Why I Fast

20160831_130726-2I fast to slow down and notice what’s happening inside and outside my body. I fast to enhance my discipline and my ability to examine my own habitual patterns. I fast to give my system a rest.

For me, fasting is a proactive decision to slow down. I work a lot and can sometimes find myself in the position of my body shutting down or becoming ill in order to stop me. This is not a positive pattern and fasting is one way of interrupting it and making a conscious decision to reduce my activity on my own.

For me, fasting is not a quick way to lose weight or a crash diet. In fact, I don’t fast to lose weight at all. Fasting for me is a spiritual practice.

Fasting brings me closer to the natural rhythms of my own body which are connected to rhythms in nature. Therefore it brings me closer to all life. It gives me the opportunity to re-evaluate what I “need” and also the relationship between food and my emotional life. I recommend keeping a journal, or adding what comes up for you during fasting to the journal you already keep. Fasting invites us to notice what comes up and deeply feel it while carefully choosing our reaction to it. That’s a powerful practice that we can apply to other areas of life.

In my experience, the best times to fast are when I have a reduced workload and when I’m not travelling. When I have time to prepare juice (which is time consuming) and also the space to rest and take naps as necessary.

You may want to consider fasting for a day or over the weekend just to get started and you can try out longer periods as you make other space available in your life.

I have a device (refurbished Vitamix) that pulverizes all parts of the fruit and vegetables, so I’m not losing any fiber. Traditional juicers often separate the fiber from the juice. Either way is okay, and you should be aware of the difference.

And lastly, I don’t do any strenuous exercise during a fast. The everyday walking and moving coupled with some light yoga or stretching is all that I do during a fast. Lastly, please remember to drink LOTS of water!

How to keep the political revolution going in PA

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When I posted this on Facebook the morning after the PA primary. . . .

“Bernie Sanders won 30 counties in PA. Primarily the rural counties. The counties people disdain as “Pennsyltucky”. The counties young people move out of because there is no work. The ones most people in Philly or Pittsburgh have never heard of. They may not identify as liberal or progressive. They do not use the phrase “white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy” on a regular basis. Yet they voted for a platform of breaking up big banks, making healthcare a public good, and free higher education. Is that sinking in? They understand that everything that Wall Street has is ours because Wall Street owns us, it owns the people we elect; and all of our taxes, rent, fines, interest, fees, energy, water, land, and bodies go in service to it. They can see it even more clearly than a lot of us in Philly. The places that capital has abandoned are the ones where something else is taking root.”

I had no idea it would resonate so much with people here in PA and around the country, with over 600 likes and 274 shares.

I think for many folks it was an interesting twist on what they initially felt as a disappointing election result. So I wanted to follow up and share some strategy thoughts for people who want to continue on with making an actual political revolution here in PA, that outlasts any one election cycle. These thoughts are based on 25 years of history and current experience with people’s struggles, which I have been involved in since the age of 14.

We need permanently organized communities. That means we need everyday leaders who live near each other and who are connected to each other and committed for the long haul. These cores of leaders then must be connected to other cores locally, regionally, statewide and beyond. Building the power to make the kinds of changes that we need to put people before profits is not going to happen overnight. Mobilizing even large groups of people to one or multiple actions is insufficient to the task of shifting power in society.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to unite poor and dispossessed people across racial lines and all other lines of division; and we need to understand racism and gender oppression One of the most interesting things about my FB post is that although I was critiquing the kind of politics that privileges language learned in elite educational spaces over material conditions and lived experiences, the phrase “white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy” was nevertheless shared hundreds of times. Which is not a bad thing. We who believe in freedom need to understand that the range of different ways poor and dispossessed people experience day to day life in our system are a living legacy of the harmful divide and conquer strategies that began on this land in the 17th century and continued to evolve at the hands of elites from there.

A critical mass of people is rejecting the idea that poverty is a moral failing and realizing that our system itself reproduces poverty. There is tremendous power in finally ridding ourselves of the pox of shame and humiliation that comes with not being able to meet our basic needs whether that’s a new experience or not.

