National Activist Heroes of 2010

by Randy Shaw on December 13, 2010

Our national activist heroes of 2010 include the young student activists pushing for passage of the DREAM Act, whose risking deportation by going public harkens back to the sacrifices made by the 1960’s era Freedom Riders; the courageous teachers across the nation battling reduced classroom funding and the corporate takeover of public schools; and the thousands of UNITE HERE hotel workers who are still fighting for fair contracts against the global corporations who now run their industry, and who are winning despite the odds.

DREAM Act Activists: Today’s Freedom Riders

The young African-American Freedom Riders of the early 1960’s have long been heralded for risking physical violence in the struggle for civil rights. In 2010 we have seen a similarly powerful commitment by Latino students risking deportation by publicly identifying themselves as undocumented in the campaign for enactment of the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act would provide a path to legalization for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, if they go to college or serve in the military for at least two years. The House passed the bill last week, but Republican opposition has held up Senate passage, with the last chance for approval coming this week.

An extraordinary number of students mobilized for the DREAM Act in 2010. Californians launched a “Dream Freedom Ride” to Washington DC in July (a similar trip began in Florida) while Dream Team Los Angeles protested Republican Governor candidate Meg Whitman’s opposition to the federal and state versions of the Act. Students and their supporters held vigils around the nation on December 7, and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a project of the Center for Community Change, has brought tens of thousands of phone calls into Senator’s offices on the eve of the decisive vote.

I could describe some of these courageous activist’s personal experiences, but instead urge everyone to read their accounts at the must-visit We Are America website. I hope someone is planning a book on the DREAM Act activists, because their struggle in 2010 is a model for how young activists can take leadership in promoting progressive change.

Teachers Overcame New Challenges in 2010

Our nation’s public school teachers either find their daily contributions overlooked, or subject to rote praise. But teachers faced powerful new challenges in 2010: the worst funding cuts in a generation, and a media obsession with the corporate-created notion that it’s not more money, more teachers, fewer students living in poverty and smaller classes that schools need, rather it is a schools chief who can be “Superman.”

But teachers have aggressively challenged this analysis, and in Washington DC joined with angry parents to effectively vote out of office one of media’s leading stars for attacks on public schools: former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Teachers also won the public relations war over Mayor Bloomberg’s appointment of unqualified Catherine Black, and continue to flood letters to editor and on-line comments sections with the realities of the problems facing public schools.

The public schools face massive cuts in 2011, and teachers will again be on the front lines fighting to save the public schools. Teachers are a model of how public sector unions can unite with constituency groups to bring the change we need, something other sectors better learn quickly during these tough budget times.

2010: A Year of Struggle for UNITE HERE Hotel Workers

I am proud to say that Beyond Chron likely provided more coverage of hotel workers struggles in 2010 than any other publication. UNITE HERE’s ongoing contract fight with global hotel conglomerates has been largely ignored by the traditional media, both because of a declining interest in labor issues and the length of the fight, which relegates it to “old news.”

Think of the thousands of overwhelmingly female housekeepers, many of who are single parents, who have had to spend all of 2010 combining their daily work and home lives with meetings, protests, and other activities necessary to preserve their salaries and benefits. It would be understandable if they decided to fold and sign a deal on their employers’ terms; but as San Franciscans have seen locally with actions by UNITE HERE Local 2, the hotel workers are in this fight until they get what they need.

The nation’s hotel workers, like our teachers and DREAM Act activists, show the continued power of grassroots activism in these politically challenging times. They are among the many unsung heroes of 2010 who should serve as models for others in 2011.

If you are looking for hope and inspiration in these trying times, try Randy Shaw’s Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

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