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Union Backed School Board Candidates Finish Strong Against Billionaire Supported Candidates

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Mike Hutchinson, who is poised to win the District 5 School Board election, speaks at a protest against NewSchools Venture Fund outside of an invitation-only fundraising dinner for the organization at Oakland’s Marriott at City Center on May 8, 2019, a few months after the Oakland Educator Strike. NewSchools Venture Fund is a billionaire backed organization that has invested in Oakland Charter Schools. Photo courtesy of Rex LC and East Bay DSA

As final votes are being tallied, three Oakland School Board director candidates backed by the Oakland Education Association who ran on platforms against privatization, cuts, and public school closures hold significant leads poising them to win against candidates who, backed by political action committees, spent between two to three times more money on their campaigns.

District 1 candidate Sam Davis, District 3 candidate VanCedric Williams, and District 5 candidate Mike Hutchinson, have each thus far secured between 10-13% more votes than their opponents Austin Dannhaus, Maiya Edgerly and Leroy Roches Gaines.

Dannhaus, Edgerly and Gaines received major campaign donations from PACs including Go Public Schools and Power2Families, which are funded in large part by billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Alice and Jim Walton, all of whom have encouraged the development of charter schools.
“I knew, even years ago, the only way to counter money power is with people power,” said Hutchinson.

Starting in 2012, Hutchinson began fighting school closures when he founded Oakland’s Public Education Network in reaction to school closures that included Santa Fe Elementary, a school he had attended.

In 2016, Hutchinson ran for School Board on an anti-school closure and anti-privatization platform but only secured about 16% of the vote. Hutchinson claimed years of hard work by himself and other public school advocates helped shift the narrative by 2020 against both the ideas that school privatization is beneficial and that public school closures are needed or inevitable. In 2020, the message of his campaign resonated more with voters.

From 2004 to 2019, Oakland had closed 18 public schools and in 14 of the closed sites, charter schools moved in.  The student population of the 16 closed schools was mostly Black. School board members claimed closures were financially necessary to best serve students, and pushed an agenda to close 24 more schools in 2019.

At the same time, Hutchinson, advocates, and OEA united to assert that the closures were strategic and came from underfunding and under-supporting schools that served Black and Brown students.

OEA Vice President Ismael Amendariz said the union had been focusing on problems around teacher retention issues like low teacher wages compared to nearby districts. But they shifted their focus in 2019 to cuts to OUSD and closures of schools by showing that School Board members who were pushing for the 24 closures had their campaigns funded by GO Public Schools.

Since pro-charter school funded Board members were pushing cuts, and school closures in recent history often meant charter schools taking over closed public school sites, they claimed the push to close schools was about privatization instead of financial necessity.

Amendariz said the union made an effort to make issues of billionaires pushing privatization more apparent to people during and leading up to a seven-day Oakland educator strike in late February and early March of last year. Hutchinson said the public was well situated to reject the privatization efforts as Pres. Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who are unpopular in Oakland, pushed a similar agenda.

East Bay Democratic Socialists of America were strong supporters of the strike, claiming that the push to spread charter schools, which do not allow unions, was funded by billionaires who wanted to break up labor organizing that could raise wages while improving working conditions and benefits which would drive up taxes on billionaires.

“In the build-up to the strike we had memos, we had education about who was buying our School Board,” said Amendariz. “When we were doing actions during the strike we were very intentional about where we were doing the actions and what was the messaging. That’s when people started to realize there’s something wrong here.”

A teachers’ strike in January 2019 in Los Angeles had similar anti-charter messaging that helped make Oakland’s strike more legible to the public. Hutchinson saw parallels between the two strikes in terms of “who the unions made the target of their strikes.”

“On day two of the L.A. teachers’ strike, UTLA marched on The California Charter School Association headquarters,” he said. “On day two of the strike in Oakland, OEA marched on GO [Public Schools] headquarters.”

Mona Treviño, who has been a parent activist since 2015 and worked with Hutchinson on his campaign said that although public consciousness against schools closures and privitization has recently shifted, “there have been waves of resistance in the last 10 years.” She pointed out battles to stop the closures at Santa Fe, Tilden, Maxwell Park and an occupation of Lakeview Elementary School during Occupy Oakland.

