Activism

MIAMI, FL - Grant Stern’s Only in Miami radio show (880 The Biz Radio) held a Transit Town Hall yesterday evening in Wynwood’s popular venue, Shots.

Florida Rep. Kionne McGhee (D) spoke eloquently about the pressing issues facing residents of Miami on transit as part of a panel, which also included Transit Alliance co-founder, Marta Viciedo, Miami-Dade Commission candidate for District 6, Maryin Vargas, and Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo chiming in remotely over the phone.

McGhee has emerged as a vocal opponent of County Mayor Gimenez’ BRT proposal for South Dade, that was recently unveiled and looks to replace the original plans for a rail extension. The Representative for District 117 has demonstrated an ability to cut through the political noise, and express the overwhelming support for rail among the people of Miami.

Watch the inspiring words spoken by current and former mayors from all across Dade County, as well as MSD and Miami Beach Senior high alumni, who gathered together with thousands of supporters for March for Our Lives on March 24th, 2018 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Miami Beach, FL - Days after the tragic events at Stoneman Douglas High School, a nationwide march was planned by the Never Again movement, which emerged from the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida this past Valentine’s day. Today, a march was held in solidarity with several others occurring simultaneously around the country.

Thousands gathered early this morning at Miami Beach High, where organizers were ready with t-shirts and posters they distributed among the attendees; many of whom also brought their own signage. A stage with a “March for Our Lives” branded pulpit was set up in the south east corner of the campus, where several speakers would rally the crowd before the march.

A carousel of Miami-Dade notables would take the makeshift platform around 9:45 am. Among them was newly-elected City of Miami Mayor, Francis Suarez, and Miami’s prodigal superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, who delivered his first of two speeches on the day. “Today is the day” was Carvalho’s chosen refrain, displaying the knack of a natural politician.

Oliver Gilbert III, the Mayor of Miami Gardens, was also among the line-up of speakers, exhorting the people to look past race and ethnicity to come together for the cause of gun control. He asked if anyone really needed an AR-15 or should have the right to buy more than twenty automatic weapons in one year. The crowd responded to each of his rhetorical questions with a resounding “No!”. Philip Levine, former Miami Beach Mayor, and current candidate for Governor of the State shared a few words, as well.

Past and present alumni from Stoneman Douglas were also there. The most emotional speech was given by Michaela Manning, a Stoneman Douglas junior, who had to fight back tears as she lamented her friend and classmate’s passing during the tragedy at her school, knowing that she would never again sit beside her. It was another Stoneman Douglas alumni, Alex Margetts, who had the honors of kicking off the march itself. He is now a senior at the University of Miami.

A few minutes past 10 am, the mass of people began moving towards Dade Boulevard, which had been blocked off by police. They marched only a short distance to the Bass Museum a few blocks away on Collins Avenue, where another, more professional stage was set up for the closing rally.

Current Miami Beach Mayor, Dan Gelber’s 17-year old daughter, Hannah Gelber, warned NRA-beholden legislators about her upcoming birthday in August, when she would turn 18, and become eligible to vote. Hannah compared the number of teenagers in Florida with the far lesser number of NRA members in the state, illustrating how formidable a united teenage voting block would be. Her proud father took the stage after her, and reinforced his daughter’s message with the panache of a professional. Mayor Gelber roused the marchers with charged words and clenched fists before introducing, Superintendent Carvalho, who delivered speech number two of the day, and then left the stage for the ensuing musical performances, kicked off by one of the Marley clan, with a rendition of Bob Marley’s classic “Get Up Stand Up”.

Summer School

At first, it reminded me of a 6th period class on the last day before Spring Break. Most of the 300 seats were empty in the auditorium and the only students in the room had been brought by their parents or had come to see friends. Except, this was a rally for public education, which was taking place in the middle of the summer. Considering that, the seventy-five people, or so, that did show up was a positive turn out.

