July General Meeting: Teacher Strike Wave, Schools, and Local Politics
Our July General Meeting was our largest yet. Over a hundred people — many of them teachers — turned out to talk about schools, the teacher strike wave, and the scourge of standardized testing, and to endorse Detroit DSA candidates in city council races.
Special guest Eric Blanc, author of Red State Revolt, was in town from New York to talk about the teacher strike wave sweeping the nation. Our own Hussein Beydoun and Jason Hackney spoke on a panel with Jamila Martin about the threats from standardized testing and for-profit charter schools and the state of funding for public education in Michigan. (This portion of the meeting was recorded and can be seen here.)
Blanc noted that the left in the U.S. is in a uniquely promising position right now: we are in the midst of a strike wave led primarily by teachers, DSA has over 60,000 members, and presidential candidate and socialist Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country.
He made the case for focusing labor organizing in two sectors — teachers and nursing — and spoke about how these very strong movements could help grow other sectors. As an example, he pointed to the flight attendants, led by Sara Nelson, who threatened to go on strike during the government shutdown and effectively forced it to end. When asked what inspired them to make such a bold move, they said, “The teachers did it — why can’t we.”
Jason Hackney, a veteran charter school teacher, argued that for-profit charters should be abolished and all charter schools should be reintegrated into the public school system. Hussein Beydoun, a public school teacher and soccer coach from Dearborn, said poverty is the number one problem facing educators today, and argued that passing legislation like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal would have profound effects on the schools. Buildings are dilapidated, air quality is bad, kids are sick, and schools no longer have nurses in the building.
Beydoun went on to cite specific problems in schools that could be changed, and spoke about how the regimen of standardized testing fails students. He and others in the activist teacher group MI Ed Justice are working to educate parents about their right to opt out of tests.
Jamila Martin, of the nonprofit group 482 Forward, talked about the financing of public education in Michigan. She said that many people cite Massachusetts for having high standards and good public schools but that, unlike Michigan, Massachusetts has invested state money into its schools. She gave some shocking statistics about funding: “Michigan, as a state, has become a low-tax state. If we were taxing ourselves at the same rate that we were in 1972, we would have $15 billion a year for things like schools, clean water, and infrastructure.”
Researchers say that Michigan public schools need about $3.5 billion to be funded fully and fairly. 482 Forward is part of a campaign called Babies Over Billionaires, which Detroit DSA has endorsed, calling for an increase in funding for education.
But education was not the only topic of the meeting. We also discussed local elections. We heard from and voted to endorse five candidates running in city council races: Brian Stawowy, Nada Daher and Kat Brunner James, vying for seats in Ferndale, Sara Habbo in Southfield, and Mike McDermott in Westland.
Brian Stawowy, who is running for mayor, learned about Detroit DSA while organizing with the Abdul El-Sayed campaign for Governor. He has been an active member of our chapter’s Medicare for All Working Group. Thirty-one-year-old Stawowy has witnessed firsthand the effects of development in driving gentrification in Ferndale, making the city unaffordable for many young people. An engineer, he has watched “developer sweetheart deals” pass through the city government unopposed. As Stawowy said, “If we don’t take action now, we’re going to be a city for the rich.”
Nada Daher is a healthcare worker at Beaumont and an active chapter member who serves on the Steering Committee, co-chairs the Antiracism Working Group, and organizes for reproductive rights. Daher moved to the U.S. after her family emigrated to Canada as refugees from Lebanon. For Daher, immigrant rights are paramount. She is committed to making Ferndale an affordable place for working-class people, a sanctuary for migrants, and a beacon for the Green New Deal.
Daher and Stawowy are running together as part of the Ferndale for All slate. They were joined in seeking Detroit DSA’s endorsement by Kat Brunner James, a civil rights attorney with a 17-year history of progressive activism in Ferndale. She fought for instant runoff voting (IRV) there. The campaign was successful, though IRV has yet to be implemented because of issues with Michigan’s voting machines.
There was some debate about whether to endorse Brunner James, as she is a new DSA member and will not be running on the Ferndale for All slate. Electoral Committee co-chair Jessica Newman explained the rationale for forwarding a recommendation to endorse all three: Brunner James’ positions are closely aligned with Daher and Stawowy’s, and while she’s not running on the slate, if all three are elected, they could vote as a bloc. There are five city council seats plus the mayor, who votes as a sixth member of the city council.
We also heard from a dynamic candidate for Southfield City Council, Sara Habbo. She spoke about the need for involving more young people in local politics and how she expected to do that. She is an attorney and a girls soccer coach who has attended many protests as a legal observer.
The fifth candidate was Mike McDermott, who was not in attendance but addressed our group at the June meeting. Detroit DSA endorsed McDermott in 2018 when he ran for State Rep in Westland, which is in Rashida Tlaib’s District. We voted unanimously to endorse him again.
We left the meeting feeling energized about the teachers strike wave and ready to bring it to Michigan. If you want to get involved with teacher organizing in our state, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re ready to knock doors for our candidates, email email@example.com.