interests.

We Americans love our lists, our rankings, and our drive to be #1 in everything! Restaurant reviews, ESPN’s top 10 plays, David Letterman’s Top Ten List, the greatest athletes of all time arguments, BuzzFeed’s top 27 anything, etc. Most of the time these lists are harmless, bordering the lines of being entertaining, thought provoking, interesting, and stupid. School rankings, however, are a different story.

The problem is not solely ranking and grading schools. Of course schools should be judged, but not in a vacuum without regard for the social, cultural, historical, and economic realities facing communities. Also problematic is who is doing the judging, how those judgements are reached, what factors are and are not accounted for, how the results are presented, how they are interpreted, how they are used, etc.

As long as school ratings remain ubiquitous, schools and cities will remain or grow even more segregated, resources will continue to flow towards schools in the more affluent areas, and poor students of color and special needs students will continue to get fucked.

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Roy Hibbert, Meet Bayli Silberstein

Bayli Silberstein is a hero. She fought and won a battle for human rights, a battle for equality.

Roy Hibbert is a professional basketball player whose hateful words fit right in with the opposition Bayli is fighting against.

Bayli wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at her middle school in Lake County, Florida, to “confront bullying, educate the school community, and promote acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.” Maybe if the NBA had a GSA, Mr. Hibbert would have chosen his words more carefully.

The Lake County school board stonewalled and opposed Bayli for over a year; ignoring her request for a formal denial with their reasoning explained, shifting rules about the proper and improper designations of after school clubs, allowing or not allowing clubs for certain age levels, and, reminiscent of southern states closing schools rather than desegregate after the Brown decision, the Lake County school board considered a ban on all extracurricular clubs.

The ACLU started a petition and filed a lawsuit on Bayli’s behalf. Finally, on Thursday, May 30th, a U.S. District judge issued a final order that will allow the club to continue to meet and remain in formation.

On April 22nd, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that could potentially allow Florida middle schools to ignore the federal Equal Access Act, which guarantees student’s rights to organize clubs in secondary schools.  It is entirely legal in Florida to fire someone or deny them access to housing or public accommodations because they are LGBTQ. Florida also has a constitutional amendment that excludes same-sex couples from marriage and prohibits same-sex couples from attaining any form of legal family status. 36 states have same-sex marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both. The Supreme Court will rule this month on two cases that could determine the fate of marriage equality at both the federal and state level.

This is the opposition Bayli and all those like her are up against. This is the culture that allows Roy Hibbert to believe it is perfectly ok to say and even to laugh about a homophobic phrase on national TV, a phrase in line with all the other taunts and vitriol that feeds the bully beast in schools and locker rooms throughout the country.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, accounting for approximately 4,600 lives every year. Attempts by LGBTQ youth account for up to 30% of all completed suicides, and they are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. A new report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs looks at the recent rise in anti-LGBTQ hate violence and found that there were 2,016 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2012, and also 25 documented anti-LGBTQ homicides, the fourth highest yearly total ever recorded by the NCAVP.

After Jason Collins came out publicly in April, Commissioner of the NBA David Stern said he was “proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” While Hibbert was fined 75k for his actions, Stern’s statement says nothing about bigotry and homophobia, instead grouping together as reason for the fine Hibbert’s hateful language with his vulgar language, as Hibbert also called the press “motherfuckers” that night.

The NHL recently announced a partnership with the You Can Play group, an organization “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.” The NBA is still adjusting to what Dave Zirin called the AJC era (After Jason Collins),  and the adjustment will clearly be long and arduous. They need to be on the right side of history. Lives are literally at stake.

Bayli will soon start high school, but she leaves behind a middle school that will be a safer and more accepting place. Roy Hibbert will continue to make millions of dollars and be one the NBA’s best centers, but David Stern and the NBA has shamefully missed a chance to make the NBA a safer and more accepting place. We can all learn a great lesson from Bayli Silberstein.

