The mayor of the state’s largest city joined hundreds of others–teachers, students, parents– in a march that closed down its largest thoroughfare. And the mayor promised the demonstrations would continue and be even more creative. In any other state in the nation, the event would have made, not just statewide news, but national news. But not here in New Jersey. Here in New Jersey, Mayor Ras Baraka’s bold action and aggressive words were ignored by the media, including the state’s largest newspaper. Only a few digital journalists and photographers did cover it–along with a public television station looking to balance a ridiculously one-sided interview the day before with the target of Newark’s anger, state superintendent Cami Anderson.
What’s wrong with New Jersey? Why is it ignoring a situation that could easily boil out of control–while its media cover every burp uttered by Chris Christie who doesn’t deserve becoming president of anything besides an inmates’ foodie club in a federal prison somewhere?
It’s not unnoticed. Baraka raised the question in his speech on Broad Street at rush hour. After reciting why the people of the city are angry with Cami Anderson, he turned on what he called the “press” and, of course, everyone there knew he was talking about The Star-Ledger:
“That’s why we’re upset. We’re not upset with her personality. And I wish the media would figure that out. I wish they’d figure that out. Because you can open up the paper and, if I have an argument with a council person, it’s on the front page. But this is a lady with a $70 million deficit–who has closed a bunch of schools–and has schools that haven’t worked–and there’s not one thing, not one thing in the press.
“Just constantly defending and defending and defending her, until you want to figure out who is protecting her? Why is she being protected and who is making (Newark) a testing ground for the rest of the country?”
Wouldn’t you like to know? Because what’s happening in Newark will be happening in many other places–in New Jersey and the rest of the country. But, oddly, instead of covering this demonstration on the streets of the state’s largest city, The Star-Ledger published yet another hymn of praise to charter schools, the third such–well, in the business, we’d call it a “big wet kiss” on the greedy lips of those who want to privatize public education–in a week.
Baraka’s speech and actions were remarkable Wednesday. He demonstrated the forcefulness he used to counter the influence of street gangs when he was a councilman and high school principal–and the passion of his late father, the poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, in confronting the mindless and maddening injustice that is the state’s ravaging of public education in Newark.
“We want to kill the narrative that everybody agrees with what’s going on in the city,” Baraka said. “We don’t agree with what’s happening in the Newark schools.”
Mindless media–in addition to The Star-Ledger, most notably the Huffington Post and journals like the Wall Street Journal and Forbes–treat Cami Anderson as if she were some great white goddess who is bringing enlightenment to the dark cities of New Jersey. They have no clue as to her background, the evolution of privatization in New Jersey, and the role played by hedge fund managers and the unlikely Bobbsy Twins of school privatization, Chris Christie and Cory Booker.
These oligarchs and their tools–their “useful idiots,” like clueless editorial writers– are not simply taking away public schools, they are taking away neighborhoods and communities that happen to be populated by the poor and people of color. Why?
Because strong communities are strong political forces–and those forces don’t vote for the moneyed interests represented by Christie and Booker (oh, you thought Booker was a Democrat? Really? Remember how he said he wanted to vomit because Obama criticized Romney?).
Because the real estate sitting under community schools and homes translates into millions dollars for gentrifiers, especially in cities like Newark, Jersey City, and Camden. Dollars that will not go to help the people who need it.
Baraka has been a voice of reason and, instead of ignoring him–the way Mark Biedron, the state board of education president, shamefully did just last week–the protectors of the status quo should listen. Pay heed. Because anger is growing–the school crisis in Newark is creating a unity among races and ethnic groups, between the community and unions, among students in all neighborhoods, across all imaginable lines.
And this time, the police are on the side of the people. Because Baraka is on the side of the people.
Listen to Baraka:
“This struggle is not emotional. It’s not about us being angry at Cami Anderson. I don’t want to make it about her and me or make it about her personality. We’re opposed to what’s going on and, who’s ever down there doing it, is wrong. No matter who they are or where they come from, it’s wrong.
“We’re not against it because she’s from New York, but because she’s wrong. We’re not mad about her personality. We’re mad because she’s wrong. We’re not upset about anything else except for the fact that she wrong.
“She was supposed to be here helping public schools grow, not closing them down. That’s what we’re upset about.
“Why am I upset? Because we have a 70 million budget deficit for the Newark schools that keeps growing because she keeps putting teachers on the EWP list, putting them in rubber rooms, putting administrators on the list, too, and making the city pay for it. The taxpayers are paying for it—not just the state taxpayers but Newark taxpayers—are paying for that, too. That’s why we’re upset.
“We’re upset because she keeps ‘renewing’ schools and it’s not working, the renew school thing is not working, but she keeps doing it and it’s not working.
“We’re upset because she says she’s going to turnaround schools but that’s a code name for closing them down. She’s getting money from the state for the turnaround and we don’t see any of that money. The state is supposed to be working with the schools for the turnarounds but that’s not happening either.
“We’re upset because she is splitting people’s families up. Because she’s sending kids with special needs to schools and the schools don’t offer special needs programs. We’re upset because she’s sending English language learners to schools withbout English language learner programs.
“That’s why we’re upset.”
Cami Anderson must go, he concluded. “Not tomorrow. Today.”
His speech was extemporaneous. Much of what he said was in the painful context of what has been happening in Newark for four years.
Anyone who doesn’t completely understand the references should follow the media that does–this site or others like it, including Blue Jersey, Jersey Jazzman, or The Teacher’s Desk.
Better yet–call your local mainstream media, including the one to which Baraka alluded–and demand they cover what the people of New Jersey need to know.