Resistance to 227

Revolutionary Worker #953, April 19, 1998

Prop 227 is opposed by a wide array of teacher's groups and educators, including all major teacher's unions, many big-city boards of education, several school districts, immigrants rights organizations, the United Farm Workers union, Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Korean-American Educators Association, and the Northern California ACLU. These forces are calling for a no vote in June on 227.

When the election takes place on June 2, a large percentage of the people in California, especially poor and oppressed people, will not be voting. Many, in one way or another, sense from their perspective on the bottom of society that voting is not how the powers-that-be decide what's going to come down on people. Many in the ghettos and barrios cannot vote because they have been criminalized by the system and have felony convictions. And millions of immigrants cannot vote, even though their labor and taxes have been a huge part of building up the California economy--and they will be targeted by banning bilingual education.

For folks who do vote, the least they can do is to vote against Prop 227. This makes it harder for the powers-that-be to claim they are acting in the name of the people when they go after bilingual education. But voting is not really where this issue will be decided. The poor and disenfranchised and others who want to fight against inequality can play a powerful role in defeating Prop 227. Through many forms of mass struggle beyond the electoral arena, the actions of the masses can change the terms of things and awaken and influence broader sections of people.

In the face of Prop 227, there are important shoots of mass resistance. One hundred people, organized by the Northern California Coalition for Immigrants Rights and others, protested at Ron Unz's Silicon Valley computer firm (Unz is the millionaire who backed efforts to put 227 on the ballot). A number of student protests have broken out, including at Berkeley High School, where students staged a protest on the school steps holding books that said "White History Only." Students, including Latino, African-American and white students, put tape over their mouths to symbolize their languages and the languages of their fellow students being silenced.

At a recent forum on bilingual education, Pilar Mejia, principal of Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Francisco's Mission District, said: "As an immigrant coming to this country, when I first went to school, my voice was stolen from me. I could no longer speak the way I had spoken at home. As a teacher's aide, as a parent, and as a teacher, I realized I could do a better job than most of the principals that were leading schools. Not because I'm such a good administrator but because I know the children have a right to have their language and their culture included in the school." Pilar, whose school has bilingual programs in Spanish and Chinese, said, "Our teachers are not afraid of struggle. Our community is not afraid of struggle. When 187 [the anti-immigrant proposition] came about, not only did we end up writing a book around immigration, but all the teachers pledged to continue teaching and refuse to check documents, even if it meant going to jail. And now we feel the same way: even if this proposition passes we will do what we feel is right for children."

Another positive element of the beginning resistance has been the role of white parents, including organized groups of parents from bilingual and multicultural magnet schools, as well as other white parents. Many white students and parents have been part of protest meetings to support bilingual education, including some who want their kids to learn Spanish. When a reporter questioned parents outside an elementary school in Hayward, in the Bay Area, a native English-speaking parent said she wished her first grade daughter was in a bilingual class. She told the Cal State Hayward student newspaper, "I think it (bilingual education) is great. There's got to be a head start on the communication gap. A lot of kids' fights come out of problems in communicating."

Especially the high school and college students, who have been frontline fighters against the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209, must step out in struggle to knock back the attack on bilingual education.

Whether or not the ruling class puts over their Proposition 227, this resistance must grow. Bilingual education, like affirmative action, was a product of struggle and rebellion. And that is what it will take to reverse the assault on it now.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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