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Sports, Education, and Gentrification

From Rio to Chicago, poor people of color are under attack as local leaders attempt to gentrify the city. Their lives and communities are being upended and destroyed. Displacement and a huge increase in police enforcement in Brazil, making way for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, has made or intends to make refugees out of the residents of the infamous favelas, all in the name of urban renewal and economic development. Chicago is closing public schools that overwhelmingly impact minority students, under the ruse of austerity and education reform, while the taxpayers provide many millions of dollars for a basketball arena.

In preparing to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Brazil has followed the tradition of international sporting events, displacing poor people of color and cracking down on “criminal activity” in the misguided interests of urban renewal, improvement, and corporate welfare.

Dave Zirin, in his new book Game Over: How Politics Has Turned The Sports World Upside Down, devotes an entire chapter to the horrors surrounding modern world sporting events. In order to host today’s international sporting events, Zirin writes that the host nation must provide “massive deficit spending and a state police infrastructure ready to displace, destroy, or disappear anyone who dares stand in their way.”

The 2012 Olympics in London saw massive debts incurred by the government while austerity policies are forced on the masses during the Great Recession, displacement and crackdowns on whole neighborhoods and groups of people, usually poor people, and a heavy increase in the security and police state, turning residential buildings into weaponized structures. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw the typical displacement of poor people and neo-liberal control of the economy and politics of the situation, but also the horrific act of assassinations for those daring to dissent and expose the harsh realities. And of course the 2008 Olympic Games in China reportedly displaced over 500,000 people. Concluding the chapter in his book, Zirin proclaims that “mega sporting events shape the economic, political, and personal destinies of masses of people with zero accountability for their trail of displacement, disruption, and destruction.”

Chicago has just approved the closure of 50 public schools. This racist move was voted on by the appointed school board, under the direction of the Mayor. The students affected by the closures are 88% black, 10% Latino, 94% low income, and 0.7% white, and similar racist results of school closings can be seen in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere. Kids lives will be further endangered as longer routes to school increase the chance of gang related violence. Abandoned houses and buildings already dot these areas, and the closed schools will only add to the problem (let’s wait to see if these closed school facilities get handed over to privately run charter schools). At the same time, Mayor Emanuel has proposed Chicago’s taxpayers generously pay $125 million for a basketball arena for DePaul University, a private institution, under the guise of fostering economic growth.

This reverse robin hood theory, pushed by corporate leaders and put into effect by their conservative and neo-liberal political ilk, in the name of urban renewal, improvement, education reform, or whatever fucking misnomer is being used, is institutional racism in the 21st century, as austerity in government and the privatization of public education and corporate welfare in sports are just two more examples of systemic problems in our collective institutions.

In the words of the recently turned 72 year old Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Racism is not always overt bigotry, but also when policies and actions disproportionately impact poor minorities.

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David Letterman and Teach For America

David Letterman is a legendary figure in comedy and television. He recently received the highest honor an American performer can be given at the 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C.

From the Kennedy Center website:

In 1992 he received the Peabody Award for taking “one of TV’s most conventional and least inventive forms…and infusing it with freshness and imagination.” In 1981, he won two Daytime Emmy Awards as writer and host for his first show, a quickly canceled morning variety ratings disaster on NBC called The David Letterman Show. In 1982, his second try for TV stardom, Late Night with David Letterman, premiered on NBC, injecting into the late-night landscape an unconventional, bold and eccentric brand of craziness. Television—and American comedy—has never been the same since. A decade later, Letterman’s third network show, Late Show with David Letterman, made its debut on CBS, quickly becoming one of the most talked-about and critically acclaimed programs of the year. For more than 30 years, there has hardly been a TV season in which Letterman has not been either nominated for or won an Emmy Award, amassing an unbelievable 51 nominations and 5 wins.

