Arizona School Board Fires Head of Mexican-American Studies

by Paul Teitelbaum

The Tucson Unified School Board, in a 3-2 vote, ousted the director of the Mexican-American Studies Program on April 10.

Program Director Sean Arce co-founded the MAS Program in 1999 and developed it into one of the most successful programs in the district. In 2004, the Mexican-American Studies Department was combined with the Pan-Asian, African-American and Native-American Studies Departments to create the new Ethnic Studies Department. This made the Tucson district the only K-12 public school district in the U.S. with an Ethnic Studies Department.

During the two-and-a-half-hour public comment period prior to the vote, people defended Arce and the program and lambasted the racist cowards on the board. Not one comment was made against the program. Community activist Isabel Garcia expressed the anger and outrage of the people when she told the board, ”I believe you prefer our children in prison than graduating from these high schools.” Continue reading

Ward Imbalance Underrepresents Less Affluent Residents in Hamilton

by John Neary

“While much of the commentary over Hamilton’s ward representation focuses on the urban/suburban split, the more glaring imbalance is in representation by income.”

Much of the recent commentary on the large differences in population between Hamilton wards – or, to put it differently, the large differences in voter representation – has once again focused on the “urban vs. suburban/rural” narrative.

This focus is a shame for several reasons, the first of which is that these divides aren’t as clear as we often think.

Is Ward 13 (Dundas) “suburban”? It’s called the “Valley Town”, not the “Valley Suburb”.

Is Ward 1 “urban” (Strathcona and Kirkendall) or suburban (West Hamilton to the Ancaster border)?

How about Ward 7, which stretches from the mountain brow all the way past Rymal Road?

More importantly, however, this narrative is unhelpful because it distracts from how the current ward system underrepresents our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Continue reading

On Authority

by Friedrich Engels

A number of Socialists have latterly launched a regular crusade against what they call the principle of authority. It suffices to tell them that this or that act is authoritarian for it to be condemned. This summary mode of procedure is being abused to such an extent that it has become necessary to look into the matter somewhat more closely.

Authority, in the sense in which the word is used here, means: the imposition of the will of another upon ours; on the other hand, authority presupposes subordination. Now, since these two words sound bad, and the relationship which they represent is disagreeable to the subordinated party, the question is to ascertain whether there is any way of dispensing with it, whether — given the conditions of present-day society — we could not create another social system, in which this authority would be given no scope any longer, and would consequently have to disappear.

On examining the economic, industrial and agricultural conditions which form the basis of present-day bourgeois society, we find that they tend more and more to replace isolated action by combined action of individuals. Modern industry, with its big factories and mills, where hundreds of workers supervise complicated machines driven by steam, has superseded the small workshops of the separate producers; the carriages and wagons of the highways have become substituted by railway trains, just as the small schooners and sailing feluccas have been by steam-boats. Even agriculture falls increasingly under the dominion of the machine and of steam, which slowly but relentlessly put in the place of the small proprietors big capitalists, who with the aid of hired workers cultivate vast stretches of land.

Everywhere combined action, the complication of processes dependent upon each other, displaces independent action by individuals. But whoever mentions combined action speaks of organisation; now, is it possible to have organisation without authority?

Supposing a social revolution dethroned the capitalists, who now exercise their authority over the production and circulation of wealth. Supposing, to adopt entirely the point of view of the anti-authoritarians, that the land and the instruments of labour had become the collective property of the workers who use them. Will authority have disappeared, or will it only have changed its form? Let us see.

