ROCKETSHIP TO PROFITS Silicon Valley breeds corporate reformers with national reach
By David Bacon
Rethinking Schools, Fall 2014
Nearly every metropolitan area these days has its own wealthy promoters of education reform. Little Rock has the Waltons, Seattle has Bill and Melinda Gates, Newark has Mark Zuckerberg, and Buffalo has John Oishei, who made his millions selling windshield wipers.
Few areas, however, have as concentrated and active a group of wealthy reformers as California’s Silicon Valley. One of the country’s fastest-growing charter school operators, Rocketship Education, started here. A big reason for its stellar ascent is the support it gets from high tech’s deep pockets, and the political influence that money can buy.
Rocketship currently operates nine schools in San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley. It opened its first school in Milwaukee last year and one in Nashville, Tennessee, this fall. Its first two schools in Washington, D.C., where almost half the students already attend charters, open next year.
Vergara v. California: Buying a Judgment Against Teacher Tenure
The valley’s most far-reaching intervention took place this year – a successful legal attack on teacher tenure with chilling national implications. In 2012 David Welch, president of Infinera, a Silicon Valley fiber-optic communications corporation, set up another education reform advocacy group, Students Matter. He then filed a class action suit, representing nine children purportedly harmed by “ineffective teachers” to overturn teacher tenure in California. This past June, L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled against teachers and in favor of Welch and the students in Vergara v. California.
Welch, whose company has revenue of more than half a billion dollars annually, gave half a million in seed money to Students Matter, and then lent it another million. The Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation kicked in more. In 2012 alone, Students Matter spent more than $1.1 million on one of the state’s most powerful corporate law firms, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which fought the Vergara case. Continue reading
by Paul Garver
“I am bringing my daughter here so she can see what we are doing for her future.”
I have been following the excellent hour-by-hour live coverage of the events in Hong Kong through the superb international English-language blog edition of the South China Morning Post.
Update (October 9): The Hong Kong Government cancelled Friday’s scheduled talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, denouncing the Federation’s call for a mass rally at Harcourt Road (“Umbrella Square”) while the talks were taking place. Protest leaders said that the government’s cancellation of the talks demonstrated the government’s lack of sincerity, and are planning for new non-cooperation actions.
Update (October 10): It is Friday evening in Hong Kong, and over 10,000 citizens turned out for a mass rally to demand that the Hong Kong government negotiate with the Federation of Students over political reforms. Others rejoined the smaller occupation sites at Causeway Bay and Mong Kok to reinforce their numbers and show that support for the protests remained strong.
What strikes me as an outsider most about the movement in Hong Kong is the extraordinary patience and long-term perspective of the mainly young protesters. Even as their barricades and banners are slowly coming down, and as the leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students are preparing for the formal opening of discussions with the government over political reforms, the protesters are maintaining a creative and self-disciplined stance.
Some examples stand out. On Monday, as government workers left for the day, protesters handed them flowers and soup. Disruptive counter-demonstrators were surrounded by nonviolent protesters singing Happy Birthday! And protest art is blossoming – see the collection at
Each evening the remaining occupation sites are flooded with students who were resuming classes and adult supporters returning from work. The smaller number of protesters who remain behind the barricades day and night are becoming exhausted, but have vowed to maintain their protest until the talks with the government yield at least some kind of progress.
The university student leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students will be the direct spokespeople for the movement, but they are consulting with the high school students of Scholarism and the democratic politicians and leaders of Occupy Central. No one expects many of the core political and economic demands of the umbrella movement to be met, since the Hong Kong government and the corporate elite, staunchly based by the Chinese Communist Party and the mainland Chinese government, remain adamantly opposed to any real concessions.
Nonetheless I believe that the Hong Kong movement can be provisionally regarded as successful. It has been perhaps the first global Occupy movement to formulate a clear set of demands and to rally behind spokespeople for those demands. It has dramatically called attention to the failure of the central government to honor its promises to move towards fuller democracy, while simultaneously asserting the need to reverse growing economic inequality in Hong Kong. Its mixture of audacity and pragmatic commonsense has helped build the institutions of civil society in the city-state and reinforced the popular sentiment of the Hong Kong population that they have something precious to preserve and to contribute eventually to China as a whole.
This video captures the spirit of the Umbrella Movement in song and images.
For a century, student movements have played key roles in signalling major changes in Chinese society. Hopefully this generation of Hong Kong students, with its key leaders ranging from 17 to 24 years old now, will be able to survive and gain more traction with other societal classes. From the comments of protesters that I have read in the press and social media this week, increasingly focused on inequality and economic injustice, I believe that a next positive step could involve greater and deeper interaction with young workers and with the independent unions of Hong Kong.
by Paul Garver
The Umbrella Movement in support of democracy and against growing inequality in Hong Kong persists despite savage attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs that are condoned or even in some cases organized by the police.