The top ten list is a hallmark of his show. On Friday May 10th, the list was the “Top Ten Reasons I’ve Decided To Become a Teacher.” Sometimes, instead of reading the list himself, Letterman has guests present the top ten.

He introduced that night’s presenters, “ten brand new teachers from Teach For America…By the way Teach For America recruits recent grads and mid career professionals to teach in public schools in high need communities.”

The Donors section of Teach For America’s website reads like a who’s who in corporate America, easily allowing one to question the intent and motivation behind TFA. They have eight sections of donors: Lifetime Donors (Foundations and Individuals); Lifetime Donors (Corporations); National Growth Fund Investors; Champion Investors; National Corporate Partners, Supporters, and Sponsors; Public Funders; Annual Donors (Foundations and Individuals); and Annual Donors (Corporations). Each section is further divided by donation amounts, ranging from thousands of dollars to many millions.

Just a brief sampling:

Lifetime Donors (Foundations and Individuals)

-The Walton Foundation – $50 million+

-Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – $10 million – $24,999,999

-The Anschutz Foundation, The Goldman Sachs Foundation, The Newark Charter School Fund – $1 million – $9,999,999

Lifetime Donors (Corporations)

-Wells Fargo – $15 million+

-Visa Inc. – $5 million – $14,999,999

-Bank of America, ExxonMobil Foundation, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase – $2.5 million – $4,999,999

-Monsanto Fund, Chevron Corporation, GE Foundation, The Prudential Foundation, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. – $1 million – $2,499,999

Champion Investors

-The Walton Family Foundation – $5 million+

-Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation, Wells Fargo – $1 million – $4,999,999

National Corporate Partners, Supporters, and Sponsors

-Wells Fargo, Visa, Inc. – $1 million+

-Goldman Sachs – $250,000 – $499,999

Public Funders (having provided $1 million or more in fiscal year 2011)

-AmeriCorps, Arizona Office of the Governor, Baltimore City Public Schools, NASA,

-State of Colorado, State of Mississippi, State of Texas, and the U.S. Department of Education

From Andrew Hartman, in Jacobin Magazine:

The history of TFA (Teach For America) reveals the ironies of contemporary education reform. In its mission to deliver justice to underprivileged children, TFA and the liberal education reform movement have advanced an agenda that advances conservative attempts to undercut teacher’s unions. More broadly, TFA has been in the vanguard in forming a neoliberal consensus about the role of public education—and the role of public school teachers—in a deeply unequal society.

TFA is, at best, another chimerical attempt in a long history of chimerical attempts to sell educational reform as a solution to class inequality. At worst, it’s a Trojan horse for all that is unseemly about the contemporary education reform movement.

TFA, suitably representative of the liberal education reform more generally, underwrites, intentionally or not, the conservative assumptions of the education reform movement: that teacher’s unions serve as barriers to quality education; that testing is the best way to assess quality education; that educating poor children is best done by institutionalizing them; that meritocracy is an end-in-itself; that social class is an unimportant variable in education reform; that education policy is best made by evading politics proper; and that faith in public school teachers is misplaced.

From its origins, the TFA-led movement to improve the teacher force has aligned itself with efforts to expand the role of high-stakes standardized testing in education… The multi-billion dollar testing industry—dominated by a few large corporations that specialize in the making and scoring of standardized tests—has become an entrenched interest, a powerful component of a growing education-industrial complex.

TFA exists for nothing if not for adjusting poor children to the regime otherwise known as the American meritocracy.

In this age of austerity, the inadequate resources for already underfunded schools are slashed even more, and many cities are closing public schools while charter schools proliferate. The Buena Vista School District in Michigan has fired every teacher and closed every school. In Chicago, 54 schools are set to be closed. From Mychal Denzel Smith in The Nation:

They differ greatly in size, but what Buena Vista and Chicago have in common is that the populations most affected by these school closings just happen to be mostly black. Buena Vista is home to just under 7,000 residents, 74 percent of whom are black. In Chicago, where black students make up about 40 percent of those enrolled, 88 percent of those who would be displaced by these school closings are black.