The left/liberal and right/conservative boxes are killing us. At the ground level, the two major political parties use poor and working people at the ballot box and then largely abandon us when the vote is over because they do not actually represent our interests. Spending all of our time faux-fighting people on the “left” or on the “right” is a distraction from understanding that our world is much more oriented toward “top” and “bottom”. We need independent politics.

Study and education are crucial.We have a tendency in our culture to leap before we look and shoot before we aim. We rush into trying to change things before we understand what’s been done before, and what lessons have been learned. If we are serious, not just playing around or tinkering around the edges, then we know what an awesome responsibility it is to try to change the course of history. Would you trust that responsibility to someone who knows nothing of history?

Transforming human relationships through practice. Our society is currently set up to keep people who are dealing with a lot of the same problems in isolation from each other. Not to mention that we have a long history of segregation along lines of “race” and color, we speak different languages, and we have different customs and cultures. Yet we have to manage to get together, not at some fictional point in the future, but as soon as possible. And working together, being together, creating strategy together and taking collective action, is not simple given how fractured we are. It has to be a conscious leadership practice that brings marginalized people into the center, cultivates deep trust and relationship, and helps expand each of our individual circles of concern beyond our immediate family or people who look like us.

For more information on organizations working to be vehicles for these kinds of practices and approaches see:
Put People First! PA
A New Poor People’s Campaign for Today

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Refuge, Reason and Resolve

My mother's grandparents, immigrants from the Levant

Pictured: My mother’s maternal grandparents, immigrants from the Levant (at the time known as “Greater Syria” including what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine/Israel), pre WWI

There is a petition circulating right now in Pennsylvania asking Governor Wolf to reject Syrian refugees. Over 70,000 people have signed it. One of the most frequent reasons petition signers give for their position is that there are hundreds of thousands, millions even, of people in our state who are suffering, and who don’t have what we need. If you signed this petition you may have real concerns about your neighbors, friends and even family members who are trying to make ends meet and dealing with unemployment or underemployment, challenges around housing, healthcare, education or childcare, or caught up in the system in some way.

And you’re right that there are altogether too many people here in Pennsylvania who are struggling. One fifth of our children are living in poverty. We have over 15,000 homeless people, and 50,000 thousand people locked in cages due to mass incarceration. The number of our homeless veterans increased by nearly 50% in the last six years. Nearly one and a half million Pennsylvanians live in poverty. That’s over 1 million/10% of whites and 28.7%/370 thousand African-Americans. A full-time, full-year minimum wage worker earns $15,080 annually, an amount still below the poverty line for a family of four.

However, we have to ask ourselves, are the Syrian refugees the source of these problems? Will not admitting refugees fleeing war and poverty solve the problems that we as poor and working people have in Pennsylvania? Will refusing refugees help homeless veterans? Will it house those who need housing? Will it provide medical care to those who need it? Will it feed the people who need fed? Will it educate the students who need education?

Not only will refusing refugees fail to make any of these situations better, it also won’t create more resources for any of these things – because as we can see, we are already don’t have them. The only way to get what we need is to stop blaming each other and come together. By doing this, we can begin to understand how we got here and what we need to do to change it. We only get what we are organized to take and we aren’t asking for anything but the basics that we need to live. You are right to sense that the priorities of the powers and principalities are not working in your interests. But the refugees are not to blame.

Let us not allow ourselves to be motivated by fear. Let us now allow ourselves to be motivated by despair. Let us not be fooled into thinking that there isn’t enough to go around. Love knows no boundaries and no borders. Let us feel and be motivated by love. And in doing so work for a world in which the last, whomever and wherever they are, shall be first.

Discussion Questions:

Pennsylvania has a flat tax system meaning that whether your family makes $15,000 or $15,000,000 dollars, we are all taxed at the same rate. Do you think that is fair? Why or why not?

Has anyone in your family/anyone you know ever held a job that hurt/polluted themselves, other people, or the air, land, and water? How do you feel about the choices that we have to make to survive?

What is the history of your family? How did your ancestors come to be in the US? Were they brought here by force as enslaved people? Were they immigrants? Refugees? Are they Indigenous people?

Have you or someone in your family gone to war? How did it impact you/them? What were the stated reasons for the war? What were the real reasons?

