Burn Down the Plantation!

November 30, 2017

“White Americans finding easy comfort in nonviolence and the radical love of the civil rights movement must reckon with the unsettling fact that black people in this country achieved the rudiments of their freedom through the killing of whites.”

~~~Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power

Stay calm, white folks. Coates is referring to the bloodiest war in US history, the Civil War, a war begun by confederate traitors willing to blow up the whole house in defense of a single freedom: their assumed right to own other human beings. But still…

That war never ended, once and for all, and the afterlife of slavery included the infamous Black Codes, chain gangs, segregation and red-lining, Jim Crow, poll taxes, and the organized terrorism of lynchings and night rides. Now the afterlife of the afterlife abides in the serial murder of Black people by militarized police forces, the Thirteenth Amendment and mass incarceration, separate and unequal schools, disenfranchisement, the creation of ghettos and homelessness through law and public policy, and more.

Of course there’s also prejudice, racial bias, and all manner of backward stupidity, but the well-spring of that bigotry is the structure of inequality itself, not the other way around. That is, the reality of inequality baked into law and economic condition as well as history, custom and culture generates racist thoughts and feelings as justification, and those racist ideas keep regenerating as long as the structures of white supremacy and black oppression are in place. Race itself is, of course, both everywhere and nowhere at all—a social construction and massive fiction, and at the same time the hardest of hard-edged realities in everyday life.

To end the racial nightmare we’ll need more than body cameras or prison reform or sensitivity training or education—even if some reforms would be welcomed. The answer requires us to face reality and to courageously confront our history, tell the truth, and then destroy the entire edifice of white supremacy—metaphorically speaking, it means we must burn down the plantation.

And when the plantation is at last burned to the ground, people of European descent, or “those who believe they are white,” will find the easy privileges they’d taken for granted disappearing, and along with them their willful blindness and faux-innocence. Also gone: the fragile, precarious perch of superiority. White folks will have to give up their accumulated, unearned advantages, and yet they stand to gain something wonderful: a fuller personhood and a moral bearing. We face an urgent challenge, then, if we are to join humanity in the enormous task of creating a  just and caring world, and it begins with rejecting  white supremacy—despising and opposing bigotry and backwardness, of course, but spurning as well all those despicable structures and traditions. It extends to refusing to embrace optics over justice, “multiculturalism” or “diversity” over an honest reckoning with reality—to becoming race traitors as we learn the loving art of solidarity in practice.

There’s a similar challenge facing men at this moment, and it’s roiling the whole society and confronting us all—it too requires facing up to reality, examining history courageously and thoroughly, and noting the interaction of prejudice with the structures that uphold and spread the bias: sexism, and also the heteronormative patriarchal system of male supremacy. It, too, will demand that we burn down a plantation, and it, too, will mean the privileged—all men—will lose their comfortable and taken-for-granted advantages and also their shaky and inherently unstable place of dominance. Listen up: just as African Americans know white people well—they’ve had to as a matter of survival—women know men much better than we know ourselves.

Gender, too, is a social construction, a fiction—as De Beauvoir said long ago, “one is not born, but becomes a woman”—and once more, a harsh reality. Let’s work to assure that this is not just a cultural blip, a marginalized issue that encourages men to be more careful in their utterances and overt actions while the same contempt prevails (the way white folks have generally learned not to use the “n-word”). This moment should propel something deeper—a sea change.  It’s a moment that challenges deeply held cultural practices that have held women as inferior human beings, shackled by dehumanizing myths, objectified and dominated by men. Women who’ve been manipulated and controlled, forced to see themselves as passive objects but never the active agents and subjects of history, are standing up and speaking out. Men who believe in freedom must listen up and stand up as well.

When male politicians and commentators, including Mitch McConnell, declare, “I believe the women,” let’s take responsibility for testing that hypothesis. Do they believe the women who do domestic work, or work for tips, and do they believe African-American women, poor women, and immigrant women? Do they believe that women should have control over their bodies, that their uteruses belong to them and them alone, and that women can express their sexuality in any way they choose? That women must receive equal pay, and have a living wage stipend where needed? That women should not be forced to be married in order to access basic needs like health insurance and decent housing, or free child care while attending school or job training or work?

Believe the women, yes. Believe that this constant barrage of sexual assaults is a reality they’ve had to live with, and that the sexism that cuts and controls women’s lives must end. But believe as well that the structures of inequality, patriarchy, and male supremacy that oppress and exploit women must be destroyed.

Let’s burn down the plantation!

A Poem for Today

November 30, 2017

Disclosure Agreement

Tidal wave of sexual assault swamps all ships
Except the sloop The Rapist-in-Chief
Fondle women and children first!
