Thursday, February 02, 2023

New poll: Voters prioritize school basics over culture wars

 

The AFT released a poll on Jan. 13 and the message is clear. Voters are rejecting the culture war that has recently saturated education policy and instead want to see political leaders prioritize what kids need to succeed in school: strong fundamental academic skills and safe and welcoming school environments. 


Poll participants are not interested in an agenda prioritizing political fights over things like book bans and limitations on how to teach about race and gender—an agenda favored by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy—“and instead support real solutions, like getting our kids and teachers what they need to recover and thrive,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Rather than reacting to MAGA-driven culture wars, voters overwhelmingly say they want lawmakers to get back to basics: to invest in public schools and get educators the resources they need to create safe and welcoming environments, boost academic skills and pave pathways to career, college and beyond,” Weingarten says.

“One key weakness of the culture war agenda is that voters and parents reject the idea that teachers today are pushing a ‘woke’ political agenda in the schools,” says Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, the organization that conducted the poll. “Most have high confidence in teachers. Voters see the ‘culture war’ as a distraction from what’s important and believe that politicians who are pushing these issues are doing so for their own political benefit.”

The poll was conducted from Dec. 12-17, 2022, among 1,502 registered voters nationwide, including 558 public school parents, and shows that support for and trust in public schools and teachers remains strong: 

  • 93 percent of respondents said improving public education is an important priority for government officials.
  • 66 percent said the government spends too little on education; 69 percent want to see more spending.
  • By 29 points, voters said their schools teach appropriate content, with an even greater trust in teachers.
  • Voters who prioritized education supported Democrats by 8 points.
  • Top education priorities for voters include providing: 
    • students with strong fundamental academic skills;
    • opportunities for all children to succeed, including through career and technical education and greater mental health supports, as examples; and 
    • a safe and welcoming environment for kids to learn.

According to voters, the most serious problems facing schools include teacher shortages, inadequate funding, unsafe schools and pandemic learning loss. Voters and parents are looking forward to finding solutions: By 85 percent to 15 percent, they want Congress to focus on improving schools through greater support, rather than through McCarthy’s investigation agenda.

“COVID was terrible for everyone,” says Weingarten. “Educators and parents took on the challenges of teaching, learning and reconnecting and are now asking elected officials to focus on the building blocks of student success. Instead, legislators in 45 states have proposed hundreds of laws making that harder—laws seeking to ban books from school libraries; restrict what teachers can say about race, racism, LGBTQIA+ issues and American history; and limit the school activities in which transgender students can participate. Voters are saying that not only are these laws bad policy—they’re also bad politics.”

In state after state in the November midterms, voters elected pro-public education governors and school board candidates and rejected far-right attacks on teachers and vulnerable LGBTQIA+ students. 

Click here for a slide deck further describing the poll, here for a summary and here for sample questions from the summary.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Defending Public Education _ How To

 Defending Public Education.

Engaging in struggle on the terrain of civil society: defending unions, public education, free and independent communications media, and o 0ppressed and marginalized communities under attack.

 

Excerpt from FIVE THESES ON THE TASKS OF THE CURRENT POLITICAL MOMENT . https://www.dsanorthstar.org/blog/five-theses-on-the-tasks-of-the-current-political-moment


Leo Casey 

5. Democratic governance does not stand on its own. It is rooted in democratic society and culture, and it relies upon them for its sustenance and its survival. The neo-fascist offensive of the MAGA forces has not simply attacked democratic government; it has sought to undermine the societal and cultural underpinnings of democracy. The defeat of the authoritarian danger requires that we understand this component of the danger, and that we develop a strategic approach which prioritizes this front of the struggle with meaningful campaigns.

 

Civil society has the capacity to confound authoritarianism in fundamental ways: it brings working people together in associations and organizations outside of the direct control of the state, making possible democratic collective action from below. For this reason, authoritarian movements and states invariably seek to eviscerate and dominate the independent spaces and institutions of civil society. Perhaps nowhere is this authoritarian impulse more evident than in the attacks on unions, as unions have been at the center of democratic movements and insurgencies across the globe over the last century.