Sources and further reading:
http://www.pennlive.com/editorials/index.ssf/2010/03/living_below_poverty_in_pennsy.html
http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/map-detail.aspx?state=Pennsylvania
http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/philadelphia/62343-despite-national-trend-more-veterans-homeless-in-pennsylvania

A Persian Quatrain for the Times

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My hands are not clean

You know what I mean

Appearance only matters

Truth is rarely seen

 

We importantly convened

And then our rooms were cleaned

By low-wage workers

That we claim somewhere in our schemes

 

We drank on the patio till late

Local and organic all the food we ate

A chance encounter with a ‘dozer* operator

Was a chance for the self-important to denigrate

 

Our ancestors’ bodies were commodities

Now we treat economics as an oddity

It doesn’t seem to glitter

Like the Ivory Tower scraps we codify

 

Yawning at our own contradictions

Yelling to each other we are above affliction

I write this on a computer

Built in slavery conditions

 

Below immigration trails are money flows

Hatred reigns when competition grows

We reject material reality

To obsess over celluloid woes

 

At base is a question we rarely debate

Who benefits from our acceptance of this fate?

As we play at loyal opposition

We maintain the hegemony of the corporate state

*Bull-dozer

What would freedom be like?

What would freedom be like?

 

“Freedom is never voluntarily given from the oppressor

It must be demanded by the oppressed” – MLK

 

Freedom is connection

Our natural genius would shine

Because it hasn’t been stunted, suppressed, or squelched

It would not be illegal to be homeless

But to allow homelessness to exist

Families can heal and children grow up without shadows

Freedom over our time

Our goal to know what is real

Instead of to produce illusions

My freedom wouldn’t come at the expense of yours

Or yours at my expense

Freedom is trusting our leaders and our neighbors

Because our neighbors are our leaders and we are theirs

As much food as we need (and not more)

As much housing as we need (and not more)

Science and technology are the people’s tools

To solve, to heal, to sustain

Not to perpetuate injustice and inflict harm

Freedom would be curing cancer

Instead of making it an industry

Guaranteed

Health in abundance

No need to escape your town, your hood, your past, your demons

Freedom is the right to beauty

Freedom is when loving is easy and hating is a struggle

The right to water

Determination and faith

Instead of coercion and fear

A mass awakening instead of a mass extinction

Children won’t have the opportunity to learn racism

Or that their mothers aren’t as important as their fathers

Or that they are not as important as adults

Freedom is the right to create, instead of working third shift, rushing all the time

Worth is measured by how much something helps

Freedom is breathing full breaths, unencumbered by asthma, fear of bombs and drones, pollution

True work is serving others

Green is everywhere, not money, but leaves

Humans don’t put humans in cages

Instead of berating ourselves for not thinking like the rich

We could shift our focus on the how to see each other, know each other, trust each other

It would be when assembling, speaking and voting are avenues to real results

Instead of a sorry comfort for our poverty

It would replace halftime shows with cheering for our children

It could never be built on the chains of others, the sweat of others, the soil of others

Freedom is balance

Freedom is the ability to assert our will

To make life on earth not a vicious competition for individual survival,

But a collective endeavor to ensure the survival of our species and our planet

Thinking about Brazil

A year ago today I spent much of the day on planes coming back from 10 glorious days with the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil. I attended their National Congress and spent a few days visiting MST settlements with a delegation put together by the Friends of the MST.

The MST is one of the largest social movements in the world, with over a million members. The movement has won land for over 350,000 families, and has a three part program: reclamation of land, collective production and transformation of society. The movement celebrated its 30th anniversary during the time I was there, and the National Congress functioned as a massive birthday party, agricultural fair, political education school, and a time of strategy, visioning, and building community.

The trip I took one year ago could not have come at a better time for me on my personal/political journey. I am someone who has found myself driven to collective action through my own early life experiences in the context of my family, and an early visceral sense that there were larger forces and structures at play on the people in my household, which were invisible to me at the time. My experiences within organizing communities in Philadelphia and throughout the country have provided both beautiful and extremely painful experiences – sometimes feeling more like the culture of a dysfunctional family than a force for good and liberation.