From P.L. Thomas, in his Op-Ed “Education Reform In The New Jim Crow Era:”

There are significant parallels between the war on drugs and market-oriented education reform, and both create an underclass – especially among African American males, according to Thomas, who traces the history.

Teach For America is a piece of the “education reform” movement’s agenda, privatizing public education in lockstep with their corporate and political ilk; closing public schools, firing teachers and bashing unions, the increasing reliance on high stakes testing, etc. How much progress could have been made if the amount of money, resources, time, and effort put forth under the ruse of “education reform” were instead focused on alleviating poverty, truly improving public education, and fighting for social justice?

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Law and Order

Last week’s episode of Law & Order: SVU, “Born Psychopath,” was tough to watch and sad to think about. “The SVU detectives race against the clock to stop a clinically psychopathic boy with homicidal tendencies.”

Henry is a 10 year old boy who is devoid of any human emotions other than anger and rage. There is not a single loving nor sympathetic bone in his body. He terrorizes and abuses his little sister. He pulls a knife on his mother. He kills a friend’s dog. The show finishes in a hostage situation, where Henry has stolen a gun from his friend’s father, who says his gun is “always locked up and safely stored.”

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Early in the show, two of the police officers visit Henry’s school. They learn about the litany of drugs that have been tried, ranging from antidepressants to psychotropic drugs to combinations thereof.

The officers ask the school administrator about Henry’s behavior:

“Some days I think we’ve turned a corner, and then the next day he’ll throw a desk or slam his locker.”

“Has Henry ever hurt any kids here at this school?” asks Ice-T’s character.

“At first, but, he knows now that behavior is unacceptable.”

The next scene shows the police officers and the attorney discussing the case and weighing the evidence so far.

The DA is wary: “If this kid were that troubled, there should be more of a paper trail.”

“If he lived in the projects he’d been in the system ten times by now!” Ice-T exclaims.

Henry comes from an affluent white family. He attends a private school in New York City. With all the troubling topics and scenes from this episode, that one line rang loudest to me. Ice-T’s character is speaking the truth.

If a black or brown child in a public school slammed their locker, threw desks, and hurt other students, they’d have been arrested. According to the NYCLU in 2009, Black and Latino youth were 86% of inmates in New York State’s juvenile detention facilities, but only 35% of the statewide population.

The school to prison pipeline is all too real. Tragically real. Consider just a few of the shocking facts:

-68% of urban high schools now have police (SROs) patrolling their corridors.

-Most teens in the juvenile justice system are there for non-violent crimes, such as truancy and disruptive behavior.

-One out of every three teens who is arrested is arrested in school.

-Two-thirds to three-fourths of teens who are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers withdraw or drop out of high school.

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In 2012, Florida led the nation in student arrests. From the Orlando Sentinel:

The vast majority of children being arrested in schools are not committing criminal acts…

Sixty-seven percent of the arrests last year were for misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct — a catchall, attorneys say, that has been used when children refused to take a cellphone out of a pocket or yelled in class. Fewer than 5 percent faced weapons charges.

Most arrests stem from “bad behavior, not criminal behavior.”

…more than 12,000 Florida students arrested nearly 14,000 times last year, records from the Department of Juvenile Justice showed.

An arrest record stays with students for life, even when charges are dropped. That means their response must be “yes” to questions on college and employment applications that ask: “Have you ever been arrested?”

Disabled students accounted for 13 percent of Florida’s public-school students but 29 percent of those arrested last year, state data showed. Black students made up 23 percent of Florida’s school population but 47 percent of the arrests.

Those higher rates are not because of higher rates of misbehavior by black students, but to schools punishing black students more severely for “less serious or more subjective infractions,” according to The Equity Project at Indiana University, which studies the issue.

