Monday, January 9, 2017

Yvette Felarca: Building the Movement to Stop Trump

December 2016's Teaching Resistance is written by the one and only Yvette Felarca, a bay area-based educator, activist, and tireless voice of anti-fascist resistance who is an inspiration to radical teachers everywhere.

Building the Movement to Stop Trump
Lessons From Victory in Berkeley by an Anti-Fascist, Civil Rights Educator

Donald Trump has used the presidential election in the U.S. to build a movement modeled on the semi-fascist ultra-right wing immigrant bashing parties of Europe, like the Le Pen National Front, and the historical experience of the rise to power of Mussolini’s fascists and Hitler’s Nazi’s. With Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidency, the first step would be taken in the creation of a fascist power over the American government and the American people. The feeble electoral tactics of Clinton’s Democrats have failed to prevent this disaster for democracy in the U.S. and around the world. Both the Democratic Party and the American news media have proven bankrupt in defeating Trump or even in speaking the plain truth about the threat he presents and the real character of the movement he heads.

Trump and his movement can be defeated, but only by a new mass movement committed to the principles of democracy, equality, diversity, and openness. Only such a movement can defeat Trump, his billionaire club backers, and his mass lynch-mob followers’ struggle to undermine those principles in order to carry out draconian attacks on immigrants, organized labor, and all oppressed communities. Trump’s movement is at war with the new majority-minority America with its progressive commitment to diversity, tolerance, and internationalism. Trump’s demagogy and even his personal image promises a return to a reactionary utopia of white-skin privilege and male power over women.

To defend the democratic gains of the past, and realize the potential for a fully human liberation in the future, and to avoid the destruction of both Americans’ most cherished principles and a world of increasing division, hate, and violence, we must build a new mass movement to defeat Trump and everything he stands for. The building of such a mass democratic movement is the greatest and most urgent challenge of our times. Our new mass movement, by mobilizing everything that’s best in us, can defeat Trump and his ugly mob, which concentrates everything that is worst in American history.

I know this first hand, because I just won my own victory against Trump’s Nazi and KKK backers. My name is Yvette Felarca. I have been dedicated middle school teacher in Berkeley, and longtime civil rights and trade union activist. I came under attack from the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) administration for my work as a progressive teacher and for my political activity. I teach ELD (English as a Second Language) and Humanities at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, where I’ve taught for 10 years. I consistently received strong teaching evaluations and support from students, co-workers, and parents. As a teacher and a political activist, I believe in engaging young people in their education by encouraging them to connect their learning to their own lives and struggles for social justice.

On June 26, 2016, during summer vacation, I protested self-identified neo-Nazi and KKK Trump supporters who scheduled a rally on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento. Instead they violently attacked us, and nine anti-fascist protesters, including me, were stabbed by the Nazis. These same fascists had already stabbed and almost killed black and Latino protesters in Anaheim earlier in the year, and had gone to Sacramento to try to do the same thing. The day after the Sacramento rally, violent threats were made by Nazi and racist Trump supporters against me and against my school if I was not fired.

Instead of defending me, the neo-liberal BUSD administration attacked me and began their witch-hunt. Four days after I was stabbed, the District issued me a formal discipline, then later, on August 31, they took my entire August paycheck. On Wed. Sept. 21, three weeks into the school year, the BUSD administration removed me from a faculty meeting, escorted me to my classroom to collect my personal belongings, and then marched me out of the school. I was placed on administrative leave.

Every witch-hunt includes a shameful round-up, and Berkeley was no exception. I found out that the same day I was placed on administrative leave, several of my immigrant and ELD students were removed from class and questioned about me by the school district’s lawyer, without their parents being notified or present. They were also questioned about their off campus, outside of school political activities and activism. They were forced to answer questions in English, which is not their native language. My other immigrant and international students, and only my immigrant and international students, were rounded up and questioned on a variety of days during the time that I was on administrative leave. Even Latina students who had been my students years earlier, but who had spoken out in my defense at school board meetings, were also interrogated by District officials. And just when it seems like it couldn’t be more shameful, students were told by BUSD lawyers and administration to keep their "interviews" a secret and to "tell no one."

The initial shock and fear that I and my students experienced from this victimization soon gave way to anger, and that anger galvanized me and my students to take action. Before I even left the school on the first day I was suspended, I asked my co-workers to announce what happened to the rest of the staff, and to urge them to get to the school board meeting that evening. Teachers, school support staff, students, and parents filled the school board meeting to speak out in my defense, and even shut down the meeting to demand the right of one my students’ parents to speak. The following school board meeting we had twice as many people there and shut down the meeting again. Me and other teachers, school employees, students, parents, and community members attended every school board meeting since then, and held mass organizing meetings where we voted on demands and a plan of action from week to week. Students, in particular, were incredibly courageous and inspiring—making speeches at School Board meetings, writing and circulating their own petition, wearing stickers and buttons, even organizing each other internationally to call in to the School Board meetings to make speeches from Mexico City. I spoke to the media every chance I got. And even though there were days where the pressure and uncertainty certainly took their toll on me, the movement sustained and bolstered me far more than anything else could have. I knew that I had to speak up, because if I didn’t, not only me, but other good teachers would get run out of teaching if I didn’t.

I am a union and civil rights activist. I am member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) Executive Board, a founding member of the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary (EON/BAMN) Caucus in both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). I am a national organizer with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). If not for my experience as a political organizer, and the support of my national organizations, I would have felt too isolated to fight the way I did. Thanks to EON/BAMN and to teachers in my school and others who supported me, I got my union to file a grievance to restore my pay and to also advocate for my swift return to my classroom. My lawyers in BAMN also filed lawsuit on my behalf against BUSD for discrimination, violations of free speech, due process, and academic freedom. They also filed a lawsuit on behalf of my students and their parents for discrimination, racial targeting and intimidation, and for violating the students’ freedom of speech.

It’s a huge mistake, however, to rely on either the union bureaucracy or the court system to win justice. By far, credit for our Berkeley victory goes to the movement that spread nationally and even internationally with each passing day. Building that movement would not have been possible without the backing and movement organizing methods of EON/BAMN. Despite the best efforts of Trump’s racist threats and policies, our movement won, and I was returned to my classroom after six weeks.

The outcome of my struggle was and is vital to the rights of other teachers and to the struggle against racism and the growth of American fascism. In the context of growing violent racist and far right-wing attacks being waged across the globe, and by the racism and xenophobia of Donald Trump’s cabinet, the decision of BUSD to discipline and suspend me for my off duty political activities and political affiliations and activism place Berkeley on the wrong side of the historic struggle to stop the rise of the far-right wing and their violent attacks. That, in turn, discredited that neo-liberal school board members with each passing day. More importantly, I urge more teachers who face the same kind of threats and attacks in the future to stand up and wage a public fight, too—and to contact me and BAMN. We beat the neo-liberals who rolled out the red carpet for Trump. Now let’s defeat Trump! Se se puede! --Yvette Felarca

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