 

Despite a decades-long decline in the size and density of U.S. unions, they continue to be the largest and most significant mass organizations on the broad left, without any meaningful competitors. If U.S. unions had the economic and social power they possessed at their height, when one-third of the workforce was organized, we would be at a quite different political crossroads today. Consider the fact that when white workers are organized in unions and involved in common cause with people of other races, they are much less likely to embrace racist views. If the once great industrial unions were still the potent forces that provided the political muscle for the passage of the New Deal and the Great Society, there would be many fewer white male workers that being drawn into the MAGA base through appeals to white racial resentment. As it is, even in their current form U.S. unions – especially public sector and service sector unions – have put into the field the most substantial campaign operations to defeat the MAGA Republicans in recent elections. This is why the MAGA forces which now control the U.S. House of Representatives will put unions in their cross-hairs, as will MAGA controlled state governments in places such as Florida and Texas. Teacher unions will be a particular target, because they are among the largest and most organizationally substantial of U.S. unions, because they have mounted especially effective electoral campaigns, and because they are at the intersection of another critical front in the MAGA forces offensive against democratic civil society, public education.[iii]

 

Public education – both preK-12 and higher education – contains the civil society institutions with the greatest capacity to educate young people into the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of democratic citizenship. Public schools can impart to their students the ability to think critically and independently, to reason logically and problem solve, and to question authority, all of which are inimical to authoritarian rule. At their best, public schools can bring together youth from different races and ethnicities, different social and economic backgrounds, different religious faiths, and different sexes, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and teach them how to work with each other in common purpose, toward the achievement of common goods. Even when public education fails to realize its full promise on these counts, which occurs far more than it should in the U.S., the fact that it has this democratic potential makes it a constant threat to authoritarian movement and states. And that has made public education in the U.S. into a target of MAGA forces.

 

The MAGA offensive against public education is being fought on two fronts. First, there are moves to eviscerate public education institutionally, primarily through the establishment and expansion of voucher systems which would shift government preK-12 funding to private religious schools and home schooling – education delivery systems which are better aligned with the politics of the right. (This is a shift from the prior conservative focus on establishing charter schools.) Second, there are attempts to mire public education in various ‘culture wars’ with attacks on the teaching of complete and accurate U.S. history and civics (the misleading assaults of ‘critical race theory’ and the 1619 Project), attacks on policies that have been used to mitigate transmission of Covid in public schools during the pandemic, and attacks on equity and inclusion programs for students of color and LGBTQ students. On this last front, the attacks on public education have become a major vehicle for inciting moral panics against marginalized communities, with particularly virulent attacks on transgender students and drag queen story hours designed to create interest in books and reading. The objective is to use these moral panics to delegitimize public education: hence, the claim – simultaneously absurd and outrageous – that teachers who make their classrooms welcoming places for LGBTQ students are sexually ‘grooming’ students.[iv]

 

While many on the left are familiar with some of the different elements of the MAGA offensive against public education, its full scope is not generally appreciated, as it operates primarily on the terrain of the state – rather than federal – governments, and so receives less attention. Perhaps the best illustration of how it operates is found the state of Florida, where through his vigorous pursuit of this offensive, Governor DeSantis has become the champion of those on the right who seek an autocratic ‘Trumpism without Trump.’ Just last week, Florida Republicans unveiledproposed legislation which would institute a universal K-12 voucher program, putting the state’s public education system in jeopardy; two years ago, DeSantis shepherded a major expansion of Florida’s voucher system into law.[v]

 

