On Catherine Ferguson Academy and the People’s Movement Assembly

(this post is about the school closings in Detroit, particularly the effort to close Catherine Ferguson Academy, which came to national media attention after a dramatic action. my analysis includes a report back from a detroit-wide meeting last night, the action, and what to do.)

we had an intense/amazing people’s movement assembly in detroit last night. the principal of catherine ferguson academy (CFA) and others who work at CFA were in attendance, along with about 250 other members of the community.

first, i wanted to share what folks came up with last night. we laid out an education on the mayor’s “detroit works” plans, which include shutting down half the schools, firing all the teachers, closing the libraries (as elena herrada put it last night, this is “even more devastating than the school closings. That’s where people go to find jobs, and to teach themselves”), foreclosing people out of their homes in neighborhoods the city wants to use in other ways, shutting down bus service, threatening to pull police and fire houses out of neighborhoods where folks live, etc. all without meaningfully engaging the community as a source of solutions.

we then had folks break into groups to generate resolutions for action aligned with a people’s plan for Detroit. folks came back with making detroit a sanctuary city, boycotting fast food, developing a people’s media network, demanding local businesses hire local people, keeping our money in Detroit, and more.

education transformation was the largest break-out group last night. they discussed calling for a moratorium on school and library closings, and beginning to think about community-owned charters so we can pull our schools out of this cycle of being threatened with closure every other month.

on Tuesday, May 3, starting at 2pm, there will a hearing for 18 schools including Catherine Ferguson and the Day School for the Deaf (which is the only school for the deaf in Detroit). we’re asking folks to come and flood the hearing with a massive rally of support.

After Tuesday we’ll have a better sense of the status of the schools and a landscape of the fight. If you are in Detroit or MI, come through; if not, spread the word to all your MI folks.

other things to do:

sign petition to robert bobb

check out this assessment of mainstream media related to the catherine ferguson incident, from a detroit media justice perspective.

now, my big p.s….

you know I LOVE good direct action, almost as much as I hate talking about people. I deeply respect the young women of CFA who took the risk for their lives and their school.

because I think all of you are organizers, or potential organizers, and may come across similar issues in your work, I am going to share what I have learned about the group that agitated this action. i have learned this from a cross-section of organizers in the city.

for full disclosure, I share this from a space of having spent nearly 6 years under the influence of responsible movement support action work with The Ruckus Society. nothing makes me more furious than seeing a community taken advantage of when they want to take action for themselves.

bamn (by any means necessary), is a sectarian group that’s a youth arm of revolutionary workers league. they operate nationally, but are michigan based and do most damage locally.

their strategy here is to have a presence in the teacher’s union, recruit teachers with good intentions, who then agitate students with good intentions & encourage actions w/no strategy. emphasis on the no strategy – a few years ago I watched them get a bunch of 3rd graders pepper sprayed, and now this. in spite of how completely amazing and brave the young women of Catherine Ferguson Academy are in general, and were in the action, it was a mock-upation that left these young black women in the hands of the police without galvanized community support or any plan for escalation.

for bamn this action was a success – they enraged folks and got themselves in the news.

I’m not against the tactic of enraging spectacle in general, I have seen this tactic executed beautifully throughout history, but in this instance it’s counter-revolutionary.

creating a spectacle with people of color as the sacrifice and getting headlines for a minute before people’s attention turns to the next big thing while the community loses it’s school and support (deep breath) is NOT good organizing, it’s NOT an effective media strategy, and its NOT a path towards the changes needed in detroit.

what it might do is channel local and national people’s anger into shortsighted rage-based actions that bring martial law into effect. and let’s not mince words – we may have to take it to the streets in detroit and shut the city down ourselves to keep the mayor from displacing the whole community.

if you leave people no option but rage, you get a riot.

but that kind of uprising has to come from the people of detroit, not a sectarian agitation group who is making money off every step they take…

In terms of people sending bamn donations (which was the publicized action to take after the police took the girls) – bamn’s fundraising strategy is in effect – they agitate an action, send a press release w/their name on it, show up with their banners and messaging, are the press reps on site for the action, and then when shit hits the fan they become the legal representation. they make their money off of putting communities at risk through action, so they don’t need your additional funds.

i say all this because it needs to be said, not because it gives me pleasure to say it. i would love to say i think bamn can change, but through all my years of organizing, i have rarely seen a sectarian organization that could actually put the people before their own politic – and i think that is no better than putting profits before people. i say this because I believe in detroit, and don’t want to see the city manipulated when its longing to be organized and powerful.

we have a city of visionaries and changemakers. we have a people’s plan for detroit that speaks to housing, schools, libraries, water, the environment, food, safety. we are living that plan, every day. its slow going. we have internal differences like any community in the world, and bamn is a part of all of that and hopefully we will find ways to hold them accountable at the local level. we also have outsiders on all sides who think they can tell from their vantage point what we should do.

we are at war for the soul of this city. we are on the ground, shifting our resources amongst several front lines, fighting as cells towards a common goal so deeply ingrained in detroiters its hard to articulate – a people’s detroit, an actual democracy (“a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives” – sound familiar?).

we are building a city that places people before profits, that lives in its own abundance, rather than barely surviving on what it can import and ship out.

i would call it a post-capitalist city. but i am one of many voices, who would all articulate it differently. i am learning a lot about movement building. i am learning so much about the glacial pace of community change – how it can move so slow, then suddenly change (completely) so fast.

so we will come out to events CFA announces, we will flood the proceedings to show how much that school means to us. we will fight for the School for the Deaf and all the rest. we fight for an educated detroit, not educated to work in someone’s factory, but educated to live, to take responsibility for our city. we will fight for the libraries, and we will keep teaching each other, feeding each other, and holding on to each other as this river of change overflows its banks.

and me? i will stop talking bout folks now and just promise to keep you posted.