Support Proyecto Jardín: A Call to Thought and Action

Human rights and responsibilities

Inherent in a proper notion of human rights is its inseparable companion of human responsibilities. Humanity shines brightest when a spirit of care and stewardship infuses our communion with our fellow humans, our sister species, and our mother Earth. Whatever our faith or non-faith may be, together we can learn to respect and nurture this earthly trinity for the benefit of all.

Taking care of… the planet

Proyecto Jardín is a movement on the front lines of defending and expanding the most fundamental of human rights: the right to work in concert with nature to receive sustainable sustenance from its bounty. It is a life-giving oasis in the midst of Boyle Heights, one of our hyper-urbanized planet’s food deserts. It is a safe, liberating space that radiates empowerment.

Of rights and wrongs

And now, outrageously, it is facing elimination by usurpation. White Memorial Medical Center, the garden’s landlord, is planning to evict Proyecto Jardín in order to impose their own plans without input or participation from the community that’s made the garden into the thriving space it has become. Fortunately, Proyecto Jardín is nowhere near ready to go quietly into that goodnight.

Join the struggle

Proyecto Jardín urgently needs your support. This Saturday, January 30th they will be hosting an event at the garden from 9am to 5pm. Come out to show your solidarity. You can also help get the word out on social media by liking their Facebook page and sharing the event posting.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you out there! 🙂

Lessons from History for the Here and Now: Thoughts Inspired by “When Muslims Admired the West and Were Admired Back”

I highly recommend reading this article (link below) by UCLA history professor Nile Green. We need to learn more from the lessons of history as we endeavour to forge mutually enriching ties between Muslims and the “western world” in the present.

One of the key elements of such community, as the article illuminates, is the recognition of and unity in universal struggles across cultural frontiers. Insistence on this emancipatory principle is one of the reasons I find Slavoj Zizek’s works so compelling, and timely.

In the article, the Muslim students living abroad in London admired and learned from the feminist struggle there, and were moved to action. What could be more universal–and inspiring–than that?!

The only area where I see a need for expansion is with regard to the mutuality of responsibility to reach out and learn from the “other”. The onus cannot be solely on Muslims to do so. We all, as human beings, share in this fundamental responsibility. And in so doing we are walking the exhilarating walk of making a better world. Let’s do this!

Read and share the article here: Zócalo Public Square :: When Muslims Admired the West and Were Admired Back

Genocide is the word…

The details of the history surrounding the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people are not well known to me. I know that every year, around Earth Day, many people can be seen flying a vibrant primary-colored flag from cars, homes and storefront windows. I’ve encountered some lively demonstrations in different sections of Los Angeles over the years, and although I’ve looked on them sympathetically, I’ve never taken up the cause as my own.

Turkish Genocide of Armenian People

Several months ago, my wife and I moved to Glendale, a beautiful city that’s home to a significant portion of the Armenian diaspora (only Moscow’s surpasses Los Angeles’ Armenian community). Since we’ve been here, I’ve made some minor inroads into learning about Armenian people and their culture–and I’m definitely hungry for more.

While I’m not well-versed in the particulars of historical or present-day Armenia and its diaspora, I do know that a spade is a spade. That might seem a trivial point, but things have names for at least a couple of important reasons: to designate that which they are, and to differentiate them from that which they are not.

For deeply cynical political reasons (i.e. wanting to maintain favorable ties with Turkey as a base for U.S. marauding in the Middle East) Obama has again refused to utter the one word millions long–and deserve–to hear: “genocide”. The British ruling class has also taken this brazenly cynical stance (as they’ve also done in unwaveringly supporting U.S. military conquest in the Middle East).

While this is stunning, unfortunately it isn’t surprising. The powers-that-be in the U.S. are well-versed in the meaning–and practice–of genocide. In fact, genocide of the original peoples of this continent was the sine qua non of its invasion and conquest. Professor Ward Churchill, in his book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, delves deftly into the history of genocide globally and its deniers.

Coincidentally, on a recent trip to Sonoma, I serendipitously encountered a very powerful essay precisely on this topic, entitled “National Hypocrisy: Why Do We Dare to Call It Genocide?” by Elbert “Big Man” Howard, one of the founders of the great Black Panther Party. He applies the term “genocide” to a number of historical and present-day realities, including the police killings and mass incarceration of our youth of color here in Uncle Sam’s back yard.

The closing paragraph of his essay is particularly salient in these times of genocide-denial as mass-media spectacle. It resonates deeply, as the need to call things by their true names, and to act based on such an understanding, pervades so many dimensions of our collective (global) her/history and present-day reality.

