Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 17.1: SF School Board Recall is a Cover for Racism and Elitism. Vote No!
by Ravi Chandra. Posted January 12, 2022
(This article represents the views of the author, and not necessarily those of any other party including East Wind eZine.)
Recalling three members of the San Francisco school board is a case example of how understandable frustration in extraordinarily difficult times gets misunderstood, then manipulated and mobilized by racism and wealthy conservatives. BIPOC communities and leaders are always impacted and blamed by the dominant culture when the chips are down. The chips have definitely been down in this extraordinarily difficult two years of COVID and palpable, surfacing wounds of racial trauma. It’s no wonder that BIPOC leaders such as Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga, and Board President Gabriela López are taking heat. The attempt to recall them is just the latest battleground in displacing San Francisco values and subordinating BIPOC voices.
San Francisco is in danger of becoming part of the national template for GOP victory and the advancement of wealthy interests against BIPOC communities. The message to future leaders will be to step back, know your place, and don’t advocate strongly for Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples.
Funding for the BOE recall has overwhelmingly come from Venture Capitalists and tech entrepreneurs, some of them proponents of charter schools. From the SF Ethics Commission website, see link in references.
A recall election just 9 months before the regular election is in itself undemocratic and a waste of resources. But this election boils my blood for several other reasons. Here’s why I will vote “NO!” against all these recalls:
Frustration about school closures and delayed re-opening during COVID are supposedly the primary motives for the recall – but the recall effort happens to be targeting Board members who are Black, Latinx and Pacific Islander, who are eligible for recall since they were elected in 2018. In fact, Faauuga Moliga is the first Pacific Islander Commissioner in Board of Education (BOE) history. All three have been noted advocates for BIPOC communities. Collins and López have received death threats and online harassment after advocating for inclusion and equity. Targeting these three is absolutely linked to racism in our San Francisco community, to which students and others have been calling attention for decades. In fact, Lowell’s Black Student Union and supporters walked out in 2016, protesting multiple incidents and a climate of devaluation and racism. Student Board delegate Shavonne Hines-Foster was harassed and shouted down last year as she drew attention to racism at Lowell. As a community we are not yet free of racism and discrimination, including anti-Asian hate. Recalling these Board members will surreptitiously strengthen anti-Black and racist forces already present but largely hidden in our community. BOE Commissioners have been the messengers for long-buried grievances and disparities – and the recall vote attempts to “shoot the messengers.”
The BOE recall is being funded primarily by wealthy Venture Capitalists, some with longstanding histories of supporting Charter schools. 7 of the 10 top individual donors are Venture Capitalists, and the others are tech entrepreneurs. They are wildly unrepresentative of our city – the tail wagging the dog, the puppeteers pulling the strings. Arthur Rock, who has donated almost $400,000 to the recall effort, has been a longstanding funder and advocate for charter schools. David Sacks, who has donated $74,500, prominently funded the Newsom recall effort, and is also funding the Chesa Boudin recall. These people have weaponized the understandable frustration about COVID closures to undermine progressive agendas for public education. In the past, they and other charter school proponents have poured big money into other school board races (for example in Oakland, see references), and have benefitted when debt-ridden school districts turn to school closures and charter schools as a panacea. San Francisco is next on their chopping block. Money pouring into this school board recall has already far outstripped funds spent on school board elections in the past. This is a moment ripe for wealthy conservative opportunism and undue influence drowning out the voices of Black, Brown and Indigenous students, parents, teachers, and staff.
These three Board members are up for re-election in November, 2022. If recalled, Mayor London Breed will appoint their replacements, giving the Mayor unprecedented control over the Board of Education and the future political landscape of the city, as Commissioners often run for Supervisor and other offices after their terms end. This is a profoundly undemocratic move and a power grab.
