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Lita Kurth
Lita Kurth
Lita A. Kurth is a Jungian Anarcho-Syndicalist teacher and writer



Hoovervilles for the Homeless? or Legalized Camping?: San Jose

Aug9

by: on August 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Hooverville 1932 credit Tony Fischer

Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.

Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.

Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.

It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.


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Pay to Play II: Testing and Punishing Students, Testing and Punishing Teachers

Jun10

by: on June 10th, 2015 | Comments Off

A stylized open math workbook with a pencil.

While wealthier schools give teachers leeway for creativity and local emphases, standardized tests, Common Core, and the cookie-cutter approach to curriculum are forced on poor schools and students. Credit: CreativeCommons / Bill Selak.

What happens when you close a struggling school “for the good of the students” and farm the kids off to charters? Very few researchers have talked about public schools as a source of precious jobs in desperate communities. What happens to the student whose mom used to be a “lunch lady,” a job with benefits, who now is unemployed? What happens to the children of the custodians, the school secretaries, and teachers’ aides, now unemployed? How does the parent’s loss of a good job affect the student’s education? This question came up at a Working Class Studies panel at Georgetown University recently where Jose-Luis Vilson, a teacher and education blogger, pointed out that the loss of public employment hurts the black community especially.

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Pay to Play: The Creeping Privatization of Public Education

May12

by: on May 12th, 2015 | Comments Off

A girl watches a cheerleading squad practice outside.

Participating in activities like dance, sports, and even graduation ceremonies are the norm for well-off families, but costs for gear, uniforms, and equipment are prohibitive for many. Credit: CreativeCommons / Beth Rankin.

This is the first of a short series of posts by Lita Kurth on the privatization of education.

Should the parent who paid the most get the best seat at graduation? Should the children of wealthy donors get private time with public school teachers? Should a choice parking space in front of the school be reserved for the highest bidder? Anyone with a child in a California public school knows how thoroughly riddled with private-school fundraising many schools have become. I admit to anguished feelings: I can’t entirely oppose fund raising because without such stopgaps, public schools have no art, theatre, debate, music, robotics, sports, or field trips – and some public schools lack all of these! In many cases, generous and public-spirited parents try to fill the enormous gap left by Proposition 13 and raise funds for all the kids, but inevitably, when a small group coalesces around a favored activity, one in which their own children participate, the precious cornerstone and sign of democracy – universal access – is marred, and at times, completely eroded.

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No One Wanted it to End: Cornel West at Santa Clara University

Oct6

by: on October 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Cornel West

Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Public rhetoric is thousands of years old, yet even in an era of high-res video and magnificent audio, to hear a great talk in person is special. That was absolutely the case on Friday night, October 3rd, at Santa Clara University when Dr. Cornel West, public intellectual and democratic leader, spoke extemporaneously and movingly for an hour and forty minutes and received two standing ovations.

Why was it so inspiring? West was not a pulpit speaker in the style of the Reverends Martin Luther King Jr. or Jesse Jackson, but was warm, charming, and often funny. He opened his speech with a point about rhetoric: paideia, frank speech, the kind that got Socrates killed. I was reminded again that truth heals. We need desperately to talk about the emperor’s new clothes or the elephant in the room, especially when the talk is critical, but not hateful, love but “tough love,” as West said with a smile.

There, in that packed room of mostly privileged, mostly white people, who, before the talk began, had been speaking about their horses and far-flung vacations, West made a connection. That was very important too.

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Affordable Housing Rally, San Jose

Sep15

by: on September 15th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

San Jose rally affordable housing

Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee led a rally in San Jose last week to raise funds and awareness for affordable housing. Credit: L. Kurth

Yes, it’s an oxymoron and a dream — affordable housing in San Jose, the city with the nation’s largest unsheltered homeless population. Four people died of exposure last winter, and so many more live crowded together in small apartments or vans.

So on September 11th a rally was held at city hall by Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee (SHHAC) along with a coalition of others to continue efforts to inform and persuade both the public and our elected and appointed officials to pass a fee to raise funds for affordable housing. It’s just one helpful idea, one drop in a bucket that was emptied when the Redevelopment Agencies (many for good reason) were disbanded.


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Glory, Fame, and Ambition: the Custer Model

Jan29

by: on January 29th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

George Armstrong Custer. "The last thing we need in our homes, workplaces, and national leadership is a Custer," Kurth writes. Credit: Creative Commons/National Archives and Records Administration.

When I was a girl, my father called me a “glory-hound,” and I was embarrassed and indignant, probably because it was so true. Most writers, it seems, long for glory, fame, acknowledgement. Some of that is a human need to be seen and valued, an experience we all deserve. But lately, I’ve been seeing a very real danger in the obsessive pursuit of fame and even the pursuit of achievement.

What could be wrong with “following your dream” or “being all you can be?”

In a radio interview, a spiritual author writing a book about a religious icon, mentioned a key moment when she was allowed to see the icon. At that moment, her companion and guide, an elderly man, was so affected, he collapsed to the floor. Her reaction was something very close to, Oh, that’s all I need: a dead guide on my hands.

