By Marcy Rein, Mickey Ellinger, and Vicki Legion
Foreword by Pauline Lipman
Free City! The Fight for San Francisco’s City College and Education for All tells the story of the five years of organizing that turned a seemingly hopeless defensive fight into a victory for the most progressive free college measure in the US. In 2012, the accreditor sanctioned City College of San Francisco, one of the biggest and best community colleges in the country, and a year later proposed terminating its accreditation, leading to a state takeover. Free City! follows the multipronged strategies of the campaign and the diverse characters that carried them out. Teachers, students, labor unions, community groups, public officials, and concerned individuals saved a treasured public institution as San Francisco’s working-class communities of color battled the gentrification that was forcing them out of the city. And they pushed back against the national “reform” agenda of corporate workforce training that drives students towards debt and sidelines lifelong learning and community service programs. Combining analysis with narrative, Free City! offers a case study in the power of positive vision and solution-oriented organizing and a reflection on what education can and should be.
“The fight to save City College is one of the most remarkable in the long history of progressive politics in San Francisco. It offers hope and practical lessons in opposing the neoliberal agendas of austerity, exclusion, and privatization. For decades, California bled dry the greatest public education system in the world. Turning that around will take years of struggle by the people demanding their lost rights and public investment in their children. As City College showed, victory is possible and the battle will be led by the new working majority of color, who have already turned California blue and may yet save us from the depredations of the billionaires and madmen who rule America today.”
—Richard Walker, author of Pictures of a Gone City, The Conquest of Bread, The Country in the City, and The Atlas of California
“The struggle and success of Free City proves that when people organize, persist, and resist injustice, they win!”
—Diane Ravitch, founder and president, Network for Public Education; author of The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
“The struggle to keep open City College of San Francisco, the largest community college in the nation, was one of perseverance, collaboration, and ultimately a commitment by the faculty and staff of the college and people of San Francisco to fight for a remarkable institution. Authors Marcy Rein, Mickey Ellinger, and Vicki Legion have made an important contribution to understanding the scope of this five-year battle. At its core the fight to keep open the college revealed a much larger narrative at play in American public education: shaping our schools to meet the needs of the marketplace and its advocates or molding schools to meet the needs of students, working people, seniors and veterans. Ultimately, this struggle highlights the strength of combining a broad community of faculty, the people of the city and unions. It should serve as a template for other battles.”
—Josh Pechtalt, president emeritus of the California Federation of Teachers
“Free City! is a true organizer’s tale. This exciting and deeply researched book describes the twists and turns of a five-year struggle that began as a defensive fight to preserve a hallowed San Francisco institution, City College, and evolved into a stunning victory that achieved tuition free education for the City’s residents. There are heroes like Alisa Messer, the brilliant leader of AFT Local 2121 representing faculty. There are villains like Barbara Beno, the corporate ‘educator’ who launched a withering attack on CCSF’s accreditation. It is a book with a happy ending and lots of lessons for organizers, educators and anybody who cares about public education in America.”
—Peter B. Olney, retired Organizing Director, International Longshore and Warehouse Union
Marcy Rein is a writer, editor, and organizer who worked for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for almost twelve years, writing for its newspaper and serving as the communications specialist for its organizing department. Her articles have appeared in women’s, queer, labor, and left publications from Off Our Backs to Race, Poverty & the Environment. With her husband, Clifton Ross, she edited Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements (PM Press, 2014).
Mickey Ellinger writes regularly for News from Native California and other California-based publications. She wrote Allensworth, the Freedom Colony: A California African American Township (Heyday Books, 2007). She has served as treasurer of the Bay Area chapter of the National Writers Union and is a member of the board of the Making Contact social justice radio project.
Vicki Legion has been on the faculty at City College of San Francisco since 1994 and is part of the longstanding network of social justice organizers in public education. She was a core activist of the Save City College Coalition and convened its Research Committee, uncovering the role of lobbyists in the manufacture of the City College accreditation crisis. She has presented to several national audiences, among them the American Association of University Professors and the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education.
Pauline Lipman is a professor in the Educational Policy Studies Department at the College of Education, University of Illinois–Chicago and the author of The New Political Economy of Urban Education.