The production values were above average, with professionally designed and consistent “Women’s March” branding rolled out on T-shirts, hand-signs and video splash screens. The venue was properly set up for the lineup of speakers there to address the small, but spirited crowd about a cause, which had come into sharp relief over the past week. Florida House Bill (HB) 7069 was signed into law by governor Rick Scott a few days earlier and public school advocates across the state have been reeling since. The sweeping legislation gives for-profit, charter schools nearly half a billion dollars in state funding and access to public school facilities and infrastructure.

“Now, we’re in a situation; a state of affairs where we have legislators that are trying to systematically dismantle public education.”, said Karla Hernandez Mats, the first Hispanic President of United Teachers of Dade (UTD), an organization that traces its roots to the nation’s first statewide teachers’ strike in the history of the United States.

Elective History

Pat Tornillo was a Dade County public school Teacher when he ran and won the presidency of the Dade County Classroom Teachers Association (DCCTA) in 1963 on a platform of greater organizational militancy and the desegregation of teaching staff.

The Florida Education Association (FEA), the larger body to which the DCCTA and other educators’ associations yielded to, was originally limited to white teachers and administrators and even engaged in direct actions to sabotage the efforts of African-American teachers who sought equal pay and other benefits. Tornillo upended the status quo, playing a vital role in the dissolution of these legacy, racist policies as well as the establishment of collective bargaining rights for educators through the adoption of a more union-like approach to their dealings with the state.

MIAMI, FL - JULY 22: Audience members look on during the March For Education at the Chapman Center in Miami Dade Community College on July 22, 2017 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2017 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

By the time the strike broke out in 1968, Tornillo’s star was steadily rising. The work stoppage lasted anywhere from a week to three months and would yield little in the way of practical gains for the teachers, but the strike split and weakened the FEA, which opened the door for Tornillo to merge his DCCTA – the largest teachers’ union in the state – with FEA rival American Federation of Teachers affiliate in Dade to form the United Teachers of Dade. This forced the FEA into a state-wide merger with AFT by 1974. The new teachers’ federation would be called FEA-United and Pat Tornillo would control the organization for almost a quarter of a century until his spectacular fall from grace.

In 2003, the FBI raided UTD’s headquarters in Miami after being tipped off about Tornillo’s embezzlement of union dues. The scandal rocked the entire state and the financial burden brought on by the ordeal nearly bankrupted the organization. Tornillo, who died in 2007, was convicted and sentenced to twenty-seven months in prison for stealing millions out of UTD’s coffers. The FBI, however, may still be watching - In my attempt to connect to a weak Wi-Fi signal at the rally’s venue, a network named “FBI surveillance van #1” appeared on my mobile device, but mysteriously disappeared before I could take a screenshot.

Preaching to the Choir

Resigned to the fact that I won’t have access to my Twitter feed, I turn back towards the stage of the Chapman Center at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus. It is brightly decorated with a couple of blue roll-up banners, indoor plants and a futuristic-looking plexiglas podium from where Aida Reyes, the Women’s March Miami representative and emcee, keeps the introductions going.

A few spots after Hernandez-Mats was local radio personality, Fernand Amandi, whose program, “The Fernand Amandi Show” on 610 WIOD was recently pulled by the station citing budgetary considerations. Many believe it was his anti-Trump rhetoric, however, which caused his show to be axed. “We need to make their lives a living hell. You need to call them. You need to show up at their offices. You need to show up at their town hall meetings. When they do their public hearings, you need to bring your friends and family and make them realize that if they don’t respond to the people’s interest, we will vote them out.”, Amandi told the largely anti-Trump audience.

Public School

MIAMI, FL - JULY 22: Karla Mats, President of United Teachers of Dade, addresses audience at the Chapman Center in Miami Dade Community College for the March For Education on July 22, 2017 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2017 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Joe Gebara, former President of Florida PTA/PTSA, echoed these same ideas of civic awareness in his speech, even cueing the audience to shout “and vote!” after specific trigger words. Nonetheless, both of them made it abundantly clear that they are not against private schools as such. Only their funding at the expense of public schools. The clarification seemed unnecessary, but maybe they had been looking for a Wi-Fi connection, too, and decided to err on the side of caution.

