Hundreds of black, Latino and white workers rose in unison, fists pumping, to chant “RESIGN NOW” and “NO SCHOOL CLOSINGS” at the entirely black and Latino school board of a southern city during a mass community meeting. Roused by speeches of anti-racist community activists and friends of PL, more than a thousand people, led by black workers, forced the school bosses and their hand-picked “community” advisory committee to cower in their seats.
This was the sixth in a series of meetings to let the community blow off steam regarding the proposed closings of a third of the city’s public schools, including the only high school in the historically black East Side. But school bosses underestimated the intelligence and anger of the working class. Over the course of earlier meetings, workers exposed and challenged the school board’s effort to pit neighborhood against neighborhood, Latinos against blacks, by letting the “community” pick among alternate plans, each one cutting someone else’s schools.
At an earlier meeting, a speaker exposed the fascist war machine’s goal to turn schools into jails. At every meeting, a Latina woman who had led struggles against school closings two years earlier, challenged the district’s history of divide and conquer. She pointed out that even neighborhoods not under direct attack would be harmed by overcrowding and the threat of future school closures. At the third meeting a school teacher finally labeled the board’s actions for what they were: RACISM! A gasp was heard from the hundreds at that meeting.
Activists from groups including PTAs and opponents of earlier school closings, returned repeatedly to community meetings to fight back and reject the call that working-class parents and students pick their own poison. Organizers circulated petitions, went door-to-door and spoke in churches to bring workers to protest school closings. Parents repeatedly defied commands to limit comments and to choose one of the proposals for school closings.
Following these meetings, the superintendent suggested he would delay closing high schools in the areas of the greatest protest, though many other schools will be shuttered. But there is a contradiction embedded in thinking this a victory and even in the chant “Resign Now!” Hundreds of the most militant anti-closing fighters believe that the hiring of a new superintendent or the election of “better” school board members will allow power to be shared and bring long-lasting improvement. In fact, some honest community activists served on the task force that created the school closing plans out of a desire to create a fairer district. As they worked under the direction of hired experts to frame school closings and to meet funding cuts that economic crisis and war brought, they were used to provide cover for the ruler’s exercise of state power.
Despite hating the superintendent and his plan, many do not realize that the real rulers, the capitalist class, are using the layers of elected and appointed community members of all “races” to create the illusion that real, permanent reform and improvement is possible. A new superintendent will not change the ruling class’s need to cut school funding in the face of economic crisis and war. The rulers never share power. Right now, their needs to bail out the banks and to continue oil war in the Middle East mean the rulers have to reduce education, lay people off and foreclose houses.
In numerous discussions since then, the points raised by communists and their friends hope to move the discussion from the specific reform plans proposed by the bosses to the context of system-wide crisis that spawned these reforms. These discussions are urgent because capitalism cannot be reformed — it must be destroyed and replaced with a system run for and by the working class of the entire world. As we deepen our understanding and win more friends, we can also develop plans for even more militant actions, like walk-outs in schools or occupations of school board offices, which would help us learn even more and become better fighters for revolution.
The rulers’ plans depend on racist and fascist attacks on working-class people. But the rulers sometimes underestimate the power of the working class to learn from experience and from communist leadership — even in a short reform battle that likely cannot be won. This power of the working class is also very weakly understood by the workers themselves nowadays. But participating in these battles and making friends for the lifetime battle for communist revolution strengthens our class’ understanding of its power and the ability of PL to grow and guide the working class to revolution.