Will 2018 Be the Year of the Education War Inside the California Democratic Party?

by on November 29, 2017 · 0 comments

in Education, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

One would think that in the midst of the Trump era, with so many threats not just to essential government policies and programs but to democracy itself, Democrats would have a pretty clear idea of who their enemy is.

A reasonable observer might also conclude that the Democratic Party in California which has, in many ways, been the vanguard of resistance nationwide would be laser-focused on not only maintaining the blue wall but on working to oust California Republicans from the House of Representatives.

Clearly, it would also seem to make sense that with Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and the National Republican Party dead set on undermining public education in the service of moneyed interests, that Democrats would be rigorously defending it. And at a time when the Supreme Court will soon rule against public sector unions, one of the core constituencies of the Democratic Party’s base, that Democrats would have the backs of their longtime allies.

Credit: MaxxFordham / Flickr

You might think that Democrats know that the rightwing forces that are attacking public sector unions are doing so because they see that assault as part of a long-term strategy to cut off a vital funding stream to the Democrats and win not this or that short-term political battle, but the long war, hence gutting the ability of progressives to win elections, hold power, and enact policy.

And one might also optimistically hope that some of the more politically astute in Democratic circles would be smart enough to understand the history of the rightwing assault on public education and education unions and realize that vouchers and the “school choice” movement being pushed by Betsy DeVos and the Charter School lobby originated in the South by segregationists bent on holding the line against integration and the government’s ability to force locals schools to use public resources equally so that black students, as well as white students, could receive a quality public education.

You could, perhaps too optimistically, wish, that because of that history that savvy Democrats would be cautious about using the tools favored by the right to dismantle public education and attack unions in the service of a charter school agenda funded by billionaires but sold with civil rights rhetoric. How ironic it would be to see prominent Democrats doing the bidding of the Right, attacking their own party’s base, and forcing unions to divert resources away from supporting Democrats to engaging in a civil war inside the Democratic party over public education.

We couldn’t possibly be this self-destructive right? Not here in super blue California. Well, dear reader, alas it is true. All the early signs point to the fact that rather than a unifying battle against the forces of the Right, several key statewide Democratic figures have chosen to make attacking teachers and supporting their billionaire-funded enemies a central part of their 2018 agenda.

Depressingly, in the Governor’s race, Antonio Villaraigosa is staking out a spot to the right of his fellow Democrats by attacking teacher tenure, hoping that if he makes the run-off, he will win not by inspiring the base but by earning enough Republican votes to defeat his more liberal opponent.

It is also clear that local Democrats, like Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, have chosen to declare war on teachers’ unions by supporting the second run of Marshall Tuck, darling of the corporate education reformers rather than Tony Thurmond, the African American Assemblyman with deep roots in his working-class East Bay community and a deep commitment to quality public education for all in the Superintendent of Public Instruction race. These Democrats along with too many others who are taking big money from the Charter Schools Association seem be more interested in splitting the Democratic base than in defending the integrity of American public education at the very moment it is under grave assault from the Trump administration.

If more Democrats follow suit, it will make for an ugly 2018 in California with resources being diverted away from a unified struggle against the right to a rear-guard action against foxes seeking to run the henhouse. It is my hope that many more Democrats will see the folly in this course of action, and we won’t be debating the stale and deeply false “teachers versus students” argument when progressives should be robustly defending public education and the public sector against those who mean us all real ill.

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