31 December 2009

The end of a dire decade: A happy new year wish and a rouge forum update


The latest RF News is here.

For the latest Rouge Forum Update from Rich: http://www.richgibson.com/blog/?p=107. Here is a nice preface to Rich's latest update:

In mid- 2001, we wrote, “This is the seiche time...From time to time in the St. Clair River, which runs rapidly along the eastern coast of Michigan connecting Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair, a combination of high winds and atmospheric pressure causes the river to split apart, leaving a wet marsh between an onrushing tide of water headed south, and a trailing wave of great power. The locals call this a seiche, and the long moments that pass as the broken water surges to connect with itself, usually accompanied by dark purple skies, they call the seiche time.”September 11, 2001 followed.Four years earlier, we argued that schools were even then the centripetal organizing point of de-industrialized North American life (and elsewhere too), that the struggles in schools would mesh ideology and money; sometimes colliding, other times in a perfect marriage.

We said any society engaged in militarism, imperialism, tied to a consumer economy, would surely move to greater control over what citizens know and how they come to know it. Schools would be key.

In schools, we said that six thrusts from elites would come into play:
1. Regimented national curricula (we used the history standards as a model).
2. Anti-working class, racist, high-stakes tests.
3. Merit pay linked to the tests.
4. More militarism.
5. Some privatization.
6. A full blown assault on educators’ wages and benefits.

We argued that the traditional unions and professional organizations would be worse than useless in meeting these attacks as their leaders are flatly on the other side of what is a class(room) war.

We said “an injury to one will proceed an injury to all.” It has, as we indicated, urban districts serving especially exploited populations and rural districts would be hit first, but middle class districts would follow–then even some of the richer public schools would be hit.

We insisted for nine years that a consumer society that has a vanishing productive base, a society rooted in spectacles, massive internal and external borrowing, and financial shenanigans was built on sand–and that the sky would fall.

It did.

For a decade, we built school resistance around, mostly, research and action aimed at the high-stakes exams with some success in both wealthy and poor districts while most middle class district school workers muddled along.

In early 2008, we expressed sympathy for those who would vote Democratic, but suggested that relying on Democrats to make fundamental change demonstrated a key misunderstanding of the relationship of capitalism and democracy, the former then trumping democracy at every turn.

We insisted that “capitalism has to be named.” We said, “The core issue of our time is the rapid rise of color-coded social and economic inequality and the promise of perpetual war, challenged by the potential of mass, class-conscious, resistance.”

Over more than a decade, our conferences and our resources became community and comfort to educators who often felt isolated in this onslaught. We claim no special foresight. What is most surprising to us is that in North America the Rouge Forum stands alone as an organized group of people who recognize that what is afoot is an education agenda as a war agenda, a class war agenda, and who seek to construct reason, connected to power, in order to not only push back, but transform our own lives and our society.

The Rouge Forum transcends the divisions of academic and social labor, rather than recreating them as do unions and the “professional” organizations. We include doctors, professors, k12 educators, support personnel, social workers, media specialists, librarians, parents, two principals, truck drivers, custodians, secretaries, retirees, stadium workers, construction workers, unemployed people, soldiers, union staffers, that is, people from all over world, the US to India to England to Grenada to South Africa.

The Rouge Forum News, our Broadsides, videos, and other publications reflect that unity–and our varying critiques of why things are as they are. We close a horrific decade begun and ended with war heaped upon war—battles where the children of the poor kill other children of the poor on behalf of the rich in their homelands. We witnessed the greatest theft of wealth in the history of the world, the $12.9 trillion Tarp bank bailout (no strings) and the takeover of the auto industry by the federal government, finalizing what can only be seen as a corporate state.

On the near horizon, we suspect the Democrats will tax the existing health insurance of those who have jobs, dump GM, Chrysler, and Walmart employees into a debased pool of the barely insured, and let the rich off the hook once again.

