The struggle against closing school in Oakland is the fight for the soul of a city. Oakland. Home of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an early progressive union led by Ron Dellum’s father. Home of the 1946 General Strike. Home of the Black Panther Party. Home of Boots Riley and the Coup. The Pointer Sisters. MC Hammer. The third largest port in Califonia controlled by the ILWU, by far and away the most progressive union in the country.
As most people know by now, the Oakland school board is being forced by the state of California to close 12 schools, serving primarily BIPOC students, Like Leonard Cohen, everybody knows. Everybody knows that such actions are both the cause and effect of what is euphemistically called “gentrification.” Ethnic cleansing is perhaps too strong a term, but the underlying racism is the same.
Since the manufacturing sector of our economy has moved to China, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Haiti, the primary engine of the economy is real estate development. The banks, the developers, and the construction industry are salivating over Oakland with its perfect weather and its impoverished population. Moving people out of Oakland is not that difficult when you have your hands on the reins of power. Build luxury housing. Refuse to build affordable housing. Raise rents through the roof. Subsidize an Airbnb industry, and, wait for it, close schools in BIPOC neighborhoods. This isn’t rocket science,
But one factor the real estate industry has failed to take into account: the people of Oakland. It looks to me that we are having a moment. The people of Oakland are about to rise up against the billionaire class’ attempt to colonize Oakland. They forgot this is our town.
One thing we need to understand: the politicians driving these school closings are at the state level, not the local school board, as spineless and collaborationist though they may be. The order to close schools is coming from FCMAT, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, a shadowy group of whites from Bakersfield, hired by the Governor’s Department of Finance to close black and brown schools. They have flowery technical language to cover up their real purpose, but results reflect intentions. We see you FCMAT! We see you, Gavin Newsom.
How this struggle could play out: We organize the hell out of the schools threatened with closing. We assume the attitude that these schools, like all schools, belong to people in the building – the students, the teachers, the support staff – and the surrounding community. I am hopeful that the schools will take this opportunity to create the schools that could actually work – not as hard as it sounds. The way to make any school work is simply to empower the people in the building to address their mutual needs. If we were able to harness the latent talent of the school community, I think people, without the authoritarian direction of the closing-obsessed district, its rigid curriculum and “standards,” will create schools based on the relationships of that community. And if the people in the building adopt the attitude of doing whatever it takes, I’m betting they will succeed. Not necessarily in raising test scores, a bogus goal to begin with. But to share their skills with each other so that everyone can flourish, a better word than “succeed.”
It’s a moment when we can stop gentrification.We can link the schools struggle to the attempt to destroy the port via the Howard Terminal luxury condo/stadium development. John Fisher, the architect of this rapacious land grab, made his billions on selling clothes made in Bangladesh and invests it in one of the most authoritarian of the charter school models, KIPP. How dare this greedy fat-cat invest his millions on a playground for millionaires while there are 5000 homeless in the street! If you want to help Oakland, John, house the unhoused, all of them.
Back in the day (2011-12), Occupy Oakland shut the city down for a day by marching to the port and enlisting the support of the ILWU. I’m picturing something like Occupy, but based in the working-class students, parents, and teachers of the schools they’re trying to close and, unlike Occupy, with specific demands. Maybe we can shut the city down until they meet those demands.
1. Stop school closures
2. Stop Fisher’s Howard Terminal land grab
3. Abrogate the school district’s debt
4. Fund the schools sufficiently so they work
5. House the unhoused
6. Reparations for black and brown families hurt by redlining and other gentrification policies
Something like that. The reclaiming of our city, of our society, has to start somewhere.
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