When is a “Grassroots” Organization a Front ?

February 18, 2015


This morning I woke up to find an email from the tireless and venerable Norm Scott of EdNotes Online. Under the headline, The Public Education Beat Down Express Goes On, the ever vigilant Norm posted the following notices:
12 p.m.—Families for Excellent Schools holds a press conference with Senator Ruben Diaz Jr. and other Bronx elected officials to call for action on failing schools. Girls Prep Bronx Elementary, 681 Kelly Street, Bronx.
6 p.m.—StudentsFirstNY holds a town hall meeting in support of Cuomo’s education agenda, headlined by Assemblyman Karim Camara. Medgar Evers College, Founders Auditorium, 1650 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn.

Both Families for Excellent Schools and StudentsFirst NY are, like all of the education reform campaign, pure products of the ever strengthening, ever consolidating, ever more triumphant American oligarchy and nothing more than disguised vehicles for their political agendas. This is to say, not one of the hundreds of such groups that have proliferated over the past decade, would exist for five minutes without constant and massive infusions of money, lots of it re-directed taxes, from their oligarchic creators and directors. We are dealing here with people so rich that millions are almost meaningless and whose ruthlessness, sense of entitlement, and narcissism knows no bounds. The only thing they know how to do is to dominate by any means they can. Non-profits, they have discovered, are one of the many vehicles they utilize in their push for privatization. Hence, the steady rise of thenon profit education reform industrial complex. Or, as they like to call themselves, the “grassroots” movement.

Both Families for Excellent Schools and StudentsFirstNY target poor and poorly educated families and aim to manipulate them, in the name of promoting better schools, into turning against the public schools system and, ultimately, against the remains of social contract itself . The end game is to find the poor embracing and promoting the privatization of all aspects of American life. As “non-profits,” Families for Excellent Schools and StudentsFirst NY exist partly by legally diverting taxes that would go to public coffers thereby draining vital funding from the very public institutions they are attempting to politically undermine.
Quite the two headed nickel.

This, needless to say, is not how they view themselves.
“Families for Excellent Schools, “ claims their website, “ (FES) is a grassroots movement of public school families. We advocate to create and sustain excellent schools.”
(Note: Mercedes Schneider’s excellent work on uncovering Families for Excellent Schools “non-profit “ weaselry.)

“StudentsFirstNY is New York’s leading voice for students who depend on public education for the skills they need to succeed, but who are too often failed by a system that puts special interests, rather than the interests of children, first.”
Despite their billionaire and corporate backing and thinly disguised privatization agendas, such groups and their followers use the word “grassroots” to define themselves as often as possible. Meanwhile, the public at large, if they are aware of who is bankrolling such groups at all, hardly seem troubled by this.
The corporate press, ever eager to please their masters, has been especially derelict on their non-reporting on the genesis, bankrolling and propagation of such groups as Families for Excellent Schools as has the government in granting them non profit status willy nilly as if they actually are grassroots organizations.
That this farce goes on in broad daylight, aided and abetted by the US government, is but one of the many demoralizing aspects of being a teacher in an age of extreme political and intellectual degeneracy and expediency and yet another example of how the mega rich are being allowed to rewrite the narrative of this nation.

What does the tacit agreement to ignore the obvious charade about such increasingly powerful organization tell us about what has happened to the American soul in the past 30 or so years ?
In even a moderately honest culture, in fact, organizations such as Families for Excellent Schools would be seen for what they are and called what they are: not grass roots movements but fronts.

It’s not that Americans and the American government are not familiar with the concept of fronts. Read history and you will find that all throughout the Cold War, Americans were repeatedly warned by the government, by the press, by the clergy, of the insidious danger of what were generically called “communist fronts.” The words were used as a smear and an attack on any group that was not mindlessly patriotic. Nonetheless, there were, in fact, organizations that in some cases were funded by Moscow, and not unlike Families for Excellent Schools or StudentsFirstNY, hired young, smiling faces to pass themselves off as indigenous as the buffalo and as all American as the Georgia peach. During the endless reign of J. Edgar Hoover, many non–communist affiliated groups were also tossed into the same soup and many lives ruined. Of course, all civil rights organizations, even as they were firmly rooted in the church, were absurdly labeled so and ruthlessly hounded and harassed.
Politically and morally there was and there is good reason to expose fronts — all fronts, whatever the political affiliation. Whatever your political sympathies, there is something intrinsically sleazy, unethical and even sinister about a front.


Or there should be.

Is not the purpose of a front to deceive, to pass itself off as something it is not so as to scam credulous people of good will? Are fronts not a con-job riddled with hidden agendas? Of course, they are. Fronts are bad faith incorporated.

And yet, even while multiplying like malignant cells, even as the massive money behind “education reform” has produced more fronts than one can keep up with, even though widely acknowledged as “astroturf”, all seem to have somehow escaped the moral condemnation and political scrutiny that was visited to no end on their predecessors in the front game. They just keep coming and coming and coming. And why shouldn’t they ? The people behind these scams have been allowed to amass the wealth of nations; an accumulation of capital that no democracy can long withstand before being utterly perverted.

Are billionaire and corporate based deception and bad faith somehow higher than their communist based counterparts of the past ? Even as billionaires and corporatism have done infinitely more to wreck and undermine our anemic democracy, deplete the earth, poison our food and debase our culture, than communists ever did? Even as they attempt to use non- profits and ‘grassroots “ groups to foment a kind of civil war intended, ultimately, to dismantle all progressive legislation of the past century? Even as they have made our political system a sick joke growing more anemic by the month? What can be said about this strange, silent metamorphosis of a mechanism like a front from something to be shunned and condemned to something to be celebrated by our elected officials who happily pose with these smiling shysters and con artists even as I write? Have we become so internally corporatized and ideologically colonized that we as a people can scarcely see the difference between a legitimate non-profit and a rank front, even as the ever multiplying fronts makes continued inroads into undermining a public trust as vital as the school system?

What, really, is the difference between a “grass root ” shams likes Families For Excellent Schools and StudentsFirstNY and a front ? What, that is, except our subservience to who is bankrolling them ?


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