This voucher initiative follows closely on a spate of recent legislation and state regulations designed to reshape the instruction of Florida’s schools in fundamental ways – the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the Stop W.O.K.E. act,  and a ban on teaching “critical race theory” and the 1619 Project. The common objective of these measures is to restrict how educators can teach the history and the contemporary reality of race, sexuality, and gender identity, as well as how schools can address discrimination which students of color and LGBTQ students face. To maximize their chilling effect on educators, these laws and regulations are general and vague in their proscriptions, and they establish an individual right of action modeled after the Texas anti-abortion law, so that literally anyone who decides that they don’t like what is being taught can sue a school district and seek to have an educator fired. DeSantis and his Department of Education has made it clear that they will pursue the most expansive definitions of these prohibitions: we have now seen state directed ‘trainings’ of school librarians on the many books that must be kept from the shelves of their libraries (Florida ranks second in the nation on book banning); the rejection of almost half of the standard textbooks used to teach K-12 Mathematics in the U.S. on the grounds that they “indoctrinate” because they included references to vaccines, climate change, and socio-emotional learning; and the prohibition of a new Advanced Placement course in African-American Studies, which is being developed through a rigorous peer-reviewed national process, because it “lacks education value” and is “contrary to Florida law.”

 

Attacks on fundamental academic freedoms are taking place in Florida’s public colleges and universities. In recent years, University of Florida political scientists were told by their state university administrators they could not serve as expert witnesses for plaintiffs challenging the state’s voter suppression laws.[vi] In response to a recent DeSantis demand that state colleges and universities provide information on courses and programs that include any mention of “diversity, equity and inclusion” and “critical race theory,” the heads of those institutions immediately caved, issuing a joint statement in which they announced that they would “not fund or support any institutional practice, policy, or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.” Just as K-12 teachers in Florida are pulling books from their class libraries out of fear that they will be criminally prosecuted, faculty in Florida’s colleges and universities have also begun to self-censor, dropping courses on race and racism that could conceivably trigger disciplinary action and lead to the loss of their jobs.

 

With DeSantis’ sponsorship, Florida has become ground zero for a national MAGA effort to overwhelm and capture the democratic governance of public education. Led by the proto-fascist Moms for Liberty, which originated in Brevard County, Florida with DeSantis’ support, chaotic – and on occasion, violent – disruptions of school board meetings were organized across the country. Individual board members were personally targeted for their positions on issues of Covid prevention measures such as masking, and the rights of transgender students and students of color. Much like the far right attacks on those who administer local elections, the point of these efforts was to drive out with vitriolic attacks those who had run for school boards simply to make a positive difference in schools. Insofar as the MAGA forces were also successful in bullying school boards into banning books and undoing educational efforts that addressed questions of race, sexuality and gender identity, it was a bonus – the immediate objective was not so much to change policy, but to capture control of the school boards. It was all a prelude to the 2022 mid-term elections, in which far right poured large amounts of dark money into an all-out campaign to win control of local school boards across the country. Like much of the far right’s efforts in the 2022 mid-term elections, this campaign came up short: Moms for Liberty itself admitted that it lost a majority of the school board races where it had endorsed candidates. But the successes were far too many to see this MAGA offensive to gain control of school boards as anything but an ongoing threat. And in Florida, the efforts of the far right were largely successful: 24 of the 30 candidates endorsed and financed by DeSantis won. No sooner did these candidates take office this month than they begin to fireincumbent school district superintendents. 

 

In Florida’s college and universities, DeSantis has now installed a wide swath of conservative trustees and officials. In a particularly shocking move, these trustees – led by far right provocateur Chris Rufo – have announced their intentions to remake Florida’s New College, a small four year institution with a long tradition of progressive education, into a version of Hillsdale College, an outpost of strident Trumpian ideology in higher education.

 

At every step, Florida’s teacher union – a merged federation of the two national teacher unions, AFT and NEA – has opposed DeSantis’ educational agenda and opposed him electorally. In retaliation, DeSantis is now sponsoring legislation that would prohibit union members from having their dues automatically deducted from their pay cheques; if passed, this measure would force the union to spend time and resources to solicit dues on a regular basis from every individual member.

 

Let me conclude by explicitly noting what is absent from this account of the MAGA offensive against public education in Florida and across the country, and of the larger MAGA offensive against civil society – the organized U.S. left. That is because the organized left itself has yet to understand the character of this front in the struggle against authoritarianism from the far right, and is largely absent from the primary battles in it, which have been left to teacher unions and educational progressives to fight on their own. That must change, if the larger battle is to be won.  

