Sunday, August 25, 2013

Issue #127 Singing for Freedom, Defending Public Schools and More

The Wisconsin Uprising II- Saving Wisconsin One Song at a Time…
Actually, the title of this section is misleading.  The events, often called the Wisconsin Uprising, which began in February, 2011 have never really ended.  They morphed from mass protests, to recall efforts, and then to a series of smaller scale legal, political and protest acts.  Of the latter, the Solidarity Sing was one of the more visible and certainly consistent efforts.  The relatively small number of participants “occupied” the Rotunda, or the grounds of the capitol, every weekday for 2+ years.  Their always peaceful voices, a visible presence keeping attention focused on the effort to reclaim Wisconsin.

Despite claims by a small number of legislators and public commentary fueled by rhetoric from far right mouthpieces, the Sing was a relatively non-invasive protest that gave voice to the movement.  Yet, its ongoing presence was a constant thorn in the side of conservative leadership, and they perpetually looked for ways to eliminate the Singers. 

This opportunity presented itself in the form of a court ruling that they could misinterpret and manipulate to allow them to crack-down on the Singers and issue citations for what they deemed an “Unlawful Assembly” (a true oxymoron given that the Constitutions of both the U.S. and Wisconsin guarantee the right of the people to assemble).

Now, several weeks into the crack-down, with the arrest total mounting, the administration finds itself facing a committed group of activists who have garnered support as a result of the efforts to eliminate them.  The administration faces the choice of either admitting they made a mistake in restricting free speech, or in escalating their efforts.  Given the history of this administration it is clear that they don’t even see the fact that they have a choice, escalation of the intimidation is a given for these policy makers. 

In the face of this intimidation, many across Wisconsin have rallied behind the singers. 

You can also support the Singers through contributions to help with the costs of being cited by Capitol Police.  All donations go towards helping with things like:
  • Jury Fees
  • Serving Subpoenas
  • Printing Transcripts
  • Court Filing Fees
  • Fines

The efforts of the administration to curb dissent are actually having the opposite effect.  The injustice of their enforcement of the court ruling has galvanized support for the Singers and also given a voice to the ongoing concerns that many in Wisconsin have about our current conservative leadership. 

Time has not lessened the need for citizens to be aware of what their elected leaders are doing here and across the nation.  The threats to democracy and the values espoused in our founding documents are significant.  No matter what your political persuasion may be, the actions of the current administration move us in a very dangerous direction; One where the voice of the people is limited and those in power are free to use whatever means they desire to advance their agendas. 

The singers aren’t calling for radical revolutionary change.  Their pleas are for a Wisconsin where the citizens of the state can voice their opinions without fear of reprisal and where dissent isn’t suppressed.  They sing for a return to a Wisconsin that was a model for cooperative and ethical government.  The efforts of the conservative administration to label the Singers as radicals and Socialists and to divide our state along political, social and economic lines are harmful to all of us.  The sooner that the citizens of Wisconsin recognize this reality the sooner we can get on a path that leads to true prosperity.

Defend Our Public Schools…
The myth of the radical Singers and the “anti-American” nature of the Uprising are one way that those who hold the purse-strings of our government seek to maintain their dominance in society.  Privatizing our education system provides another opportunity to make a profit and divide the citizens at the same time.  The profit motive is clear and easy to observe.  There is a lot of money to be made in education for those who are interested in profit instead of providing a vital service.

In order to break into the education “industry” it is necessary to undermine the people’s confidence in the public schools.  This is a process that has been going on for a long time, and the reality is that our public school systems across the nation vary greatly in terms of curriculum, materials and other resources that contribute to the gaps in student achievement.  It is clear that we need to address the inequities that exist, but the idea that privatization will help do this is simply not borne out by evidence.  

The implementation of high-stakes testing mandates allowed the “reformers” to gather data on what professional educators had been talking about for years.  They used this data, not to try and improve the quality of education for students, or to give educators a fighting chance to succeed, but rather to move their for-profit “reforms” into the forefront of educational debates.  “Reformers” have worked hard to circumvent professional educators and remove their voices from discussions about educational policy.  

The solution offered by for-profit “reformers” is to cut funding for public schools, expand voucher programs and increase the number of private options for families.  Their claim is that this will provide choice for families to allow them to find a path for their children to get an education that will allow them to escape poverty.  Yet, there is little compelling evidence that the current system of privatization and vouchers does anything but provide opportunities to those who already enjoyed the benefits of an upper-middle (or higher) class existence.  Groups that struggle in the current under-supported public schools are either excluded, or ignored by for-profit schools.  

The argument that competition will improve the quality of service provided by schools simply doesn’t hold water either.  Instead of driving innovation and spurring competition that pushes educational outcomes higher for students, the competition simply fuels marketing campaigns to mislead and attract families to send their children to the school with the best advertisements and most “perks”.

We end up with schools that are run like businesses, including higher CEO pay and fewer reasons for quality employees to stay in positions that truly benefit children and improve their educational outcomes.

These separate and unequal school systems produce significantly different results.  It is important to note that these differences perpetuate the widening gaps in opportunity and economic success based on race.

Parents are confused and frustrated by the barrage of information and negative portrayals of the schools that they are often most comfortable with.  Schools, when given proper support and when held accountable in meaningful and reasonable ways, provide excellent educational opportunities for our students.  As educators we must continue to work to educate our communities and build support for our public schools.  Just like the Solidarity Sing draws attention to the political ills of our state, so to, educators need to bring the issues in our educational system into the public’s consciousness.  

The Industries of Fear, Misinformation, and “Bargains”…
Politics and education are not the only places where we see those in power using their influence to insure that they stay dominant politically, socially and economically.  As a society we are seeing many tools being used to manipulate the ways that we see the world around us.  One of the most powerful of these tools is fear.  If you spend any time carefully observing advertisements or media outlets of any type you can see the way that fear is used to generate a perceived need for a service or product.  Fear can also be used effectively to create opposition for a policy, candidate or movement.  The idea that we need to act/think in a specific way in order to hold on to what we have, or even to survive is a powerful motivational or manipulative tool.   We are constantly being told that our way of life is threatened by some outside force.

Fear can be generated in many ways, but misinformation is one of the most powerful and effective ways to manipulate public opinion.  Giving people partial information or even totally incorrect information means that they will base their decisions on faulty foundations.  For example, perceptions of the protests at the capitol in 2011 were forever tainted in the minds of some by the claim of millions of dollars in damages, claims that were later proved to be totally false.  Now we are seeing fear and misinformation used to try and create a sense that many of the reforms and existing programs that are helpful to so many people are actually damaging to our economy.  This same type of rhetoric is used to support policies that are truly having a negative impact on our state.  

Media coverage of these claims focuses on one side of the story.  For example, when talking about the reductions in employees hired, or hours that employees work because of upcoming changes in health insurance laws few articles discuss the fact that many larger companies are enjoying record profits at the expense of these same workers. 

It is up to consumers (of all things including information) to be aware of the true costs and benefits of their “purchases”.  What looks like a bargain, may not be one in the long run.  Do your homework and develop a complete understanding of what you are being sold.

The key to reclaiming Wisconsin continues to be making accurate information available and educating as many people as possible with complete and truthful material.  If people have the facts then they can make truly informed decisions that are in their best interests as well as the rest of society's. 

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