Educators on Strike

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In this week’s links round up, we call attention to two sets of workers in the education field who have been organizing, striking, and demanding better working conditions: graduate students and K-12 teachers.

In the past few months, graduate students at various campuses across the nation have been demanding, among other things, better pay and better health insurance. Sometimes, as is the case at Columbia, striking for the right to unionize.

February 2018 Strike by University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employees’ Union

April 2018 strike by graduate student union at Columbia University

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Graduate students have also been voting on different campuses to decide whether to unionize (in 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students are allowed to unionize).

April 2018 vote by Harvard graduate students to unionize

April 2018 vote by Penn State graduate students *not* to unionize

The other group of educators who have been on the news in the past few weeks have been K-12 educators who have gone on strike in various states, sometimes even in defiance of their unions, to protest low pay and school funding cuts.

These first two articles provide helpful background information to the teacher strikes and actions: Paul Krugman’s op-ed argues that the recent history of tax cuts have had a big impact on teachers’ salaries and benefits, leading us to this present moment where “teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs.”  This piece by Bryce Covert talks about how over the past decade, teachers have been asked to do more with less, and how this policy has led to the kinds of strikes we are seeing.

Teacher Pay

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Information about the some of the specific teacher strikes:

West Virginia

Oklahoma and Kentucky

Colorado

Arizona

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in graduate schools and K-12 schools as they organize for change.

 

How now down brown, Take 4: Strategies for change

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We were asked a question about how do we know what strategies for social change are effective and after thinking long and hard about it, the first coherent thought we put together was, “This is such a big, hard question.” There are so many ways to dissect this issue (by strategies, by institutional type, by types of change). The person asking the question was mostly interested in larger, societal change, and not necessarily changes within college campuses or particular institutions so we decided to use this space to think through some of our ideas within that broader framework and offer suggestions for reading and resources about strategies for change.

At the broadest level, when we look at historical social movements, the strategies that seem necessary to make possible change are naming the status quo, interrupting it in visible, audible, material ways, and, to some extent, suggesting possible pathways forward. A lot of times, it’s easy to stop at the naming stage, because we expect that as soon as we name the problem, everyone will get on board with us and brainstorm solutions. But, of course, the status quo is the status quo for a reason: it works, mostly, and for most people. The naming strategy could work for those who benefit from the status quo but are empathetic to those from whom it doesn’t. But that strategy won’t work for those who cannot see or do not care to see the inequities. This is where interrupting the status quo matters because these interruptions make life difficult for those inhabiting and benefitting from the status quo. To be really effective, the interruption has to fit the particular ill being addressed; for example, segregation and policing of public space demands an interruption and eruption onto spaces not thought of as public. Finally, the common critique that is made of social justice movements is that they do not get to that third part–the suggestions of possible ways forward that will lead to substantial changes in the status quo. But, of course, movements often DO have action plans–but they might not be articulated or framed or visible in ways that are legible to those who benefit from the status quo (for example, this critique is leveled at the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, even though there are many concrete policy recommendations made by the group).

With shifts in technology (from broadsides to newspaper to radio to the internet and social media), different ways of gathering support and communicating actions and goals are available. But we’d argue that these changes in technology haven’t shifted the strategies meaningfully. Naming of the ways in which the status quo harms people in our communities still needs to happen publicly. If naming doesn’t receive an institutional response, there still needs to be interruption. Interruption gains strength by numbers. And having suggestions for change allows for the possible imagining of better, more equitable futures.

One great resource to get a sense of the diversity of types of interruptive actions is the Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College (shoutout to Anita’s alma mater!) . You can search the database by protest strategy here and in the various cases, you can find out more about how successful the particular method was. It can be a great resource to learn more about the great range of strategies used around the world to try and effect change. As this database shows, there is no ONE strategy that makes sense for all possible types of changes we are trying to effect in society (well, other than the fact all of these are nonviolent forms of protest.)

Neither of us is a scholar of social movements. But we’ve both participated in them and care deeply about ongoing movements…and from that perspective, we’d caution any of us to not attempt (always) to use the idea of “effectiveness” as the only or most important measure of the value and outcome of specific strategies. Sometimes there is a clear line between action and result, but most of the time, there is not. Rather, actions have ripple effects, and those waves often end up shifting values, hopes, and determinations in any number of unpredictable ways, making for circuitous routes back to the centers of power.

We have a few readings/case studies that we hope will also be useful:

Our colleague Dev Gupta (political science) recently published this great overview of the study of social movements.

Sekou Franklin (2014). After the rebellion: Black youth, social movement activism, and the post-civil rights generation.

