UNDER the TREE: Episode # 31

May 5, 2021

31) Love the People, Defend the Earth

The predatory heart of capitalism is the rage to accumulate, to expand, and to overrun all boundaries. Racial capitalism demands growth— unleashed and unchecked—but the Earth objects. Violence and aggression are the inevitable accomplices of predation, and when the casualties of cataclysmic capitalist climate collapse resist—as they inevitably will—they are labeled “illegal aliens,” “lawbreakers,” “terrorists,” and “fanatics.” We’re joined today by Eleanor Stein and Jeff Jones, two brilliant freedom fighters and anti-racist organizers, whose central work focuses on environmental justice.

Capitalism is killing us!

May 1, 2021


May Day 2021

May 1, 2021

Celebrate May Day! In 1889 May Day was designated International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket uprising in Chicago. It’s an important part of our history, and a moment to recommit to the fight for a humane and just future for all. Remember the Haymarket Martyrs!Remember Lucy Parsons!#blacklivesmatterDefund (and disarm) the police!Abolish prisons!

UNDER the TREE: A Seminar on Freedom

April 29, 2021

Episode # 30: Hearing the Voices of Witness

There’s a vast delusional gulf between the world as it is, and the world as each one of us thinks it is. I’m not being negative or accusatory, but simply stating the obvious: here we go, mistaking our self-constructed little world for the whole wide world. If you believe emphatically enough that the world of your perception and mental construction is in fact the whole wide world, and if you’re willing to act with full force upon that misperception—well, god help us all. Arrogance and self-righteousness, bossiness and obnoxiousness, authoritarianism, autocracy, fascism, and more. What to do? We start by recognizing the obstacle, and continuing to wonder, reflect, discuss, debate, and keep on wondering. We can talk to strangers, and assume that everyone we meet is a three-dimensional creature, just like ourselves.  We can learn to listen to other voices, and we can attune ourselves to ambiguity, doubt, skepticism, agnosticism, and uncertainty—always willing to question, and question, and then question some more. To help us along the way, we’re joined in conversation by two dazzling teachers, writers, activists, and Oral Historians, Cliff Mayotte and Claire Kiefer from Voice of Witness, editors of Say it Forward: A Guide to Social Justice Storytelling.

FROM Mike Klonsky’s Blog [excerpt]:

April 24, 2021

The Star Tribune reports that Minnesota’s police licensing board (POST) has agreed to pursue new rules for law enforcement responses to protests and a ban on officers affiliating with white supremacist groups.
But…the proposed ban [raises] two important questions. The first… why are the state’s police departments so rife with white supremacists that such a ban is necessary? The second…why are openly white supremacist and fascist groups even allowed to exist legally across the state (and nation)?
It seems pointless to recruit thousands of racists into a militarized police force, heavily arm them, point them mainly at communities of color, and then make unenforceable rules forbidding them to join outside racist groups. Like a host of other empty police reforms, this one only offers a diversion from the necessary and inevitable examination of the historic role of policing itself.
I’m also wondering if the proposed rules would bar cops from joining the…Republican Party which has once again exposed its own white supremacist character in response to the police murders of George Floyd and Daunte Wright and the Derek Chauvin trial. Party leaders did everything they could to use the trial and the protests outside to attack civil rights icon, Rep. Maxine Waters rather than the murderers themselves…Side note ~ If such a rule [were] proposed here in Chicago, they’d have to start by barring cops from joining their own union, the FOP, clearly the number-one white supremacist organization in the state


April 20, 2021

A Jailbreak of the Imagination

The capacity to see the world as if it could be otherwise unleashes yearning and liberates desire—we are freed (or condemned) to run riot. Our lively imaginations can be rowdy, and can tend toward disruption and subversion—opening up alternatives always calls the status quo into question. Suddenly the taken-for-granted becomes a choice and not an echo, an option and no longer a habit or a life (death) sentence. The seeds of discontent are sown. I’m delighted to be joined today by adrienne maree brown, women’s rights activist and black feminist based in Detroit. adrienne is the author of Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, and an editor of the Octavia Butler Strategic Reader, and  Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

