Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2005
Following in the Footsteps of MLK: Education is a Civil Right
By Douglas MacDonald, Community-Labor Alliance Dmacdonald94591@yahoo.com
I AM THE SON AND a grandson of high school English teachers. My family has
over 35 years of public school teaching to their credit. My daughter is a
2004 Benicia High School Graduate and I am the product of public schools.
I, like many others moved to Benicia, CA not just for its fine weather and
water views but for her schools. In fact, my wife and I invited her sister
and two children to come live with us while her husband, who joined the army
out of economic desperation, endures his tour of duty in occupied
You see, the schools in Hawaii, where they are based, are so bad, that we
urged her to come live with us, save some money and enjoy our schools.
Little did any of us realize the magnitude of not only Benicia's scholastic
crisis, but of Vallejo's, Oaklandıs and scores of other communities across
California and this Nation. The Benicia School Board just decided this
past Friday to close the school my niece attends.
Our schools funding crises is simply a reflection of the larger economic
crises that defunds our critical social infrastructure while at the same
time implementing massive corporate tax cuts and bloating military budgets.
In the face of these attacks, our local officials offer us nothing but hand
wringing at best and hatchet wielding at worse.
To focus merely just on ones own district or cityıs educational crises and
pretend that the crises is not national in scope and deserves a national
solution is dangerous and self-defeating. We will never be able to
adequately address this crises without brining in the larger regional, state
and national perspective. Yes, we must confront problems in our own
backyard, but when the neighborhood is burning down, it would be wiser to
work with ALL of your neighbors to put out the fire.
There are few short term solutions other than raising local taxes via ballot
initiatives. Yet, these ballot initiative beyond stealing precious recourses
and time, rarely pass and when they do, they are regressive property taxes
on the citizenry rather then progressive taxation of corporate wealth.
Local parcel taxes are a false promise as they ameliorate only local
conditions at best leaving the larger and poorer population in the lurch.
Yes, I supported the last parcel tax in my home town as its passing would
have prevented the closure of my nieceıs school, the funding of dozens of
programs and the saving of teachers pay and healthcare. Yet, I could never
again support a parcel tax because of their fundamentally regressive and
provincial nature. There is more than enough wealth not only in Benicia,
but California and this Nation to fund free quality education and healthcare
for every single person.
Our hands are tied via prop 13 which requires any new taxes not implemented
by the legislature to be passed with a 66.7% super-majority. So even when a
majority of the population chooses to tax either themselves or corporate
wealth, they cannot. Moreover, state government and ballot initiatives are
largely manipulated and controlled by corporate interests. We have seen
several populist initiatives both on the local and statewide level on issues
like healthcare and the environment, defeated by money pouring in from Wall
Street and local big business.
Yet, we still have the capacity to achieve stunning victories like:
integration, the 40 hour week, employer paid healthcare, the lunch break,
etc. None of these victories were gained simply through parliamentary
politics or disconnected local actions. These victories were forged through
struggle by the efforts of thousands of parents, students and workers
joining together to demand justice.
Our local school districts operate like little serfdoms with each community
tilling its own soil trying to grow an educated population. But we know
that some serfs had better soil and others have poorer soil simply because
of where they were born. As long as serfs fought among themselves over
their landlords crumbs they continued to live in servitude, alienated from
their natural ally, their neighbor. The serfs only became free when they
realized that when they worked together, planting and harvesting the entire
field, together, they produced a better and larger bounty with less effort.
Together they achieved more than working separately. They achieved their
In summary, the defunding of education and healthcare should be answered
with defiance, not cuts. To insist on working solely within the system of
local school board meetings, lobbying and initiatives is to accept defeat as
the system is rigged to the favor of the status quo - - the status quo which
says schools should be closed, oil refineries should earn billions in excess
profits and wars should be paid for on the backs of our children.
Martin Luther King Jr. would have never integrated the Montgomery, Alabama
bus system through ballot initiatives or meeting with area politicians or
founding private foundations. King and the thousands of other parents,
teachers and workers, who took part in the Civil Rights struggle, knew that
the racist and bigoted system that controlled local, state and national
governments would never be opened via traditional parliamentary procedures.
Hence, marches, pickets, strikes and sit-ins were used and successfully
pressured the status-quo from the outside, to change. The institutional
opposition King faced to integration is similar in nature to the ax-wielding
and school closing efforts of local and national politicians and school
boards. Remember sometimes the best defense turns out to be the best
offense. We must organize to stop all closures and demand more funding
locally, state-wide and nationally.
We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the suffering of our
neighbors and their children. Our strength and the solution to this crises
rests upon us working together. Specifically, I ask you to consider joining
with members of the Vallejo Teachers Association, Oakland Education
Association, the California School Employees Association (CSEA-Vallejo),
Service Employees International Union (SEIU 250), parents, students and the
Community-Labor Alliance in organizing a regional ³Unity Rally to Stop
Attacks on Education and Healthcare.²
Any support committee or foundation must focus resources on supporting our
teachers and students from attacks by Sacramento and Washington. Funds
provide should be used to support local participation in a coordinated
regional, state and national campaign to fully fund education and healthcare
and fight back. The idea of creating foundations simply to solve local
problems will only create worse problems for us all by polarizing and
fragmenting our neighborhoods and society and sapping the collective
strength we must bring to bear to end these attacks once and for all.
There are solutions. The money to fund our educational system exists, the
will to claim that wealth, as of yet, does not. Parents, teachers, students
and workers must join together not only for support and solidarity but to
work together to fight back. We need look no further than the mirror upon
which we gaze each morning to see our solution. We are the ones we have been