With Hutchinson, she and other advocates have spoken regularly at School Board meetings against closures and cuts. Organizing around legislative issues like the fight for AB 1505, a bill passed in October 2019 that helps give local school boards the power to deny approving charter schools, also has helped to educate voters.

In the months leading up to the strike, non-OEA sanctioned actions by teachers and students helped get themselves, the public, and the union to discuss and consider the issue of budget cuts and closures by laying the groundwork for a strike where issues of billionaire-backed privatization were more clearly addressed.

The school board chose to approve the closure of Roots Middle School  January 2019, but not before Roots students, teachers, and parents showed up at School Board meetings to speak out against its closure.

Students were at the forefront of the actions, wielding signs against budget cuts and closures, speaking out, at times though sobs and tears, in public comments against the board choosing to close their school. At one point students convinced the board to engage in a restorative justice circle to discuss the closure, transforming the regular format of the board’s meetings.

“You closing down Roots, to me, is like putting me up for adoption,” said former Roots student Tenai Harris, addressing the School Board. “Roots made me who I am.”

After the School Board announcing its decision to close the school, parents and students decided to boycott attending the school on February 1. Treviño said around 80% of students did not attend school that day. The activism stemming from Roots helped put the issue of closures at the forefront of people’s dialogue during the strike.

In December, 2018, Oakland High School teachers called in sick en masse to protest the lack of a contract with the district, a lack of nurses, too-large class sizes, and low wages. The strike was not sanctioned by OEA and was, in part, a reaction to what teachers perceived as a lack of union action. Oakland High teacher Alex Webster Guiney said at the time that the union was “moving too slow.” On Jan. 18, 2019, teachers and students at four other OUSD High Schools, and a middle school joined Oakland High to stage a mass walkout and march to protest the same issues.

The teacher-led actions soon lead to a student lead sick out, organized by students at Oakland Technical High School, where students from six different Oakland High Schools called out sick on Feb. 8, 2019, and rallied in support of the same demands. Looking back on the sick-outs and walk-outs, OEA Vice President Becky Pringle said that they helped organize high schools for the upcoming seven-day union sanctioned strike.

“Before the strike I didn’t have any awareness of union politics or School Board politics,” said Webster Guiney. “I just knew we didn’t have a contract, we hadn’t had one for 20 months, and our union wasn’t doing anything as far as I could tell.”

At that time, new union leadership coming into OEA was planning for the sanctioned strike. During the strike, and just after, when parents, students and teachers at Kaiser Elementary School repeatedly protested the school’s closure at board meetings, OEA, Hutchinson, and other advocates found it easier then they had in the past to educate the public about the privatized interests involved in school board elections.

“We went on our own little learning journeys,” Webster Guiney said. “People really started to see…there’s a concerted effort to take over Oakland schools.”

During the strike, Hutchinson was regularly at marches, pickets, and protests speaking out against public school closures and charters moving into public school sites, drawing a firm line between him and board members. None of the incumbent School Board members eligible to run for re-election this year chose to.

Hutchinson drew parallels between his campaign and Carroll Fife’s, an organizer who has worked diligently for housing for all in Oakland who recently won District 3’s City Council race.

“Both Carroll and I are organizers who have been on the front lines for years around all of these issues,” he said. “I’m really proud that it shows that in Oakland we have a by-any-means-necessary, inside-outside approach to politics.”

With the message more legible to the public, OEA-backed campaigns found it easier to talk to voters and drum up volunteers. Hutchinson had around 100 volunteers who worked almost 10 Saturdays in a row— missing one day due to wildfire smoke—doing phone calls and walks through his precinct to engage with voters.

In District 3, OEA helped phone 12,000 voters to support Williams, who opposes public school closures, against Edgerly, whose campaign received more than $100,000 from Go Public Schools and over $50,000 from Power2Families.

While three union-backed candidates are poised to win their races, one candidate backed by OEA, Ben Tapscott of District 7, looks poised to lose as he has received about 4.5% fewer votes than Clifford Thompson, whose was funded by Go Public Schools and Power2Families. This means the Oakland School Board has a narrow majority of candidates whose campaigns were backed by billionaires.

