I hope that you are resting, healing and strengthening your family and loved ones during this extreme health crisis. While physical distancing is an absolute must, we still have many ways to stay connected and socialize. Our students appreciate hearing from us even if they don’t always show it in class! I offer the following personal view out of deep appreciation for you and in the hopes of strengthening our solidarity in order to build a better world. The view is not meant to scare anyone. It’s only meant to allow you time to prepare, and to prepare adequately requires information.
The coming three to six months are going to be radically different than anything we have been accustomed to. The Bay Area has declared a “shelter in place,” until the beginning of April. However, last night, Governor Newsom stated that schools may not open until the fall semester. The main goal is to prevent the exponential growth of the virus and only “social distancing,” has proven effective in doing so. As an education profession, we will organize trainings and develop online curriculum so that our students can continue learning and growing. We will obviously adjust work schedules and habits, but we will not come up with all the answers or radically change our practice overnight. We should not feel pressured to do so and if we have any concerns that unrealistic or uninformed expectations are being placed on us, the union, led by our members, will set them straight.
As educators and members of a strong union, we have to understand the very privileged position we find ourselves in during this crisis. For the time being, we can expect our paychecks to come with little or no interruption. Thanks to the power of our unions, we can hold local, state and federal governments accountable to prioritize education and educators. Given that union contracts are legal documents that cannot be broken (similar to the sacrosanct private property laws), we can also expect to have our rights guaranteed. Of course, if any changes to working conditions are needed to adapt to our new environment, our union will be engaged in these discussions.
I say this so that you can begin to look beyond the current moment to prioritize and plan intelligently with your money. In the discussions I have been in and based on what I have read in the news, it is becoming clear that we are already in a 2008-like economic crisis or worse. The economy is now in recession and given the complete halting of economic activity for at least three weeks, no one is clear how deep it is or whether it is now a depression. A more complete picture will emerge in a couple of weeks as folks are laid off work and begin to ask for unemployment.
This is why I strongly recommend you save as much cash on hand as you possibly can and have enough in savings so that in case of any emergency you can pay as many of your bills as possible. Personally, I want to make sure I have extra funds to offer friends and loved ones who will struggle financially during this difficult time. Solidarity will get us all through this period and money is one crucial form of solidarity we can offer people who are unemployed, undocumented or unable to work.
I want you to know that I didn’t develop my political views purely from readings or because I wanted to be a good Samaritan. I became anti-capitalist and pro-worker because I have lived in this particular moment in history. In 2008, I graduated from the prestigious architecture school of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The keynote speaker at our graduation ceremony said, “your class is graduating under the worst economic circumstances we have seen in a lifetime.” Three months later, in September of 2008, the economic crash known today as the Great Recession happened. After six months, all the students who had graduated with me were unemployed. I managed to stick with my salaried job for 1 year before the company tanked. I witnessed a 75-year-old, renowned architect who hung an original print of the US announcement of the Japanese concentration camps his family was forced into, sell everything he owned from his home in the Berkeley Hills in order to pay the remaining checks to his staff. His firm no longer exists and I don’t know what became of him.
I can list many other life-forming experiences like this one, but the main point is that I view the world as it is because that is how it has been presented to me. Instead of being angry at the $75,000 debt, the inability to own a home or not knowing how my mother will one day live in her old age, I looked for answers. The answer I found was that workers need to run the government in the interest of ourselves.
I mention this because there are seismic shifts happening in politics. The “government”, meaning the economic and political bodies that manage society, is finally being forced to offer the workers some relief. Moratoriums on rents, end to evictions, universal basic income and paid sick leaves are being approved even by the completely reactionary and anti-worker Trump administration. This is a moment of great hope and great opportunity.
Imagine if there was a complete suspension of rents? Suspension of mortgages? Elimination of student debt? Housing for everyone? Mandatory paid sick leave of 1 month? Paid family leave of 6 months or a year? Four-day work weeks? Guaranteed pension and dignified retirement? The lowering of the retirement age? The stirrings of these demands are already being made and you need to add your voice to the rising chorus. Two trillion dollars have been handed over to the wealthy only to be burned up instantly by the mysterious forces of the market that only guarantee the rich get richer. This absurdity has to stop and we can and must demand that we get bailed out this time.
The moment has forced us to be extraordinary. Don’t lose the opportunity by ignoring the clear signs that this system has not met our needs and that you and your family, our whole community, deserves more, much much more. Don’t be afraid to question the foundation of this system which is clearly falling apart around us. Demand that a new one be built that will finally be as humane as the values we teach our students. As the saying goes, “we have nothing to lose but our chains.”
We have each other, always. We will get through this. Sending my best to you and your loved ones. Please feel free to forward this message or reach out to discuss it.
Muchos saludos y amor,
Frank Lara is an Executive Board member of the United Educators of San Francisco, a board member of the Latin American Teachers Association, an active member of US Labor Against the War, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and an experienced bilingual upper-elementary school teacher in San Francisco’s Mission District.