Let us take by way if example a cotton spinning mill. The cotton must pass through at least six successive operations before it is reduced to the state of thread, and these operations take place for the most part in different rooms. Furthermore, keeping the machines going requires an engineer to look after the steam engine, mechanics to make the current repairs, and many other labourers whose business it is to transfer the products from one room to another, and so forth. All these workers, men, women and children, are obliged to begin and finish their work at the hours fixed by the authority of the steam, which cares nothing for individual autonomy. The workers must, therefore, first come to an understanding on the hours of work; and these hours, once they are fixed, must be observed by all, without any exception. Thereafter particular questions arise in each room and at every moment concerning the mode of production, distribution of material, etc., which must be settled by decision of a delegate placed at the head of each branch of labour or, if possible, by a majority vote, the will of the single individual will always have to subordinate itself, which means that questions are settled in an authoritarian way. The automatic machinery of the big factory is much more despotic than the small capitalists who employ workers ever have been. At least with regard to the hours of work one may write upon the portals of these factories: Lasciate ogni autonomia, voi che entrate! [Leave, ye that enter in, all autonomy behind!]

If man, by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius, has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him by subjecting him, in so far as he employs them, to a veritable despotism independent of all social organisation. Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel.

Let us take another example — the railway. Here too the co-operation of an infinite number of individuals is absolutely necessary, and this co-operation must be practised during precisely fixed hours so that no accidents may happen. Here, too, the first condition of the job is a dominant will that settles all subordinate questions, whether this will is represented by a single delegate or a committee charged with the execution of the resolutions of the majority of persona interested. In either case there is a very pronounced authority. Moreover, what would happen to the first train dispatched if the authority of the railway employees over the Hon. passengers were abolished?

But the necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that, will nowhere be found more evident than on board a ship on the high seas. There, in time of danger, the lives of all depend on the instantaneous and absolute obedience of all to the will of one.

When I submitted arguments like these to the most rabid anti-authoritarians, the only answer they were able to give me was the following: Yes, that’s true, but there it is not the case of authority which we confer on our delegates, but of a commission entrusted! These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world.

We have thus seen that, on the one hand, a certain authority, no matter how delegated, and, on the other hand, a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us together with the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate.

We have seen, besides, that the material conditions of production and circulation inevitably develop with large-scale industry and large-scale agriculture, and increasingly tend to enlarge the scope of this authority. Hence it is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good. Authority and autonomy are relative things whose spheres vary with the various phases of the development of society. If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the world.

Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don’t know what they’re talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.

Accountability and Integrity Subcommittee Passes Gag Order Against Citizen Complainants

by Joey Coleman
Published March 30, 2012

An accountability and transparency subcommittee that does not publish its agendas or minutes has now voted to gag citizens from speaking publicly about their integrity complaints.

Hamilton City Council’s accountability and transparency subcommittee met Thursday and acted to decrease both accountability and transparency at City Hall. Among their decisions was a vote passing a gag law against citizens who file complaints to the integrity commissioner.

The accountability and transparency committee does not publish any of its agendas or minutes and there is no streaming of their meetings. Efforts to get City Hall to publish these documents on its website have been unsuccessful.

Instead, the City posts the phone number (but not the email address) of the contact in the clerks’ department to request a copy.

Thankfully, CATCH attended the “accountability and transparency” meeting and filed a report about the committee’s decisions.

(I could not attend the meeting as I’m in Ottawa to speak at the University of Ottawa about open data this afternoon. There will be a livestream.)

Council sub-committee passes gag order

Among its decisions, the committee passed a motion banning citizens who have filed complaints about council behaviour from talking to the media. If citizen complainants speak to the media, their complaint will be dismissed regardless of merit. It is not clear whether another citizen can file a separate complaint about the same matter.

While not retroactive, this policy would have resulted in the current complaint against Mayor Bratina – spurred on by councillors only days after they voted to maintain the $100 complaint filing fee – being dismissed after the citizen complainant responded to media enquiries.

Lobbying to make the transparency sub-committee transparent

I’ve lobbied City Council to make the “accountability and transparency” committee transparent by publishing agendas and minutes on the city website so citizens may be aware of what this ironically named committee is debating.

On Saturday, I tweeted every Councillor on twitter to ask publicly if they felt the committee should be transparent. I wrote about the issue on my personal blog.