 

 

[i] It is worth pointing out, if only parenthetically, that the most substantial progressive advances in American history, from the Reconstruction to the defeat of Jim Crow, from the New Deal to the Great Society, have relied upon broad center-left coalitions.

 

[ii] This DSA policy is not even successful on its own terms: there are now more DSA members in Congress who have been elected without the endorsement and support of the organization than those who have been elected with it. As ultra-left and sectarian attacks from within its ranks on DSA’s elected members have grown, and as ever more purity litmus tests have been imposed for endorsement, DSA members who are viable candidates for national office are increasingly choosing to not seek the organization’s endorsement. It is only a matter of time, I would suggest, before they part ways with the organization.

 

[iii] The recent attack of former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on AFT President Randi Weingarten – calling Weingarten the “most dangerous person in the world,” more dangerous than “Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un” – is a striking example of the MAGA Republican attacks on teacher unions. Pompeo’s characterization came in the midst of a long diatribe of his against “critical race theory” and the 1619 Project. 

 

[iv] DeSantis’ press sectary, Christina Pushaw, would accuse opponents of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law of being sexual “groomers.”

 

[v]  Arizona recently adopted such a system, and the Republican governor of Iowa has also proposed one. Voucher use is currently concentrated in battleground states where MAGA Republicans have control of the state legislature: Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. 

 

[vi] Under public pressure, the administrators would eventually withdraw this directive.

-- 

 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Teaching about Critical Race Theory

 


Stacie Brensilver Berman, Robert Cohen, and Ryan Mills 
January 22, 2023
History News Network
If classroom realities matter at all to governors and state legislators who have imposed CRT bans on schools, they would be embarrassed at having barred students from the kind of thought provoking teaching we witnessed in this project.

Go to the History News Network link to read the report. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

MLK: Saving the Soul of America

 MLK: Saving the Soul of America

JANUARY 16, 2023 BY MAURICE ISSERMAN

 


 

 

On Martin Luther King Day, leftists remember that his heart was with democratic socialists, mainstream writers talk about his dream and today’s realities, and rightwingers contort themselves to claim something of his legacy. Even if you;re a person who knows nothing about King, you’ve probably heard about his “I have a dream” speech and may even have read it or listened to it in school. Chances are that you’re less familiar with another speech, the one that, as Maurice Isserman asserts, “changed the conversation,” about the war in Vietnam and in doing so helped change the mind of an entire country. Delivered from the pulpit at the Riverside Church in Manhattan a year before he was assassinated, this sermon helped turn the tide of public opinion. As we honor King’s life, let’s remember the power of moral witness. Below is Isserman’s column from the Democratic Left series on events that changed our national conversation.–Eds.

Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an impassioned speech at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. In eloquence and power, it matched the one he gave at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Unlike that earlier (and better remembered) effort, his topic was not civil rights but the war in Vietnam, an ever-escalating conflict that had killed nearly 20,000 American servicemen since 1963, along with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, North and South, military and civilian.


https://www.dsausa.org/democratic-left/mlk-saving-the-soul-of-america/

 

With video. 

We thank Democratic Left for this post and link.

About Maurice Isserman

Maurice Isserman, a founding member of DSA, a member of North Star, and is the author of The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington, and the foreword to the 50th Anniversary edition of The Other America.

 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Martin. Luther King Jr. Remembrance

 


 

Martin Luther King : Remembrance 

By Jamelle Bouie

NYT Opinion Columnist

The way most Americans talk about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., more than 50 years after his assassination, you might think that he gave exactly one speech — on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington — and spoke exclusively about racial harmony and his oft-mentioned dream of integration.

But King, of course, is a more complicated figure than his sanctified image would suggest, and his body of work — his writings, speeches and interviews — is deeper and more wide-ranging than most Americans might appreciate. With our annual celebration of King’s life on the immediate horizon, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at one of his lesser-known, although by no means obscure, speeches, one in which he discusses the struggle for global peace.

Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.

“We must either learn to live together as brothers,” he says, “or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

This sets up the main message of the sermon, which is that all life is interrelated and interconnected. “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny,” King says. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

This isn’t an idle call for personal decency; it is a reminder that in pursuit of justice, how we relate to each other in our means will affect our eventual ends.

“We will never have peace in this world,” says King, “until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.”

Nonetheless, King concludes his sermon by reaffirming the dream of his 1963 speech, that “every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality,” that “the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled,” that “men will beat their swords into plowshares” and “justice will roll down like water.”

I think that this is among King’s most powerful sermons, both rhetorically and in the radical humanity of its message. And although he is speaking to questions of war and peace that may not be as acute to Americans in 2023 as they were to Americans in 1967, I think the larger message of obligation and interconnectedness is as relevant today as ever.

Our problems are global problems: a rising tide of chauvinism and authoritarianism; corruption that touches and distorts representative institutions around the world; and, of course, climate change. King’s observation that for any of us to do anything we must rely on the work and labor of someone halfway around the world — “You go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American” — is truer now than it was then, and demands that we recognize the fact, not for self-flagellation but for solidarity.

To connect to laborers around the world, to see that their struggles relate to ours and ours relate to theirs, is to begin to forge the “network of mutuality” that we will need to tackle our global problems as well as to confront the obstacles to our collective liberation from domination and hierarchy.

Most Americans do not think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a democratic theorist, but he is exactly that. And here, in this sermon, he makes clear that what a peaceful and equal society demands — that is, what a truly democratic society demands — is our mutual recognition of each other, here and everywhere.

 

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/14/opinion/martin-luther-king-jr-speech.html?

 

 building on the democratic socialists tradition, 



 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

California Budget Priorities

The California Budget & Policy Center, a nonpartisan, research and analysis nonprofit, released the following statement by Executive Director Chris Hoene following the release of Governor Newsom’s proposed 2023-24 state budget:

“In the good times and the bad, what Californians need to thrive doesn’t change. Stable income, affordable housing, and reliable child care. Families, children, and individuals need access to quality education, well-paying jobs, comprehensive health care, and a strong social safety net to fall back on when times get tough. 

“While state revenues are down for the coming budget year, state leaders must remain committed to existing programs, and our state’s recent progress on essential services — like Medi-Cal expansion and affordable housing investments — must remain undeterred. Policymakers must also explore pathways to build upon these essential services and better meet the needs of millions of California families. 

“As Californians continue to experience the rising costs of basic needs like food and housing, and Congress eliminates critical programs like emergency food assistance, our state’s leaders should invest in essential services to meet the needs of our communities. This is especially important for Black, Latinx, and other Californians of color, and Californians with low incomes who repeatedly bear the brunt of economic downturns, rising cost of living, and austerity policies.

“State leaders have the tools and resources, such as using a portion of reserves and diverting spending that supports the wealthy and corporations, to expand health care, affordable housing, child care, nutrition assistance, and educational opportunities for Californians.

“The Legislature and administration should reevaluate costly tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, like the governor’s proposed extension of the film tax credit, and instead, protect core services and make strategic investments in economic support to ensure Californians with low incomes are able to secure the resources they need to thrive.

“Budgets are about values, and the 2023-24 budget proposal begs the question: Are policymakers willing to use all available tools and improve the state’s tax system to invest in the millions of Californians left out of our state’s great wealth?”


 

DeSantis Takes Over a College : Attacks Public Education

 


Michelle Goldberg

DeSantis Allies Plot the Hostile Takeover of a Liberal College

Jan. 9, 2023

New College of Florida has a reputation for being the most progressive public college in the state. X González ­ a survivor of the Parkland school shooting who, as Emma González, became a prominent gun control activist ­ recently wrote of their alma mater, “In the queer space of New College, changing your pronouns, name or presentation is a nonevent.” In The Princeton Review’s ranking of the best public colleges and universities for “making an impact” ­ measured by things like student engagement, community service and sustainability efforts ­ New College comes in third.

