Live the Questions

Words of Torah, funny anecdotes about my students, rants about education policy, and observations on politics, progressive Judaism, activism, and culture will all make appearances on this blog. Each post will end with a question for the reader; please respond if you feel moved.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What the teacher's union protests in Oaxaca, Mexico have to do with beating the Neocon agenda

"What teacher's union protests in Oaxaca, Mexico?" you ask. Exactly. This is the biggest story not to have entered the mainstream media this month. My father was in Mexico last weekend and he didn't even find out. (Of course, he spent most of the trip coordinating care for his two aging aunties.)

So what's happening?
On May 22, 70,000 teachers from the state of Oaxaca went on strike to protest cuts to public schools and to advocate for salary increases and more governmental support for education. Much like the federal government in the US, the Mexican government seems to have the unspoken goal of privatizing education and undermining the public school system. So the teachers union (SNTE) went on strike. The protesters have occupied the central square in Oaxaca (Oaxaca is the name of both the state and its capital city) for over a month now. At the beginning of June, they were broadcasting news and reports from the occupied plaza on their own radio station.

The protests gained momentum and the teacher's union members were joined by parents, students, members of other unions, community groups, indigenous-rights groups, Zapatistas, and socialist parties. As often happens with protests (perhaps lamentably), the focus broadened and the protests became a generalized attack on the policies of the current governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz. The groups called for Ruiz's resignation. (See below for what's wrong with Ruiz.)

At 4:30am on June 15th, Ruiz called in around 2,000 members of the state police and special forces to forcibly remove the protesters from the plaza. A military helicopter was used to drop teargas. Many protesters were injured in the raid. There have been some reports that riot police have killed anywhere between 3 and 11 protesters, but I was not able to find this corroborated in the mainstream media, so you can decide whether or not you believe it. It has been documented that protesters have been beaten, attacked physically, teargassed, and arrested in large numbers.

The other thing the riot police did that smacks of oppressive dictatorship was to destroy the radio equipment that the protesters were using to broadcast news and information about their strike. A few days after the raid, the protesters were able to reoccupy the square and continue broadcasting from the university radio station. They are still there.

Many Mexican government officials were worried that the protesters would call for a large-scale boycott of the upcoming presidential elections (July 2nd) or that they would somehow interfere with the election process. The most recent news from the coalition of protesters in Oaxaca is an assurance that they will not interfere with the election.

Why should we care?
1. We should care about everyone's well-being and human rights, and Ulises Ruiz has pretty clearly shown that he is willing to go to extreme measures to repress dissent and to maintain power.
2. Mexico is our neighbor and will either be a major force in advancing the Neocon agenda for our hemisphere or will be able to stand up against that agenda. The elections of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia are hopeful signs that across Latin America people are ready to elect leaders that will stand up to Bush and to the traditional power structures in their own countries. This has a chance of happening in Mexico, too. Their presidential elections, set for July 2nd, will decide between Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a lefty candidate in the mold of Chavez and Morales (although not as radical, which I think is actually a positive thing) and Felipe Calderón, the conservative candidate, who would pretty much be a toady for the Bush administration.

Oaxaca's governor, Ulises Ruiz, is a member of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (what an Orwellian name, eh?), the party that controlled Mexico for most of the 20th century and was only overthrown in the last presidential election. As a holdover from Mexico's days as a one-party "democracy," Ruiz has demonstrated that he still governs with the PRI's Iron Hand approach. Since (as my dad pointed out to me) Mexico has only recently emerged from under the PRI's dominance, the people need to be assured that they can exercise their rights to vote, to express dissent, and to ensure that their government officials have some kind of accountability. There has been an upsurge in grassroots political activity. So Mexico is at a turning-point. If leaders like Ruiz see that they cannot wield oppressive power, then the teachers and other protesters will have brought home a real win for democracy, freedom, and progressive politics in Mexico. That's why I'll be at a protest on Wednesday at the Mexican Counsulate (see below.)

Scroll down for sources of information...

Labor/Teachers Rally to Support Striking Teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico
Wednesday, June 28th 4:00-5:30 pm
The Mexican Consulate (27 E. 39th St. between Park and Madison Aves.)

PSC-CUNY, the union of faculty and professional staff at City University of New York, is calling for a picket at the Mexican consulate to support our brother and sister Mexican teachers fighting a bitter, difficult strike in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. We call on the Mexican authorities to stop the violent use of police against the strike, and to meet the just demands of Local 22 of SNTE (National Education Workers Union).

The NYT's one article: http://
an amazingly sensitive story from the Houston Chronicle:
coverage from an "anticapitalist" site:
an incredibly negative article from the AP:
in Spanish

Sunday, June 04, 2006

For New Yorkers: Rally for Great Public Schools

I will be at the Rally for Great Public Schools this Wednesday (June 7th) and I hope you will be, too! Here's why I'm going: After teaching in the NYC public schools for five years, I've learned that certain key factors make a HUGE difference in the quality of education we are able to deliver to our students. At the top of that list are smaller class sizes, more support for meaningful teacher professional development, materials and books that are up-to-date and engaging, and enrichment and remediation programs for students who need those services. Without support for these initiatives, we can't hope to serve NYC students better.

NYC has received money for new school construction from the state (see info below) but is still fighting for the $5.6 billion increase in the yearly operating budget for NYC's schools that Albany was ordered to provide by the NY supreme court. As citizens of NYC, we need to make sure that we support our youth and their development and fight for equitable funding for our city schools.

This rally is being sponsored by nearly all of the major school reform advocacy groups and should be a tremendous gathering. Please come if you can.

Wednesday, June 7th 6-8pm
Park Avenue between 50th and 51st streets

Here's the information from the sponsors of the rally:

We must come together to demand that Albany fully fund our schools NOW! We must DEMAND:

· smaller classes in all grades
· a quality teacher in every classroom
· fully equipped science labs in every middle & high school
· modern books & materials
· quality early childhood and after-school programs
· academic enrichment & remediation programs.

Rally for Great Public Schools!!
Wednesday, June 7th, 6 – 8 PM
St. Bart's Church
Park Avenue, between 50th & 51st Streets, Manhattan
6 to 51st St or E·V to Lexington Ave – 53rd St

All the letters, petitions, calls, and lobby days have paid off. This year, we won $1.8 billion from Albany for school construction this year, and an additional $9.4 billion in increased bonding for school construction over the next four years. This means that over 100 new schools will be built and over 65,000 new schools seats will be added over the next five years!! Too many of our kids have been crammed into overcrowded schools, and too many have suffered academically due to large class sizes. This is a great victory for our kids!

But much more needs to be done! Legislators have still failed to increase operating aid by $5.6 billion a year as ordered by the courts. Without this money, we can't hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, or provide full-day early childhood education. We can't buy new books, lab equipment, computers, and school supplies. And we can't invest in after-school, academic enrichment and remediation programs. Join with other parents, teachers, students, clergy, and others in demanding that Albany fully fund our schools NOW!

Rally for Great Public Schools sponsored by (alphabetical order): ACORN, Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), ANYCEC (Association of NYC Education Councils), Brooklyn Education Collaborative (BEC), Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), Community Collaborative to Improve Bronx Schools (CCB), NAACP Metropolitan Council, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) (list in formation)