Responding with force to this extreme provocation, which includes right-wing thugs groping the female demonstrators, might provide a pretext for the Hong Kong government to violently crack down on the demonstrations. The protesters, mainly university and high school students supported by independent labor unions, civic groups and ordinary citizens of Hong Kong, have been able to maintain a steadfast nonviolent discipline, as illustrated in this photo from Causeway Bay.
After consultation between Hong Kong activists and some of their supporters, a consensus was reached on some measures that could be taken to support the Umbrella Movement. These are summarized in an excellent article in Labor Notes by Alexandra Bradbury at http://labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/students-and-workers-strike-democratic-reforms-hong-kong.
Ways to Support the Hong Kong Democracy Movement
Join or organize a local rally or vigil. A number of international actions have targeted Chinese consulate offices, though key organizers inside Hong Kong have clearly decided to focus their pressure on the Hong Kong government rather than on Beijing. Another possible target: the local Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.
Hold a teach-in or speak-out on your campus or at your organization. Some are also distributing yellow ribbons to show solidarity.
Get your union or organization to send a statement of solidarity. Unions around the world, including Canada’s national union federation, have issued statements of support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also made a statement.
Sign support petitions, either the one sponsored by HKCTU at http://www.hkctu.org.hk/web/en/online_petition.html?id=6
or the other by the IUF at http://www.iuf.org/w/?q=node/3675.
Follow the latest developments and appeals via the Facebook group:
HKCTU News Release
October 3, 2014
Chief Executive CY Leung promised to appoint the Chief Secretary for Administration and the political reform trio to have a dialogue with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), yet allowed thugs to attack the protesters the very next day. This is no different from suppressing citizens who strive for democracy. On October 3, the peaceful protesters were attacked with violence, but the police did not enforce the law though witnessing the thugs hurting the civilians. This is literally giving support to brutality, murdering the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech of Hong Kong people. HKCTU is in extreme anger and hereby strongly condemns the police for tolerating violence and being negligent towards their duty. We strongly demand that the police arrest and prosecute the thugs.
Today, there were a large number of people of unknown background gathered at the Mong Kok occupy area. It is believed that over a thousand members from organizations like “Caring Hong Kong Power” and “Voice of Loving Hong Kong” screamed, cursed at and attacked the protesters at the scene. At that time very few police were there to support, nor did they stop the attacks. Many unarmed students, workers and citizens were hurt by the thugs. There was even a female student being sexually assaulted and the materials of the protesters got destroyed maliciously.
As the working class, while striving for democracy, we also believe in engaging in civil disobedience in a loving and peaceful manner. We hereby appeal to all Hong Kong citizens and the international society to:
1) support the students, workers and citizens in the Occupy Movement
2) urge CY Leung to stop using violence and tolerating violence to suppress the peaceful protesters, and to uphold the freedom of assembly and speech of Hong Kong
3) urge the police to instantly investigate the thugs who were organized to attack the protesters and give an explanation to the public
4) urge the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to withdraw the fake universal suffrage proposal, and the Hong Kong Government to re-launch the consultation on political reform and implement a genuine universal suffrage
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions includes affiliates with about 170,000 members in Hong Kong.
The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue. Demonstrators have set a deadline of midnight tonight for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to resign. German revolutionary magazine Marx21 interviewed Sophia Chan from Left21, Hong Kong about the background to and prospects for the mass protests taking place. The interview in available in German here.
1. When did the protests start and why? What was the turning that meant people started to demonstrate?
The protest was actually a result of a long battle for democracy. When the British handed Hong Kong back over to China in 1997, the Chinese government promised both in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the mini constitution of Hong Kong (the Basic Law) that a democratic system eventually would be implemented in Hong Kong. After decades of delay and making excuses, in August this year the National People’s Congress of the PRC declared that the so-called democracy…
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by Paul Garver
Triad thugs, perhaps hired by the Hong Kong government and certainly condoned by the police, are unleashing a wave of savage attacks against peaceful supporters of the Hong Kong protests at their support centers in several districts of Hong Kong. This tactic, reminiscent of the worst abuses of the Egyptian government two years ago, destroys the very basis of law, civil liberties and democracy. such lawless brutality has not been seen in Hong Kong in many decades.
Follow minute by minute developments at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Calling-for-international-support-for-democracy-in-Hong-Kong/275123362684837?ref=hl.
We will update with suggestions about how we can respond.