Tag Archives: activism

Dangerous Citizens Save Democracy: My interview with Documento

Documento, a newspaper in Athens, Greece, published Anna Papadimitriou’s interview with me on October 22, 2017.  Over the course of the interview we covered a variety of topics including the state of democracy in the world today, the ways in which democracy submits to capitalism and the role of schools in the creation of democratic citizens.

We discussed, in particular, the concept of dangerous citizenship, a notion I developed along with Kevin D. Vinson.

The interview was published in Greek. Below I have posted the unedited version of the interview in English.

Interview with Anna Papadimitriou for Documento (Athens, Greece)

October 2017

  1. Your research interests focus on the role of teaching in building a democratic society in the face of antidemocratic impulses of greed, individualism, and intolerance. Nowadays, many countries define themselves as democracies, but one can find one or more of the antidemocratic impulses you mention. How would you define a modern democratic society? Is there any country on the planet that corresponds to your description?

Our default for understanding the world is typically to use fixed terms and ideas that we believe correspond to some unchanging reality. The problem is that our language of democracy is static, but the real world is constantly changing. Our thoughts, ideas and terminology about democracy are merely representations of what we think it is and in many ways these ideas no longer correspond to reality, indeed the reality is nearly the opposite.

Here are some examples of what I mean. This past summer Poland’s parliament passed a law undermining the independence of courts, even though separation of powers is a key idea defining liberal democracy. Earlier this month the Spanish government sent police to attack voters and confiscate ballot boxes in the Catalan independence referendum. Poland and Spain are considered democratic governments, but they are not acting in accordance with the typical ideas we hold about how a democracy works. I could add many examples from the United States, Turkey and other so-called democracies.

We generally accept the idea that the more people participate in a democratic society the more democratic it becomes, but some political scientists now question whether citizen participation is actually good for democracy, arguing that political participation and deliberation makes things worse. There are now political scientists advocating epistocracy, the rule of the knowledgeable, as better than democracy.

This is not a new idea. In 1975, the Trilateral Commission published a report, The Crisis of Democracy, which described the problems faced by governments in Europe, U.S. and Japan as stemming from “an excess of democracy” and advocated restoring the power of centralized institutions.

U.S. political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page produced a major empirical study in 2014 that illustrates that the United States is a functioning oligarchy (which they described as “economic elite domination”). The study concluded that the public has almost no influence over policies the US government adopts, but the central features of democratic governance persist, outwardly.

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley described our current circumstances:

“by means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms—elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest—will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial … Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.”

What counts as democracy today, that is state-capitalist electoral politics, is a spectacle, which Chris Hedges calls “meaningless theatre” and Paul Street describes as “fake-democratic ‘marionette theater’ for a corporate and military deep state” that grinds down democracy, if such a thing ever really existed.

  1. In your various works, you address the idea of dangerous citizenship. How would you define it?

If we, here I’m speaking of educators, are truly committed to building a more equitable world we have to re-imagine our roles and find ways to create opportunities for students to construct personally meaningful understandings of the world. What we understand about the world is determined by what the world is, who we are, and how we conduct our inquiries. Education is not about showing life to people, but bringing them to life. The aim is not getting students to listen to convincing lectures by experts, but getting them to speak for themselves in order to achieve, or at least strive for an equal degree of participation and a more democratic, equitable, and just future. This requires a new mindset, something I call dangerous citizenship.

Schools are the primary source of citizenship education and a key site where the state attempts to shape young peoples’ understanding of the world. It is the place where myths of democracy are propagated. Dangerous citizenship is, firstly, a radical critique of schooling as social control. It is also a collection of strategies that might be used to disrupt and resist the conforming, anti-democratic, anti-collective and oppressive potentialities of schools and society.

Dangerous citizenship requires people take on actions and behaviours that bring with them certain necessary dangers; it transcends traditional manoeuvres such as voting and signing petitions, etc. Citizenship from this perspective, is a praxis-inspired mindset of opposition and resistance, an acceptance of a certain strategic and tactical stance. Of course, the implication here is that dangerous citizenship is dangerous to an oppressive and socially unjust status quo, to existing hierarchical structures of power.

We need new pedagogical imaginaries for teaching because traditional conceptions of “democratic” citizenship are bankrupt, perverted by capitalism’s triumph over the interests of the people.

Dangerous citizenship embodies three fundamental, conjoined, and crucial generalities: political participation, critical awareness, and intentional action. Its underlying aims rest upon imperatives of resistance, disruption, and disorder.

