Saturday, September 6, 2014

All Rise: When Class Oppression Sows Democratization

Since many of the members of our organization Decarcerate the Garden State are also engaged in the struggle of the Newark communiy for local control of Newark schools and in opposition to the destruction of Newark schools through a profit driven privatization scheme, we are presenting this guest article (that will also soon appear at the Counterpunch site)>  Please be encouraged to forward and offer your feedback. - Bob W.
By Michelle Renee Matisons and Seth Sandronsky
In the shadow of Ferguson, Missouri's phenomenal and ongoing resistance against police and economic brutality, September 4, 2014 will be another important day to remember as we document this dynamic and unforgettable era's "post-Occupy" social/ labor movement struggles.  While fast food workers  all over the U.S. took the day off from selling crappy food at crappy wages, demanding pay of $15.00 per hour and a labor union instead of at-will employment, families in Newark, New Jersey, rejected the crappy segregationist McEducation plan forced on them by truly fearless public and private sector leaders. Newark families launched a school boycott, with an alternative Freedom School option for participating households. Such emancipatory actions, like the fast food strike and the boycott, are important gestures of refusal.  Over four hundred fast food and home care workers were arrested, risking job loss and jail time/ fines, but they deemed it necessary to oppose their ongoing exploitation.  Families are opposing Governor Chris Christie’s/ Senator Cory Booker’s/ Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson’s/ Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s/vulture philanthropist Eli Broad’s/ and Pearson-Microsoft's great social experiment—also known as "One Newark."  
U.S. civil society and labor sectors are rejecting impoverished and humiliating living, working, and learning conditions, despite the message being sent by the foreign war-mongering Democrat-GOP system (one party with two right wings, according to the late author Gore Vidal) with its militarized domestic police.  U.S. protest is criminalized and punished accordingly, but that doesn't seem to be stopping people.
Such punishment has a history. Look no further than the last period of popular dissent in the U.S.—the Civil Rights/Black Power/ 1960's era. Black Americans’ emancipatory efforts to shake off the shackles of Jim Crow segregation, with its whites-only facilities, massive voting disenfranchisement, KKK terrorism, and a general climate of intimidation and violence, paved the way for intensified policing and imprisoning of black people. The Drug War became Uncle Sam's bipartisan policy mechanism to help states and municipalities neutralize some of the most militant actors of the era—black Americans. Their subsequent mass incarceration, propelling a seven-fold increase in the imprisoned population from the 1970s to now, indicates that incarceration is the “new normal” for blacks Americans. Under that model, black Americans are the planet’s most imprisoned human beings, per capita, while their jobless rates are double that of white workers, in and out of economic expansions and contractions.    
 Many of us are familiar with fast food work conditions.  We or someone we know have done this work or are currently employed in this capacity, or we see fast food work conditions inside the restaurants and drive-thru windows as customers. Less visible to the public is home care labor.  Michelle's recent home care position was non-union, and had her working one week on, one week off for approximately $100 per day.  That's $5.00 per hour since live-in home care workers are either actively working with—actually living with—care "consumers" (as they are called in home care industry lingo) or on call.  Last year Obama signed legislation that institutes minimum wage pay in the home care industry, but we already know minimum wage isn't enough to support families on anyway.  So it should be no surprise that home care workers joined fast food workers in U.S. streets—sharing the same demands.  The people who feed us quickly, and provide the developmentally/ disabled and elderly with essential medical, social, and emotional attention, are refusing invisibility in favor of a highly visible campaign for their individual dignity and families' futures.
Speaking of home care workers’ mistreatment, in California recent legislation, Assembly Bill 1522, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), requires employers to provide their employees with paid sick days off, but it does not include home care workers. Governor Jerry Brown swayed lawmakers to exclude home care workers from paid sick leave (  According to the Economic Policy Institute, nationally 93 percent of such workers are female, with 27 percent of them Hispanic and 18 percent black (far outstripping the groups’ representation in the U.S. population (
California’s paid sick leave echoes the exclusion of domestic and farm workers from the Social Security Act of 1935. In Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (Massachusetts: Basic Books, 2005), David R. Roediger unravels how this particular legislation fragmented Americans along gender and racial lines.  The striking workers on September 4, 2014 are resisting this continued fragmentation in favor of class-based unity.
