BALTIMORE, MD, June 2 — On May 30th, students, teachers and education advocates gathered at the Inner Harbor amphitheater to protest Mayor Sheila Dixon’s refusal to appropriate $3 million toward knowledge-based jobs for 750-1,000 young people through the Peer 2 Peer (P2P) network. P2P Youth Enterprises, a coalition of approximately 20 local youth groups, organized the demonstration. They then marched to the Legg Mason plaza and announced a hunger strike, commencing that evening. The protestors chanted and gave speeches on education, followed by an open mic session featuring socially conscious hip hop and spoken word poetry.
P2P has been engaging in activities from workshops to overnight camp-outs in front of City Hall to demand these funds. “It’s outrageous that the City is not giving $3 million to young people to do positive work,” said a public school teacher. “When the City schools were predominantly white, about 20% to 40% of the city budget went to education. Now that the City’s student population is 90% African-American, the portion of the City budget devoted to education is just 11%, a severe, racist cutback that hurts all students, no matter what their racial background.”
The Baltimore City Council voted 11 to 3 against the P2P funding. Many speculate that pressure from Mayor Dixon forced that negative vote.
Two weeks ago, when the coalition began a four-day, overnight campout in front of City Hall, Dixon appeared and told the young people they ought to just get jobs at Target. But P2P seeks funding for programs like tutoring and mentorships, so young people can be paid to teach other youth important skills, like algebra, debate and video production.
“Target is not a comparison to Peer 2 Peer,” said one P2P organizer, nor is P2P an after-school or summer program, as misrepresented by the bosses’ media. It’s a year-long program designed to create jobs and prepare youth for careers in a knowledge-based economy.
The $3 million figure would come from the annual interest earned on the City’s $88 million rainy-day surplus emergency fund, not from the fund itself, as inaccurately portrayed by the capitalist media. “The state of youth in Baltimore City is definitely an emergency,” declared a P2P youth leader.
One excuse offered to refuse funding is “a sluggish economy,” yet City funds are going into the build-up of tourist areas like the Harbor.
As the event concluded, committed hunger strikers were transported to a church where nightly shelter is being provided.
The young people view the hunger strike as necessary to attain their goal, with no plans to end it until the mayor and the City Council grant their demands.
Progressive Labor Party applauds the selfless commitment of the hunger strikers and all their many supporters. But we recognize its limitations. In general, hunger strikes seek to embarrass the rulers, but the rulers really have no shame. After all, capitalism starves millions of workers worldwide.
P2P activists stepped up the level of struggle by bringing many supporters to the Mayor’s Night-In, which she had promoted as an opportunity for youth and adults to talk about solving problems in various neighborhoods. The vast majority of participants were P2P supporters, who spoke out very forcefully, essentially taking leadership of the event away from the politicians. At one point the mayor physically grabbed the microphone to defend herself and to accuse adult P2P supporters of misleading P2P youth.
However, she received meager applause, compared to the overwhelming repeated applause for P2P speakers, a vigorous standing ovation for the hunger strikers, and powerful applause supporting the $3 million for P2P youth jobs.
In a broader sense, political awareness is growing, learning how politicians and the government, though claiming to represent all people, are really puppets for the ruling class of big business owners. Some of the young activists recently attended PLP’s May Day march in New York City.
It’s becoming clearer that the government is not neutral but really a dictatorship of the capitalist class. The government is theirs, not ours.
Even if a reform victory is achieved — winning $3 million — the rulers, having state power, can always take it away later, as they’re doing in cutting wages for millions of workers. This is especially true, given the bosses’ need to direct resources toward carrying out imperialist oil wars in Iraq and elsewhere.
Capitalism cannot be reformed, nor can it solve the problems it creates for the working class. We need a future in which the working class shares the fruit of all the value our labor produces. Only communist revolution can achieve this.