Save the CEOs and their appetites
Tax the Students and tax the Poor
Tax the Women who give birth to the Poor
No abortions allowed
Rape is the judgment of God
Tax the Sun and tax the Stars
No climate can stop the Monster Storm
Tax the hope for Love
Reach under Liberty’s dress
And tax Justice until it explodes like a piñata
All the treats flying into the arms of bankers
Tax Black folks for crossing the street
Tax Black athletes until they cross the street
Crawling on their knees
Nothing is neutral not even the Net
We must pay for all of our lies
Or else we are not free to divulge our tears
The Great Orange Chief mumbles praise to Navajo vet heroes
In front of Indian killer Jackson
And quips Pocahontas
Consorts with neo-Nazis and flashes Hate Muslims
Remember D Day? It wasn’t Dick Day
Did he apologize for Access Hollywood
Or was it all Fake Truth?
Don’t matter, the Beast walks among us,
Need to zip up mouth full of lies
Greed keeps Congress Republicans young
Kid Ryan and the Old Turtle allow
The Nazis to frolic
The rich need to be made whole again
They need to own all and get away with it
North Korea awaits the Little Hand Bomb
Make America Vaporize Again
We’re on the cusp of erasing the Constitution
Even though it’s hard to rub out parchment
Much easier to delete cut and paste
Reality is not virtuous
Praise God and pass the mustard
Years from now, if we haven’t perished
We’ll have some explaining to do
It is happening here, right now
Alarms are going off
In Alabama and around the world
So, I’ve torn up my Non Disclosure Agreement
No NDA no delusions no jokes
Take your money back
Take your obscene stupidity
Take your vicious arrogance
Take all of it back
The time has come
I won’t shut up
Will you?

Hilton Obenzinger


November 30, 2017

PLEASE JOIN US, and spread the word far and wide.

Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, and  Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz will speak at EcoViva’s annual benefit dinner, December 8, 2017 at 7:30 pm in Oakland. Come join with friends, colleagues, comrades, and fellow activists for an evening you won’t want to miss—plus an open bar, great local Salvadoran food, and music guaranteed to  make you move.

When: Friday, December 8, 2017, 7:30 pm

(VIP reception at 6:30 pm)

Where: Impact Hub Oakland, CA, 2323 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

Tickets available at: https://ecoviva.org/get-involved/events/


MYTHS about Teachers

November 29, 2017

For Immediate Release Nicholas DiSabatino




“Through a series of disarming essays, the three authors, each a distinguished educator, endeavor to reset the dialogue swirling around education reform…The format works well and provides powerful ammunition for concerned parents, educators, and legislators working to bring about true and beneficial school improvements.”


“A methodical dismantling of the coordinated tenets of the free market assault on public education…A valuable compendium of responses to the shallow, classist hostility to public education.”

                                                                                       Kirkus Reviews

In “You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!” educators William Ayers, Crystal Laura, and Rick Ayers debunk persistent misconceptions about teachers, teachers’ unions, school “choice,” standardized tests, and charter schools, while challenging readers to reevaluate their assumptions about the role of public education.

“We turn to teachers to shatter the myths about teaching from the bottom up, and from the inside out,” the authors write.  All students, they argue, deserve a well-resourced and fully functioning school staffed by thoughtful, intellectually grounded, “morally awake,” well-rested, and well-paid teachers who know their students and are committed to their growth and well-being.

Ayers, Laura, and Ayers provide “reality checks” on the most pernicious myths about teachers and public education, including:

  • “You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!”

The authors analyze the notorious “rubber rooms” of New York City, and note that only 0.0005 percent of teachers are moved there.  “Tenure doesn’t so much help teachers keep their jobs, as it protects a teacher’s freedom to do an excellent job,” the authors write. The uproar over tenure and “bad teachers” serves as a smokescreen that deflects attention from the crisis of not properly training new teachers.

  • Teacher Activists Are Troublemakers”

“Good teaching unsettles the questions and invites authentic inquiry. And yes, that has an activist edge,” Ayers, Laura, and Ayers write when rebuking this myth. Teachers who embrace activism are both insiders and outsiders, they argue. “They must cultivate a state of alertness in order to speak the unwelcome truth—as they understand it—to power,” they write.

  • “Teachers’ Unions Are the Biggest Obstacles to Improving Education Today”

The dominance of this myth has more to do with its frequent repetition and its ferocious messengers than with any real evidence whatsoever, the authors note. This myth encourages a split between teachers and families by falsely casting teachers in opposition to the interests of children and communities, when in reality these interests overlap.

  • “Teachers Are Made More Visible and Accountable in Charter Schools, More Competitive Through Voucher Programs, and Irrelevant with the Advent of Teacher-Proof Cyber Schools”

The call for “choice” gestures toward freedom and democracy, compelling core values for most Americans, the authors write. The problem is that schools are public institutions designed to educate all students, regardless of background or circumstance. Market choice has the same impact in education as it does in any other market—it creates a few winners alongside many losers, and it favors those with recourses, capital, and connections. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for charter and voucher supporters to claim that these reforms are in the interest of poor, Black, or Latinx children, or to peddle the fraudulent notion that their work promotes civil rights—too many of us can document how their choice plans actually violate them.”

