New Issue of Rethinking Schools: On Wisconsin!

Rethinking Schools Spring 2011 issue features the uprising in Wisconsin, teaching about the most dangerous rock in the world, and a special address by Chicago poet Patricia Smith:

Keepers of the Second Throat: Illustration by Melanie Cervantes

Click here for “Keepers of the Second Throat.”

As a special introduction to our website, the text of the entire spring issue of Rethinking Schools is accessible here, free of charge. If you aren’t already a member of Rethinking Schools, we hope a look at the exciting and thought-provoking articles in this issue will inspire you to join.

Educators need to begin to treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves as arguably the most significant threat to life on earth. In this issue of Rethinking Schools, we explore why there is so little teaching or discussion of climate change in classrooms and suggest paths forward.

Walmart: Are Aliens Invading? — Barbara Ehrenreich in The American Prospect

[In this month of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire it is worth remarking that Walmart locks its doors to keep “graveyard shift” employees in overnight.]

If Wal-Mart is a person, as the Supreme Court contends, it’s a behemoth terrorizing the countryside. But when it comes to workers’ rights, it remains curiously immune from lawsuits.

Barbara Ehrenreich | March 29, 2011 | web only in American Prospect

Wal-Mart -- It's Alive!
(Flickr/James Moore)

What is Wal-Mart — in a strictly taxonomic sense, that is? Based on size alone, it would be easy to confuse it with a nation: In 2002, its annual revenue was equal to or exceeded that of all but 22 recognized nation-states. Or, if all its employees — 1.4 million in the U.S. alone — were to gather in one place, you might think you were looking at a major city. But there is also the possibility that Wal-Mart and other planet-spanning, centi-billion-dollar enterprises are not mere aggregations of people at all. They may be independent life-forms — a species of super-organisms.

This, anyway, seems to be the takeaway from the 2010 Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court, in a frenzy of anthropomorphism, ruled that corporations are actually persons and therefore entitled to freedom of speech and the right to make unlimited campaign contributions. You may object that the notion of personhood had already been degraded beyond recognition by its extension, in the minds of pro-life thinkers, to individual cells such as zygotes. But the court must have reasoned that it would be discriminatory to let size enter into the determination of personhood: If a microscopic cell can be a person, then why not a brontosaurus, a tsunami, or a multinational corporation?

But Wal-Mart’s defense against a class action charging the company with discrimination against its female employees — Dukes v. Wal-Mart — throws an entirely new light on the biology of large corporations. The company argues that with “7 divisions, 41 regions, 3400 stores and over one million employees” (in the U.S., as of 2004, when the suit was first launched), it is “impossible” for any small group of plaintiffs to adequately represent a “class” in the legal sense. What with all those divisions, regions, and stores, the experiences of individual employees are just too variable to allow for a meaningful “class” to arise. Wal-Mart, in other words, is too big, too multifaceted and diverse, to be sued.

So if Wal-Mart is indeed a person, it is a person without a central nervous system, or at least without central control of its various body parts. There exist such persons, I admit — whose brains have lost command over their voluntary muscles — but they are in a tiny minority. Surely, when the Supreme Court declared that corporations were persons, it did not mean to say “persons with advanced neuromuscular degenerative diseases.”

For those who have never visited more than one Wal-Mart store, let me point out that the company is not a congeries of boutiques run by egotistical retailing divas. True, there are detectable differences between stores. Some feature Wal-Mart’s indigenous “Radio Grill,” famed for its popcorn chicken; others offer McDonald’s or Subway. But other than that, every detail, from personnel policies to floor layout, is dictated by corporate headquarters in Bentonville.

An example: In 2000, I worked for three weeks in the ladies’ wear department of a Wal-Mart in Minnesota. (Full disclosure: This makes me part of the class now suing Wal-Mart for sex discrimination, though the possibility of an eventual payout in the high two-figure range has not, I think, influenced my judgment on these matters.) In the course of my work, I made a number of sensible suggestions to my supervisor — for example, that the plus-size women’s jeans not be displayed at what was practically floor-level, where plus-size women could not reach them without requiring assistance to regain altitude. Good idea, my supervisor said, but it was up to Bentonville to determine where the jeans, like all other items, resided.

Much has changed since my tenure at Wal-Mart. The company has struggled to upgrade its image from sweatshop to a green and healthful version of Target. It has vowed to promote more women. But one thing it hasn’t done, as far as anyone knows, is to reconfigure itself as an anarchist collective. Bentonville still rules absolutely, over both store managers and “associates,” which is the winsome Wal-Mart term for its chronically underpaid workers, some of whom report that they are still being forced to work off the clock, for no pay at all, just as I found in 2000.