Episode 28: Make Your Life a Constellation

April 12, 2021

Sometimes we ask, What can one person do? The first step is to stop being one person. Move away from “me,” and take steps toward creating a “we.” From one to two, from two to three, step-by-step toward an irresistible movement for justice and peace, powered by love—the organizer’s credo. We’re honored to be joined by Mariame Kaba, educator and legendary abolitionist organizer who’s been building social movements for racial, gender and transformative justice for years. The founder of Project Nia, author of Prison Culture, the popular blog that shines a bright light into the carceral state and the punishment bureaucracy, her recently released book, We Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, is a powerful guide to justice organizing and abolitionist politics.

Episode # 27: Every Person is a Philosopher/Every Day Another Story

March 30, 2021

Every Person is a Philosopher/Every Day Another StoryThe stories people tell and share can become powerful tools against propaganda, political dogma, and all manner of impositions and stereotypes. Seeking honesty and authenticity in stories means oral historians become attuned, to contradiction—to disagreements, silences, negation, denials, inconsistencies, confusion, challenges, turmoil, puzzlement, commotion, ambiguities, paradoxes, disputes, and uncertainty. Oral historians (like teachers) dive head-first into every kind of muddle, the wide, wild world of human experience. We’re profoundly pleased to be joined in dialogue with Adam Bush, activist and organizer, oral historian and teacher extraordinaire, co-founder and provost of an innovative college that works both inside and outside carceral spaces to ensure that all adult learners are valued as scholar-practitioners and have a pathway to a degree.

John Merrow: Cancel the F~~~g Tests

March 18, 2021

Let me put it in caps, the typed equivalent of shouting from the rooftop, to make things perfectly clear: REQUIRING TESTS THIS SPRING WOULD BE CHILD ABUSE! Because this school year has been unpredictable, abnormal, and inconsistent, why would anyone expect anything but skewed (screwed up) data from mandatory tests, particularly because students who have been ‘remotely schooled’ all year do not have to take the tests, and no one is clear yet about how the tests would be administered to students now attending remotely? It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and anyone who cares about children should be demanding that the tests be cancelled.

When running for the Democratic nomination, candidate Biden told an audience of teachers in Pittsburgh that he was strongly opposed to mandated high-stakes testing. I was there and heard his pledge.

But in February of this year, President Biden’s Education Department said that states must give the tests mandated by ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, although the proclamation allowed states to request waivers and created some loopholes. Since that surprise announcement, many activists have been pressuring the Biden Administration to reverse the decision–and to keep his promise. No luck so far!!

Covid-19 revealed the depths of the inequalities in our society, including in public education, and we don’t need bubble tests to prove the point. You can find thoughtful discussions here and here.

The education historian turned activist Diane Ravitch summarized the problems with ever giving these machine-scored, multiple-choice bubble tests, whose scores, by the way, largely reflect the test-taker’s zip code, family income, and parental education :

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong. … This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

I gave this post the title “Cancel The F**king Tests!”, but in case that doesn’t happen, I hope (SHOUTING NOW) that parents and their children will “BOYCOTT THE F**KING TESTS!”

Here’s a useful guide from FairTest on how to boycott them.  

Please share your thoughts on the blog at this link: https://themerrowreport.com/2021/03/18/cancel-the-fking-tests/  

ThanksJohn Merrow

Under the Tree: A Seminar on Freedom

March 15, 2021

EPISODE # 25: To Be Truly Free!

We dive once more into the wreckage, and swim as hard as we can toward a distant and hazy horizon—a place of hope and possibility. To begin Malik Alim offers another installment in his growing Freedom Chronicle, and lifts up a remarkable Chicago moment when activist organizers built Freedom Square, a brave space brought to life in the spirit of love and abundance. We are then delighted to invite Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law to join us Under the Tree. Abolitionists and freedom fighters, co-authors of a remarkable and essential text, Prison By Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms, Maya and Vickie take us on a complex and jagged journey to the far edges of the carceral state, and offer abolitionist alternatives that are within our reach right now.