Bending The Arc September 2021

A Social Justice Newsletter for Educators

Hello, September!

First off, please note that early and mid-September mark two high holy days in the Jewish faith, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah takes place from sundown September 6th until 8th at nightfall and celebrates the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins on September 15th at sundown and goes until nightfall on the 16th. Whether your school year is well underway or just beginning, please be mindful of families and community members who may be observing these days. As usual, I am indebted to my Twitter network for the reminder and further information. In this case, educator Aliza Werner, shared a wonderfully instructional thread (which includes a beautiful selection of picture books) to help us all understand these two important pillars of the Jewish faith tradition.

I’ve been thinking about this edition for a while and as usual there are many pressing topics which need and deserve our attention. Now that we are back in school and the volume level in the halls, on the fields, in the gyms and elsewhere signal the presence of lots of fairly happy students, I have felt a welcome distraction from troubling developments around the world: Turmoil in Afghanistan, climate distress on every continent and ongoing COVID spread, to name a few. It is indeed life affirming to be surrounded by young humans who have every reason to believe that better is possible. And better is something we achieve in community, working alongside each other.

Listening to the final episode of Scene On Radio’s Seeing White series, I received a helpful reminder:

“I want to talk a little bit about organizing and collective work, because I think that there's a tendency for people to try to do this work in a way that preserves the integrity of our individual lives…, the way I define organizing is involving yourself and communities that are collectively working to exert power on institutionalized oppressive systems. That's my definition.” - Chenjerai Kumanyika, Seeing White, Ep. 14 Transformation

Given that, I want to introduce a recently released social justice resource for educators: Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work In Your School Community by Liz Kleinrock (2021). Using a Frequently Asked Question format, Kleinrock leads readers through levels of preparation, action and maintenance. Her approach is accessible without oversimplifying or reducing the challenges of attempting targeted antibias instruction, planning, communication and establishing antiracist culture. One of my favorite features of the book is the recurring heading in each chapter: “Don’t reinvent the wheel” where she directs our attention to a wealth of literature with which has bolstered her own knowledge.

Stand up for labor rights

On Twitter I began following United Farm Workers because videos of their working conditions are often shared and I am jolted again into awareness of my ignorance about food supply chains, the role of organized labor in countering workplace exploitation, as well as the massive human cost of affordable food. It was this thread on clothing (screenshot above) that first captured my attention. In the US, Monday, September 6th is Labor Day. Seems like a great time to share information with students about labor rights and how they have been won around the globe. I’ve compiled a few resources below that consider labor history and related topics.

  • FoodPrint.org is a non-profit organization that documents the tangle of inequities (labor, environment, public health, for example) that make our consumable foods possible. Particularly their section on social justice topics in food production offers useful articles that would be suitable for secondary students.

  • The Fields of Imokalee is a 30 minute documentary from 2020 which portrays the lives of migrant farm workers in a south Florida community. It draws the connection between immigration policy and unjust labor conditions in the United States.

  • While not related to food production directly, we cannot talk about labor organizing and workers’ rights without considering that struggle within the largest worldwide employer currently, Amazon. An interview with grassroots organizers in Chicago and NYC provides insight into how the active building of trusting relationships and workplace culture contributes to organizing efforts against exploitation.

“It’s different when you feel it: the first time that you stand up to your boss with your coworkers. Even if it’s a small thing, like we are not going to accept you stealing sixty seconds from our break time, that feeling changes you. I can’t help but see an opportunity in that turnover if we want to create the culture of fighting. There’s never been a better time or a better place.” - Jonathan Bailey, member of Amazonians United, Queens, NY.

Friends, every time I venture into new territory, in this case, workers’ rights, I get a little nervous. Will folks still take interest if I diverge from what you believe you’ve signed up for? Can everyone see the connections I’m trying to make here? Perhaps my greatest insight so far in this project has been recognizing the deep interconnectedness of oppressions. Climate disaster, Western imperialism, white supremacy, patriarchy - these are inextricably tied and the most vulnerable, those likely to be most negatively impacted, are poor Black, Indigenous and people of color. Once you get beyond cursory glances, it’s impossible to escape this truth.

Thanks again for acknowledging this truth along with me. Warm wishes for the next several weeks of school!

Sherri

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