Dangerous citizenship embraces political participation, but not necessarily traditional means. For example, if state-capitalist electoral politics is meaningless theatre, then voting is perhaps not a meaningful or useful way to be politically engaged. Voting can even be seen as non-democratic, particularly when is suppresses minority viewpoints and enhances the beneficiaries in what is essentially an oligarchy or plutocracy.

Secondly, dangerous citizenship is informed by Paulo Freire’s idea of conscientization, that is a consciousness-raising that facilitates the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions. Dangerous citizenship asks how can we achieve that kind of critical awareness and understanding?

Thirdly, dangerous citizenship promotes intentional, critical action, behaviours designed to instigate human connection, true engagement with everyday life, meaningful experience, communication and change.

Democracy, in this context, is not about electoral politics, but a force that breaks down the barriers that separate people – class, race, national territory – and creates community. The more porous the boundaries of social groups, the more they welcome participation from all individuals, and as the varied groupings enjoy multiple and flexible relations, society moves closer to fulfilling the democratic ideal.

  1. Do dangerous citizens have a place in a democratic society or are they needed when democracies are fading?

Democracy, as I see it, is something that is yet to be achieved.

The first premise of dangerous citizenship is that democracy does not dominate capital. Capital always trumps democracy – pun intended.

As an unfinished, or never finished project democracy cannot exist in a space where critical social analysis is discouraged. This is a key point for educators to understand. We cannot achieve democracy when curriculum is standardized and regulated. Teachers and curriculum have been subject to ever intensifying policy regimes that attack academic freedom and discourage critical thought. This is happening world-wide and has been taken to extremes, for example, by the Erdoğan government in Turkey.

The primary role of capitalist schooling is social control, most evident in the aims to win children of poor and working classes to be obedient, dutiful and useful to the ruling class under a variety of myths, such as “we are all in this together.” Governments would have us believe that civil disobedience is our problem. But has historian Howard Zinn observed our problem is civil obedience in the face of extreme inequalities that produce poverty and starvation, war and cruelty.

The majority of countries in the world describe themselves as some kind of democracy, a republic or constitutional monarchy. But these are shallow and hollow examples of democracy at best and perversions of the idea of democracy at worst.

Democracy as an associated way of living – where citizens are concerned with the development of shared interests that lead to sensitivity about repercussions of their actions on others and a critical examination of existing social, economic, and political inequalities are at the centre of the endeavour should be our goal. Achieving democracy in this sense is a struggle.

Being a dangerous citizen means living in ways that challenge – are dangerous to the existence of  – the status quo and the many inequities that define our world today and that brings with it inherent dangers because enemies of equity and justice can be ruthless.

  1. You were born, raised and educated in the US, but you also have a Canadian citizenship after having spent years in Canada. Can you provide some examples of dangerous citizens in these two countries? How are they confronted by the political authorities?

My goal has been to challenge teachers to examine examples of creative disruption of everyday as potential sources for new critical pedagogies of resistance to be employed in schools. This is an effort to subvert the traditional aims and methods employed in state-capitalist sponsored schools.

The idea of dangerous citizenship is inspired by my interest in post-left, insurrectionist anarchism (such as Guy Debord and the Situationist International) and politically inspired performance artists who aim to creatively disrupt everyday life. These are models for creative pedagogies of resistance.

For example, the “brandalism” – Situationist inspired détournement of corporate advertising – at the 2015 Paris Climate Talks is a good example of dangerous citizenship. As are the “ethical spectacles” practiced by Greenpeace, Yes Men, and the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Posse.

Occupy Wall Street, the indigenous Canadian Idle No More movement are, I think, excellent examples of dangerous citizenship, challenging the status quo, refusing to work within a system that perpetuates social and economic inequalities and generally using direct action tactics to achieve change. But I believe the larger civil society movement, where people are organized to express the will of the “third sector” (non-governmental, non-capitalist), also fits in mould, particularly the anti-austerity movement in Greece and Spain (e.g., the Indignant Citizens Movement), which illustrates the double-edged dangers of dangerous citizenship in practice.

In the mid-twentieth century philosopher Paul Taylor argued “we must decide what ought to be the case. We cannot discover what ought to be the case by investigating what is the case.” We—educators and citizens—must decide what kind of world we want to live in. That means asking, in particular, in what sense of democracy do we want this to be a democratic society? We must engage these questions not as merely abstract or rhetorical, but in relation to our lived experiences.

