What the residents of Newark and other cities understandably do not wish to accept is a harsh, basic fact of political life in New Jersey: They do not matter. While Cami Anderson, the much-hated, state-appointed superintendent of city schools, insists her plans to close neighborhood schools and open new charters are supported by all but a vocal minority, that is clearly an artifice she has promoted as a public relations strategy. Slothful, clueless, and, in the case of The Star-Ledger and NJTV, fawning, media representatives go along with the lie and make it seem real.
The truth, of course, is that the voters of the city of Newark held a referendum on Cami Anderson last May and she lost badly. Despite the expenditure of $5 million by Anderson supporters, despite the candidacy of an articulate and non-threatening Shavar Jeffries, despite a libelous campaign directed against Ras Baraka, the people of the city loudly said “No!” to Anderson and her “One Newark” plan to eliminate, not just neighborhood schools, but viable neighborhoods.
The people spoke but the voice of the people didn’t matter because the people of Newark do not matter politically to the rest of the state.
The expectation was that, after Baraka’s victory, Anderson’s political cred was so worthless that she had to resign. This would be true, certainly, in suburban New Jersey. Indeed, it probably would be true in any place on earth where democracy is treated as a serious form of government. Countlessly over the course of my career, I have seen severely repudiated public officials step down after such a humiliation with comments like, “I can no longer serve without the support and confidence of the people.”
That’s what happens in the white world. The world outside New Jersey’s cities.
Baraka himself was fooled by such a reasonable expectation. So were the leaders of the Newark Teachers Union and the New Jersey Education Association, all of whom were convinced Anderson could not withstand such an obvious repudiation. They frittered away the crucially important last weeks of May, during which they could have taken to the streets, because they believed Anderson would leave.
They were conned, gamed, and yes, humiliated. Shamefully so.
Anderson stayed. Anderson got a new contract. “One Newark,” chaotic as it continues to be, has been implemented and the opportunity to stop it has been lost. The people of Newark lost; their referendum was meaningless. It would have made no difference if the Wall Streeters won and bought the election for Jeffries.
For those with eyes to see, the humiliation represented by Anderson’s success starkly illustrates a reality in the state that few are willing to admit exists and it is this: Most people in the state are perfectly happy with a New Jersey that is made up of relatively affluent and white suburbs surrounding impoverished and predominantly black and brown cities. New Jersey is happy with apartheid in a velvet glove.
It’s a sort of Walt Disney version of apartheid because general beliefs are spouted about how racial isolation and race-based poverty are bad things, but the state is more or less happily led by a governor like Chris Christie, a demagogue in a pin-stripe suit, who embodies the values that ensure the poor stay poor and the people of color remain isolated.
This doesn’t mean that the predominantly white middle class is pleased with their lives but Christie has cleverly diverted their fears, frustrations and insecurities into a resentment of urban residents and of another class of people closely associated with urban life—public employees. Teachers are selfish. Public employee unions are bad for New Jersey. Public employee pensions—not the failure to tax equitably—are bankrupting the state.
Simple ideas. Simple hatred. Simple resentment.
Newark and other cities are easy targets for demagoguery. No, there won’t be pogroms. There won’t be mass arrests of trade union leaders. We’re so much more civilized than that. But what we have is isolation and disenfranchisement. What we have is deprivation, the cutting off of resources needed desperately by urban schools, urban police forces, urban health care providers. No, not because we openly want to ensure a permanent underclass, but because we simply cannot increase the tax burden, no matter how wealthy the wealthiest become.
So, when Christie announces, “I am a decider”—when he publicly humiliates Ras Baraka by coyly calling this black elected official “hostile”—he is playing to the resentful audience he helped create. When he wags his finger at the face of a teacher and says he is tired of “you people,” he is channeling the very resentment he incited.
And he is encouraging the maintenance of a state—and state institutions—that are politically tone deaf to the needs and aspirations of the residents of its cities. The Legislature will not help. The courts are intimidated. The executive is wholly owned by Christie. The feds—at least on the issue of education—are schizophrenic. The media don’t get it and dismiss such thoughts as “conspiracy theories” although the reality is right there in front of them.
So, specifically, special education children are denied their rights—and no one is there to vindicate those rights. Newark children are fed moldy food and no one in the state outside the city cares. Kids are made to walk through dangerous neighborhoods and across dangerous streets without crossing guards—and no one in a position to act does anything. Students do not have books or desks or schedules—and Cami Anderson is praised by the media for her “reforms.”
Would this happen in Pottersville or Evesham or Bernardsville or Oxford or Andover or Green Village? Of course, those people matter.
I am sorry to say this but the people of Newark and their children have ceased to matter politically.
They will continue not to matter as long as they continue to play by the rules established for them by a demagogue like Christie, his allies in the Legislature, the courts and all the rest of those–inside and outside government—who have made the people of the city and their children invisible.
Who are indifferent to the suffering of children.