Contemporary youth activism: Advancing social justice in the United States (2016). Edited by Jerusha Conner and Sonia M. Rosen.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

 

 

Allyship, solidarity, listening

Image: “We Speak Event, Black Students Alliance, 2007″ by Wing Young Huie

It can be hard for allies to figure out their role is social justice work. On the one hand, allies with privileged identities are asked to listen more, to allow marginalized voices to be in the center, and to be aware of how space they take up. On the other hand, they are asked not to be silent in the face of injustice. They are criticized for not speaking up, for not using their privilege to push for change. They are asked to show up to events to support causes but then are told that just showing up to an event is performative and not real allyship. They are asked to educate themselves and not burden the people they are trying to support but then are also criticized when they take it upon themselves to organize spaces of education that are centered on their role in social justice.

So what’s an ally to do? Both of us have spent quite a bit of time in our offices–with both students and colleagues–working through these contradictions. Oftentimes we leave these conversations feeling like allies are put in untenable positions as they struggle to live a life of social justice.

We do have some ideas, but we want to recognize that this is hard work, and we all make mistakes. (Stay tuned for a fall term post all about our mistakes!) First, we’d say that regardless of how much criticism you get, how well-intentioned you are, or how frustrated you are that you can never do the right thing, you need to remember that your frustrations of being an ally are never as frustrating and difficult as being a marginalized person in society. If you find yourself at a place where you think that you no longer want to support the people or the causes you want to support because you keep getting criticized, perhaps it’s a good time to take a step back and reflect on your motivations.

In his discussion of social justice ally identity development, Keith Edwards notes that an altruistic mindset leads to a situation where allies are unable to be critically self-reflective about their actions because they believe that they are “empowering” those they are supporting.  For Edwards, when allies rely on acceptance and praise from marginalized peoples, they get “easily derailed by critique” from them. (47) Though they aim to be “an exception from the system,” they ultimately perpetuate it.  Similarly, Jamila Lyiscott argues that we need to stop thinking that we are “giving” marginalized people “a voice”; instead, perhaps there are times when we can use our privilege to create spaces where these voices can be heard.

Second, when you know you need to learn, instead of relying on individuals, go to events sponsored by groups that you want to support. Board Members of the group CAUSE (Carleton Alliance of Undocumented Students and allies for Empowerment) spoke in Anita’s class recently about how one way allies can be supportive is by attending events that they organize, such as the events for the Undocumented Awareness Week. They also noted that it would be great if more allies came regularly to their meetings (though they cautioned allies against attending and trying to take over the meeting).

Third, we’ve experienced that sometimes viewing oneself as a “good ally” actually gets in the way of the work that one needs to do in allyship with individual people. We’ve both been in conversations with male friends who identify as feminist and, yet, when we critique their actions or what they say in a particular moment, they have heard us as challenging their self-identity as the “good guys.” The result has been frustrating circular conversations where we become the bad ones and they get to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or words. #notallmen but really yes, ALL men.

Most importantly for both of us, being an ally means listening. We talk about this a lot because we think about it a lot, and we both continue to learn how to listen well. Listening without reacting (Adriana says: “with an open heart and mind” and Anita says, “oh geez. Cheesy!”)  when someone tells you that a term or a framework you’re using reinforces, rather than challenges, unequal power relationships and unjust structures, policies, and practices can be difficult. We thought that a recent episode of “Politically Reactive” provided a beautiful model for how to react when you’re called out on something you’ve said. On a previous episode (“Political Analyst Angela Rye Calls It Like It Is”), the hosts, W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu, had used the term “spirit animal” and in this episode (“Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl on Rad American Women”), they spoke about how listeners criticized their use of the term as a cultural appropriation of Native culture. They not only apologized, they also talked to Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Native scholar who has the amazing blog, Native Appropriations, to get more information about their mistake. [Added bonus: On that same episode, their interview with  writer Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl who created the illustrated children’s books, “Rad American Women A-Z” and “Rad Women Worldwide” includes a discussion towards the end about white feminists and male feminists, which is relevant to our discussion about allyship.]

In other words, listening means not being defensive about past actions or words and leaning into the learning that now you need to do as an ally.

Speaking of listening, we appreciate all of your feedback, emails, and comments–both online and offline. Our goal has always been to create spaces of dialogue and learning, and we look forward to coming back in the fall with a number of posts that should continue this work. We have a line up of topics that include: the politics of language; what might coalition politics demand from us in terms of kindness and patience from all sides?; how do we not get so mired in attention to structure and system that we head towards activist paralysis? what are women of color alums’ experiences of Carleton and how has Carleton helped to shape their lives?

Happy summer full of reading, reflecting, revelry, and righteous action!

References

Keith Edwards. (2006). “Aspiring social justice ally identity development: A conceptual model.” NASPA journal, 43(4), 39-60.