It is taking place all over the country. Florida. Connecticut. Mississippi. Texas. Colorado. New York. No state is immune to this tragedy, and the racial, social, and economic injustices negatively affect everybody. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As Michelle Alexander writes in her landmark book The New Jim Crow:

What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

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From the Population Reference Bureau in August 2012:

Since 2002, the United States has had the highest incarceration rate in the world. Although prison populations are increasing in some parts of the world, the natural rate of incarceration for countries comparable to the United States tends to stay around 100 prisoners per 100,000 population. The U.S. rate is 500 prisoners per 100,000 residents, or about 1.6 million prisoners in 2010, according to the latest available data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

Men make up 90 percent of the prison and local jail population, and they have an imprisonment rate 14 times higher than the rate for women. And these men are overwhelmingly young: Incarceration rates are highest for those in their 20s and early 30s. Prisoners also tend to be less educated: The average state prisoner has a 10th grade education, and about 70 percent have not completed high school. Incarceration rates are significantly higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites. In 2010, black men were incarcerated at a rate of 3,074 per 100,000 residents; Latinos were incarcerated at 1,258 per 100,000, and white men were incarcerated at 459 per 100,000.

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the calls for more police in schools have grown louder. This is misguided. Many schools around the country already have police officers on site. There were cops at Columbine. Rather than preventing massacres, these officers are instead mostly used as enforcers and disciplinarians. What used to get a kid a visit to the principal has turned into a visit to jail. While those calling for more cops in schools are well intentioned, the actual outcomes of more police in schools, coupled with the disturbing trend to militarize our police forces, are a criminalization of school and an even greater demonization of minorities.

The school to prison pipeline is an early step in the broader scheme of the prison industrial complex; Zero Tolerance policies in schools and Three Strikes laws on the books, The Stop and Frisk policy in New York City and the fact that students, their belongings, lockers, cars, etc. can be searched by school officials at any time, The War On Drugs, Private Prisons, etc. The menace of our racist criminal justice system terrorizes minorities in this country, tears apart families, and destroys lives. It must end.

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Racism in Chicago

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Last week I was glued to my phone and computer; riveted by the livestream and reading every live tweet from the Chicago school closings protest. The teachers, parents, students, and every human being that participated are heroes.

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This racist policy to close the schools in Chicago is abhorrent, and it is coupled with the corporate agenda to privatize public education. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported:

Nine out of ten of the Chicago Public School students potentially affected by school closings this year are black…

Of those 129 schools located mostly on the South and West sides, 117 are majority black. And 119 of them have a percentage of black students higher than the district average. At the 129 schools on CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s list of schools that could be closed this year, 88 percent of the students are black. Schools with at least 90 percent black students account for 103 of the 129. Just nine are majority Hispanic.

The racial breakdown of the schools that could be closed is not in line with the overall demographics of the district. Across the city, 41.7 percent of CPS students are African American, 8.8 percent are white and 44.1 percent are Hispanic. The rest are Asian, Native American or members of other racial groups.

Despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennet’s denials that race played a factor in the school closings, the effects are extremely racist. Kenzo Shibata, social media coordinator of the Chicago Teachers Union, perfectly states:

People often recoil at the word racism. It is a term that is often erroneously conflated with “bigotry” and “prejudice.” One does not have to be a bigot to push racist policy. Racist policies are those that have a disparate negative impact on particular races. The term racism does not necessarily have anything to do with intention. It is about the effects.

Much of the media have reported that communities opposed to Rahm Emanuel’s school closing plan are accusing Mayor Emanuel of having racist intentions.

His intentions are immaterial. When the debate is made about one person’s intentions, it’s easily refutable. However, when we confront racism for what it really is, it sheds light on the structural issues that allow some races better opportunities than others.

