Volume , Number
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Renaissance 2010: From the Front Lines
Why are unions important? This is the question that Jackson Potter and Albert Ramirez, two Chicago Public School teachers, explore in their independently produced documentary on Chicagos flagship school policy known as Renaissance 2010.
Produced from a desire to educate the general public on Ren 2010 and to motivate educators and citizens to get informed and involved, the film succeeds as much more than a simple defense of unionsin actuality both directors are highly critical of the political inertia and partisan infighting of the Chicago Teachers Union. What the film ends up demonstratingaside from the undemocratic, anti-union, and socially destructive character of Ren 2010is that ordinary rank and file educators have the capacity to use their creativity and insider perspectives to form dynamic critiques of the system. Moreover, while simultaneously challenging their audience to get out and do something, the directors show that regular folks like themselves, can act as effective democratic agents. In this spirit, the film functions as an inspiring call to intervene and resist.
Renaissance 2010: From the Front Lines begins with a fictitious scene that playfully features the directors in their natural habitat. We see a tired looking teacher at work in his classroom hunched over a pile of papers, slogging through the days marking, when a colleague shows up and invites him to a union meeting. The teachers response is weighted with the frustration felt by many educators regarding their position in the system. He declines the invitation as he wonders aloud what difference his presence at the union meeting would make. In response his interlocutor also begins to wonder about the purpose of the union.
With this the documentary begins in earnest by transporting us to a colorful Chicago Federation of Labor meeting complete with a union mime and a pro-union Uncle Sam who declares that Whats good for the country is whats good for the people.
The diverse assortment of commentators at the union meeting speak to the need for an apparatus which can collectively bargain, ensure a living wage, protect benefits, and provide a democratic space which guarantees the right of workers to be heard.
From the Front Lines then outlines Renaissance 2010 and its impact on both the physical and social landscape of the schools and neighborhoods. Through interviews with educators, students, city officials, and community members interspersed with footage from around Chicago, the film vividly captures an urban mélange of school board meetings, union rallies, school buildings both old and new, and the currently ubiquitous images of half finished high end condos juxtaposed against the last remnants of vanishing public and low income housing in the vast tracts of rapidly appreciating land in Chicagos south and west side neighborhoods.
The film skillfully locates the push for Renaissance 2010 in the desire of the cities elite class, spearheaded by Mayor Richard Daley and his corporate partners at the Commercial Club of Chicago, to use school closings as a lever for privatizing public education as well to gentrify some of Chicagos poorest and historically most neglected communities. We learn that Ren 2010 has been designed to close schools in these targeted neighborhoods and to reopen them, or flip them, as mainly charter and contract schoolsto what some have referred to as real estate anchors.
From the Front Lines highlights that, contrary to the slick language used by its proponents, such as Chicago school CEO Arne Duncan, Ren 2010 is not about serving the interests of kids at targeted schools, but about serving a population of students that the city anticipates moving into these neighborhoods as they gentrify. In the film, University of Illinois Chicago Professor David Stovall suggests that Ren 2010 is really about moving the undesirables out and moving the target population in and giving them new schools in the process. While their schools are closed these undesirables are being steered into increasingly crowded container schools to the detriment of both those who are relocated and the original students at these schools. These receiving schools are effectively becoming warehouses for dislocated students and centers of heightened gang tension as well as increased police surveillance and control.
According to the film, the policy is designed to serve the interests of Chicagos business elite in at least two fundamental ways. First, Ren 2010 is part of a policy web that sets up schools that are primarily designed to give the basic skills and cultural codes necessary to work in the neoliberal urban information and service economy. Second, Renaissance 2010 institutionalizes the neoliberal push for cost effectiveness, leanness, and efficiency. The drive for charter and contract schools fits the ideological map of neoliberalism by paying lower wages to teachers and auxiliary employees, limiting special educational services, slashing extra-curricular activities, favoring assimilation over bilingual education, providing less money per pupil, and by recruiting and hiring less experienced first and second year teachers to further reduce payroll. Teachers in these schools are not allowed to unionize, are required to negotiate their salaries individually, can be fired at any time, and are required to work longer hours than their public school counterparts. As a result, teacher turnover is incredibly high creating deficits in institutional memory which hinder the development of community in these schools and fails to give the students the kind of adult consistency that youth so desperately need.
So why are unions important? With over 30,000 members, the Chicago Teachers Union has the potential to lead the fight for preserving public education and for helping make it the center of a project of democracy building. But even as control over the Chicago Public Schools has become increasingly wrested from teachers and communities and consolidated under mayoral and corporate control, the teachers union remains politically ineffective over a policy direction that is a direct threat to the union, as well as the public schools and students it represents. By no means does the film suggest that unions are the only answer to reclaiming schools in the public interest. But it does question what kind of a role it will play as Ren 2010 alters the geography of education. How long can teachers afford to wait to steer their union toward saving their schools?
Renaissance 2010: From the Front Lines is a timely intervention which provides oppositional and critical language for a policy whose narrative has thus far been primarily shaped by the interests of Chicagos corporate elite. But the film is more than a critical intervention and a call to action; it is a reminder of how dedicated, creative, and talented our teachers are even in the face of a system that provides ample amounts of top down control and surveillance but very little support for their ideas or recognition for their service. Jackson Potter and Albert Ramirez are to be commended for the dedication they have shown to their students, fellow teachers, and communities. Heres hoping it inspires a diverse and receptive audience to intervene, educate, and resist in the interests of equity and democracy.
Alex Means is a former Chicago school teacher.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.