Wednesday, March 15, 2017

House Bill 2845---The people of Oregon win if HB 2845 passes, but our movements need to unite!

Photo from the Oregon Students of Color Coalition website. Hit   to contact them. 

Today's legislative hearing on HB 2845---the so-called "Ethnic Studies Bill"---drew a good ground of people interested the bill passing and great testimony. The official summary of the bill reads as follows:

Directs Department of Education to convene advisory group to develop statewide ethnic studies standards for adoption into existing statewide social studies standards for public kindergarten through grade 12. Directs department to adopt ethnic studies standards into existing statewide social studies standards for public kindergarten through grade 12. Requires department to publish annual reports on implementation of standards in public kindergarten through grade 12 studies. Declares emergency, effective on passage.

It sounds simple and good enough to us, but opposition to the bill will come primarily from conservatives and reactionaries who want to make life more difficult for the subordinated ethnic, racial and social groups in Oregon and who want to gear education to finding employment instead of critical thinking and social change. And in a year when Oregon is again in financial crisis due to corporations and the wealthy not paying enough taxes and the state's economy not grounded in production for use, climate-friendly energy and transport and needed social services and education, getting anything positive through the legislature will be an uphill fight.

Here is the testimony in support of the bill offered by two leaders of Salem's Racial Justice Organizing Committee:

Chair Doherty, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to present testimony. My name is Paul Krissel. I live here in Salem. And my name is Frances Loberg. I also live here in Salem. We speak in support of HB 2845.

We serve as co-chairs of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee. We are a Salem based group of allies supporting the work of organizations representing people of color in our city. Our organizing principles include action in support of those organizations, and taking responsibility for our own learning. We conduct ongoing study sessions on issues of racism, structural inequality, oppression theory, privilege and similar topics to deepen our understanding of racism and its impact in our community.

In our effort to learn, we are confronted by the deep lack of awareness of racial and cultural differences that exists in our society. There is profound lack of understanding of the experiences faced by subordinated ethnic, racial and social groups among us. A major result of our lack of understanding of each other, and of the structural and institutional barriers placed in the path of subordinated groups, is fear and hatred. The less we know about each other’s experience, the more prone we are to appeals to fear and hatred of the “other”. The less we understand about the systemic inequality that exist in our institutions and social structures, the more we are likely to reject any personal responsibility or societal responsibility to create a just society for all.

Our children must be given the opportunity to learn about the full diversity of our community and of our society. We must give them the chance to overcome fear and hatred through understanding, both at individual and systemic levels. We must learn about each other and the richness of our varied experiences in this society. Every ethnic, racial and social group possesses a full panoply of historical and current experiences within this society, some magnificent and wonderful, and some horrific, painful and life threatening. It behooves us all to learn more about each other and the depth of our lived experience in this society. This should start with our children.

HB 2845 is a good step in that direction and we hope that the legislature during this session has the courage to move Oregon forward as an open and welcoming environment for all who work and live in Oregon.

If  there is a problem with the bill, it is that it speaks of “social minorities” and not subordinated groups, and that it delays, perhaps for reasons of political and budgetary necessity, what should have been done and put in place more than forty years ago. Our side is compromising and taking the moral high ground here, and that should be appreciated. Read the bill here.

The people who mobilized and organized today's turn out and testimony deserve great credit. It was clear from watching the young people involved that they understand the stakes involved, and it was clear that some legislators felt the passion and will do the right thing. Much of the testimony spoke to the questions of need and empowerment through education. Defending programs which support critical thinking and fighting over the price tag will be challenging.

A long-term problem that we in social movements have to come to grips with is that Eurocentric education sometimes gets criticized without clear definition. Marxism gets thrown in the "Eurocentric" mix without much thought sometimes, although it is not Eurocentric or even a product of Europe, and Oregon is unlikely to support, say, Italian American studies in the ways in which some other systems around the U.S. do. A real people's history is needed that tells the story from the point of view of the oppressed and provides critical thinking and class analysis skills. The advance here is that ethnic studies is absolutely necessary to developing critical thinking skills and helps to prepare people to change the world. But without a self-conscious left in place, this can go wrong quickly.

The reproductive rights bill and the fair work week bill were also dealt with today at the State Capitol, and the pro-mining forces had their tents up on the State Capitol steps and were doing their best to make mining seem like a harmless part of Oregon's heritage. It is problematic that we lack the solidarity and coordination to join all of our bills and our struggles together and push on every issue every day, tying immigrant rights, ethnic studies and education, environmentalism, women's rights and health care, and better working conditions together. The people and the workers can't win without solidarity.

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