This morning, amidst the gut-wrenching headlines about Gaza and the Ukraine, a teaser at the bottom of the page caught my eye: "McDonald’s Loses; Labor Wins." I did a triple-take. It is rare to see news like this on the front page of the New York Times.
Teachers and their unions are on the front lines in the battle for the future of public education. And most of the time, they appear to be on the defensive. But there's good news, and lots of hope, coming out of Minnesota. The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) has managed to change the conversation, build lasting partnerships with parents and community leaders, transform the union’s internal culture from a business model to a social justice model, and win a landmark contract that emphasizes education quality and equity.
[The following was inspired by the late, great Stuart Hall]
While the multiple crises roiling our communities were a long time in the making, the near-collapse of financial sector and subsequent bailout in 2008 revealed much about the degree to which both politics and economics have been dominated by small ruling elite whose interests run counter to those of most communities.
With his passing on Feb 10, we at the Grassroots Policy Project were reminded of the great debt we owe to Stuart Hall, co-founder of cultural studies and great interpreter of Antonio Gramsci. Hall’s thinking has heavily influenced our approaches to worldview, narrative and strategy development for social movement organizations. He also was very adept and bridging the activist/academic divide, by demonstrating how theory has bearing on social movement strategy and practice. As Hall put it in The Toad in the Garden:
In an advanced capitalist liberal democracy juridical practices are intertwined with economic, political and ideological foundations of society. Jurisprudence both reflects and reinforces hegemonic power relations. And those power relations are established around honoring and protecting property rights, above all else.
I confess. I get a kick out of the now-popular memes that pathologize greed. We have come a long way from the ‘greed is good’ days. And this climate gives us a boost as we fight for better wages, more targeted jobs programs and restoration of our frayed social safety-net. While some CEOs still make headlines by tapping fears of “class warfare,” the stories that pop culture gravitates toward invoke fears of --- and fascination with --- the excesses of the 1%.
Writing during a time of revolutionary fervor both in the American colonies and in Europe, Thomas Paine wrote: “We have it in our power to make the world over again.” Paine and many of his contemporaries imagined the Revolution as the beginning of a long journey toward expanding and deepening the democratic experience. There are moments when we have to remind ourselves of the wisdom in Paine’s belief that democratic governance could “bring forward, by quiet and regular operation, all the capacity which never fails to appear in revolution.”
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