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t a spiritual quest draw us closer to others, make us sympathetic to their suffering and possible death? That moment is undoubtedly not typical of the writer’s attitude overall, but it made me certainly made me ponder ambition, my own and others’, and where it stands in the way of humanity. Where do we find ourselves seeing others and even their suffering as mere obstacles to our goals?

Custer: A Far Scarier Example

Soon after hearing the radio program, I watched a PBS feature on Custer, a horrible and disturbing story. My mind kept flipping back and forth between two visions. One was a popular picture of Custer in his time, glamorous Custer, a “gallant” triumphant competitor, a rule-breaker and risk-taker, adventurous, courageous, confident, dashing, a man who dressed with flare and had a passionate romance with an equally high-voltage woman, his wife, Libby. This, I thought, is the archetype of success in our culture, the fireworks person, the Steve Jobs, the important one who drives himself beyond human limits and achieves fame, power, and money – and makes us feel bad about ourselves.

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Rejoice: Openly Socialist Candidate Wins Seattle City Council Seat

Nov18

by: on November 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

(Flyer for Sawant/ Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Natalie Woo)

It’s true. Seattle elected a socialist candidate to its City Council. Kshama Sawant, a 40-year-old community college instructor and immigrant, is the kind of socialist spiritual progressives can feel delighted about. She ran on an Occupy platform of raising the minimum wage a hefty $5 to $15/hour, instituting rent control, public ownership of utilities, expanding paid sick leave, increasing citizen oversight of police, and taxing millionaires. She even said, under prodding, that one could make a case for nationalizing Amazon and Boeing; it wouldn’t happen, and she wasn’t running on it, but one could make an argument. And she was still elected.

How did she do it?

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Politics, Humility and Homophobia: The Strangest Bedfellows of All

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

I opened my email to the news that Governor Brown had vetoed AB 1229 which would have allowed local governments to require a smidgen of affordable housing along with luxury developments. Immediately, I felt tense and angry, outraged that rent control is illegal in California, and now this further setback. I was despondent and disgusted that a liberal governor would veto one tiny step toward affordable housing.

Then I opened another email about a community college inviting for-profit education companies, at least one of whom had said public education was “broken,” to hold a conference on campus.

My stomach tensed. My forehead ached. I felt antagonistic, judgmental, enraged and ready to shout.

Once this state of mind didn’t trouble me. I may even have welcomed the adrenaline.

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Miracles DO Happen: Low-Wage Service Workers on Strike

Sep1

by: on September 1st, 2013 | Comments Off

Even a year ago, was anyone predicting that fast food workers would be on strike? Struggling, disrespected, mostly working in small franchises without the support of large numbers, they are among the hardest workers to unionize, and as a result, organized labor has, for the most part, ignored them. Each franchise requires a separate campaign but owners have access to the big-gun union-busting lawyers of giant corporations.

And many workers don’t know their rights. Where would they find out about them? One worker who acknowledged she wanted better conditions said, “If you walk out on your job, that’s grounds for dismissal.” Wal-Mart, for example, “illegally confiscated union literature, prohibited discussions of unions and retaliated against union supporters.” Supposedly, American workers have the right to form unions and go on strike. But Amy Traub pointed out on the website Demos that, “while many workers wish to join unions, they often change their minds after an intimidating one-on-one anti-union meeting with their direct supervisor once a week or more leading up to a union election (a tactic employers used in 66 percent of organizing campaigns), after their boss threatens to close down the workplace if workers decide to unionize (57 percent of organizing campaigns), or after those co-workers who most openly support the union are fired (34 percent of organizing campaigns).”

Photo Credit: L.A. Kurth.

It seemed impossible that they would even try.

But it happened and has been happening since last November. At McDonald’s, at Wendy’s, at Wal-Mart. And it wasn’t only in New York City. Far from it. Very far from it. Workers in Indianapolis and yes, the small town of Wausau, Wisconsin walked off the job in protest and picketed, while many coworkers supported them in their hearts without daring to go out themselves.

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Sustainable Solidarity: Now Appearing in Wisconsin

Jul3

by: on July 3rd, 2013 | 15 Comments »

Credit: L.A. Kurth.

Recently, I had an experience of solidarity so precious it stands out as a significant moment of my life. And it wasn’t associated with victory. On the contrary, it was accompanied by virtually nothing but defeat. At a recent Working Class Studies conference, I heard from and sang with members of the Wisconsin Solidarity Singalong, an overlapping and unofficial group who have sung historic and updated protest songs in the Wisconsin State Capitol every weekday noon (so as not to disrupt official business) for over 600 days. Let me pause and ask: What would it take for you to protest every weekday noon for 600 working days – without ever being successful? How about if you were ticketed hundreds of times (the “conductor” of the singers had personally received 140 tickets), harassed, punched in the face, sent to trial? This is in the context of spectators being “tossed from the chambers for things like taking a picture, displaying a sign, reading a newspaper or wearing a hat.”

What happens to freedom of speech when you can’t put tape over your mouth to express protest at not being allowed to sing? What happens to you as a result of this commitment? I think the answer is your life changes – and the world around you changes, on an almost invisible yet vitally important scale.

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