So if Wal-Mart is a life-form, it is an unclassifiable one, at least in ordinary terrestrial terms. It eats, devouring acre after acre and town after town. It grows without limit, sometimes assuming new names — Walmex in Mexico, Asda in the U.K. — to trick the unwary. Yet in its defense in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart suit, Wal-Mart claims to have no idea what it’s doing. This could be a metaphor for capitalism or perhaps a sign that a successful alien invasion is in progress. The only thing that’s for sure is, should the Supreme Court decide in favor of Wal-Mart, we’ll have a lot more of these creatures running around: monstrously oversized “persons” who insist that they can’t control their own actions.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of several books, including Nickel and Dimed and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Lifting the Veil: The Democratic Party As The Graveyard Of Social Movements

Lifting the Veil: Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy

“Lifting the Veil is the long overdue film that powerfully, definitively, and finally exposes the deadly 21st century hypocrisy of U.S. internal and external policies, even as it imbues the viewer with a sense of urgency and an actualized hope to bring about real systemic change while there is yet time for humanity and this planet. See this film!”
-Larry Pinkney
Editorial Board Member & Columnist
The Black Commentator

Sub-headed “Barack Obama and the failure of capitalist democracy”, this film explores the historical role of the Democratic Party as the “graveyard of social movements”, the massive influence of corporate finance in elections, the absurd disparities of wealth in the United States, the continuity and escalation of neocon policies under Obama, the insufficiency of mere voting as a path to reform, and differing conceptions of democracy itself.

Original interview footage derives from Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Michael Albert, John Stauber (PR Watch), Sharon Smith (Historian), William I. Robinson (Editor, Critical Globalization Studies), Morris Berman (Author, Dark Ages America), and famed black panther Larry Pinkney.

Non-original interviews/lectures include Michael Hudson, Paul Craig Roberts, Ted Rall, Richard Wolff, Glen Ford, Lewis Black, Glenn Greenwald, George Carlin, Gerald Cliente, Chris Hedges, John Pilger, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Wollin and Martin Luther King.

Visit for more info.

May Day, 2011, Chicago: A Time To Remember, A Time To Dream A New World

[On this, the 125th Anniversary of Haymarket, it is appropriate and exciting to find all the work being done to rededicate the monuments where the martyrs are buried.  We are delighted to share the list of activities shown below.  May Day is the time of year when workers celebrate, “the only truly universal day of all humanity,” as Eduardo Galeano wrote in The Book of Embraces.  It is also the time of year when the workers movement comes together to evaluate where we are, and what are the tasks that face us.  It should be transparently clear that corporations, in the name of defending their private property, are slicing away all the gains made in this country since the first general strikes of 1876, the legacy of the end of the Civil War and the precursor to Haymarket.  Every great movement for human liberation in the United States can be traced back to these two fundamental processes:  the movement to overturn slavery and the workers’ movement.  It is the singular characteristic of our time to see these two great torrents of liberation fuse in a desperate awakening of a new class ejected from public as well as private employment by bloodless, robotic technology. The end of the American Civil War was indeed a nodal point in our history, marked by a change from an agricultural to and industrial economy and reflected by a shift in political parties to the domination of the industrial and financial sectors in those parties.  It took another 70 years and two World Wars for the financial sector’s domination to establish itself and another political party shift to take place.  Now, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, another nodal shift is taking place.  It has been a long, difficult process of technological innovation.  Many times before the utopian cry of productivity reducing the need for labor has been raised, only to be lost in the expansion of capitalism and new markets.  But what to do when the global market has been saturated and “demand” — expressed in money available for purchase of commodities — has dried up? When the electronic manifestations of workers that we call “robots” do not need clothes, housing or food?  These are the trenchant May Day 2011 discussions that need to be held as we evaluate the legislative attacks on workers throughout the country, emanating from what has become known as the rust belt.  May Day is time to think strategically! — Lew Rosenbaum]

Schedule of May Day Activities

April 7 3:00 PM Gage Gallery 18 s. Michigan. Forum on 100th anniversary of Triangle Shirtwast Fire in New York. Textile organizing and unionization grow out of Chicago Struggle.

April 9th 3:00 Pm. Chicago Temple Washington and Clark. New New Deal Forum with John Conyers on Full employment legislation.

April 12 7:00pm Oak Park Public Library Forum on meaning of restoration of Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Forest Park.

April 27th 6:00pm. Haymarket Brewery and Pub at Randolph and Halsted . Film Screening of Sacco and Vanzetti

April 28th 5:30 pm Newberry library. Forum and debate and reception with labor movement lawyers the American Constitution Society and others discussing Haymarket to the present.

April 29th 5:30 pm Gage Gallery Reception for International Trade unionists and public and release of new publication of The Day Will Come by Mark Rogovin and viewing of his fathers photos, Milton Rogovin.

