Stand With Oaxaca Teacher’s Strike



Mexican teachers in the heavily indigenous states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacan bravely stood up in the face of government attempts to smash one of the last bastions of unionized workers in Mexico, education. The Oaxaca teacher’s strike is in response to the so-called educational reforms being pushed by the Enrique Pena Nieto government. These are not educational reforms at all but labor reforms. One of the more controversial elements of the reforms is that teachers’ jobs will depend on their performance on evaluations. The teacher training schools or normals are also being threatened, especially since the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal school.

The normals have been a pathway to employment for the impoverished as well as a source of political activity and community involvement in rural societies. In response, the teacher’s union, Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación went on strike in Oaxaca. The ensuing crackdown on the Oaxaca teacher’s strike and imprisonment of  (CNTE) leaders Aciel Sibaja, Ruben Nunez and Francisco Villalobos and brutal slaying of at least 4 demonstrators on June 19th illustrates the desperation of the Mexican government to contain and silence the teacher’s union.

American teachers should stand in solidarity with the CNTE and the Oaxaca teacher’s strike, as we are fighting the same set of neoliberal, corporate, interests in our educationional system here in America. Our government is an ally of Pena Nieto. They have stood by and supported him in the face of his government’s violence, repression and human rights violations. There has been relative silence about the latest atrocities because they support the same vision of education. If faced with the same political clarity and courage exhibited by the Mexican teachers, our ruling class may respond in kind with repression. American teacher’s unions should demand an end to aid to the Mexican government until the CNTE confirms that the repression has stopped. Our struggle is the same.

We educators, here in the US are facing the same agenda, top down reforms in which our voices have not been included, increased, arbitrary accountability and job insecurity to fit a business model of education. The CNTE should inspire us all to stand up. We do not honor their example and their struggle by simply well wishing and liking facebook statuses. We should support them by supporting ourselves, standing up to the corporate education agenda here at home. Unions should demand our government end the political and financial support of the Pena Nieto government.

The reforms being pushed on us are similar to the ones faced in Mexico. Teacher evaluations are highly subjective and of course we are never asked for our input on how they are carried out. This is thinly veiled coercion to “play ball” with administration. Different conditions in our communities are not taken into account. The teachers in poor, indigenous Mexican communities have an effect on those students and they have struggles that cannot be captured in a test. This is similar to us that work in poor communities with high levels of poverty, non native English speakers and other issues that are not universally present especially in middle class communities. The purpose of increased tests and accountability is not simply to hold teachers accountable but to take power from the union.

Mexican educators have a long history of progressive and even radical subversion within a larger context of subservience to institutions of power. The ideological constructs that bolster ruling class ideas has shown signs of decay. They are being threatened by the normal school system in which educators often become advocates for justice instead of custodians for the system in the communities they serve. In response, the Mexican government will allow anyone with a degree to teach, allowing them to bypass the normals. This is bigger than an educational issue. The Oaxaca teacher’s strike represents an issue of legitimacy and ideological control for the Mexican ruling class. There is a lot at stake if the power structure loses ideological control of the educational system.

A class system is only as democratic as it can afford to be in order for the bourgeoisie to maintain power. It is the job of the critical educator to subvert the ideological monopoly of the ruling class. This is the tradition of the normal schools. The threat of the schools playing a positive role in people’s movements in poor communities is a daunting one for the ruling class. The possibility exists that educators can take up the cause of the oppressed, just as the Latin American clergy did in the movements of the 70’s and 80’s. With that possibility and actual movement towards it comes the inevitable repression. The state resorts to violence when they cannot use other means to coerce.

The brutality being exhibited by the Mexican government is a sign that there is a bubbling social movement from below in which the CNTE is involved. The repression of the Oaxaca teacher’s strike is meant to serve as a deterrent to more activism. We hope the repression will embolden instead of suppress the movement. We in the states should support them as they are fighting an onslaught against teacher’s unions by the business class just as we are. We owe it to them who face guns and risk their lives over the fate of their schools, their profession and their future to struggle in solidarity with them. What excuse do we have, not even facing a modicum of the repression faced by teachers in Mexico, not to take up the same fight? This may be a harbinger of things to come if we do not act.


