Defend and Transform: Next Steps in the CCSF Struggle

ccsf

Two days ago the battle to stop the destruction of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) took another step forward when a protest of 300 students and supporters of CCSF gathered in downtown San Francisco.  The two principal demands of the movement at this point are for the mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, to immediately intervene to stop all sanctions against CCSF by the ACCJC, and to immediately fire the “Special Trustee” dictator Bob Agrella who has been specifically appointed by the ACCJC to carry out their plan for the destruction of CCSF’s existing programs through budget cuts and privatization. They’ve undermined the democratic decision-making power CCSF professors had in running their departments and determining their curriculum, along with the community learning aspect that remains deeply rooted in San Francisco’s working-class culture, all in order to “reform” the school along the corporate, privatized education model: bloated administrative bureaucracies, underpaid and overworked teachers with weak or non-functional unions, a reduced and underpaid staff, and a severely downsized student body with the limited options of a streamlined junior college-type transmission belt to four-year universities for those who can afford the debt, or technical programs for the development of an elite managerial class separated and above the working-class people CCSF still serves. For proletarian communities of color in San Francisco, this is a gutsy frontal attack. If not resisted, it will relegate tens of thousands of youth to low-wage service sector jobs without the chance of social advance, such as fast-food chains; it will exacerbate unemployment and speed-up the gentrification process that has so drastically changed San Francisco from a hub of multi-national/racial working-class neighborhoods to the next chic destination for wealthy Silicon Valley professionals in the high-tech industry.

As of today, we’ve found out that the lawyer for the city of San Francisco, Dennis Herrera, has initiated legal proceedings against the ACCJC for breaking federal regulations and having conflicts of interest, and against the Board of Governors that oversees California’s community colleges because it has ceded its legal authority over standards and funding in relation to community colleges to the ACCJC, a private body.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the City’s announcement of this lawsuit comes a day after the protest and sit-in that we organized. We should continue to demand that the local state, and the mayor in particular, intervene against the attack on CCSF;  this lawsuit and any possible actions on the part of the mayor are are possible only due to the self-organization of the students, teachers, and staff of CCSF. Now that the ACCJC is beginning to be delegitimized largely due to organized resistance, we are in a position to seize the momentum and expand the movement to put a definite end to the ACCJC’s reign of terror and take the struggle forward to expanding and improving the community college in the interests of the Bay Area’s exploited and oppressed.

Currently, the AFT 2121 leadership and a core of active teachers have expressed sympathy for a strike. The staff union leaders from SEIU 1021 have played a reactionary role by acquiescing to the ACCJC’s demands in hopes that teachers, who are actively fighting the ACCJC, receive the brunt of the attack while staff make it through this process unscathed. Rank-and-file staff have remained under the radar as they are unsure of the situation and know that their jobs are the most dispensable and likely to be cut.  As of now, the major strategic orientation of the movement should be the activation of the student body; it is a sleeping giant. However, it is critical we begin to build links with the two other key sectors of the proletariat in education, the teachers and staff. While one important step is for teachers and staff to self-organize within but independently of their union, we need a concrete plan to reach out to these sectors as students to build the links and lay the basis for a unified class struggle that takes up the demands of all three.  It is the social force of those who use the university that can be the backbone of the fight not only defend CCSF against its current round of attacks, but to be the organized body that can reconstruct and transform the CCSF we know now – a college that since the recession in 2008 has faced a total of $809 million in budget cuts, especially to lifelong learning and community programs that are not directly transferable to a four-year university or a technical profession, such as: childcare, ethnic studies, programs for ex-cons, seniors, and immigrants and help change it into the people’s college that we want it to be.

Students and community members occupy the mayors office.

Students and community members occupy the mayor’s office.

Some really immediate ways that we can imagine this defense and transformation happening would be the expansion of childcare programs so that working class parents can take as many classes as possible while their children receive quality childcare and education provided by well paid educators; we can also imagine the expansion of ethnic studies programs which provide critical lenses into the histories of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and white supremacy which have sought to destroy communities of color and the working class, and which form the background of the current attack on CCSF; and finally we can imagine the transformation of CCSF also including more direct teacher, student and staff control over the development of curriculum and the expansion of quality programs which support the self-development of all staff and students.

In order to build off of the strengths of the current movement, those of us who use the college and participate in the movement need to build our organizational capacity.  What does this mean?  It means building and strengthening student assemblies at all campuses, beginning with Ocean and Mission campuses.  Just today, Thursday, our first general assembly saw double the amount of people many of us anticipated, mostly as a result of Tuesday’s sit-in and arrests at City Hall and the outreach work done by organizers.  It was largely a success, as we made the collective decision to organize mass teach-ins to expand the movement and develop new layers of fighters, and because everyone took on concrete roles to play in the upcoming two weeks. This is great, but we need to continue developing the assembly so that it can be the embryo of a broad united front of students and staff against all institutions of austerity – whether they be the ACCJC or the local government of SF itself.  There is a need for the politicized students on campus to build broad reaching teach-ins which can reach out to professors and have them bring their classes so that the campus community can learn more about the current attack on CCSF and understand it in the context of attacks on teachers, students and parents across the Bay Area – from Oakland’s school closures and attack on adult education, to the ongoing criminalization of youth of color across all Bay Area cities – and attacks on social services that working class people access generally. Lastly, we should continue with the broad based outreach that helped build the large general assembly that we witnessed tonight – this should include public flyering, classroom announcements, setting up tables, putting up posters, etc. 

Only a strong, self-organized body of staff and students can be the force that can reverse the cuts; the politicians and bureaucrats at the city and state level will try to bring us under their wings and convince us that their strategies of backroom dealings and “realistic” demands will be the way forward; we must continue to rely on all those who actually use the campus for our own self-development to be the ones that direct the fight and lay out a vision not only for the defense against CCSF’s closure, but for the development of a politicized student body and staff that can expand the CCSF programs way beyond where they are now so that they may truly serve the interests of the working class in the Bay Area. We are not alone in this endeavor; illuminating and inspiring examples from Quebec, to Puerto Rico and Chile, demonstrate how conscious mass militancy can put the brakes on the ruling class’ attack on public education, and use the momentum to redefine our schools and our society.

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