April 30th, 2pm. Plaque dedication at Haymarket Square at Randolph and DesPlaines by Illinois Labor History Society and re enactment of the Haymarket Tragedy at the site followed by gathering of all who wish to come to Haymarket Brewery at Halsted and Randolph.

May 1, 1 pm, World wide gathering to celebrate 125th anniversary of the Haymarket and the restoration of the Monument in Forest Park featuring AFL-CIO secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler and other dignitaries.

May 1, 7PM  Old Town School of Folk Music concert titled Music and Rebellion with Bucky Halker, his band, and some international groups. Tickets are 15 dollars.

Teachers Union Claims Victory; So Does the School Board; Substance News Clarifies the Confusion

LEGAL VICTORY FOR TEACHERS’ RIGHTS IN CHICAGO… Seventh Circuit affirms Chicago teachers’ tenure rights as property rights … but CPS press release claims the decision vindicates the Board’s side!

George N. Schmidt – March 29, 2011

CHICAGO. MARCH 29, 2011. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision on March 29, 2011, affirming the contention by the Chicago Teachers Union that teachers who were laid off by the Board during the summer of 2010 because of what the Board called an “economic layoff” had tenure rights, a property right. The decision affirms a lower court ruling in favor of the teachers and orders the Board to comply. However, by evening on the day the decision was issued, the two sides were in a major disagreement about what precisely the decision requires the Board to do in relation to the hundreds of teachers who are still out of their jobs as a result of the massive layoffs of the summer of 2010.

The extensive 35-page decision upholds the union’s contention that the teachers laid off between June and September 2010 had a property right, because they had tenure, and that the Board therefore had the responsibility to have rules governing both the layoffs and the rehirings.

The Board of Education contended that because it claimed a controversial “economic emergency” (affirmed by the Board at a special meeting on June 15, 2010) it did not have to honor the tenure rights of the teachers it wanted to get rid of, nor did it have to rehire those teachers. By the end of the summer of 2010, the Chicago Board of Education, at the time under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman, laid off more than 1,300 veteran teachers. Within four months, the Board had hired more than that number of novice teachers, ignoring hundreds of those who had been the victims of the earlier layoffs in its hiring following the opening of schools in September 2010  [Read more here]

Memo to Chicago School Board: Stop Violating Teachers’ Due Process Rights

Tenure Rights Restored in Chicago

03/29/2011 from the CTU web site

Teachers won an important battle in the war for quality schools today. The right for teachers to due process in terminations–tenure–has been restored. President Lewis urged CPS to take this opportunity to begin building trust with its teachers and PSRPs by implementing a fair recall policy immediately as ordered by the court today. CPS fired 1,300 teachers and 500 PSRPs last summer.

“We hope that the nation is watching,” said President Lewis.  “The concerted efforts in Wisconsin, Florida, Indiana and here in Illinois to turn teaching into a low-wage, high-turnover job cheats students and only serves business interests that want education on the cheap.   Experience counts and we must value the expert knowledge that comes with that experience once again.  All students deserve the most highly-qualified, experienced teachers available.”

Today’s decision upholds the October ruling by the U.S. District Court which ordered the Board to:

(1) rescind the discharge of tenured teachers, giving fired teachers the opportunity to be part of the recall process once established,

(2) develop a recall policy, and

(3) forbid the Board from any similar unlawful discharges in the future.

According to CTU lawyer Tom Geoghegan, “This is the second court in a little over five months to rule that the Board of Education has fired hundreds of teachers in violation of their constitutional rights.  We think the Board should end this litigation now and establish a recall policy consistent with the weighted criteria in the Illinois School Code and return these unlawfully fired teachers to their jobs.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador: On The Anniversary of His Assassination, March 24 1980

[Today’s Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales explores the meaning of President Obama’s trip to Latin America with Allan Nairn.  Nairn is an historian whose writing exposed the connection between the United States and the Salvadoran death squads and, specifically, with the asassination of Archbishop Romero.  It was 31 years ago today that the Archbishop was killed by the death squads.  Six days later, at his funeral, a quarter of a million people defied the dictatorship and gathered to pay homage to the murdered priest.  Snipers on rooftops opened fire killing 42 people.  In the decade before the assassination, rebel groups in El Salvador came together to form various coalition organizations within which opposition to the government could be expressed.  Militarily this was coordinated through the (underground and, of course, illegal) Farabundo Martin Front for National Liberation (FMLN).  The most effective legal organization was called the BPR, or the Bloque Popular Revolucionario.  Within the BPR the trade unions played a very significant role.  Within the revolution in Central America as a whole, poetry played a vital role: witness the dedication of martyrs Otto Rene Castillo in Guatemala and Roque Dalton in El Salvador itself.  We commemorate the death of Oscar Romero as we remember the role that art and artists have always played as part of the revolution, as part of workers movements.