 

 

Cultural Logic launches new issue #CulturalLogic21

Cultural Logic is a journal of marxism, literature, and radical politics, which has been an open access journal since it was founded in 1997.

The new issue, Cultural Logic 21, features the following articles and poetry.

Articles

Anthony Barnum
“Identifying the Theoretical Development of the League of RevolutionaryBlack Workers for a Pedagogy of Revolution”

Paul Diepenbrock
“Consolidating US Hegemony:A neo-Gramscian of Pantich and Gindin, and Konings”

Rich Gibson
“Sudents and Teachers! The Unasked Question:Why Have School?”

Matthew MacLellan
“The Gun as Political Object:Transcoding Contemporary Gun Culture and Neoliberal Governmentality”

Larry Schwartz
“The Ford Foundation, Little Magazines and The CIA in the Early Cold War”

Alan J. Spector
“Campus Activism Today — Some Lessons from Students for a Democratic Society”

Poetry

Alzo David-West
“1932, A Pseudo-Revolutionary Poem”

Cultural Logic 22 will be a massive 20th anniversary triple issue on “Schol-Activism” produced in collaboration with Works & Days. Look for it in the coming months.

Educate. Agitate. Organize: New and Not-So-New Teacher Movements

Never a dull moment these days in Education activism! Parallel with the fallout from records regarding the governance and management of UBC and calls for accountability by our Faculty Association is the BCTF’s work in holding the government to account for its legislation of bargaining rights

Of course, our Institute for Critical Education Studies has provided extensive analysis and commentary on both cases.

Keeping activism in context, we are thrilled to launch this Special Issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labour:

Educate. Agitate. Organize: New and Not-So-New Teacher Movements

Special Issue Edited by Mark Stern, Amy E. Brown & Khuram Hussain

Table of Contents

Forward: The Systemic Cycle of Brokenness
Tamara Anderson

Introduction to the Special Issue: Educate. Agitate. Organize: New and Not-So-New Teacher Movements
Mark Stern, Amy E. Brown, Khuram Hussain

Articles

Principles to Practice: Philadelphia Educators Putting Social Movement Unionism into Action
Rhiannon M Maton

Teaching amidst Precarity: Philadelphia’s Teachers, Neighborhood Schools and the Public Education Crisis
Julia Ann McWilliams

Inquiry, Policy, and Teacher Communities: Counter Mandates and Teacher Resistance in an Urban School District
Katherine Crawford-Garrett, Kathleen Riley

More than a Score: Neoliberalism, Testing & Teacher Evaluations
Megan E Behrent

Resistance to Indiana’s Neoliberal Education Policies: How Glenda Ritz Won
Jose Ivan Martinez, Jeffery L. Cantrell, Jayne Beilke

“We Need to Grab Power Where We Can”: Teacher Activists’ Responses to Policies of Privatization and the Assault on Teachers in Chicago
Sophia Rodriguez

The Paradoxes, Perils, and Possibilities of Teacher Resistance in a Right-to-Work State
Christina Convertino

Place-Based Education in Detroit: A Critical History of The James & Grace Lee Boggs School
Christina Van Houten

Voices from the Ground

Feeling Like a Movement: Visual Cultures of Educational Resistance
Erica R. Meiners, Therese Quinn

Construir Y No Destruir (Build and Do Not Destroy): Tucson Resisting
Anita Fernández

Existential Philosophy as Attitude and Pedagogy for Self and Student Liberation
Sheryl Joy Lieb

Epilogue

No Sermons in Stone (Bernstein) + Left Behind (Austinxc04)
Richard Bernstein, Austinxc04

Thanks for the continued interest in and support of our journals, Critical Education and Workplace, and our ICES and Workplace blogs. And please keep the manuscripts and ideas rolling in!

CFP: SCHOLACTIVISM: Reflections on Transforming Praxis Inside and Outside the Classroom

A Call for Papers
Works and Days & Cultural Logic

SCHOLACTIVISM:
Reflections on Transforming Praxis Inside and Outside the Classroom
Edited by Joseph G. Ramsey
Proposal Deadline: August 30, 2014
Paper Submissions Deadline: Jan. 30, 2015
To appear in the Winter of 2015

 

Where do radical scholarship, teaching, and activism connect? Where should they? How do academics at present engage in activism? How ought we to? What are the strengths and weaknesses of prevailing modes of scholar-activist political praxis—from union efforts, to conference assemblies, from summer seminars, to party-building efforts, to various on and off-campus coalitions? What do scholars and teachers in particular have to contribute to activist campaigns beyond the classroom? How can the classroom itself be understood as a site of activism? In what ways do the “educators need to be educated” today?What should effective activism produce? What can we learn, both positively and negatively, from past attempts at transformative intellectual-political praxis?