Over the last few years in particular, I’ve been driven to evaluate and transform myself, and my approach to and practice of organizing, after asking myself the question “If we (loosely defined as those working for social justice) were in charge tomorrow, what would that be like?” and not liking the answers that come to mind.

Over the past 30-40 years, the time period in which I have grown up, have arisen three (to me, inter-related) phenomena: 1) the ascendance of neo-liberalism, 2) the emergence of the non-profit industrial complex and 3) the primacy of organizing based on identity categories. Although we don’t often look at connections between these three developments, it seems more than co-incidence that all three have occurred together. Delving deeply into the implications of this is a subject for another time.

In working to transform my own practice, I have committed to increasing myself awareness through my own healing work. There is a lot of trauma in our people, and the saying “hurt people hurt people” really is true. There is no way to move forward when we are simply acting out trauma onto each other under the guise of organizing.

There are a number of lessons that I drew from Brazil that I’ve committed to incorporating into my own practice:

Collective action should bring us back to life. It must activate us as whole people. What we do must be connected to a long term vision and strategy. It must develop us into better people – not just people who know the right things to say. We must live by a new set of values, not just speak them. We can use the immediate to secure the future – if we prioritize political education. Our work is not sustainable if we organize as individuals – we must organize as families and communities. If we can’t presume to lead our society, and not just people who look like us, then the system that we are working to transform has already won.

For me over the past year this has looked like:

  • Prioritizing 1 on 1 time with leaders
  • Building an organizational culture where values and principles are a focus internally as well as externally
  • Creating a separation between my paid work and my organizing work
  • Seeing individual expressions of oppression as symptoms, not causes
  • Focusing on my own healing work and sharing it in my organizing community

Here’s to a 2015 filled with humanization of our movements.

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That’s how Monessen made me, that’s how my grandparents raised me

I was raised in Monessen, PA.  My maternal grandparents and I lived in a one-floor house on Reeves Avenue, almost at the top of a hill.  There are some huge hills out that way.  My family’s move up the hill from “down-street” (closer to the mills spewing out black smoke, poorer, and lower elevation) was a symbol of slight upward mobility that was afforded by my grandfathers’ lifelong employment at Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel.  My grandmother’s two brothers also worked in the mill (she even did a stint there during World War II when there was a shortage of male workers), and one of her brothers died in the mill, crushed by a molten hot beam.When I was 10 years old, the steel mill closed for good.  When I was 11 my uncle moved us away.  In the 2010 census the population of Monessen was 7,720, down from a high of 20,257 in 1940. Per capita income is now $16,627. My memories of Monessen as a place are fond.  I spent a lot of time outside, we grew our own vegetables, and when I tested into 4th grade at the age of 7 after being homeschooled by my grandmother, I wasn’t the only kid of color or of mixed heritage, not by a long shot.

Over two decades after I left, I reconnected with friends from elementary school on social media.  Many of them are still in Monessen or in the surrounding towns of Donora and Charleroi.  I’ll always love and care about my first friends because I grew up with them.  I notice their positive qualities and I see their shortcomings and challenges through a lens of loyalty, as is customary among friends.  Their way of seeing the world shows up in my news feed.  There are lots of family photos, struggles with health, relationship drama.  Some of them – not all – are angry about recent waves of immigration.  Some don’t like Obamacare much.  Some aren’t in favor of raising the wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour.

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Surprisingly perhaps to you, there’s a lot of resonance between their views and the views of people on my block of row houses in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philly (with the possible exception of a positive, as opposed to negative disposition to Obamacare), in a city of 1.5 million people, with a per capita income of $16,509.  When there are fewer and fewer means to survive, and we don’t have answers that get to the roots of why or a way forward (instead – powerlessness, isolation, scapegoating and false solutions) we tend to become less – not more – magnanimous.   We’re influenced to believe that if we have something it’s because we outdid someone else, and whatever anyone else “gets”, whether that’s a pension, a raise, healthcare, or some form of assistance, it means less for us.   And because we don’t have any guaranteed means to survive or the power to mold the world to our benefit, as our true opponents do, that worldview has a certain logic to it.