Big Man concludes:

It is of necessity and urgency, that in order to recognize and understand our present situation and strive for change, we must tie America’s history of genocide and racism to our current history, to our so-called system of democracy, which is fundamentally hypocrisy, and to the lives of our lost youths of color at the hands of this system. It is of dire necessity that we do all we can to enlighten our children, for that is what we owe them, and their futures depend on it.

I couldn’t agree with the Big Man more. Let’s enlighten ourselves and our children so that genocide can be spoken of exclusively in the past tense. Let’s strive for that change.

For Charly Leundeu Keunang aka Charley Saturmin Robinet aka Brother Africa

A beautiful human being lost his life here! Homeless lives matter! Jail the killer cops!

Does a rose by any other name not smell as sweet?

Does a person that goes by another name cease to be a child of Mother Earth?

What do the words “serve” and “protect” mean?

serve: to be a servant, a person who is devoted to or guided by something
protect: to keep (someone or something) from being harmed, lost, etc.

No excuses.

If you’re charged with serving and protecting the people,
you put your own life on the line every day for them.
You’re devoted to the people.
You’re guided by your commitment to their well-being.
Your mission is to keep them from harm.
All of them. Period.

Yet, so many fall at the hands of the police.
So many served nothing more than a volley of bullets.
So many robbed of protection, and life.
So many stripped of their humanity.

Brother Africa was a fellow human being.
He’ll never be replaced.
He’ll never see his chance to shine on the silver screen.
He’ll never set foot back in his native Cameroon,
feel the African sun on his hopeful face.
Never again will friends and loved ones
bask in the majesty of his humanity.

Some of us never knew you,
but we won’t forget you.
And those who did will carry
those indelible marks,
only you could leave.

Farewell, Brother Africa!

dk

People paying their respects.

p.s. — This was my humble attempt to speak poetically to this tragedy. Countless others have done so much more effectively and beautifully than I can muster. Here’s a link to a magnificently damning collection of poems I found at the Black & Blue blog:
https://policeviolence.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/poetryaboutpoliceviolencefinal.pdf

And just to whet the appetite, here are a couple pieces I’ve cut and pasted from the collection:

Southern Cop
By Sterling Brown

Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so Ty shot.

Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous.
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.

Let us condone Ty Kendricks
If we cannot decorate.
When he found what the Negro was running for,
It was too late;
And all we can say for the Negro is
It was unfortunate.

Let us pity Ty Kendricks.
He has been through enough,
Standing there, his big gun smoking,
Rabbit-scared, alone,
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.

*****

Black Power
(For All the Beautiful Black Panthers East)
By Nikki Giovanni

But the whole thing is a miracle – See?

We were just standing there
talking – not touching or smoking
Pot
When this cop told
Tyrone
Move along buddy – take your whores
outa here

And this tremendous growl
From out of nowhere
Pounced on him

Nobody to this very day
Can explain
How it happened

And none of the zoos or circuses
Within fifty miles
Had reported
A panther
Missing

Race Matters? White Cop Who Killed Black Man During Hurricane Katrina Acquitted

Oh, hell, no! This is not that lie about “a policeman’s worst nightmare, that split-second decision”. This is the real nightmare lived by people of color daily, constantly criminalized, brutalized and killed by cops who aren’t making split-second decisions, but acting in accordance with the institution they represent. And in case there’s any doubt, the (in)justice system is there to back them up… time and again, legitimizing the murder of the innocent. Ya basta!

Bossip

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The LAUSD has more than enough $$$… what’s lacking is R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Here’s my comment on an article from the Contra Costa Times, dated 5/16/12:

LAUSD has more than enough money to fund Adult Ed… many times over. Simply re-routing a portion of their expenditures on “Other operating expenses” (a whopping $793 million) would cover it. Not to mention the fact that they’re sitting on the largest school construction bond fund in the history of humankind, at $19+ billion (I guess improving what you’ve already got isn’t as profitable as acquiring more land and building a new school every month). So it’s not a question of “Can they?” but a matter of “Do they want to?” Clearly they have shown that they don’t. And while it is in part due to the fact that our students are not children–therefore not deserving of a HUMAN RIGHT to education, in their minds–it also must be said that xenophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry are prominently in the mix, whether spoken or not. After all, immigrants comprise the largest portion of this 27% of LAUSD’s total student population. Under Obama, deportations have skyrocketed to new highs, and Guantanamo-style concentration camps have already been erected in Arizona. Nationwide, fascistic new anti-immigrant laws are on the rise, not unlike the one that was defeated several years back when millions marched to assert that immigrants are HUMAN BEINGS too. If we unite to fight to beat back these attacks, and raise our sights and struggle for this Human Right, we CAN WIN! Stay tuned to saveadulted.org, and get involved today.