Councillors promised to action the matter and get the transparency committee to post documents.

On Wednesday morning just after 9 a.m., the clerks’ department sent a copy of the agenda without any documents or motions. There is nothing on the agenda to indicate the committee was considering a gag order against citizens.

Agenda for the March 29, 2012 meeting of the Accountability and Transparency Committee
Agenda for the March 29, 2012 meeting of the Accountability and Transparency Committee

Consequences of the gag order

The gag order will not stop the media and public from learning of complaints against members of Council. As noted by now-former city solicitor Peter Barkwell yesterday afternoon, the gag order is unenforceable.

The immediate response to the gag order from the media will be an increase in anonymous sourcing. The only method of protecting citizens who wish to speak out about Council behaviour is to ensure they are not fingered as an anonymous source by the process of elimination.

It’s ironic that councillors cite concerns about complaints damaging their reputations and then create conditions that force media to shield critics.

It will further discredit an already discredited process. It appears the only purpose of having the city’s ineffective complaints process is to impose gag orders on citizens and shield council from accountability.

Council can’t gag their own internal leakers. How do they plan to gag citizens?

In another irony, council can’t gag themselves. Everything leaks out of city hall – emails, conversations, behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and pretty anything else of political gain to the leakers.

How can council prove that a citizen is the source of a leak? They can’t and they know it. So why pass such blatantly anti-accountability legislation? It appears some members of council just don’t get it.

Council promised to do better

Only weeks ago, in light of criticism by the provincial ombudsman about improper closed meetings, council promised to do better. A new era of transparency was upon us. Council had seen the light and were going to amend their ways.

Council decided to censure the mayor this week but instead of obeying the Municipal Act and debating the matter in public, they scripted the meeting behind closed doors. It was a blatant disregard for public accountability and the public record – they are no minutes of why each councillors choose to vote in favour of a historic censure against the mayor.

Decades from now, historians looking back will know there was a censure, but have no record of any debate. To make matters worse, the livestream failed during the meeting and there is no public video record of the meeting. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that council’s livestream fails at tense moments such as the censure vote.

Of course, even when the livestream works, it does not work for everyone. But despite using a proprietary technology (Microsoft Silverlight) that doesn’t work on mobile devices, tablets, or open source operating systems, city staff have no plans to adopt open standards for streaming.

Councillors moved to meet at 5:00 PM to better suit their schedules, thereby depriving employed citizens the opportunity to exercise their right to attend meetings. The least council can do is immediately fix the livestreaming issues and offer live audio streaming so citizens can listen to meetings during their commute home.

What needs to happen now

It’s time make citizen members – completely independent of employment in government – the majority on the “accountability and transparency” sub-committee.

Following this, the accountability and transparency committee must be made accountable and transparent in how it conducts its business. Agendas, motions, and minutes must be posted on the city website.

Council’s audit, finance and administration committee must immediately reject the gag order against citizens.

Council must direct city staff to make livestreams available for all modern platforms using open HTML5 streaming standards. If the stream is not working, no committee shall be allowed to meet until it is fixed.

These are simple steps that council can take to fulfill their promise of a new era of transparency.

Alternately, council can continue to write my stories for me. A transparency committee that doesn’t publish agendas or minutes – that’s a headline that writes itself.

Joey Coleman loves pinball and journalism. His journalism experience includes over two years at Maclean’s Magazine as a reporter/blogger (he refused to be known just as a reporter) and photographer covering higher education. He followed this up with two years writing for The Globe and Mail’s higher education site GlobeCampus. His personal website ishttp://www.joeycoleman.ca/, but he mostly tweets @JoeyColeman and sometimes updates his Facebook page.

*note: This article originally appeared here on Raise the Hammer. Raise the Hammer is a Hamilton-based publication that focuses on renewing the city through grassroots political activism and expanding democratic principles.