Naturally, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida wants to demolish it, at least as it currently exists. On Friday, he announced six new appointments to New College’s 13-member board of trustees, including Chris Rufo, who orchestrated the right’s attack on critical race theory, and Matthew Spalding, a professor and dean at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan with close ties to Donald Trump. (A seventh member will soon be appointed by Florida’s Board of Governors, which is full of DeSantis allies.)

The new majority’s plan, Rufo told me just after his appointment was announced, is to transform New College into a public version of Hillsdale. “We want to provide an alternative for conservative families in the state of Florida to say there is a public university that reflects your values,” he said.

The fight over the future of New College is about more than just the fate of this small school in Sarasota. For DeSantis, it’s part of a broader quest to crush any hint of progressivism in public education, a quest he’d likely take national if he ever became president. For Rufo, a reconstructed New College would serve as a model for conservatives to copy all over the country. “If we can take this high-risk, high-reward gambit and turn it into a victory, we’re going to see conservative state legislators starting to reconquer public institutions all over the United States,” he said. Should he prevail, it will set the stage for an even broader assault on the academic freedom of every instructor whose worldview is at odds with the Republican Party.

Rufo often talks about the “long march through the institutions,” a phrase coined by the German socialist Rudi Dutschke in 1967 but frequently attributed to the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. Thwarted in their hope of imminent revolution, the new left of Dutschke’s generation sought instead to bore into political and cultural institutions, working within the system to change the basic assumptions of Western society. Rufo’s trying, he said, to “steal the strategies and the principles of the Gramscian left, and then to organize a kind of counterrevolutionary response to the long march through the institutions.”

This grandiose project has several parts. Rufo has been unparalleled in fanning public education culture wars, whipping up anger first against critical race theory and then against teaching on L.G.B.T.Q. issues. This year, he is turning his attention to diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and, with his colleagues at the Manhattan Institute, will soon unveil model legislation to abolish such programs at state schools. In New College, he sees a chance to create a new type of educational institution to replace those he’s trying to destroy. When we spoke, he compared his plans to Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

Later this month, Rufo said, he’ll travel to New College with a “landing team” of board members, lawyers, consultants and political allies. “We’re going to be conducting a top-down restructuring,” he said, with plans to “design a new core curriculum from scratch” and “encode it in a new academic master plan.” Given that Hillsdale, the template for this reimagined New College, worked closely with the Trump administration to create a “patriotic education” curriculum, this master plan will likely be heavy on American triumphalism. Rufo hopes to move fast, saying that the school’s academic departments “are going to look very different in the next 120 days.”

The values of the people who are already at New College are of little concern to Rufo, who, like several other new trustees, doesn’t live in Florida. Speaking of current New College students who chose it precisely for its progressive culture, Rufo said: “We’re happy to work with them to make New College a great place to continue their education. Or we’d be happy to work with them to help them find something that suits them better.”

Of course, as both leftist revolutionaries and colonialists have learned over the years, replacing one culture with another can be harder than anticipated. New College students may not go quietly. Steve Shipman, a professor of physical chemistry and president of the faculty union, points out that tenured professors are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, which makes it hard to fire them unless there’s cause. People like Rufo “are making statements to make impact,” Shipman said. “And I really don’t know how viable some of those statements are on the ground.”

We’ll soon find out. “We anticipate that this is going to be a process that involves conflict,” said Rufo. 

Monday, January 09, 2023

The Crisis in Brazil

 


Omar Ocampo 
January 9, 2023
Inequality.org
Having fought for labor rights under a dictatorship, the Brazilian president once again faces a violent far-right movement bent on blocking his pro-worker, pro-democracy agenda.

 

Far-right election deniers cut short the celebration of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s remarkable political comeback with violent attacks in the country’s capital yesterday. Echoing the assault on the U.S. Capitol two years ago, supporters of defeated ex-President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace.

