BROOKLYN, NY, January 11 — “They say cut back, we say fight back!” “Separate is never equal!” These were just two of the many chants that over 300 militant students, teachers and parents shouted while picketing outside the John Jay HS campus.
It preceded a public hearing on the racist Department of Education’s (DoE) proposal to four millions of dollars into installing a new, “selective school” within our building, catering to the mostly-white, middle-class Park Slope neighborhood. These are millions that could have been used all along to improve the four existing schools in the building. The “selective school” will segregate incoming white students from the current black and Latino school population
Our chants grew louder and our numbers mounted in a block-long picket line, joined by workers from a nearby hospital. Drivers honked their support. Students and teachers from many other city schools answered the call to protest the racism and continuing re-segregation of public schools. PL’ers have played a leading role in this struggle to win everyone to understand the DoE actions as a racist attack on the predominately black and Latino student population in the building.
The Phony ‘Proposal’
Over the last two weeks the entire school community has been organizing for this day when the DoE is legally obligated to carry out the farce it calls “public hearings.” But when it first sent its cronies to inform everyone about its proposal to install the new school in the building, that very night the DoE had already hand-picked the principal to head up this new school. She e-mailed her current school staff that she was leaving them to lead this new Millennium Brooklyn. Some “proposal”!
After learning about the DoE treachery, we took the limited time available to organize people in the school building to see that even though a decision seems to have been made, we must still stand up and fight racism. Everyone agreed and sprang into action to get the entire school building, the surrounding community and everyone else we know to attend the rally and meeting.
The school building was abuzz. Teachers planned lessons around racism and segregation; debaters wrote speeches and announced it at their tournaments. One problem was that some students were taking a state exam that very day while the other students would not be attending school.
Overcoming All Obstacles
That obstacle was overcome collectively: by teachers hosting pizza and sign-making parties for the students taking the test; by the after-school program hosting a volleyball game between alumni and the current volleyball team, drawing many students back to school. Throughout the day students, teachers and school staff were united in preparations for the evening activities.
Another victory was won when the year-long tension between the after-school staff and teachers slowly eroded as we all united in the interest of fighting racism alongside the students we both care for daily.
As the volleyball game ended, a Party teacher invited everyone to come to the rally and hearing. Everyone grabbed signs they had made and others took ones they liked as they left the gym. Most of the students had never attended a rally and were excited to be picketing, chanting against budget cuts, racism and segregation and to unite with their teachers and parents. We then marched into the hearing chanting and carrying signs as students and teachers signed up to speak.
‘How do we spell racist? D-O-E!’
As this occurred PL’ers began leading the chant, “How do we spell racist? D-O-E!” Parents’, students’ and teachers’ speeches outlined how the DoE has neglected the mainly black and Latino high school for years. While most focused on the current four schools, others described the DoE’s history of racism at the building’s original John Jay HS. One panel member attempted to reprimand the audience for chanting and then booing the panel as the hearing began. This same flunky stated his position as a member of a community education board in the district. This drew further boos because undoubtedly this group has been a tool of the DoE’s segregation plans.
Amid the crowd’s anger, a PL’er declared that the situation facing the school cannot be solved under capitalism; that no politician or Board of Education can solve the problems of failing schools; and that the system was inherently flawed because the future it “offered” students worldwide was unemployment and imperialist wars. The PL’er then read the last paragraph of the article in the previous issue of CHALLENGE and stated that only communism can solve these problems. He invited everyone to get a copy of the paper, which was widely distributed throughout the protest and hearing.
Then a councilman tried to answer the PL’er, saying, “ I’m not trying to defend capitalism, I only speak honestly about what I feel.” He attempted to buy off the crowd by adding to the DoE “proposal” all the demands the students and teachers made about bringing in the new school.
After that the DoE’s District 15’s use of racism to divide the working class was on full display. They brought in parents of autistic children who the new school would potentially serve to argue for the DoE’s racist plans. Parent after parent used their children to justify the racist “proposal.” However, one speaker said the blame should fall squarely on the backs of the DoE for driving a wedge between two needed groups, the black and Latino students it has neglected for years and the special ed students who lack other school options.
Other teachers and community residents exposed the DoE by pointing out that all neighborhood parents can send their children to the schools already in the building, asserting that the DoE is obligated to provide the schools with more aid to help meet student needs.
The struggle is continuing. Teachers and students have already been attacked for confronting racism. As CHALLENGE goes to press, our forces are gearing up for the January 19 hearing where the DoE makes its decisions about this “proposal” and many others city-wide.
Class Struggle Still in Session
PL’ers and friends will be there to bring the message that capitalist education and the whole system is failing students, parents and teachers worldwide. Amid this class struggle, teachers and students have been receiving a lesson no capitalist classroom can teach.
The DoE racist attack against the teachers and students who are leading the struggle has sharpened in one school in the John Jay building. The Assistant Principal and the heavy-handed principal called one teacher into their office, saying they didn’t like the “tone” of the rally, to try to intimidate the teacher to stop organizing with students. This principal has hauled students into her office to interrogate them ever since the community has begun fighting the segregation. But the students have only responded to this principal with a stronger will to fight.
The students who’ve been leading the way have already come one step further, having joined a PL study group. PL’ers who are fighting alongside these workers and youth are using this struggle as a school to build communist ideas and raise class-consciousness. We have laid the groundwork for over five years with the people involved to see communism as the alternative to this current rotten system.
The class struggle is still in session! (More next issue.)