Meanwhile, the white supremacist takeover of Newark public schools has many Newark parents, worried for their children's futures, continuing the battle for local community control of public schools.   The Newark Public Schools' Boycott 4 Freedom (, organized by Parents United for Local School Education or PULSE ( and supported by the Newark Parents' Union (, with broad support from many other community groups, has been brewing as a concept for some time. Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, a most polarizing political figure, ignores widespread criticism of her pro-charter overhaul of Newark’s public education system. She locks people out of meetings, walks out of the same meetings, and simply carries on with her school restructuring plan despite warnings.  On September 4th, she nonchalantly suggested in a press conference that it was boycotting parents, not the corporate education policy her ill-ustrious career has come to symbolize, hurting the children.  
As school registration time approached, families grew outraged that their children had been assigned schools far away from their homes—or multiple student households were inconveniently and unabashedly assigned to multiple schools, or students, including special education students, did not receive new school assignments or appropriate transportation at all—and the school boycott idea grew in its appeal and relevance.
School boycott, the refusal to send children to schools designed to undermine community involvement and any civil rights gains made in the past few decades, is an incredibly important tactic that more communities may consider in the fight against the chartering/ vouchering of U.S. public schools.  It doesn't matter how many families participate or how long the boycott goes on. What matters is that new oppositional tactics are at hand, and people are still not scared to take the streets, or even keep their children home from school, despite our intimidating, intentionally terrifying, militarized police climate, highly punitive education climate, and the corporate state lackeys upholding it all.  The public school movement and the growing momentum supporting mass prisoner release, New Jersey’s “Decarcerate the Garden State” organization is spearheading decarceration legislation, are sowing the seeds for powerful coalition based work to cease school to prison pipeline profiteering altogether (
Democracy is no spectator sport. Words matter. "Democratization" is the term African Marxist political economist, Samir Amin, uses. For him, democratization more precisely describes a process of becoming, people in motion engaged with human institutions.  When all is said and done, September 4, 2014, is a stark reminder that people are democratizing human institutions—like school and work—and resisting a multi-pronged class war that is bludgeoning America's families.
Young people are being stalked, harassed, and murdered by police, ignored or used by school administrators, corporate executives, and politicians, and supported by stretched to the breaking point parents who need not just living--but thriving--wages in order to keep their families going.  Children's living/ learning conditions are parents' working conditions in the most basic sense.  Corporate/ state collusion is the 99%'s common enemy —whether it be defense industry equipment from Afghanistan and Iraq flowing to U.S. police departments, computer and education executives endorsing federal learning standards to enhance bottom line profits, or government subsidizing fast food and home care workers' households instead of taxing amassed corporate wealth offshore and stateside.  And if September 4, 2014, is any indication, less people are buying the equation between hard work, good intentions and the American dream.  The same targeted families are defending new/old dreams of freedom, fighting with new/old weapons, tactics, and strategies, and inspiring new waves of continued activism in the many arenas under upper-class attack.  
The minority, that increasingly relies upon government intervention to maintain and expand wealth and the political power its buys and rents, needs people’s compliance to legitimate its status quo. No thanks! People in Ferguson, Newark and across the U.S. are sick and tired of this, in the words of the late and great Fannie Lou Hamer. Oppressed people refusing to buy what their oppressors are selling in a society growing more polarized with each passing day marks a step forward. There will be counterpoised steps in the days to come, no doubt. However, the concept of progress, opportunity for humans to develop to their full potential without making concessions to power and wealth, is a key moment in a long road to emancipation from oppression.  Happy September 4th, everyone!
(Since students' lives are the bridge between oppressive learning and working conditions, please follow and support the Newark Students Union as they prepare for a demonstration against One Newark on September 9, 2014: )
Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D., can be reached at
Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email