“We’re after the gold, and after that, the platinum!” or, why we’re not JUST fighting for 100% of Adult Ed

People who’ve known me for any significant stretch of time know that I am, culturally speaking, a “hip hop head”. As such, I often find that rap lyrics jump to mind when I’m pondering phenomena. Such has been the case for the past several weeks, as I’ve been thinking constantly about the fight to save adult education in Los Angeles. And the lyrics, paraphrased as the title of this piece, are from Reggie Noble, aka Redman, in his hip hop classic “Tonight’s da Night”.

So, how do these catchy words laced with urban swagger tie in to the struggle for Adult Ed? Well, to me there’s a point of orientation that ought to infuse the efforts of we who are fighting for these programs which dovetails quite nicely with this quote. Some background to the present situation will help illuminate what I see as the vital importance of such an orientation.

HOW HAVE THINGS COME TO THIS?

Turning back the clock several years, Adult Ed’s fiscal allotment comprised roughly double its present sum of $120 million, now a meager 2% of LAUSD’s total budget. And beyond being more bountiful, the funding in those days shone brighter with the assurance of Tier I categorical protection. That is to say that the monies set aside for Adult Ed programs were essentially off-limits; they could not be applied to expenses other than those for which they were destined: Adult Ed.

When the economic crisis hit, big changes befell our programs. With hindsight, it seems one of the most devastating shifts was the reclassification of Adult Ed funds from Tier I to Tier III status. This change meant that funds designated for Adult Ed programs would be granted the minimum level of protection—which is to say, none. Essentially, funds would be “penciled in” for Adult Ed, but would really be up for grabs should other programs be found needing. This put our programs on a slow death march which LAUSD is presently seeking to culminate.

In the intervening years, funding was pared back and caps were imposed on the maximum weekly working hours allowed for limited status (non-tenured) teachers. At the time, I was working at an adult school in southeast Los Angeles and my working hours, along with those of many of my colleagues, were abruptly cut. And beyond the hit we took economically, these reduced teaching hours meant that students also saw their class hours cut back.

In the atmosphere of gloom and doom fomented around the economic crisis by the mass media, many of us—myself included—felt powerless when these austerity measures were being imposed. Many of us also saw the real impact on our student population.

Students working in construction, restaurants and many other low-wage, high-stress jobs either found themselves out of work altogether, or found they needed to add extra hours to their already exhausting loads in these tough times. Many students who previously hadn’t worked, such as stay-at-home mothers, were now missing classes because they too had to find jobs. Ironically, the grip of the crisis pulled students away from the very programs they needed to find better employment opportunities in the first place.

In the vertigo of this downward spiral, many of us logically started seeking alternatives. Along with our students, we teachers began to investigate our “Plan B” to implement should the Adult Ed ship go down. Meeting after meeting was held where no news was the only good news, and more often than not we adjourned feeling less certain and more concerned for our future. Given that only a fraction of Adult Ed teachers are tenured, most of us already teetered on the verge of unemployment, even in good times. Our prospects were looking anything but optimistic.

WHERE DO WE STAND TODAY?

Now, a new wave of hope is rising. Recent months and weeks have seen our righteous cause thrust more prominently into the media and mass-consciousness spotlight. (See saveadulted.org for numerous inspiring examples.) Many among us have consistently fought, and their efforts—along with those of us newly coming forward—are bearing exciting new fruit.

The real impact and necessity of our programs are felt directly by hundreds of thousands of people actively enrolled in adult classes, and felt indirectly by the millions more they touch in their workplaces, communities and social groupings. The more people learn about the true scope of Adult Ed programs (I’m amazed myself to learn more everyday), the more patently outrageous and intolerable efforts to shut them down become. And I feel that we’ve only just begun to tap into this sentiment and unleash its creative potential. And let there be no mistake: the students and their supporters are the single greatest force we have to save these programs now and enable them to thrive into the future. And as they’ll tell you without hesitation, “¡Sí, se puede!”: “Yes, we can!”

MOVING FORWARD… WHAT WE’RE AFTER

Recently, the United Adult Students (UAS) organization (lastudents.org) unanimously endorsed a statement declaring that “Adult Education is a Human Right”. This kind of straightforward yet lofty declaration has struck a chord broadly among teachers, students, and the public, and it has been well received in the media. This message is powerful because it’s profoundly true, and its further popularization can only serve to strengthen our movement.