What positive models, past or present, local or distant, can we point to in terms of scholar or teacher activism that have opened new radical possibilities? What pitfalls threaten such academic-activist interventions? In what sense does the intellectual, scholarly, or pedagogical production taking place on or around university, college, of K-12 campuses today become a “material force” in the world in which we live? To what extent does it enable or become an obstacle to genuine movement for radical social change?What opportunities for transformative praxis are being opened up in the current conjuncture of crisis-racked neoliberal capitalism? Which are being shut down?

How is the shifting terrain of the “post-welfare state university” –with its decreasing state support for the humanities and its increasing reliance on super-exploited “adjunct” faculty and high stakes testing—creating new chances and new dangers for radical praxis? Which avenues of activism hold the most promise for us in the present period? Which appear to foreclosed or blocked? Which appear to be fundamentally exhausted and why? What modes of activism today in fact play a negative role in dissipating, confusing, or ensnaring radical political energies, preventing them from pursuing more productive avenues? How should we to relate to the experiences, the legacies, and the cultural productions of previous eras of activism? To what extent do we see our present scholarly and activist, intellectual and political commitments as extensions of these prior efforts? To what extent do we see our own praxis as representing a rupture from these past moments’ work? What are the positive and what are the negative lessons that can be critically abstracted from these prior moments, and how are they of value for us today? For instance: What are the correct critical lessons to be derived from the rapid rise and fall of the Occupy Movement in the US? From recent labor movements on and off campus? From other mass mobilizations across the world since the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008? In our writing, our teaching, our conversations, and correspondence: how do we relate to the notion of ‘activism’ in theory and in practice?

What is the unconscious political content of the scholarly and pedagogical forms in which we are engaged? What is the message that our activism sends out, and to whom is it addressed? In recent years Slavoj Zizek has invoked the need for a kind of “Bartelby” politics—a preference for not acting—against a liberal blackmail to “act” in ways that are fundamentally inadequate to the systemic contradictions and crises of the present situation (understood as structurally embedded in contemporary capitalism). Sometimes, he has warned, the injunction to “do something”… anything, right now functions, deliberately or not, as a means of deferring the conversations and investigations that are necessary for a subject’s discovering the correct thing that in fact needs to be done. At the same time, there are plenty on the left who would chastise Zizek and company for theorizing in ways that perpetually defer the necessity for some sort of outward oriented radical action, action that transforms the conditions of conversation and analysis by engaging people who are not usually so engaged. In what ways are left public intellectuals such as Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, David Graeber, or Arundhati Roy, making material contributions to movements for social liberation? What are the strengths and what are the weaknesses of these scholar activists’ theory and practice? We welcome contributions of any form or length that address any of the above questions or that contribute to any of the following tasks. In this 2015 special issue, help us to:

  • Assess the role of scholars, teachers, and cultural specialists in activist communities, and social movements, past or present;
  • Sum up the role played by academics, teachers, scholars, librarians and others in the Occupy Movement; from “Free University” efforts to “People’s Libraries” to attempts to bring Occupy discourse into classrooms (or union meetings);
  • Engage the legacies, lessons, and limits of Labor Education in the United States;
  • Sum up first-hand experiments with radical pedagogy, inside or outside the classroom; reflecting on attempts to expand or sustain student critique and community beyond the confines of the classroom, in time and/or space;
  • Reflect on attempts (failed as well as successful, recent as well as more distant) to create new spaces for critique, new critical collectivities that transgress and transcend dominant divisions between “academia” and “activist,” from attempts to bring activist groups, methods, or perspectives onto campus or into classrooms, to efforts to bring academic work to the public, and to existing or emerging social movements and activist organizations;
  • Critically analyze the role played by organic intellectuals in past struggles;
  • Offer reports from the field of contemporary social struggles, including but limited to: Contingent Labor and Unionization efforts, Ecological Justice and Sustainability, Feminism, Prisoner and Immigrant Solidarity, and others.
  • Reflect on the role of artistic production and its relationship to scholarship and/or activism. What productive examples of a mutual enrichment of radical politics and creative arts exist in the present? In the past? What are the lessons positive and negative to be grasped practically from a critical study of previous encounters of Art and Politics?