The story below was published a year ago on the 30th anniversary of Romero’s brutal murder. Click here to read the transcript/view the Democracy Now Video — Lew Rosenbaum]

Joseph A. Palermo

Joseph A. Palermo

Author/Associate Professor of History

Posted: March 24, 2010 11:22 AM HuffingtonPost

Archbishop Oscar Romero: Thirty Years and Little Learned

Thirty years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated in the early evening at the tiny church, Divina Providencia. The day before he was killed, at the Cathedral of San Salvador, he had ended a sermon with words he directed at Salvadoran soldiers and police:

“I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

A single shot rang out and pierced Romero’s heart. As he bled to death those around him believed they knew what forces in Salvadoran society were responsible for the crime. Church and human rights groups recognized the killing as the familiar work of right-wing death squads. The Washington Post and other U.S. news outlets reported that Romero’s assassination might have been the work of “leftist” rebels.

Archbishop Romero had sent several letters to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to stop all U.S. aid to what he considered a murderous regime. The day after Romero’s funeral, which itself was marred by violence when armed men in plainclothes fired into a crowd of mourners, Carter approved an increase in “non-lethal” U.S. aid to the Salvadoran government, which included cargo trucks, radar, riot control gear, and night-vision tracking equipment. Three days before he left office, Carter lifted the ban on U.S. arms sales to El Salvador.

When President Ronald Reagan came to power he poured even larger amounts of arms and money into the Salvadoran civil war making El Salvador the single largest recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America. Military assistance went from $5.9 million in fiscal year 1980 to $35.5 million in 1981, and then to $82 million the following year. During this same period, economic aid to El Salvador went from $58.3 million in 1980 to $114 million in 1981, and then to $182.2 million in 1982. [Americas Watch]

In the U.S. Senate, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who was then the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, heaped high praise on Salvadoran Major Roberto D’Aubuisson and his men for being staunch allies in the fight against communism. Senator Helms’s blandishments came despite evidence that suggested elements of D’Aubuisson’s paramilitary organization were possibly responsible for murdering Romero. The career diplomat, Robert White, who was Carter’s ambassador to El Salvador called D’Aubuisson and his armed supporters “pathological killers.”

The killing in El Salvador escalated after Romero’s death. In late 1981, when reports surfaced that the U.S.-backed “Atlacatl Battalion” of the Salvadoran Army massacred peasants near the village of El Mozote, both the Salvadoran government and the Reagan Administration denied it happened. The El Mozote massacre had left 767 men, women, and children dead.

Americas Watch, the nonprofit human rights organization that monitors Latin America, estimated that in El Salvador right-wing death squads tied to the government’s security services were responsible for killing 30,000 people. And in 1991, a “truth commission” sponsored by the United Nations made clear that the Salvadoran military and the death squads were “one and the same.”

In the United States, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) emerged in 1981 as an umbrella organization of peace activists, clergy, and other groups that worked with refugees who were fleeing the bloodshed and seeking asylum. Each year CISPES activists held candlelight vigils on the anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s slaying. The first one took place on March 24, 1981.

And what did those who formulate United States foreign policy learn from the carnage in El Salvador? The same thing they should have learned from Vietnam: Whenever the United States sticks its nose into another country’s civil war it only raises the level of death and destruction making the politics all the more intractable. And in the end it achieves very little other than what could have been worked out peacefully in the first place.

We recently heard that the “conservative” members of the Texas State Board of Education voted to erase Archbishop Oscar Romero from children’s history textbooks, which is an ironic decision since their hero, Ronald Reagan, believed that Central America was the “front line” against the spread of Soviet communism in the Western Hemisphere.

Today, American drone aircraft are engaging in “targeted assassinations” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. More often than not these strikes result in the killing and maiming of innocent people, including women and children. On the one hand, Pentagon officials tell us the war in Afghanistan is about 85 percent political and only 15 percent military and that the only path to success is to win the hearts and minds of the people, to build schools and clinics, provide jobs and build infrastructure, and help improve the lives of regular people. While on the other hand, these same Pentagon officials tell us that the means to accomplish this noble and just end must include blowing away women and children with an endless barrage of drone attacks. They seem incapable of seeing, like in El Salvador in the 1980s, that escalating the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan will do little to address the underlying social and political problems that produced the conflict in the first place.

Archbishop Oscar Romero gave his life trying to prevent a bloodbath in the country he loved. He tried to shield his people from the U.S.-backed repression, consistent with his mission as the top Catholic cleric in the country. Romero’s liberation theology didn’t arise from abstract ideological or canonical principles but was grounded in his seeing all around him the crushing poverty, hungry children, and innocent victims of class violence in El Salvador. Despite the actions of the mighty Texas Board of Education to erase his memory, Archbishop Romero will be long remembered as a friend of the oppressed, a champion of the poor, an advocate of peace, and a tribune for justice.