Social Studies

Kay Reed, from Women’s March Broward, talked about the importance of public schools for parents of disabled children, who, she said, “pay about ten to sixty thousand dollars more to raise and take care of our child” and that public schools are often the “only venue for disabled children to find a quality education.” Necessary things like speech therapy or behavioral therapy would be all but impossible for most families to afford if these were not provided by the public education system.

Jennifer Solomon, followed up with the more controversial issues surrounding gender and identity. As the South Miami Chapter President of PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, she spoke about the challenge of raising her own “gender non-conforming” son; a term she defined as the “opposite of a tomboy”. Mrs. Solomon called for the introduction of staff protocols at the elementary school level for the protection of children who display fluid gender roles. “This is new for elementary school.”, she said, “We can’t expect our teachers to know this. This is something that we need to get into the schools so they can identify what they can do to make the children safe”.

Several other guest speakers broached matters of social justice, including a few students, notable among whom was a young man named Connor Cunningham. He shared his inspiring story of overcoming a diagnosis of autism at an early age and using public school system resources – and the social interactions he found there – to fight through his challenges. Today, he is the Co-Founder of the Stand in my Shoes movement, which promotes tolerance and awareness of neurodiversity in children.

Homeroom Politics

Many of the guest speakers at the March for Public Education here in Miami have ties to the various labor unions that represent the educators and education professionals that work in our public schools. Organizations like UTD, the National Educators Association (NEA), Education Support Professionals (ESP) and others naturally see themselves as the most threatened by the election of Donald Trump.

But as laudable as we find the struggle for social justice and as much as we need advocacy for those can’t fend for themselves, school children should never be used to advance an agenda. As the Tornillo case shows, entrenched bureaucracies can become blind to the original purpose of the institutions they serve and in an effort to remain in power, will undermine the very principles they pretend to uphold.

“Fair and fully-funded public education for all children is a moral imperative we should all stand up for”, said Rudy Diaz, 2017 Miami Dade Teacher of the Year, in the event’s closing remarks. You will not find many people on either side of the aisle that will disagree with that statement. Most would also agree that the public education system is in crisis and anyone who witnessed the apathetic turn out for yesterday’s nationwide March for Public Education events – a dozen planned across the country – including the two thirds empty auditorium in Miami, it’s clear that it goes deeper than a few earmarked dollars.

The School Bell Curve

Change is inevitable. In the 21st century, it is also furiously fast. The rate of automation, the advancement in robotics, big data and the IoT are on the verge of transforming every facet of life on earth.

Public School

MIAMI, FL - JULY 22: Connor Cunningham, speaker for the Stand in my Shoes movement, talks about his battle to overcome an autism diagnosis at the Chapman Center in Miami Dade Community College for the March For Education on July 22, 2017 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2017 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Jeremy Rifkin, in his seminal work “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” predicts a very near future where work, as we know it, will be obsolete. Economists, as we speak, are baffled by the unpredictability of markets that no longer follow once proven patterns. Proponents of a universal basic income are convinced that it is the only way to stem the coming lag between production and supply, as technologies like 3-D printing quickly evolve and manual labor is relegated to a past chapter in human history. If so, what does education mean in a society where people no longer need to work to live?

We are undergoing deep changes in society brought on by exponential advancement in technology and the public school system will have to adapt like the rest of us. It is, itself, the product of the Industrial revolution, another massive social shift. But that shift occurred over decades, whereas ours can be counted almost by the hour.

Our educators have to see beyond the obvious and look past petty politics. They must develop a vision for the future and for that, they need to see the forces that are leading us there.

Simply stated: If you want to keep teaching, you need to keep learning.

The Resistance Comes to FIU

On the occasion of the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that took place at Florida International University’s south campus, the “resistance” gathered to show their displeasure at the Trump administration. While Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson addressed attendees inside the Ernest R. Graham Center, protestors outside waved mostly anti-Trump and pro-immigration signs as they chanted anti-fascist slogans.