What is ahead? Surely more wars, intensifying as imperial rivalries grow. China, Russia, Japan, and Europe all desperately need that oil, that cheap labor, that copper, those markets, the pipelines, and those shipping lanes. The wars will come home in the economy and daily life. Our crystal ball isn’t clear enough to predict deflation, inflation, or devaluation, but the throw of the dice says rampant inflation. In daily life, the assaults on reason and well being in schools will necessarily sharpen as will political repression, often disguised as protection of the citizenry. If resistance is not successful, all educators could become traveling adjuncts.

We have said persistently that people will fight back as they will have no choice but to fight back—and people will pull back when they see no alternative but to retreat. Will we make good sense of why we must fight? Will the fight be the isolating call of, “Save My Job!” and lose, or will it be, “When They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back!” and win?

Resistance is rising as the recent battles in California universities show. However, it remains that retreat is workers’ main move now–as the debacle of the Detroit Federation of Teacher contract ($500 per month pay cut, massive health care cuts, merit pay, teachers disciplining teachers–all as the DFT leadership hugged the employer; teachers ratified at 60% as they were isolated from one another, saw no option).

Justice demands organization. If we are to overcome what can now be reasonably described as the emergence of fascism as a mass, popular, world-wide movement, the Rouge Forum needs to grow. We need your ideas, suggestions, comments, and criticism. You can post here at the blog or write any member of the Rouge Forum Steering Committee.

We hope you will spread the word, urge others to join our community, so the next decade will not end with the darkness this one has.

Good luck to us,
every one.


15 December 2009

Rouge Forum News #15

Screen shot 2009-12-15 at 5.02.04 PM

The latest issue of the Rouge Forum News is available here as a pdf.

Thanks to Adam Renner, the editor of the Rouge Forum News, and all the contributors for making RFN #15 the best issue yet!

13 December 2009

A Winter Reflection

In its more than decade of existence, the Rouge Forum has attempted to contribute to the conversation on social justice within national organizations, in union halls, in K-12 schools, in colleges/universities, at work places, and in community organizations. It has attempted to bring a reasoned analysis to contemporary issues using an historical lens, a sense of the total, and, often, pedagogical strategies. It has produced an appreciable amount of scholarship among its members—sometimes award winning scholarship—and has among its membership winners of academic freedom awards.

Undoubtedly, the Rouge Forum has become a relevant voice for social justice, particularly related to education. We hope to amplify that voice and continue to develop its relevance in the days to come. Recent events, tethered to their historical predecessors, indicate there is little time to dither.

One of the best things about the Rouge Forum, particularly those who have been able to take part in conferences and joint actions, is the sense of community. My partner and I remarked a few years ago at the conference in Detroit that we felt like we were home. We were among comrades who, while we didn’t agree on everything, seemed to have a congruent idea that things need to change and a relatively common idea of what that might look like. We could at least outline the picture.

Times together, such as these, assure us we are not crazy—that another world is not only necessary, but possible. Our work is continuing to figure out how we support one another, how we can have a voice in our particular locations, and how we craft and apply a vision of what is more just, more human, and right. Community. Voice. Vision. Connect reason to power, as Rich would say. Go.

And in that go-ing, we need sustenance for the journey—sustenance in the form of community and consciousness (ever-deepening, ever-evolving), but also hope. The hope I/we suggest is not naïve hope. It is hope grounded in struggle, connected to others. It is hope that is participatory. It becomes the essence of who we are. It is a politics of prefiguration that suggests if we want democracy and we want justice, then our actions, to the extent possible, will need to bear these out. It is to understand the journey/struggle not as precise, but as punctuations of imperfections, of hypocrisies that bring us back to the start, such that we can begin again.