The recall is part of a broad scheme to mobilize conservatives across the country prior to the 2022 midterms. The national context of our local vote should give us pause. There is widespread and uninformed anger about Critical Race Theory, really a reactionary backlash against teaching actual history from the perspective of vulnerable and marginalized Americans. The three commissioners in question have been advocates for ethnic studies in our schools. There is a midterm election in November, 2022, and the GOP is trying to gain momentum through outrage at school boards and BIPOC leaders. (See the case of Andrea Kane in Maryland, in references, as an example.) Even if local proponents of the recall deny direct connection to these national forces, their success will undoubtedly be used to fire up conservatives across the country. Recalling BIPOC San Francisco Board of Education members will certainly become a talking point for Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and others as evidence that voters – even San Francisco voters! – have rejected the anti-racist movement that these three have embodied. The talking points for conservatives will be that our long-overdue conversations about ethnic studies in school curricula and manifestations of racism in school names and murals are an affront to the “real America” represented by Donald Trump and his allies in the GOP – and that they are taking their country back.
From the No on School Board Recall website, see link in references.
These are unprecedented times. My opinion is that the SFBOE was unfairly tasked with decisions about school closures and re-openings, above and beyond their expertise level. More guidance should have come from state and local Departments of Public Health, leaving the Board only with the extremely difficult task of understanding community, teacher, staff, and student needs. It appears, as the KQED article referenced below points out, that the leaders under fire actually were responsive to needs of multigenerational, low-income families who were especially vulnerable to COVID. Given what’s happening now with the omicron variant across the country, with multiple school districts again moving to online instruction, it’s clear that these decisions are never easy and many affected parties are understandably in a state of anxiety. No one wants to die or get seriously ill. But more privileged and “safer” parents may not be seeing the needs of teachers and vulnerable families accurately.
Yes, there is understandable frustration about school operation during COVID, and also the way the Board manages its priorities and meetings. The answer is for parents, teachers, students and other concerned parties to become more involved in public education. Not to recall the Board, creating a troubling inflection point for San Francisco political history. The BOE should not be used as fodder in the ongoing culture war.
If the recall effort walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it is a duck. A racist, elitist duck. I encourage San Francisco voters to examine the issues and the motives of the proponents of the recall carefully and not have expensive feathers – er, wool – pulled over our eyes.
San Francisco is a bellwether. We can and should be a leader in public education. We cannot afford to sit this one out and let the big dollars win.
In this article, I have chosen not to significantly address three issues (the Washington HS mural, the renaming of schools, and Alison Collins’ 2016 tweets), because they are adequately covered elsewhere (the KQED Forum podcast and articles linked below), and because I think they are essentially distractions. If you are interested, I encourage you to begin your research with these resources.
Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., recently tweeted this.
For further information:
Rancaño V, Marzarati G. How We Got Here: The Road to the Recall Election of 3 SF School Board Members. KQED, January 11, 2022. Note this statement in particular: “Jan. 4, 2021: A survey of SFUSD families finds that 57% of respondents plan to return their children to in-person learning once it is offered. But those rates vary significantly by race/ethnicity, with 80% of white, 62% of Black, 61% of Latino and 36% of Asian families opting to return.” Clearly there is a strong case to be made that these commissioners were paying attention to BIPOC communities regarding re-opening.
Photo by Bob Hsiang
Ravi Chandra is a psychiatrist, writer and compassion educator in San Francisco, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. For fourteen years, he was lucky to have his MOSF posts published by the Center for Asian American Media, and now looks forward to broadening and building a diverse creative community and coalition through reflecting on culture and psychology for East Wind eZine. Sign up for updates here, and see all the posts here. He writes from the metaphorical intersection of The Fillmore and Japantown in San Francisco, where Black and Asian communities have mingled since the end of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He literally works there, between two Indian restaurants, go figure, though one has permanently shuttered during COVID. His debut documentary was named Best Film (Festival Director’s Award) at the 2021 Cannes Independent Film Festival. The Bandaged Place: From AIDS to COVID and Racial Justice is available on-demand. His nonfiction debut, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, won the 2017 Nautilus Silver Award for Religion/Spirituality of Eastern Thought. You can find him on Psychology Today, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, SoundCloud, or better yet, in the IRL.