Emily Douglas on NARAL president Nancy Keenan, and Daniel Denvir on Philadelphia’s attack on public schools


PASSING THE PRO-CHOICE TORCH: Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, recently announced that she will step down from her position in January, citing the need for a younger leader to take over the oldest abortion rights group in the country. Roe v. Wade turns forty next year, Keenan noted, telling the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff: “It’s time for a new leader to come in and, basically, be the person for the next 40 years of protecting reproductive choice.” She added, “People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation, but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”

Consider the fact that, by 2020, millennials will represent nearly 40 percent of the eligible voting public—but while polls show they’re far more progressive than preceding generations on social issues like same-sex marriage, they’re not much more supportive on abortion rights. NARAL’s polling has found that millennials lack “intensity” on the issue. “We have to be open to how they understand this issue in a way that is different from my generation,” Keenan says.

What about NARAL’s ability to engage seriously with activists who are fighting for abortion rights, but who also worry that the professional feminist movement is too ensnared in fighting defensive battles to drive big-picture social change? The strategy doesn’t have to be reactive. Keenan has said, “Every one of these battles that we fight—we don’t pick ‘em. [Conservative legislators] pick them. If we had the numbers of votes, we wouldn’t be fighting these fights.” Healthcare reform was a game-changer on access to birth control and maternity care, but expanding abortion access remains unfathomable. Of the struggle to reinstate federal funding for abortion, Keenan says: “We would love the day when we could have the conversation and actually pass public funding for abortion, because [the current state of affairs] is so unjust to low-income women. But the reality of that right now—we have a long way to go, to have a serious discussion in this country around taxes, around race, around economics. Plus, you still need the votes!”

Whoever replaces Keenan, no matter how young and savvy, will still have to deal with the intractable challenge of finding “the votes.” But will he or she also seek to develop for the movement a vision of the world we want—not just the one Republicans want us to live in?   EMILY DOUGLAS

DISASTER CAPITALISM HITS PHILLY: Philadelphia schools are at the epicenter of a nationwide struggle. As high-stakes standardized tests increasingly decide which teachers get fired and which schools stay open, charter schools—often mired in scandal and failing to outperform public schools—consume the funding of long-underfunded districts. Now the state has a radical plan to close sixty-four public schools, possibly privatize the management of those that remain, and weaken or break employee unions.

The proposal, which was developed by district teams and the Boston Consulting Group, whose employees have gone on to work at the powerful corporate “reformer” Broad Center and the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter network, comes at a time when paltry but critical federal stimulus dollars are gone, and the response from Governor Tom Corbett and GOP legislators has been to cut spending deeply. The school district, controlled by the state-imposed School Reform Commission (SRC) since 2001, already faces a $218 million deficit for the coming year and a $1.1 billion five-year cumulative shortfall. Under the proposed plan, charter schools would teach an estimated 40 percent of the city’s students by 2017 and potentially manage the remaining public schools, grouped into decentralized “achievement networks.”

The SRC plan would allow for little regulation, with central office staff reduced to a skeleton crew of about 200, down from 1,000-plus positions in 2010. Neither the state nor the school district provides any real oversight, which is alarming given that at least eighteen local charter schools have been the subject of federal investigations since 2008.

Resistance to the SRC plan is spreading fast. In May, members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers walked informational picket lines opposing privatization, and thousands of parents, community members and workers have packed neighborhood forums and marched through Center City.

Anissa Weinraub, a teacher and activist with the Teacher Action Group, says: “We need to stop the plan, force our elected officials to prioritize funding that actually and equitably meets the needs of the children of our city, and then demand that the resources, time and commitment be given to what our schools need—school change from within, with educators, students and communities leading the plans for change.”   DANIEL DENVIR

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