"What does not change / is the will to change"
--Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Connecting the dots

Michele Alexander, an activist on prison issues, meditates in the current issue of The Nation on the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her focus -- on incarceration -- has been too narrow, she says. She has not been "connecting the dots." That, she says, has to change.
In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after the march.
King, whose legacy has been narrowed by a mainstream political order to a single important speech, was more than just a civil rights leader. He was a committed radical, a critic and activist looking not only to end segregation, but to end racism, war and to drastically alter capitalism. He spoke out vociferously against the Vietnam War and stood with black trash haulers in Memphis who were fighting for better treatment and better wages. It was during a visit to Memphis, following one of his most blistering speeches, that he was assassinated.

That sense of justice, Alexander now realizes, means that she must move beyond the narrow lane in which she has been working and that she must become committed to every piece of the fight.

I am still committed to building a movement to end mass incarceration, but I will not do it with blinders on. If all we do is end mass incarceration, this movement will not have gone nearly far enough. A new system of racial and social control will simply be erected in its place, all because we did not do what Dr. King demanded we should: connect the dots between poverty, racism, militarism and materialism.

Here in New Jersey, our major cities are crumbling. Police are being laid off and the schools are a wreck. It is no accident that those cities are majority black and Latino. It is no accident that the major employers have left for the suburbs (or overseas). We encouraged businesses to flea the cities by providing subsidies in the form of both tax breaks and shiny new infrastructure in the new suburbs. And when the businesses fled, seeking better facilities and more space but also starving the cities of funding, we blamed the cities and left them to fester, leaving their residents to deal with failing schools and rising crime.

As the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of King's most famous speech, eliding the most radical parts of it and focusing on a very narrow definition of colorblindness as we patted ourselves on the back for the progress we've made, the president began consideration of another bombing campaign and the city of Trenton was in the throes of a murder spree.

We talked of King and equality, but we avoided real discussion of King's larger vision, of his economic demands and his call to end our military addiction. King knew, as Alexander points out, that all of this is interrelated, and that we must take all of them on if we are to create a more just world.


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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The schools aren't failing. By labeling the schools as failing, it gives the green light to the so-called reformers to close the real public schools, fire the teachers and replace them with charter schools and school vouchers. As an added benefit, for the deformers, the unions will be destroyed. Only a small percentage of the charter schools are unionized. The so called failing schools are located in the poorest and most crime ridden areas of the state. They are not failing schools, they are schools with a whole host of incredible problems that don't exist in the wealthy suburbs like Princeton, West Windsor or Montgomery. Christie claims or he implies that NJ's schools are failing which is a total lie. NJ schools are always in the top tier of schools in the US and often score number 1 in some aspects. The urban schools have serious problems but to say that they are failing is wrong. If there were more wrap around services, counselors and teachers (for smaller class sizes), then things could improve at these troubled schools. The schools have problems because the communities have tremendous problems. For pity's sake, Camden is one of the poorest and most crime ridden cities in the whole country and we are surprised that the schools have serious problems??!? The answer of Christie seems to be to close the public schools, fire the teachers, beat up on the union, humiliate the teachers and open more charter schools, as if they were some kind of panacea.

Anonymous said...

This business about failing schools is so bogus, negative and destructive. Actually the NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) scores have gone steadily up over the decades and NAEP is considered to be the gold standard for assessing education in the US

Anonymous said...

Bush and Obama do have something in common, horrific and abominable education policies. They have forced a very destructive regimen of testing, testing, testing and more testing on the schools. On the basis of these test scores, schools are closed, not improved, and teachers are fired. This is a "good" way to ruin the real public schools so they can be replaced by charter schools and school vouchers which are of very questionable value. Finland is not doing any of these things and its schools are highly regarded worldwide. There's none of this massive over testing crap going on in Finland. No school closings, no war against the teachers, no war against unions. All the teachers are unionized in Finland. Finland has a child poverty rate of about 4% while the US poverty rate is about 23%.

Anonymous said...

For excellent information about schools try the Jersey Jazzman http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/ or Diane Ravitch's blog, http://dianeravitch.net/. They debunk all the reformer and school privatizer propaganda spewed out by Gates, Broad, Klein, Rhee and the rest of the billionaire's boys' club.

Anonymous said...

Diane Ravitch commenting about a review of her new book: "I wish the article had said that the book refutes every claim of the privatization movement; that it provides ample documentation to show that American education is not failing or declining; that it demonstrates that test scores for American students are at an all-time high; that high-school graduation rates are at an all-time high; that dropout rates are at a historic low; and that privatization of public education is bad for our democracy."