We welcome: Testimonials, Credos, Manifestos of Academic and/or Activist practices, and Reports from the Field, as well as more traditional essays and scholarly papers. We seek first-hand accounts of attempts to overcome particular obstacles to engaging social struggles and radical political issues in the classroom or in other academic contexts, in all their mix of positive and negative results. We also welcome personal accounts of struggles to overcome the various forms of alienation that characterize academic labor in the humanities today, and that confront academic activists in particular. How have you sought to reconcile your commitments as activist and as scholar and as teacher in the current environment? What insight or advice can you offer others facing similar struggles? We also welcome: Poetry as well as prose, photography, graphic art, and other creative forms, as well as reviews of recent critical or cultural production (books, films, blogs, etc) that thoughtfully engage any of the above topics. Please submit all proposals (250-500 words) by August 30 to: Joseph Ramsey at jgramsey@gmail.com . The print edition of the volume will appear in Works and Days in 2015. An expanded online open-access version will appear in Cultural Logic: An Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice www.clogic.eserver.org .

 

 

 

New issue of Critical Education: Educating Future Generations of Community Gardeners

Critical Education
Volume 3 Number 3
Educating Future Generations of Community Gardeners
Shane Jesse Ralston
Penn State University, Hazleton

Abstract

In this paper, I formulate a Deweyan argument for school gardening that prepares students for a specific type of gardening activism: community gardening, or the political activity of collectively organizing, planting and tending gardens for the purposes of food security, education and community development. Though not identical, a related type of gardening activism, guerrilla gardening, or the political activity of reclaiming unused urban land, sometimes illegally, for purposes of cultivation and beautification, is also implicated. Historically, community gardening in the U.S. has been associated with relief projects during periods of economic downturn and crisis, urban blight and gentrification, as well as nationalism, nativism and racism. Despite these last few unfortunate associations, the American philosopher John Dewey detached school gardening from the nativist’s tool-kit, portraying it as a gateway to more enriching adult experiences, not as a technique for assimilating immigrant children to a distinctly American way of life. One of those experiences that school gardening can prepare children for is environmental political activism, particularly involvement in gardening movements. Dewey did not mention this collateral benefit. Nevertheless, an argument can be made that garden advocacy—or, more specifically, participation in politically-motivated gardening movements—is an acceptable interpretation, or elaboration, of what Dewey meant by “a civic turn” to school gardening.

Historians Against the War: Links to Recent Articles of Interest

Historians Against the War: Links to Recent Articles of Interest

“Is a Nuclear War with China Possible?”
By Lawrence S. Wittner, History News Network, posted November 28
The author is a professor of history emeritus at SUNY Albany

“The Militarization of American Police Has Long Historical Roots”
By Jeremy Kuzmarov, History News Network, posted November 28
The author teaches history at the University of Tulsa

“Wes Clark and the Neocon Dream”
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, posted November 26

“NYPD Raid on Occupy’s Zuccotti Park Destroyed Thousands of Books”
By Gianna Palmer, McClatchy Newspapers, posted November 23

“Violence Goes to College”
By Vijay Prashad, CounterPunch.org, posted November 22
The author teaches history at Trinity College

“Seymour Hersh: Propaganda Used Ahead of the Iraq War Is Now Being Reused over Iran’s Nuke Program”
Interview with Seymour Hersh on Democracy Now, posted on Alternet.org November 22

“Occupy Wall Street”
By Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie, Strategic Culture Foundation, posted November 17
The author teaches history at Howard University

“Who Said Gaddafi Had to Go?”
By Hugh Roberts, London Review of Books, November 17 issue

“Big Change Whether We Like It or Not: Only Washington Is Clueless”
By Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch.com, posted November 13
The author teaches history and international relations at Boston University

“Protest Planet: How a Neoliberal Shell Game Created an Age of Activism”
By Juan Cole, TomDispatch.com, posted November 10
The author teaches history at the University of Michigan

“Why the US Recognized Israel” (full version of article previously cited)
By Irene Gendzier, Israeli Occupation Archive, posted November 9
The author teaches history at Boston University

“China and the US: The Roadmaps”
By Pepe Escobar, Aljazeera, posted October 31