The Struggle to Remember Ali



The recent passing of Muhammad Ali got me to thinking about how the legacy of highly politicized figures are co-opted by dominant institutions. America has a tendency to co-opt what they cannot defeat. Once a person’s image is co-opted, it is sanitized and watered down for public consumption. If they cannot, outright choose our leaders, then they take control of their image, sand down the rough edges and give us back some ‘Santa Claused’ version of our heroes.   Often times, their more radical or particularly troublesome politics are buried and the image becomes alienated from their own ideas. This usually happens after the person’s death, sometimes before.

In the brief aftermath of Muhammad Ali’s death, we see the dominant institutions, the same ones that despised him for his activism and his voice during his prime singing his praises. In his later years, after his health began to deteriorate and his voice silenced, he became a darling of mainstream America, a frail grandfatherly figure. The conflict in Vietnam has become universally unpopular over the years, even among the ruling class, and thus, ok to criticize. However, the Ali that refused to support the war must be compartmentalized because his analysis of the war and why he refused to participate, extends to war in general and is just as applicable today. He was not just against the war in Vietnam; Ali was an anti- imperialist. However the co-opting of his image requires that, that Ali remain separate from ‘grandpa’.

His current image has effectively been separated from his anti-imperialist politics of the late 60’s. How would Ali be depicted if he maintained his vocal anti-war stance throughout his life through every ensuing American aggression? He’d likely be a pariah or faded into oblivion like John Carlos, who, during the same era raised his fist at the ‘68 Olympics in Mexico City. Muhammad Ali’s silence is what made him a figure that mainstream America could get behind.

The process of depoliticizing him is well underway. Just look at who spoke at his funeral, Bill Clinton, Billy Cristal, Bryant Gumbel. His image is being thoroughly brought into the fold of non-threatening American hero. What did these folks think of his public stance against war when he took it? Probably not supportive. Why not have Kareem Abdul Jabar, Louis Farrakhan, or anyone else closer to his experience speak. The interfaith funeral is an attempt to separate him from the teachings of the Nation of Islam. There may be a time when we do not even remember the Muhammad Ali the draft resister and anti-war proponent who put his livelihood and freedom on the line in the interests of freedom and justice. We may just think of a nice old man with Parkinson’s who was once a great boxer.

Who remembers Nelson Mandela, revolutionary founder of the armed wing of the African National Congress? Who remembers Helen Keller, radical Socialist and labor activist? The radical elements of their history and character have been systematically removed in order to make them more palatable to the system and given back to us. They will go down in history without all their complexities, but as carefully crafted images.

Perhaps the best example of this is Dr. Martin Luther King, who’s radical dimensions have been tailored for public consumption. We do not know the King who criticized racism, militarism and individualism as inextricably linked, who questioned America’s brand of capitalism. His life, speeches and writing after 1965 have all but disappeared. School children generally do not read King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967, but they know “I Have a Dream”. This is not an accident. Some heroes like Ali and King are so huge, they cannot be put back in the bottle so their images must be co-opted because the personal example of principled people so loved and admired is dangerous in and of itself.

Sometimes the most subversive thing we can do is to simply remember, remember what we are encouraged to forget, remember that the institutions that shower platitudes on radicals when they die are the same ones that marginalized and tried to kill their image, if not their physical person when they were alive. Let us never forget that young, dashing, charming, man who called Ervin Terrell and Uncle Tom for referring to him as Cassius Clay, who told a room full of white college students, “If I want to die, I’ll die fighting you, you my opposer when I want freedom”. It is no mystery why the image of a prominent black athlete standing up and willing to put his fortune, image, championship on the line on principle is threatening. The youth need his example today more than ever. In these times, young folks don’t even understand the rationale for such a stance, being bombarded with materialism and nonsense all day, every day. Let us be subversive in our classrooms and not only remember, but teach our students to do the same. Ali Bomaye!