Current Events

Bookends for the school to prison pipeline, or DeVos and Sessions are poison

If I am to be honest, almost all of Donald Trump’s picks for his main minions (cabinet positions and such) I find horrifying.

It started, of course, with Steve Bannon as chief strategist and possibly as a top member of the National Security Council (though apparently the law and tradition might have something to say about that latter thing), a man who looks like he loves his booze as much as he loves white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And that’s saying a lot.

But aside from having a Nazi kind of guy advising the president and apparently writing a lot of his executive orders and, apparently, kind of doing much of the president’s other work, my two biggest concerns are two recently confirmed Cabinet members: Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions.

The Secretary of Education and the U.S. Attorney General.

The soon-to-be Wonder Twins of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Students of color are among the most vulnerable to being shunted into the criminal justice system at a young age. In fact, studies show that student of color are unfairly targeted for all kinds of disciplinary action, out of proportion to white students (even white students who commit the same, similar or worse offenses).

And with this already the situation, what do we face now?

A Secretary of Education (DeVos) who has never been to public school, never taught or administered at one, and never sent her kids to one. A woman who champions charter schools and likes more religion mixed in with education. The kind of woman who, when she hears about failing schools in predominantly non-white areas, most likely blames the parents and the kids rather than society’s (and government’s) failure to preserve and nurture public education. She sees privatization as the answer. Yes, and privatization of the prison system has worked so well, hasn’t it? We now have a higher rate of our population imprisoned than any other nation on Earth. Except that unlike that prison example, I don’t see privatization of schools leading to more students; it will lead to costs and profits being of higher importance than educating our kids.

And on the other end, what do we face with our Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer and chief lawyer of the nation? Jeff Sessions, a man who in the 1980s was deemed too racist to be a judge. He was too racist in 1986. The ‘80s. A time when America had in the theaters the movie “Soul Man” was really keen on putting Black people in prison in droves because of crack cocaine use. And I haven’t seen anything about Sessions that shows me he has turned over any kind of leaf and embraced racial equity or racial justice.

So, what do I foresee? An Education Secretary who will likely gut our public schools and likely support any efforts to increase disciplinary action against students in “troubled” schools (which I’m sure will rarely be the mostly white ones), which will likely become more troubled because of her policies. And then the KKK Keebler Elf-looking Sessions will be ready with a tough “law and order” approach for the nation that will lock people up more (especially if they aren’t white) and stop giving much of a care to issues like civil rights.

The school-to-prison pipeline seems to be very much on track. Truth is, it never stopped flowing and it’s always been well maintained. But I think the capacity is about to increase.
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Who’s really playing politics? or the Maine GOP should stand down and listen

“The personal is political.”

Our lives don’t exist on just one course; they don’t just go in one direction. We have multiple selves and experiences that criss-cross, tangle and run parallel. Yet for far too many years as a society, we have asked people to deny the existence of the multiple intersections that make up the totality of their experiences and individual personhood. Thankfully, that notion is slowly being dismantled as technology like social media and newer learning makes clear that we are not all simply humans but that instead we carry with us our multiple realities, whether they be queer, people of color, able-bodied, spiritual, cis-gendered and more, in whatever combinations make us ourselves. Yes, that change is coming, though slower than I would like.

Which is why in the aftermath of a recent hate crime outside of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, it was remarkable to see the student body rallying around four Black students who were accosted by a white man as they waited for the bus.  Portland School superintendent Xavier Botana not only condemned the acts but given that the attack occurred after President Trump issued a temporary travel ban barring people from seven Muslim majority countries along with the ongoing discussion of erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico, the superintendent didn’t shy away from touching upon these facts in his remarks.

Since Trump was elected, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a spike in hate crimes across the country. Closer to home in Maine, we are seeing KKK activity in a handful of communities and white nationalists across the country have openly spoken of feeling empowered and of wanting to establish white culture and the concept of Western Civilization’s superiority as the one single way of being in America. Lastly, we have Steve Bannon, who serves as Trump’s chief strategist and who has openly espoused white nationalist views. In other words, we are currently living in a climate where racial bigotry has been given a wink and a nod to come out of the shadows and where it has even been given keys to the doors in the highest corridors of political power. Hate no longer needs to hide in the closet, despite what many may believe. In electing a man whose rhetoric is inflammatory and racist, we have made the personal political.

In today’s edition of the Portland Press Herald, Jason Savage, executive director of Maine’s Republican Party, accuses  Botana of politicizing the hateful incident and states that he is creating a hostile environment for those who don’t share his views.

In the day and age of fake news and false equivalency, let me repeat again: the personal is political. And schools, if they truly want to be inclusive spaces of true learning and the development of critical thinking skills, cannot deny the realities of the larger world especially when students of color and their families are feeling the very real impact of the larger world and its implications.

The hostile environment has existed for a long time for people who aren’t part of white culture; the people Savage is so concerned about being “marginalized” are simply having to deal with a bit of uncomfortable awareness as their assumptions about their racial and moral superiority are questioned. That’s not hostility.

I would hope that anyone working in a school system could understand why we must speak truth to power and name the current realities, regardless of party affiliation.

The other charge lobbed at Botana is the use possible use of school time for the students to prep for a rally in support of the Black students. In a so-called democracy, teaching kids to use their voices is one of the most powerful things that we can do. It connects the book learning to real life application. If we can teach our kids about the Boston Tea Party and the power of protest that gave this nation its independence, why not have a practical application that is relevant and timely now? Frankly for far too long, we have lived with a passive approach to education in a white-washed context. The time has come to make a shift away from that.