Additional myths and misconceptions addressed include “Anyone Can Be a Teacher,” “Good Teaching Is Entirely Color-Blind,” “Teachers Need to Focus Less on the Arts, More on STEM,” and “Teachers Have It Easy.”  The notion that education is a commodity adds nothing of value to how we understand public education’s role in our society, the authors write. This metaphor misunderstands how children learn, misreads teaching and how teaching actually works, and is often rechristened by politicians, philanthropists, and pundits as “student reform.” 

“Teachers must be experts and generalists, psychologists and social workers, judges and gurus, and paradoxically and important, they must become astute and attentive students of their students,” write the authors.

About the Authors: 

William Ayers was a distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (retired), member of the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, and founder of both the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society. Ayers has written extensively about education. He is the author of To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher and Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom

Crystal Laura is an assistant professor of education at Chicago State University (CSU) and co-director of CSU’s Center of Urban Research and Education, where she provides training to Chicago Public Schools teachers. She is the author of Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Rick Ayers is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of San Francisco in the Urban Education and Social Justice cohort, and USF coordinator of the San Francisco Teacher Residency. He is the author of An Empty Seat in Class: Teaching and Learning After the Death of a Student; Great Books for High School Kids; and Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom.

“You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!”

And 18 Other Myths about Teachers, Teachers’ Unions, and Public Education


William Ayers, Crystal Laura, and Rick Ayers

January 16th, 2018


ISBN: 978-080703666-2/ E-ISBN: 978-080703667-9

From our son, Chesa

November 22, 2017
A generous donor has announced that all donations to Civil Rights Corps in November and December will be matched up to $100,000. Please help us reach our goal by donating now – I just did.
Earlier this year, we won a landmark injunction striking down Harris County (Houston), Texas’s money bail system. It was the first time that a money bail system has been subjected to the scrutiny of actual evidence in open court. Since our federal court injunction went into effect in June, well over 5,000 people charged with misdemeanor offenses have been released from the Harris County jail and returned to their families, jobs, and communities.
Your contribution will help us fight to protect the Harris County victory. You will also help us grow our newly launched Prosecutor Project, which recently filed a lawsuit against the New Orleans District Attorney, and continue our work fighting for bail reform in California, shutting down private probation in Tennessee, and challenging wealth-based revocations of driver’s licenses–just to name a few of our recent cases all across the country beyond what I’ve already written you about in San Francisco.
If you have followed our work seeking to end poverty jailing and to re-sensitize our legal system to the everyday injustice that it has normalized, please consider making a donation now. Your help will enable us to continue challenging the money bail system, debtors’ prisons, privatized probation, prosecutorial misconduct, and all of the other issues that our staff works urgently on every single day!


November 22, 2017
Happy Indigenous People’s Day!
AKA: Thanks-taking.
Resist settler colonialism, land theft, slavery, predation, capitalism…

Coates: On Being…vital!

November 19, 2017


Metaphors Matter: School is not a Pipe

November 18, 2017



November 13, 2017
Declaring, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) upended and forever changed the labor movement a little over a century ago. The Wobblies’ commitment to organizing workers on an industry-wide basis, their cynicism about legislative action and electoral politics, their aversion to signed contracts and their preference for sudden strikes remain fascinating subjects for labor studies. Their multiculturalism, anti-racism and pioneering bohemian approach to God, country and sex remain a rich vein to be mined for cultural studies.
Although there is no shortage of books about the history of the IWW, they mostly tell the story of a North American union and revolutionary movement. But naming themselves the Industrial Workers of the World was no mere rhetorical flourish. The globalism implied in their name is fleshed out in a new book, Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW, edited by In These Times contributor Peter Cole, along with David Struthers and Kenyon Zimmer.

My letter to the Atlantic, October, 2017

November 10, 2017

In the opening to his dazzling piece on the white supremacist foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency, Ta-Nehisi Coates lists the many instances in which candidate Trump disparaged Barack Obama’s considerable intellectual achievements, including insisting “that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.” This manufactured illusion spread throughout the fever swamps of racist and right wing websites and news outlets starting in 2008, and like “birtherism,” it took on a lingering life of its own—fact-free and faith-based. To be clear, I of course had nothing to do with writing or ghosting for Barack Obama. It’s true that people of European descent, or in Coates’ phrase, “those who believe they are white,” have an urgent challenge if we are to join humanity in the enormous task of creating a  just and caring world, and it begins with rejecting  white supremacy—not simply despising bigotry and backwardness, but spurning as well all the structures and traditions baked into law and custom and history and economic condition. It extends to refusing to embrace optics over justice, “multiculturalism” or “diversity” over an honest reckoning with reality—to becoming race traitors, if you will, as we learn the loving art of solidarity in practice.