With protestors numbering in the low dozens, the momentum of liberal movement in Miami has floundered since it exploded on to the scene during the first days of the Trump presidency. Security was heavy on the ground and on the rooftops; both local and state police shared reconnaissance duties with the secret service and probably a few members of the security teams of the foreign leaders also present at the regional summit.

It remains unclear what the so-called resistance hopes to achieve and whether they are attracting anyone other than disgruntled Hillary voters to their pseudo political party. As Trump begins the second half of his first year in power, the shrieking voices calling for his head and drawing comparisons between him and Hitler appear to be fading into the inevitability of our day-to-day struggle to keep our jobs and pay our mortgages.

Real social movements cannot emerge from contrived social issues or perceived electoral slights in a system most of us distrust anyway. The crowds are bound to get smaller and smaller at these sponsored events because they are fighting a phony problem. The genuine problems are carefully hidden behind sensational media coverage of inconsequential matters and laser-like focus on the “presidential tweets”.

If a true resistance movement is to surface in the United States, it will be based on vital concerns like access to water or food. If our nation’s economic policies continue on their 4-decade-long path, that day will not be far off and you can be sure that protestors will be armed with more than cardboard signs, polyester flags and megaphones.

Venezuelan congressman, Julio Montoya delivers impassioned speech to crowd in Miami during a rally for Venezuela on Cuban independence day

Thousands rally for Venezuela in front of the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami against Maduro’s regime on Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Warrior

To Fight Or Not To Fight

It was a foregone conclusion. Everyone knew the pipeline would be built no matter what they did, but they did it anyway. Lit the fire. Camped in freezing temperatures. Put themselves at the mercy of a hostile police force, which sent dozens of their most vulnerable to the hospital; filed injunctions, motions and lawsuits in courts that have ignored their rights for centuries. They’ve marched in the capital of a government whose agents have, time and again, found excuses to dispossess them of land and resources in a relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

They did it because that is the warrior’s way. A warrior does not fight to win or lose. A warrior fights a battle only because it is his path. There is no glory or humiliation in the life of a warrior. Victory is not the result of his actions. Like defeat, victory is only a concept conjured up in the minds of those who are not warriors.

A Soldier craves recognition and avoids defeat because it is only through declarations of victory or medal ceremonies that he can say to others that his lifetime of following orders was worth it. But wherever he finds his end, whether it is through a mortar shell or of natural causes, he will know in his heart it was not.

For the soldier, nothing is wondrous because nothing can be left to chance. For the warrior, everything is left to chance and so everything is wondrous.

Breaking The Fossilized Mind

The Army Corps of Engineers is an institution of soldiers who follow the orders of the White House, currently inhabited by the least wondrous of creatures. The 45th President of the United States, who gave the CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies the power to create foreign policy, is unlikely to pursue a new energy policy domestically. The final easement for the Dakota Access pipeline was granted by the Army Corps within days of Trump taking office and construction is set to begin next month.

But these developments will not discourage the warrior. There are over 90 pipelines transporting oil and natural gas in the U.S. Before the NoDAPL movement, who knew the name or location of any of those pipelines? Who was aware of the risk posed to native and every other population that lives in close proximity to one? The answer is very few of us knew.

The warrior has achieved a magical feat. He has climbed up into the fabric of our collective unconscious and ripped a hole through it. He has fashioned a window in our house of cognitive dissonance so that we can see beyond our own cloistered existences and recognize the genocidal dangers inherent in the propagation of the fossil fuel energy paradigm.

Freedom Of Choice

Our eyes cannot be averted as we stand at the threshold of a conflict between those who serve their king against those who serve their heart. If you are waiting for the next directive to slide down the chain of command, there’s no need to take a sides or engage your spirit in any way. If you already know what you have to do without anyone telling you, then you can count yourself among the living.

Soldiers are extensions of policies and interests beyond their pay grade or understanding. Warriors are masters of their will and face life in full awareness about their impact on their surroundings. Only one of them acts in freedom, while the other is told he fights for freedom. The difference is as stark, yet as subtle as that between a park and a cemetery. Children can be found in both. Where will you find yours?

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