Singer-songwriter Ceci Bastida has long championed political and social causes such as immigrant rights, the Zapatista movement and various issues concerning her native country of Mexico. Her most recent foray into activism, however, is undoubtedly her most personal.
This Saturday in Oxnard, she will be one of a handful of artists to perform a free, all-ages show in support of the Schools Not Prisons Arts & Music Festival tour, which promotes safe communities via voting, political activism and non-violence among community youth, with a focus on funding schools and educational programs while fighting against "zero-tolerance" policing of students that ultimately funnels many of them into the United States' massive prison system.
Bastida, who was educated in Mexico but now lives in L.A., only recently had to work to get her daughter into what she describes as the "insane" U.S. school system. "[It] was like, 'Wow, there's really only these two schools that she could possibly get into that are going to be OK?' It's a really sad thing ... that a lot of public schools are really bad and that there are few people who have access to really good schools. That to me was the first shock."
She was in for a bigger shock after a few conversations with Mike de la Rocha, the founder of Revolve Impact, who produced the tour with support from the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation and the music streaming service Tidal among others. De la Rocha revealed to Bastida the extent of what's known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
Put succinctly, the pipeline funnels a majority of students of color from public schools to juvenile detention centers and prisons through underfunded and overcrowded schools that institute zero-tolerance policing that treats students as criminals from the get-go. The end result is a population of uneducated repeat offenders with practically no future.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, children with learning disabilities or who grow up in conditions of poverty, abuse and neglect are "isolated, punished, and pushed out" instead of receiving additional assistance or given options for alternative education to help them succeed. Under zero-tolerance policies, "students have been expelled for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school. Rates of suspension have increased dramatically in recent years — from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000 — and have been most dramatic for children of color."
Edgar "Meshlee" Modesto of Buyepongo, who will make their fifth appearance on the tour this Saturday, can attest to that personally. The singer for the Latin music group grew up in Long Beach in public schools packed with as many as 45 kids to a class. He sees that situation playing out again in Compton, where he currently lives and where he can't put his 8-year-old in school, opting instead to drive further out of the city to put her in another district with better funding and programs. He also considers himself fortunate that some of his family members are currently in college and provide a positive influence for his daughter.
"I'm already pushing [higher education] onto her, but there's a lot of kids, especially in the inner city, where their parents work or they're linked up in some other stuff and don't have that guidance," he explains. "This is a scary thing to think about: What is it that we were taught in schools? The prison-industrial complex is tied into the way that the school system is set up. The way that [kids are] taught in schools, and all this tracking in schools, and how our schools are failing is not coincidental."
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The Schools Not Prisons Arts & Music Festival began in August this year and has travelled to Sacramento, San Bernardino, Oakland, Calipatria, Fresno and Coachella so far. Artists such as Ty Dolla $ign, Supaman, Sol Collective, Aloe Blacc, Maya Jupiter, La Santa Cecilia and Los Rakas have shared stage time with local artists and speakers in some pretty unconventional places, including community centers and immigrant/refugee detention centers.
"Schools Not Prisons is definitely a great way to start to let people know that there needs to be a change," says Modesto. "We have that power to make that change by organizing and informing ourselves, and starting within our communities, our city councils, and beyond that. [The tour] represents through the arts, through the music, the change that can happen."
"Obviously, school to me is one of the most important things when you're a young person," adds Bastida. "You get the chance to know your potential if you're able to be exposed to different things. When Mike told me to be a part of this, I agreed 100 percent. There needs to be less prisons. There needs to be more money spent on education, schools and good programs."
The next stop for the Schools Not Prisons Arts & Music Festival Tour is this Saturday, Oct. 8 at the PAL Teen Center in Oxnard. The event is free, all-ages, and will include guest speakers and workshops with performances by Ceci Bastida, Buyepongo, Immortal Technique, Kimya Dawson, John Forte, Chino XL, Sound Effect, DJ Scratch, Dirty Rice, and Nico and Raj. More info.