While security forces have now regained control, Brazil’s insurrectionists rattled the foundation of the world’s fifth-largest democracy. Coming just a week after Lula’s inauguration, these attacks make chillingly clear the enormous hurdles he’ll need to overcome to achieve the pro-democracy, pro-worker agenda he’s been pursuing for nearly half a century.

A former metalworker, Lula rose up the ranks of the labor movement and helped launch the Workers’ Party in 1980 as an opposition force against the country’s military dictatorship. During his first two terms as Brazil’s president, which ran from 2003 to 2010, he had enormous success in reducing the economic gaps that had widened under military rule. In this, his third term, Lula intends once again to prioritize the poor and the working-class.

Just hours after his inauguration on January 1, he signed a provisional measure expanding the flagship anti-poverty program he introduced in his previous stint in office. Between 2003 and 2011, the Bolsa Família – roughly translated as the Family Grant – distributed monthly benefits that lifted 25 million people out of poverty. This program, combined with a minimum wage increase, expanded public investment in health care and education and other progressive reforms, reduced the country’s income inequality for the first time in four decades.

Bolsonaro replaced the Bolsa Família a little over a year ago with a much less effective program – called Auxílio Brasil (Brazil Aid) – that was purely a Trojan horse intended to reduce social spending by eliminating access to other welfare programs. Thanks to Lula’s immediate action, the government will deliver 600 Brazilian reais a month – approximately $112 US dollars – to 21 million families.

In another immediate action, Lula reversed Bolsonaro’s plans to sell off eight state-run institutions, including the Petrobras oil company and the public postal service. In scrapping his predecessor’s privatization plans, he aims to ensure these entities serve the public good rather than lining the pockets of corporate executives.

LEARN MORE
Colombia's wealth tax

Lula has not yet submitted legislative proposals to Congress, but the Workers’ Party published a 90-point manifesto this past summer that gives us a glimpse of their other core priorities. Near the top is a commitment to revoking a federal spending cap to allow increased investments in fighting poverty and strengthening infrastructure. Lula has also vowed to strengthen trade unions and repeal a 2017 labor reform that exacerbated the growth in precarious work while failing to boost job creation.

Lula has also appointed a special secretary for tax reform to develop a proposal for a more efficient and equitable tax code. Brazil’s current system is notoriously complex and regressive as it places a heavier tax burden on the middle-class than those who sit at the top of the income distribution. Hopefully, Brazil will follow Colombia’s recent move and adopt a wealth tax as a central pillar of a more equitable tax code. An upcoming report co-authored by the Institute for Policy Studies estimates that a progressive tax on the assets of the richest 0.03 percent of Brazilians would generate $26.8 billion USD in 2023.

Before the attacks of January 8, the headlines about Lula’s challenges were focused on financial market jitters and worn-out conservative critiques related to his public expenditure plans. The Financial Times editorial board, for example, urged him to pursue “better, not bigger” government if he wants a strong and stable economy. Similar “fiscal responsibility” arguments thrown at Lula in his previous terms proved spectacularly wrong. But such arguments are usually driven less by sound economic analysis than by the interests of the rich and powerful.

With the headlines now fixated on the insurrectionist mob, Bolsonaro is reportedly in Florida. No doubt he was glued to the TV yesterday, watching the violence he had sparked by relentlessly questioning his country’s electoral process — just as Trump did two years ago.

What will happen now to Lula’s presidential dreams? At 77 years old, he is a man who lived through Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship and was even jailed in the 1970s for leading labor strikes. And so Lula knows better than most how to fight for the interconnected goals of democracy and economic justice.

“Join us in a great collective effort against inequality,” he told the massive crowd on inauguration day, before asking everyone to help ensure that “the hope of today ferments the bread that is to be shared among all, and that we are always ready to react in peace and order to any attacks from extremists who want to sabotage and destroy our democracy.”

Little did Lula know how soon those attacks would come.

Omar Ocampo is a researcher for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Inequality.org is your portal into the world of inequality  — and ongoing efforts to leave our planet a more equal place

 
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