This idea of the politics of prefiguration is espoused by a thoughtful theorist on hope: Rebecca Solnit. Her text, Hope in the Dark, pushed me to find hope in the struggle—in fact, catapulting me into that struggle. Solnit has enlivened that sense again in her recent essay in TomDispatch: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175168/tomgram:__rebecca_solnit,_writing_history_in_the_streets/, entitled Learning how to Count to 350. Re-citing a history of action in the streets and reasons to hope (in the face of all the reasons to despair), Solnit suggests, "To survive the coming era, we need to re-imagine what constitutes wealth and well-being and what constitutes poverty." Considering the dismal performance of communism in the 20th century (often more totalitarian and capitalist than liberatory) and the fact that global capitalism was brought to its knees last year, she suggests we've got work to do to (re)imagine the world.

And, we—that is, people of conscience—must occupy that void. Else, something else will. The steel-toed rhythm can be heard goose-stepping just inside the ear's horizon. I submit we'll need to step into that space sooner than later.

I'll see you at the barricades.

We'll have to resist what is more than likely coming next—find a voice, speak truth to power, take to the streets, take over a building. Escalate. Extending Rich’s metaphor from earlier work, we lambs look good to the wolves who regroup in the penthouses of their nearby woods (whose fuel is nearly spent) and in the corporate board rooms overlooking ever-drying creeks (more parts pollution than potable). They're finished buying what we have, as how much more cheaply can our labor power be had? Now, they plan to just take it (see: http://cohort11.americanobserver.net/latoyaegwuekwe/multimediafinal.html).

And, they will use a god to convince you they are right. They will call on him, attempting to scheme us into doing the same (a little deposit of flesh now, and your children's flesh, for an eternity of made-up bed time stories, "Now I Iay me down to sleep....").

I'll keep my soul, whatever is left of it, thank you very much.

I'm looking, instead, for what Solnit calls a moment of creation—moments for which democracy, social justice, creativity, freedom, take one step forward.

Solnit is good at flipping the script, looking at the underside of the paper and seeing the scribbling of possibility. What she submits is an alternative read to the corporate media prophets (or is that profits?). We would do well to listen. Hers is not a naïve re-rendering or postmodern apologetics. My take is that Solnit’s proposition is grounded in the real. The alteration takes into account the work that is being done, often diminished by our popular discourse and corporate media. This alternative understanding helps us realize that others are struggling, voices are shouting, a history of resistance leads us to this moment of possibility.

Revolutionary praxis remains our guide: the simultaneity and dialectic of self change and the changing of society.

We should understand what it's going to take for that moment of creation. Those moments: when we realize the politics of divide and conquer have gotten the best of us (color/class/gender/sexuality-coded inequalities); when we realize that we that we are killing others (bought and paid for bombs with our signature on them), killing babies, mothers, difference with our own babies barely able to know differently in capital's schools (the militarization of schools); when we realize that our knowledge has been regulated by corporate interests to keep us docile and ignorant (high-stakes testing) in order to prepare us for jobs we will more than likely hate (alienation) so we will seek pleasure in (fetishize) commodities, that is, things, and our social relations will be mediated by reality TV and video games.

Try Wendell Berry’s recent poem on for size at your upcoming holiday celebration to bring the above into sharp relief: http://everydayliturgy.com/blogs/thomas/questionnaire-by-wendell-berry. You may not be invited back (which may or may not be a bad thing…)

When we recognize these issues as material reality, a moment will emerge. A moment (consciousness grounded in the real) that must lead to another moment (courage to change) in which we will need to figure out how to live differently (protest, resistance, occupation, freedom schools, sustainable living, new solidarities). Moments in which we own our labor power: the free development of each creates the conditions for the free development of all, since we will all recognize our interdependence and the strength of our difference.

More than likely, these moments will blur--because the barricades will not only be in the streets, but they will be in our work places, in our schools, in our churches, in our homes, in our community centers. Consciousness will merge with courage will merge with consciousness will merge with a more materialist understanding of reality, which will lead to how we can re-imagine wealth, well-being and poverty in the coming era.

We must. The wolves are hungry.

But, the lambs are plentiful. And, we will realize that we far outnumber the wolves when conscious because we will see and do differently.

