The Russell Tribunal on Palestine & The Chicago Teachers’ Strike

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine is holding its fourth and last session in New York City, October 6 through the 7th. This public session focuses on the denial of the Palestinian right to self determination and the role of the US and the United Nations. This tribunal will draw attention to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories and how Israel continues to act with impunity under international law. There will be many speakers at this event including Ilan Pappe, Noam Chomsky, and Cynthia McKinney. We talk today with Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and poet Alice Walker and Dennis Banks, a Native American leader, activist and author. Both of whom will be speaking at the tribunal.

Alice Walker:

  • Citizens around the world are very concerned that nothing seems to move forward between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
  • The traditional one (tribunal) that came into being because of Vietnam and the American war against the Vietnamese people.
  • I was in Gaza shortly after the bombing and that would’ve made anyone want to have a tribunal because it was so completely devastating and horrible.
  • The Israelis just sailed along as if everything was ok to kill 1400 people and 300 children, destroy the water system. We don’t have a lot of power in terms of making things change, but I think consciousness is our only hope in any case.
  • The UN has been relatively helpless against the US and Israeli veto of their resolution. We want to look at – Why is that?
  • How is it that we can’t get any movement in the UN toward justice for the Palestinian people?
  • I think the United States and Israel are in agreement they want that territory.
  • We have to remember this is an entrenched long standing pattern of how you treat indigenous people when you want what they have.
  • In this country what they did is destroy the Indians.
  • The Palestinians are just seen as obstructions to this grand vision. When people say real politic, they mean no matter what they have to do to implement their plan. Their plan whatever it is is supreme.
  • They just gonna do that if it takes 100 years, 200 years.
  • I remember sitting in Gaza after the bombing. The thing that got me was they bombed this school, not only a school but it was the American school.
  • We must as human beings gather together. Gather ourselves and address these issues of destruction and they’re coming faster and faster.

Guest – Alice Walker, American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender. She is best known for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Dennis Banks:

  • It seems that they’re taking a page out of Native American history and using it over there.
  • You look at the burning of the sweat lodges. The whole experiment to take Native people away their parents and destroy them, put them in foster homes, boarding schools, military boarding schools.
  • And keep them there for five, six, seven years. In my case it was six years before I was even allowed to see my parents.
  • The whole thing is all over again.
  • What can I say to warn people, to warn people about the future?
  • I know they’re gonna dispossess the land from the Palestinians.
  • I will not forgive the government for what it did not only to me but to thousands of thousands of young Native children.
  • I’m speaking against the American people, I’m speaking against the policies of the American government.

Guest – Dennis Banks, a Native American leader, teacher, lecturer, activist and author, is an Anishinaabe born on Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. Banks is also known as Nowa Cumig (Naawakamig in the Double Vowel System). His name in the Ojibwe language means “In the Center of the Ground.” He has been a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, which he cofounded in 1968 with Native Americans in Minneapolis.


Chicago Teacher Strike

The Chicago teachers, with deep community support, have won a good victory last week  in their ten day strike.  their victory, while not complete, defends one of the great gains of the American people, public education, against the neo-liberal goal of supplanting it with private for profit  non union charter schools.  The teachers strike was about more than wages and hours.  They fought against the dismantling of public schools in favor of for profit charter schools, a project that both the democrats from Obama down to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emannuel, champion.

The teachers demanded smaller class size, school aids, school supplies, and an end to the use of standardized tests. The new leadership of the teachers union gained its strength by being democratic and being rooted in the community, largely Black and Latino,  and allied with the families of the students they teach.  They began organizing in defense of their students 3 years ago.

Debby Pope:

  • I started out the week as a strike coordinator. We went out and worked with 8 to 12 schools in a particular area on the picket lines and then someone else moved in to a communications role.
  • Right now I’m working in a grievance department working on contract enforcement issues.
  • I think the fundamental issue is the defense of public education and the defense of teaching as a profession.
  • Let me make it clear that we were not legally able to bargain on some of the issues I talk about due to restrictive labor laws in Illinois.
  • They have made over a hundred charter schools in Chicago in the last decade or so.
  • They’ve eliminated bargaining in those schools, they’ve eliminated Chicago Teacher’s Union membership, they’ve eliminated the decent working conditions and the rights that we’ve fought for.
  • They’ve given the billionaire business men a huge control over their schools.
  • They have systematically defunded neighborhood schools.
  • They allowed our buildings to crumble. They’ve given us computers that are decades old.
  • This is an example of how they’ve been starving the public schools and then blaming us when the schools don’t work.
  • We went out to the schools. We started contract action committees in all the schools. We helped teachers to understand what their rights were.
  • We resumed our place as one of the largest unions in Illinois as a part of the labor movement.
  • Is a teacher’s effectiveness related to his or her class size?
  • Can a teacher teach 40 kids as well he or she can teach 25 kids?
  • We want a better school day with a richer curriculum with art, music and drama.
  • The enemies of poor children, the enemies of public education, the enemies of giving every child an opportunity are within both parties.
  • We put ourselves in a position where the schools are failing.
  • We blamed the schools for failing when in fact as a society set them up to fail.
  • Then of course the billionaire rescuers . . . came in and said Oh my God look at what a mess the schools are. We have to privatize them, we have to charter them. We have to turn them into little business models.
  • These people believe in factory schools.
  • The next fight on the horizon is against school closings.

Guest – Debby Pope, member of the executive board Chicago Teachers Union and delegate. Debby Pope is a retired teacher and currently works on the CTU grievance board in contract dispute.

Share This Episode