One of the barriers to true racial and cultural progress is the inability of far too many white folks to actually understand anyone else’s perspective. To understand that we don’t lead single-issue lives. To see that race affects everything from the mundane such as stores that only carry shades of lipsticks and pantyhose geared towards white skin tones to our children being accosted on their way home from school, and sometimes our lives being cut down due to the color of our skin. Racialized incidents are a regular occurrence for many people of color, yet white people often are blind to that reality and in many cases cast suspicion upon people of color. The mindset of white supremacy is to deny the lived experiences of anyone but white people.

However, our hope lies with the younger generations who increasingly are trying to see beyond themselves. In the case of the students who rallied on behalf of their peers, they apparently wanted to make a difference and we would be wise to set aside our own biases and listen to them. They have much to teach us if we are willing to actually hear them. As for the Maine GOP, the needs of the many (and diverse) outweigh the needs of the few (and obstructionist/isolationist). Right now, the GOP is the one playing politics and attempting to inflame an already unfortunate incident. Trying to make mockery of the victims of the abuse and the culture that allowed that abuse to happen, and trying to make victims of those who are too comfortable in an age-old status quo and who need to open their minds and heart toward all humanity.
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An open letter to the GOP congressional folks, or Do the right thing already

Dear Republican Members of the House and Senate:

I want you to know that I trust you.

Granted, what I trust you to do is to continue to try to control the sexual and reproductive practices of women, continue to turn a mostly blind eye to racial inequities, to refuse to crack down on discrimination of people based on religion or sexual preferences, continue to do wrong to the average American while enriching the rich, and so on.

Now, with that out of the way, let me say something positive.

You can redeem yourselves a bit. You can reclaim some moral high ground.

How?

Begin (and fervently pursue and bring to completion) impeachment hearings against Donald Trump as soon as possible. Get him out of office.

Even if you don’t believe that he’s racist and misogynist, let’s face it: He praises the dictatorial leader of Russia, a nation with which we are adversarial most of the time. He has dismissed our own intelligence agencies in favor of Julian Assange and Wikileaks and in favor of what Russian officials say. Basically, he’s taking the side of the folks who helped bring us the Cold War.

And that was even before he was sworn into office. Now he claims to be happy with our intelligence agencies, even as he followed his inauguration with a visit to CIA headquarters to speak to the professionals there. A speech in which he did more to praise himself and try to get them to praise him because he’s insecure and craves validation above all else (except perhaps money). And he brought a cheering section with him to make it look like the CIA was cheering him on.

Not to mention the fact he promised to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, and now he’s asking taxpayers here to foot the bill. And to impose a tax on Mexico to pay for the wall that will really drive up costs for your constituents, many of whom buy Mexican imports whether they know it or not, meaning Americans will be paying double-time for that wall.

And, oh, he promised “to drain the swamp” in D.C. and then on his victory tour actually said openly in a speech to supporters that he never liked that phrase or believed the words, but said them like he believed them and then kept saying them because people flocked to him more when he did. So, he’s openly admitting in words and actions that he duped U.S. voters. While also making cabinet appointments of mostly unqualified people and/or people who have vested interests against the agencies they will lead. And so many of them are billionaires who don’t seem willing to sign ethics papers to at least give the illusion they won’t have conflicts of interest.

And then there’s the pesky stuff about violating the U.S. constitution by barring people from the country based on religious beliefs. And about those limits on Muslim immigrants as they stand now: They are aimed only at nations that he doesn’t do business with. Oh, and now he openly refuses to release his tax records and is almost certainly in violation of the emoluments clause in the Constitution.

Since his inauguration, he’s shown so much ego and vanity and lack of confidence that he keeps trying to say he had more people at his inauguration than any president before him, despite ample photo, video, transit and bus parking permit data to refute that. And so insecure is he that he not only keeps harping on that issue, despite the fact he should simply be happy he won the Electoral College votes, that now he’s making wildly unlikely claims about 3 million to 5 million illegal votes, despite no evidence, and claiming that being on voter rolls in multiple states is fraud (it isn’t, generally speaking, unless you vote in multiple states in the same election) and leaving out the fact some of his appointees and families are on multiple voter rolls themselves.

And so much more.

Trump is inept, volatile, unstable, dishonest and totally unqualified to lead this country.

You know it and most of the country knows it.

So get rid of him, and fast.

What do you have to lose? You’ll still have Pence as president. He’s still GOP. You’d still hold all the power in the Oval Office and Congress. I fear what a Pence presidency would mean for women and LGBTQ people, among others, but at least he doesn’t seem to be a loose cannon we have to fret about causing an international incident (or several, as Trump’s already begun to set the stage for, including threatening to start another nuclear arms race) or otherwise bringing ruin to this nation. And with a fast-growing number of Americans fearful and distrustful of Trump (a strong majority of them, in fact), not getting rid of Trump could cost you your jobs. And have you thought about how much power you might lose in the system of check and balances if you don’t check him and he consolidates more levels of power executively?

Frankly, y’all (well, some of you and/or your GOP predecessors) tried to run Bill Clinton out of office for having an affair with an intern, which is much less serious to the country’s safety and well-being than what Trump was doing even before taking office, much less what he’s done in his first week to send us off the rails, set us back and damage our reputation. There are dozens more reasons to impeach Trump than there were to impeach Clinton, and yet the GOP jumped at that chance years ago. Why not jump on your chance now? And you’d have the support of Democrats on that. Bipartisan action, but with the GOP being able to take the lead and most of the credit for reigning in one of their own who’s gone rogue.

Do the right thing. Stand up for having a president (Pence) who is at least nominally qualified to lead and is psychologically and emotionally sound. It might even give me some hope that you care about the country.

Sincerely,
Black Girl in Maine
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