Another crucial element of the UAS statement is the demand that Adult Ed be “FULLY FUNDED—including all community locations, whether leased or not.” We must stand up for every school and every class, from the bustling central campuses to the community-based classes in rescue missions, churches and day-laborer centers. The shutting down or curtailing of the least—numerically speaking—among us is an intolerable attack against us all.

As our movement grows and continues to gain strength we need to constantly refine our message and broaden our aims. Much of the media coverage surrounding attacks on these programs has stressed that they’re a real bargain. And it’s resoundingly true. For 2% of the budget, approximately 300,000 students—about 27% of LAUSD’s total student population—receive world-class instruction in ESL, computers, parenting, citizenship, academics for high school diplomas, GED prep, career technical skills and physical education and other classes for older adults.

However, the other side of this steal-of-a-deal—the hidden cost—is that Adult Ed teachers have never been given the kind of compensation and protection they so richly deserve. Just to cite a few examples, Adult Ed teachers are contracted only as hourly workers (in contrast to salaried K-12 instructors). We are only granted employment on a semester-to-semester basis, which means that the majority of us who aren’t tenured can never quite rest assured that we’ll be employed for the coming term.

Furthermore, opportunities for salary advancement and tenure status are few and far between, and those that exist are nevertheless made exceedingly difficult to access. If you’re truly passionate about your craft, as so many of us are, chances are you’ll continue your own education to achieve advanced degrees in the subjects you teach. In my experience, the best teachers are first and foremost great students. However, such accomplishments essentially go unrecognized by the district once you’ve hit the low ceiling imposed on advancement.

Finally, there is a solid basis and a great need for our programs to be vastly expanded. Where efforts have been made to reach out into the community with Adult Ed programs, all kinds of wonderful classes have been launched at churches, K-12 school sites, workplaces, libraries, rescue missions, and more. The only limit is that imposed by our imagination and creativity, because the need is there.

TONIGHT’S DA NIGHT

Let’s return to the Redman quote that we started with, and why it’s stayed on my mind of late. Of course, the gold and platinum to which he referred were the accolades and record sales he unapologetically aimed for. In a related sense, we should be unapologetic about our demand that 100% of Adult Ed as it’s currently constituted be maintained—our “gold”. But, just like Reggie Noble, we cannot rest content with just that. We also have to raise our aims, our struggle and our demands to reach for the “platinum”. That is to say that Adult Ed programs and teachers must be granted FAR GREATER respect, protections and funding than they have been up to this point. In line with all that I’ve laid out, I think this is only fair. It’s what is needed, and it’s what is possible if we fight to make it so.

In closing, I want to urge everybody reading this to get involved NOW. If you care about this issue and you want to see a world in which the human rights of all are respected, please, do not hesitate. On May 8th, the LAUSD school board will be presented with a draft budget which they will mull over for a week, and which will be made public on May 15th. This is the point at which the future of Adult Ed, as LAUSD plans it, will be announced to the world. Everything we do between now and then will make a world of difference in the outcome. Let’s not wait ‘til tomorrow… Tonight’s da night!

A false “choice”… let’s avoid all tragedies.

Reply to L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez’s article about Adult Education:

Thank you for helping the extraordinary voices of Adult Ed be heard. Anyone with a basic sense of humanity should recognize the lofty mission of these life-or-death programs. A teacher of GED prep classes in Huntington Park told me one of his students had to resort to selling his blood plasma to pay for his testing… and that the prices are now set to increase significantly. These are our friends and neighbors, people who have hard-earned life lessons to teach us which will exponentially enrich our lives. Next time you eat out, get your car washed or gaze upon a beautifully manicured landscape, think about the people who make all that happen for starvation wages, and ask yourself what THEIR dreams might be? And how might they hope to attain them? Adult Ed is every bit of the HUMAN RIGHT that your 3rd grader’s education is. So, we have to dispense with some false dichotomies and apparent “conflicts”. It’s not an either-or proposition. Truth is, we all need to be FIGHTING HELLACIOUSLY to save ALL of public education in this country. And the funds ARE there. Go ask the bankers who gambled the economy away in the first place. See, there’s no need for us to be fighting over crumbs when there’s more than enough to go around. And there will be if we take this up in earnest NOW. If not, it’ll be more than just the lessons of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Sal Castro that are lost. Get involved NOW at saveadulted.org!