Still, with strong public support against closures and the privatization of schools and a new round of School Board director elections coming in 2022, OEA and public school advocates are hopeful.

“People don’t like billionaires and they trust teachers,” said Amendariz. “Bernie Sanders and Trump helped drive that point well. Voters are going with teachers.”

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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COMMENTARY: San Jose Congressman Norman Mineta: The Reparations Hero for Asian Americans

Congressman Norman Y. Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II. He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

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On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte
On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte

By Emil Guillermo

When the Democratic candidates began the 2020 presidential campaign, there was a buzz about reparations for African Americans.

And then, the buzz died.

I mention that because last week, former San Jose Mayor and 13th District Congressman Norman Y. Mineta passed away at age 90.

Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II.

He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Think about that. Reparations, the BIPOC holy grail. After Mineta got it done in 1988 under Reagan, it’s never been replicated.

Looking back, it seems like a magic trick. But it wasn’t. It was just hard work and politicking.

That’s why we all should revere the man who died somewhat appropriately in the first week of May, the month now known as Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Mineta was one of the first Congressional boosters to stretch what was originally a week, and then coined it Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

His passing on May 3, 2022, is an important marker on the significance of diversity and representation at the highest levels of government, politics, and elected office.

Born in San Jose to Japanese immigrants, Mineta lived through every major moment in modern Asian American history.

For the barriers he broke, and the policies he established, he was simply the community’s father figure.

He was Mr. Asian America.

For a short-time, I got to be close to him.

In the 103rd Congress in 1993, I was Mineta’s press secretary and speechwriter.

I had been at NPR where I hosted “All Things Considered.” When I left that position, I thought as a Californian in Washington, I should at least get to know how democracy gets done from the inside. Ideally, I figured you can cross the line into the netherworld of politics once. You can even cross back from whence you came. Once. But Norm was no ordinary politician.

He was the embodiment of Asian America in public life.

He was our hopes and dreams. Our cries and sorrows. From the time he was a Cub Scout incarcerated with other Japanese Americans during World War II to the time he served in government, Norm was there for all of us.

He was our fighter and our redeemer when he co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that got justice for internees. More than $1.6 billion was paid out to 82,200 Japanese Americans, according to the New York Times.

That was always the difference maker. Norm was in the fight to rectify the historical transgression that gives Asian Americans our moral authority to this day.

There were other Asian American politicians, of course. But few had the career arc of Mineta, who first served locally in 1971 as mayor of San Jose. He was the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city.

In 1974, he was first elected to Congress, leaving in 1995, when the divided government began to shape up with an aggressive GOP led by Newt Gingrich.

But Norm re-emerged in government with more Asian American firsts, as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Cabinet, and then Transportation Secretary under G.W. Bush. Two administrations. Two different parties.

The Norm I knew was the 1993 Norm. The people’s Norm.

The Norm who drove a modest white Dodge Colt because he wanted an American car. I knew the guy who worked all day, then carried a huge bag of homework to read through for the next day. I knew the guy who was in the post-flow triumph of the Civil Liberties Act, always diligent, persistent, and searching for a way to make things better.

That’s what I learned about Norm the most. Remember, this was in the early ’90s. Washington was getting nastier, more divisive, and gridlocked.

But Norm had friends like the late Republican Sen. Alan Simpson. They met as Boy Scouts in Wyoming. One incarcerated at the internment camp, the other free. Later as congressmen, they stood for a kind of bipartisanship that is rare these days.

That was perhaps the most significant political lesson I learned from Mineta. Legislation is one thing, but we’re all still human beings. And the goal is to turn adversaries into friends and to have your friends stay friends. You keep the channels open. You create new alliances, like the ideal public-private partnerships.

The point is, Mineta was always seeking solutions, working together with others to make things better.

He passes as the country is bitterly divided on everything. His life should serve as a playbook on how to keep the fragile nature of our democracy whole.

Remember Norm Mineta. He was the Democrat who got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Today, that would make him a political Superman.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his talk show on www.amok.com Twitter@emilamok

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