When we see differently, we won't be divided so easily. When we see differently, we won't abide by mystical explanations of injustice; we will see it for what it is. When we see differently, we’ll stop looking at the deadness of the center and instead explore the possibility at the periphery. When we see differently we won't believe the mythology of national holidays intended to white-wash history and to, more importantly, mark the beginning of a new holiday season of debt and guilt built by the capitalists. Just look on the rez. How did Thanksgiving work out for those who welcomed the newcomers? Can we call it what it is, please: a celebration of genocide. And, we are still killing them (see the December, 2009, Harper’s Magazine article about life on the modern reservation). Christmas could use an RF News issue all its own…

When we see differently, we will note the possibility of solidarity born in moments of creation where we understand richness as fullness (of life and community), in the bread broken amidst laughter AND tears, in the totality discovered, in one more sunrise.

The Rouge Forum seeks this fullness.

Struggle. We must. Eyes open. Spirit fully engaged. Hands ready for the work.

See you at the barricades…

07 December 2009

Rouge Forum Update--from Rich

Dear Friends,


Check the link above but note that Detroit may be the next centerpiece for education struggles soon. The Detroit Federation of Teachers bosses signed a tentative agreement (TA) with the Broad Foundation’s Detroit Financial Manager, Bob Bobb who now runs the system, that offers DPS $500 a month from each teacher’s check, or $10,000 a year, to be paid back as a no-interest loan when the teacher quits the system. With about 7000 school workers in DPS (not all classroom teachers), paying the dun for 2 1/2 years of the 3 year contract, that’s a $105 million no-interest loan to a school system that claimed it needed about $40 million in concessions from the school workers. More, DPS claims its on the brink of bankruptcy, which would likely dissolve the debt to educators.

The TA also includes huge give-backs in insurances (eliminating Blue Cross), merit pay, teachers evaluating teachers, and worse.

The contract language is murky on what looks like a union bracero program, selling the labor of members to DPS with a specious promise of repayment on the “loan,” (blackmail for a job).

The TA is here: http://mi.aft.org/dft231/ although in the past members have complained about not being told of the full measure of TA’s.In a meeting of about 2500 of the DFT members at Cobo Hall on Sunday, most rank and filers agreed that 90% plus rose to oppose the TA that was bargained behind their backs, involving the top national leadership of the AFT, like President Randi Weingarten.

No group of organized educators has been on strike in the last decade more than DFT rank and filers who led a huge wildcat strike, against their union, against the law, and against the employer–and they made gains.But today the DFT is relatively isolated. The union leadership stayed silent in the face of massive corruption and incompetence that infected nearly every aspect of Detroit school life. Citizens turned against the system as a whole.

When Broad’s Bobb arrived, citizens applauded as he rooted out the more obvious small time crooks in the system, but he left aside the contractors who looted the public by stealing millions in no-bid contract during the five year period of the Takeover Board, when the governor wiped out the elected board and replaced them with, mostly, suburban auto execs from the failing Big Three. The Takeover Board left DPS at least $40 million in debt.

Now, there are at least 10 newly built schools that sit empty and stripped of everything of value, schools that were built in the Takeover period–in a system that loses 12,000 students a year.

Bobb “won” a new $500 million bond issue to build more new schools by a 2/3 majority this fall, indicating his newly won clout, and his ability to syphon off more money from a system that claims it will build new schools, but demands blackmail payments from teachers. Bobb has already pulled out millions on no-bid offers to cronies in Broad related companies.

The DFT’s sellout Tentative Agreement will appear in urban bargaining tables everywhere next year, if DPS gets away with this. An injury to one really will go before an injury to all.Every expression of solidarity in opposition to this TA will matter. More, suburban MEA members need to unite with the DFT rank and file, join with parents and kids to create enough educational civil strife that drives the DFT bosses back to the bargaining table, forces them to report out a TA that makes gains, not concessions.

No union is ideologically or structurally prepared to take on the battles ahead–why we formed the Rouge Forum a decade ago.

When they say “Cutback,” We say “Fight Back!”

There is MUCH MORE on the blog linked above.

Good luck to us, every one.