Jeff Biggers on student protests in Arizona, John Nichols on Canada’s New Democratic Party, and Kate Murphy on FAIR’s twenty-fifth anniversary.


AZ STUDENTS FIGHT BACK: Flanked by 100 police officers in riot gear, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) board agreed at a heated May 3 meeting to allow community input before voting on a controversial resolution that would demote the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program from a core curriculum to an elective. The decision ended a weeklong showdown, including a nonviolent occupation of the board chambers by the student group UNIDOS on April 26, but ensures that TUSD will remain a flashpoint in the statewide assault on ethnic studies.

Outraged by the excessive show of force, many parents at the meeting charged TUSD superintendent John Pedicone with disregarding local residents and Tucson’s heritage, encouraging cultural division and reneging on his promise to challenge the constitutionality of the ethnic studies ban passed by the Arizona state legislature in May 2010. (MAS director Sean Arce and other TUSD teachers have filed a federal suit against the ban.)

“It’s shameful and disgraceful to make us go through these hoops to discuss educating our children,” said longtime Tucson activist Salomón Baldenegro Sr. during the comment period. “I have been coming before this board since 1969. Never have I seen our community treated in the manner you have treated us tonight.” The police removed Baldenegro and six others, including elderly activist Guadalupe Castillo, who tried to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” after the comment session had closed.

In a prepared statement, education scholar Nolan Cabrera challenged board president Mark Stegemen’s assertion that the MAS program had “marginal success at closing the achievement gap.” An internal analysis concluded in March that MAS students have “a measurable advantage over non-MAS students” in standardized tests and that students who participate “graduate at higher levels than their non-MAS counterparts.”

Meanwhile, the students are keeping up the heat. At a “youth school board” meeting outside the chambers, they read a ten-point resolution that calls for repealing the state ban and expanding ethnic studies as a core curriculum. They also demanded “an accountable and democratic school board that will listen to students and community.”

“Never again will we be silenced,” said student Lisette Cota. “Tonight was proof of that.”   JEFF BIGGERS

OH, CANADA! Canada’s New Democratic Party, founded fifty years ago as a social democratic movement combining prairie populists and urban trade unionists, always languished on the edge of national politics. The NDP was a moral force, with bases of strength in the provinces, but it remained Canada’s third or fourth party—until May 2.

Responding to an energetic campaign by party leader Jack Layton, voters almost tripled the size of the NDP caucus, from thirty-six seats to 102. Layton campaigned against both the country’s Conservative government and the opposition Liberals, whom he condemned for failing to preserve pensions, expand Canada’s national healthcare program and protect Canadian jobs from the ravages of NAFTA. The compromise-prone Liberal Party lost more than half its seats, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois party collapsed, as voters positioned Layton and the NDP as the prime opposition to the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper’s still in charge, but now he has a fight on his hands, as Layton says: “It’s time to turn this momentum into action—and start building the Canada we want. A Canada where families come first, and no one is left behind.”   JOHN NICHOLS

FAIR TURNS 25: On April 28 Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the progressive media watch group, rang in its twenty-fifth anniversary with hundreds of its fans at New York City’s Symphony Space. Among those in attendance were the evening’s four speakers: Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore.

Gore Vidal once described FAIR as a “noble, doomed enterprise,” an assessment FAIR deems a compliment, considering the corporate media giants it is stacked up against. In its magazine, Extra!, its radio program, CounterSpin, and increasingly online, FAIR documents media bias and censorship and highlights independent alternatives to corporate-owned media.

According to FAIR founder Jeff Cohen, who spoke at the event, an early victory came when Extra! published its first study on the guests invited to the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. The guests were found to be overwhelmingly conservative, but after FAIR’s study, NewsHour invited guests like Chomsky and Erwin Knoll, who was editor of The Progressive. In October 2002 FAIR used one of its “Action Alerts” to draw attention to the fact that both the New York Times and NPR had grossly misrepresented the number of people at an anti–Iraq War rally in Washington. More than 1,000 readers wrote letters to those organizations, who subsequently apologized.

The guests at FAIR’s anniversary event celebrated such victories and emphasized how important the group’s work is. Goodman recalled the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl, members of the White Rose Resistance movement in Nazi Germany who were beheaded for handing out anti-Nazi pamphlets, one of which bore the statement “We will not be silent.” It’s a proclamation Goodman believes should be the Hippocratic oath for all journalists. Chomsky, who was welcomed with a standing ovation, put the recent events in the Middle East into historical perspective, highlighting not only the US government’s history of limited support for democracy in other countries but also the press’s agreement on this point. Moore wrapped up the night by calling for a “pro-democracy” movement to start in the United States.

Before leading the room in singing “Happy Birthday,” Moore acknowledged that the night’s celebration might seem like preaching to the choir, “but the choir needs a song to sing.”   KATE MURPHY

WISCO MOVES LEFT: The Wisconsin Republican Party lost a key legislative race on May 3, when voters in a special election flipped a state House seat formerly held by an appointee of Governor Scott Walker to the Democrats. The win came in an area where a pro-Walker GOP state senator faces a recall election this summer. “This election is a rejection of anti-democratic power grabs, a rejection of special interests over middle-class families,” said state Democratic leader Peter Barca. Democrats see the win as a harbinger of what is to come as recalls in the months ahead could remove six GOP senators.   JOHN NICHOLS

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