I don’t feel the need to apologize for the people that I grew up with any more than the people who live on my block.  To do so would be insulting and dehumanizing.  At the end of the day, my people out in Monessen and Southwest PA are struggling, in a way that is similar to my people on the block.  They are not calling the shots, making laws, creating policy, buying candidates, granting tax breaks, or ruthlessly exploiting our very real and justified fears of survival.

That’s why I’m involved in a movement to create more connections between people who both the politicians and the pundits seem to want to see at odds.  To disrupt the two-sides-of-the-same-coin ideology that makes people in Philadelphia feel fear and loathing for people in Monessen in the same way that people in Monessen are made to feel fear and loathing, instead of closeness and friendship, for us.

I’m a fan of Game of Thrones.  Before the opening credits are over, we get a short lesson in each of the “sigils” of the major houses – the symbols of the people who are vying for power.   Well beneath those who are vying for power are “bannermen” – vassals who owe their service and allegiance to the feudal lords. They get their name because as they ride into battle they carry the banner of their lords – they are, in essence owned and controlled by the interests of this banner.  They do not show up as real actors in the story, but extras who merely serve a function for the ongoing quest for power between different factions of elites.

There are women and men throughout our state of 13 million people that have a capital D or capital R next to their name on the voter rolls.  That designation is the basic thing about their lives that matters to the powers that be.  It’s not all that matters to me.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.  We must love each other and protect each other.  We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur

Pennsylvania: Organizing for the 21st Century

424466_536565646368466_556301599_nOn a recent canvassing day in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, now famous across the country as the home of rogue police chief Mark Kessler, a local mother went door to door surveying residents about their ability to meet their families’ needs to healthcare, housing, education, food, and other basics. 

On one block, when asked about access to quality, affordable healthcare several residents put forward a vision for our health system that the reader might not expect: “They should make it like Canada.”  As in: a publicly funded healthcare system that is free and universal – which goes beyond even what Obamacare will do. 

The resident doing the door-knocking was a Local Organizing Committee Leader with Put People First! PA, a fast-growing organization formed to change what is politically possible in the state of Pennsylvania.

She discovered what doesn’t go viral on social media and what corporate media has no interest in revealing.  There are lots of people outside of big cities in the state of PA (and every state) who might never call themselves “progressive” but when given a chance to talk about their lives, values, struggles, and needs, will respond in ways that defy labels and even party lines.

For every job opening in Pennsylvania, there are four unemployed workers, and another  four under-employed workers who are seeking additional work (State of Working PA, 2011). Is it any wonder that our education system is on the ropes, with 474 out of 501 school districts in the state receiving less than adequate funds? (Education Law Center of PA). The well-organized fight against cuts to education funding in Philly captured major headlines – and despite how the story got framed, Philly wasn’t the only place that stood up. On all of our fundamental needs – jobs, education, housing, healthcare – PA families and communities are hurting across the board.

This is consistent with our society as a whole – where a recent survey revealed that a whopping 80% of adults face near-poverty and unemployment.This despite the fact that the economy, judging by the stock market and financial indicators, has “recovered.”How can the fundamentals of our economic system be so entirely out of step with the lived experiences of the majority of our population? And more importantly, what are we the people going to do about it?

“We’ve known for quite some time that the real fight in this country is at the state capitals. Because in the state capitals, that’s where election laws are passed, educational laws, labor rights. All of those issues grow out of legislation that comes from state capitals,” says Reverend Willie Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP in reference to the Moral Monday protests that have targeted his state’s legislature.  PeopleFirst! PA – the brainchild of seasoned organizers born and raised in PA working in concert with emerging leaders from around the state – operates on the principle that we need a new kind of organizing to change the political landscape at the state level. 

We need an independent base of regular people who are poised to hold politicians on both sides of the aisle accountable, while at the same time understanding the fundamentals of how our economy works.  We need organizing that doesn’t just amass a list and treat people as bodies to turn out for this or that agenda or mobilization, but as leaders who are prepared to connect, align, and foster joint action of those around them.  We need to focus on policy with the understanding that those solutions are really about principles like universality, equity, transparency, participation, and accountability.

