With protests against a war with Syria apparently paying off, is a transformational moment upon us?
Now we must focus on one of the fundamentals for the advancement of all societies, and certainly a foundation for the development of all movements - youth organizing for better education and a more just world.
When we think back to other successful movements in the US and around the world, youth have been a key force as they challenge old ideas and bring energy to new ones.
We saw the beginning of the youth movement in Occupy, which, while multigenerational, was energized by youth mistreated by two decades of government that cut services and privatized everything for the benefit of the wealthy. The result for the youth of today is high tuition and college debt, privatized and corporatized education, professors who juggle insecure adjunct teaching with other jobs rather than being tenured with academic freedom, and an employment market that promises low wages and insecurity. This all adds up to a well-justified youth revolt.
The success of stopping a war, and the activism among America's youth, among other signs, is showing that we may be at one of those moments in history during which a dramatic political shift is occurring. We may be in the midst of major change, and not even realize it, as so often transformations are only evident when they are behind us.
There is a growing resistance around education and youth issues.
The defunding of public educational institutions and increasing privatization (and corporatization) of our schools is part of the neo-liberal economic agenda. Neo-liberal refers to the loosening of regulation and openness to privatization. This defunding has resulted in record high tuitions and debts for college students.
In addition to that, the growing wealth inequality and poverty caused by our economic system, which continually funnels wealth to the top, are two of the top reasons why our educational outcomes are so poor. If we care about creating an educated population, then students must have adequate housing, food and health care, and parents must have time with their children rather than slaving at multiple jobs and juggling their lives to make ends meet. We wonder if we will see events soon like what occurred in one area of Spain that is very poor; where parents raided a department store for school supplies and invited the press to watch.
Good quality education in the United States, including affordable post-high school education, is no longer treated as a right and a responsibility of the government to guarantee. Like so many other public services, education has become a profit center, a commodity. From teacher training materials and textbooks to tests, preparatory programs for those tests, charter schools and student loans, every opportunity to make a buck is exploited, no matter the human cost. Schools are also being used by the wealthy to advance particular political agendas as Lynn Schusterman, the wealthy widow of an oil and gas tycoon, is doing by funding pro-Israel programs within Teach For America. People are becoming more aware that Teach For America is a dangerous scam. Indeed, graduates, alumni and current teachers of the program are organizing against it.
The good news is that many people have reached the boiling point and are engaging in the work of reclaiming education and their integrity as teachers, students and parents. At every level, people are talking and writing about what education should be and could be. Some are fighting the corporatization of education through protest and others are building new institutions that are rooted in participatory democracy. This is part of rebuilding the commons to counter the predatory market economy, as we recently described.
The protest movement for equal access to high-quality education for everyone has been particularly strong this year. We watched throughout the summer as parents, students and teachers from coast to coast fought the closing of schools, which is happening primarily in low income and minority neighborhoods, with occupations and marches, particularly in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Now the students in Chicago are organizing by creating a student union in order to have a voice in decisions that affect them. They hope to eventually have members in every public school in Chicago. And parents have joined the struggle to stop standardized testing from dominating the curriculum and being used against schools.
One sign that the transformation of education has reached a tipping point is the tremendous response to a new group of 27,000 self-identified Bad Ass Teachers that promises to take the struggle to a higher level of resistance. Their mission statement reads: "This association is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning."
You can follow what the Bad Ass Teachers are doing through their Facebook page.
Perhaps the place where the teachers who are the most Bad Ass live right now is Mexico. The president there is pushing a No Child Left Behind-type agenda, and the teachers aren't standing for it. They have been on strike and protesting by the thousands since Aug. 19. They've blockaded a road to the airport and closed other forms of transportation, and they recently occupied a plaza in Mexico City.
College-age youth are organizing across the country, recognizing that the same ideas behind the much-hated No Child Left Behind system are being pushed on higher education. They see the Obama administration focusing on measurable outcomes, like graduation rates, without addressing the deeper issues of funding, tuition, debt, adjunct professors and access.
Students at Cooper Union in New York City continue their struggle to bring the school back to its hundred-year mission of free education for all. They've formed a working group to study an alternative solution rather than charging tuition, and the Rev. Billy is giving them a hand. The value of free education to society is far-reaching, as this student writes, because it makes education possible for those who have a deep desire to learn but lack the funds to pay for it.
Several schools saw the year start with protests against the twin evils of corporatism and militarism. In Ontario, students attended an orientation event to bring the entering class' attention to issues affecting students. They were removed despite the fact that plenty of groups marketing goods to the students were allowed to stay. At CUNY, students and faculty greeted their new faculty member, Gen. David Petraeus, with protest. Petraeus was offered a salary of $200,000 to teach one three-hour class a week - a real slap to the hardworking adjunct professors. And recently, the University of Denver gave former President G. W. Bush a Global Service Award, although thousands from the university signed a petition opposing his nomination. A protest was held outside the hotel where the award ceremony took place.
Militarism has infected many academic institutions, and is pervasive throughout our society, so it is great to see awareness of this by students. Stopping our endless wars will require a culture shift that values and celebrates those who empower our society, such as youth and teachers, rather than glorifying those who kill for corporate profit, as the military does. We will have to stop the economic draft as well. One place to start is by organizing in schools against militarism and military recruitment.
It really feels like we are at a turning point. As Medea Benjamin said in a recent Resistance Report with Acronym TV, "People from many backgrounds came together to stop a war." It is getting harder to fool the public. Our eyes are open."
As usual, there is a lot going on in the resistance movement around the United States and globally, we can never cover it all in one column. If you visit PopularResistance.org and look at the first few pages of stories, you will get a good sense of the strong work being done by many different groups on continuing the fight for justice for Chelsea Manning, formerly knownn as Bradley, to protecting the environment from extreme energy extraction and toxic pollution; and battles for worker rights and ending the injustice of Guantanamo.
The movement is having an impact. Stopping a war, even temporarily, is the most obvious sign.
This article was produced by PopularResistance.org in conjunction with AlterNet. It is based on PopularResistance.org's weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement. The story first appeared at alternet.org.
Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are participants in PopularResistance.org. They also co-direct It's Our Economy and are co-hosts of Clearing the FOG, shown on UStream TV and heard on radio. They tweet at @KBZeese and MFlowers8.