Racism is nothing new in Chicago. On August 5, 1966, the Chicago Tribune reported:

On this muggy Friday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out of the car that had ferried him to Marquette Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side to lead a march of about 700 people. The civil-rights leader and his supporters were in the white ethnic enclave to protest housing segregation. Thousands of jeering, taunting whites had gathered. The mood was ominous. One placard read: “King would look good with a knife in his back.”

As King marched, someone hurled a stone. It struck King on the head. Stunned, he fell to one knee. He stayed on the ground for several seconds. As he rose, aides and bodyguards surrounded him to protect him from the rocks, bottles and firecrackers that rained down on the demonstrators. King was one of 30 people who were injured; the disturbance resulted in 40 arrests. He later explained why he put himself at risk: “I have to do this–to expose myself–to bring this hate into the open.” He had done that before, but Chicago was different. “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today,” he said.

King brought his protest movement north in 1966 to take on black urban problems, especially segregation. Chicago seemed like the perfect battleground.

As last week’s protest went on, a picture entered my twitter feed that gave me pause. A protestor had a sign saying “Rahm is a Rat.”

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Rahm Emanuel is Jewish. I am agnostic, but coming from a Jewish family, my initial gut reaction was the sign is antisemitic. As more and more people on my twitter feed gave the picture a RT, I became more and more offended. I have so much respect and admiration for many of the people that sent out the picture, and in no way do I think they are bigots who had antisemitic intentions, but equating a Jewish person to a rat is antisemitic (if you haven’t read it, see Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman’s book/graphic novel The Complete Maus). Whether its overt, covert, or unintended; racism is racism.

It is vital for human beings to be inclusive, especially in groups defending human rights. Everybody should feel welcome and a part of any movement fighting for social justice. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said to Cesar Chavez: “Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity.”

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Nazi Germany and Abortion Rights

*Trigger Warning (rape)

Ingelore Herz Honigstein is a survivor. She was born in Germany in 1924. She is Jewish. She is also deaf. In Nazi Germany, either one of those characteristics was grounds for persecution and murder. The HBO Documentary “Ingelore” tells her compelling story.

The Documentary is powerful and moving. Ingelore’s story, her strength, and her wisdom shine through the screen. Despite her deafness, she is bilingual in German and English. She explains how she learned to speak, read, and sign as a young girl; a yearning and dedication to make us all ashamed for not sharing her zeal.

In 1940, Ingelore went through a lifetime’s worth of experiences in the span of less than a year. Walking home in Berlin, Ingelore was brutally attacked and raped by two Nazi soldiers. At the same time, her father managed to secure his release from a concentration camp in Dachau. Shortly thereafter, Ingelore and her family were of the very fortunate few allowed to leave Germany, and her family immigrated to the U.S. Once in America, Ingelore saw a doctor and learned she was pregnant. After threatening to take her own life rather than give birth to her rapist’s baby, she had an abortion.

In the past few years, the U.S. has witnessed a concerted effort to roll back abortion rights. The attack on women is obvious to anyone willing to look; Personhood Amendments, Fetal Heart Beat Bills, attacks on Planned Parenthood, even Birth Control became an issue in the last election. Two U.S. Senate Candidates tried to redefine rape and justify forcing a rape victim to carry her rapist’s baby to term. The assault women are facing is not new. It is deeply rooted in historical, cultural, and religious motives. Regardless of the intent, the effect these policies have is to reinforce the sexist, patriarchal, racist, and homophobic cultures in this country. Rape culture and violence against women is not mutually exclusive from these efforts.

When I started to watch Ingelore, I expected a story of bigotry and triumph. I was expecting to hear an amazing story of a deaf, Jewish woman beating all the odds to make it out of Nazi Germany alive. While those expectations were met, I was unexpectedly moved to tears when she told the story of her rape and subsequent abortion. Ingelore did not survive a concentration camp. She survived an attack by two Nazi soldiers. I was not expecting this 41 minute documentary to make me think about rape, abortion, and women’s rights, but I am glad it did.

Women’s Rights = Human Rights

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