August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington and it’s never been more clear that the powers that be rely on race, gender, sexuality, and now immigration status as tools to oppress, divide and control people.   As we move forward we would do well to remember another anniversary – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s announcement of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1967.

“There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…” – MLK

From Philly blocks to Schuylkill County streets, we can feel that freedom and power building in Pennsylvania.  Can you see the new and unsettling force on the horizon?

 

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Put People First! PA is an entirely bottom-up, grassroots effort by and for the people of Pennsylvania.  Please support our work to build the new and unsettling force by making a contribution to our summer crowd-funding campaign.  We are proud to be building our model with our partners including the Vermont Workers Center, United Workers/Healthcare as a Human Right Maryland, the Poverty Initiative/University of the Poor, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, and the Media Mobilizing Project.

My Own Private Vigilante

PSU members and me, 2008It was the spring of 2007 and  my students were amped about the US social forum in Atlanta.  I was the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Student Union and also organizing at Sayre High School in West Philadelphia. My students were so excited and I committed to taking a group of about a dozen students to Atlanta, and then had to set about figuring out how to do that logistically and monetarily.

What began with those students resulted in PSU effectively organizing the bus from Philly to Atlanta for the whole city that would enable us to go. We had to figure out everything and transportation, food and accommodations for all the students and staff members that came along was not easy.

Through some friends I was able to secure housing for all of us in an apartment complex where the residents were going to be away during the time of the forum.  We got in to Atlanta, had to carry our bags to the restaurant where the person with our key was, then truck out to the where we were staying.

It was a trying trip.  A dizzying array of workshops and activities; the Georgia summer heat; I believe I was approached by some kind of undercover agent who started questioning me about Philly groups and people (strange because at the time I was not wearing a social forum badge); and a notebook of mine went missing.  Being right in downtown Atlanta meant that my students’ attention was constantly drawn to the kaleidoscope of tricked out cars with rims, hydraulics, and candy coated gloss constantly riding by on the strip.

One of my student’s birthdays fell during the forum and we got him a cake to celebrate. We were all back at the apartment around midnight, singing happy birthday (quietly I remember, because we were being thoughtful about how late it was) when I heard a knock on the apartment door.  I thought at first that one of the students was pranking me when I looked through the peephole and saw no one there.  I opened the door, looked outside and to my shock saw an armed white male in plain clothes off to the left of the doorframe with his arms extended.  In his hands was a gun pointed toward the ground like you see when cops are getting ready to barge into a situation, and his finger was on the trigger.

I immediately closed the door to put a barrier between him and the young people.  I was thinking about the students circled in the living room on the other side of the door, eating cake and laughing and how I had a duty to protect them and would do so at any and all cost.  Thinking about my body language and tone and not wanting to escalate the situation I began to engage him.  I wanted to be calm yet extremely firm.  “What is going on?” “You can’t be here right now,” he said. I explained that we had permission from the residents of the apartment to use their space for the week.  He said, “This is a private apartment complex and you are not allowed to have so many people staying here.”

We went back and forth for a couple of minutes during which time he put away his gun.  I remained insistent that we were within our rights to be staying in the apartment and made it clear that under no circumstances was he coming inside.   When I asked why he was profiling us he said that someone who lives in the complex had called him.  I think that I remember him saying that he was an off-duty cop.  He ended by telling me that the residents would get a citation and possibly get evicted for having us stay in the apartment.

After he left, I went back into the apartment, shocked and numbed.  I had to tell the young people that a man with a gun had just been standing right on the other side of our front door.  I told them what had happened, that presumably, someone or several people from the apartment complex had called this off-duty cop/vigilante on us because they felt that “we didn’t belong there”, and he took it upon himself to come over and check out what was going on.

I was so angry and made no effort to hide this from the students.  We had to come up with a plan, some kind of response.  After checking in for a few minutes, we decided to go outside.  If they think we don’t belong here, we should show ourselves to them, to contest their cowardly actions, right here right now.  We’re going to show them that we’re not afraid.  So the 12 or so of us, went outside, and stood there.  There was a light rain coming down and it was after midnight, but we stood there, daring the people watching us from inside their apartments between their blinds to come out themselves and meet us, or do something else about it.  But we weren’t going away.

