First published on Echo Park Patch 2011-10-16
"We have our cake, and are eating it too." — Eli Broad (Predatory Philanthrocapitalist & Charter School Patron)
Inspired by the Occupy Movement for social and economic justice nationwide, educators and community members are planning to Occupy Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) starting Tuesday October 18, 2011. Organizers met Friday night to plan for the action, which will originate with a march from the Occupy Los Angeles encampment at City Hall to LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry Avenue. Activists will then begin an occupation via an encampment at LAUSD.
The organizers comprised a mix of teachers, Occupy Los Angeles members, and other community activists. Many of the organizers are veterans of the 2009 Hungry For A Better Education hunger strikes which also included camp outs in front of LAUSD headquarters.
All those present agreed on a unified message of "Community Over Millionaires" in regards to whose interests LAUSD are supposed to serve, and reinforcing the message of the occupy movement of the ninety-nine percent versus the one percent. Social justice educator Jose Lara summed up the intentions behind OccupyLAUSD best in this quote from l.a. activist:
"Education is being affected by 'the one percent,' by the likes of the Walton Foundation and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which are funding the privatization of schools through charter schools and standardized testing." "We know the one percent has an immediate interest in making sure education is dumbed down and isn't based on critical thinking which is needed for a truly democratic society."
Today OccupyLAUSD issued a press release fully detailing the motivations, goals, and demands of the movement. Full details for the OccupyLAUSD action are available on the website, and updates can be found on Twitter and facebook.
OccupyLAUSD provided the following statement as part of a call to action for all of Los Angeles to demand our schools back.
This is a call out to the 99% who live, work, play and learn in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is time we Reclaim Our Schools from the 1% wealthy Billionaires and Corporate Management Companies who continue to set educational policies of school giveaways, increases in corporate charter schools, and constant school lay-offs.
Despite an LAUSD Board memo indicating a district surplus of $55-million dollars, LAUSD Supt. John Deasy has laid off 1200 teachers, hundreds of custodial and clerical staff, and untold numbers of librarians, nurses, and school psychologists. Secondary classes routinely pack more than 40 students in academic classes, leading to further student disengagement and higher drop-out rates. Under Deasy's direction, the District recently laid off 80 PSA counselors in charge of stemming school drop-out rates and ensuring adequate state funding based on attendance. School libraries are being closed or inadequately staffed.
It is time the LAUSD School Board listens to us, the 99%. We demand full funding of our schools, an end to layoffs that disrupt our school communities, and an end to Public School Giveaways. It is time we hire back our teachers, counselors, nurses, office workers and all others who make our school communities great. We demand Wall Street out of LAUSD. It is time we bail out our schools, not banks.
Liberating LAUSD from the interests of the one percent is critical at this point. LAUSD Trustees elected with, and beholden to, funds from the nefarious Coalition for School Reform have spent the past few years gutting public schools and giving public property away to private charter-voucher companies. Under the direction of Coalition for School Reform's right wing financiers like Philip Anschutz, Eli Broad, and Jerry Perenchio, the Monica Garcia/Mayor Villaraigosa bloc of LAUSD board members have, among other things, laid off countless school librarians and nurses, closed school libraries, laid off thousands of teachers, reconstituted and closed schools, and given numerous community schools away to private corporations. Garcia's alliance is clearly outlined in this passage from the Los Angeles Times:
"Luis Sanchez a candidate for the Los Angeles Board of Education, worked the room at a posh Beverly Hills condo...The nearly 50 guests drank Au Bon Climat chardonnay and Piper Sonoma sparkling wine as Sanchez's backers, including school board President Monica Garcia and charter school leaders, lauded him..." — Los Angeles Times
Beverly Hills sure is an odd place for a board member to be when their entire district is east of Crenshaw Boulevard. Sadly, their choice of company reflects the fact that LAUSD is dominated by corporate charter cash, and such board members are not serving their constituent communities. The astronomical amount of money the one percent spends to control LAUSD is staggering. The following highlights how the majority of the LAUSD Board of Education is bought and paid for:
A moral, if not significant, victory came when LAUSD District 5 candidate Bennett Kayser narrowly edged out the corporate privatization camp's hand-picked successor Luis Sanchez in the May 17, 2011 runoff election. This despite Sanchez spending nearly ten times more per vote than Kayser, and having the backing of some of the wealthiest tycoons around. The plutocrat privatization putsch-makers Coalition for School Reform spend over a quarter million dollars trying to get Sanchez elected. This quote from KCET's Catherine Cloutier really puts things into context:
But the nearly $255,000 spent by the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez makes it one of the key players in this election, which is now just a day away. And among the coalition's biggest spenders is Phil Anschutz of the Anschutz Corporation, whose sister company AEG has plans before the city for a $350 million football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles (which could top $1 billion when factoring in interest repayment).
So, what links a major corporation with dreams of building an NFL stadium to a candidate for LAUSD school board? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
While the privatizers still hold a four to two (there's another equivocating vote that adds to seven), defeating the juggernaut mayor and his billionaire backers was somewhat of watershed moment in Los Angeles politics, where the privatization pushers and poverty pimps have had free reign for some time now. Kayser had broad based community support in addition to that of local teachers and their working class organization, United Teachers Los Angeles.
Like the OccupyLAUSD site says: "Now is the time!" If you are interested in taking back our district from the one percent. If you are tired of seeing our public schools neglected and starved. If you are tired of seeing charter executives making a killing and developers cashing in on a land grab bonanza at the publics expense. If you are tired of seeing school libraries close while funds are spent on standardized test preparation. If you are tired of any or all of those things, then please join us, the ninety-nine percent, at OccupyLAUSD starting Tuesday. Even if you can't camp, come out and support those that are. ¡La lucha sigue y sigue!