I was angry about the whole situation. I was angry that we had been referred to stay in a place where that would happen to us.  I was angry that the folks who rented the apartment didn’t warn us or give us any concept of what the people living there were like.  I was angry that a vigilante came to our door and came within feet of my students with a fucking gun!

There is no doubt in my mind that we were profiled because of the racial fears of the folks in the apartment building on seeing a group of Black youth in “their” space.  The thing that makes me the angriest and saddest is that not one of those people who were looking at us, watching us, made the effort to introduce themselves or to talk to us and ask us directly what we were doing there. Instead, they called on an armed man to intervene for them.

I’m glad that I was there physically in between the vigilante and my students.  In my (to some) racially ambiguous skin perhaps I was able to elicit a different reaction from this man than if someone else had been at the door.  There is no neat and tidy ending to this story, only an ongoing fierce commitment to act every day on the conviction that #blacklifematters and to consciously dismantle the barriers that keep us from being able to see each other as full human beings.

School crisis: We’re not alone in Philadephia

When we know the names Plainfield, North Annville, Ridgefield, and Village Park as well as we know the names Wilson, Fairhill, Germantown, and University City – and vice versa – we will have a better chance of defeating the people and interests who are destroying the system of universal free public education in Pennsylvania and profiting while doing it.

The momentum generated by students, parents, teachers and school workers over the past year is truly amazing.  The school closings, cuts and “doomsday budget” in Philadelphia have made national news.

Making connections between attacks on public education in major cities around the country, and building unity between directly impacted groups have been keys to the Philadelphia education community’s success in wrestling the narrative away from the corporate reformers and bringing and broader attention to the issue.

The willingness to conquer geography to get to the people who are facing the same conditions is strategic.  The scale at which it is done and who is engaged are crucial.  The pain of austerity, school closings, program reductions and layoffs being directed at our communities through the public education system has been spread around Pennsylvania like thick icing on a cake.  In districts smaller and larger, urban and suburban, among African-Americans, Whites, Latinos and Asian-Americans.  And people have spoken up and spoken out.

Here are just some examples of what has happened around our state in the last five years:

*The Millcreek School Board near Erie voted to close 2 schools – Ridgefield and Vernondale.  Total enrollment in the district is 7,464 students, and the district has only 14 schools, so they are losing 1/7 of their schools.  The district is 96.55% white and it is the county’s 10th largest employer.

*In Northumberland County, Dalmatia and Leck Kill in the Line Mountain School District are to be closed, half of the district’s four schools.

*Pittsburgh School District with 55% African-American, 33% White and 12% Latinos, Asian-American and other students closed 22 of its 76 schools in 2008.

*Allentown School District just announced plans to lay off 99 teachers.  Sixty-five percent of the district’s students are Latino, and the district is the 5th largest employer in the Lehigh Valley.

*As of 2011 it was reported that PA teacher layoffs exceed 4,000, which helped create a budget surplus for the state and which goes into the state’s general fund – not necessarily back into our schools.

*And right in Philadelphia’s backyard a groundswell of parents, students, teachers and community moved to stop cuts in Upper Darby’s schools.

Our collective wealth is being transferred upward, and misappropriated, while children, youth, families, teachers, school staff, and neighborhoods are made to feel the pain.  All the while, the cumulative impact of cuts, layoffs and closings shifts the mental landscape about what a public education means, what our rights are, and what we can reasonably expect.  When something that we urgently need is being taken away so dramatically, it calls into question our worth and value in the society at a deep level.

Pennsylvania’s public schools,  students, workers and communities  are under a coordinated and strategic attack – a grab for resources and power.  It’s outlines are simple – “students” and “taxpayers” are the heroes/victims, unions are the villians, and technocratic and corporate reformers, and privatized educational models are its heroes.  This strategy unites with anyone who agrees with it.  We must build a force that is capable of vying for power and resources too – except we’re not fighting for our profit, but our survival.  Universal free public education for all students, strong worker protections, and a public education system funded and organized around the needs of students, families and communities.