Oh District, my District.
It’s been said that if the people lead, the leaders will follow… but what happens if they don’t. What happens if the young people pick up a megaphone and the district does not answer the call?
During the seven day Oakland Education Association strike, students often led protests and rallies. The students were inspiring. They reminded many of us why we teach. On Monday, March 4th, the Oakland Unified Board of Education reminded many of us why we lose confidence in our educational leaders.
See links to galleries at the end of this post.
Day 3 – Marching on Broadway
If not for the support of the students and community members, the Oakland Unified School District would not have agreed to the pay raises for the teachers. If not for the teacher pay raises, the district would not have cut programs… at least that was the argument when the school board voted to cut popular programs earlier this week.
Day 3 in front of Melrose Leadership Academy
In the twenty years living in the Bay Area, I have never seen this much support for educators, so I was surprised when the tentative agreement was announced last Friday afternoon. I was even more surprised that many of the most vocal community members seemed to be forgotten.
I was not the only person surprised. The OEA membership was split as well. Only 58 percent of those voting approved the new contract. If I were still an OEA Union Rep and member, I don’t know what I would have done. I remember nearly twenty years ago when Oakland’s elected officials wanted to work with the teachers to demand more money for Oakland’s schools. We were asked to wait.
Day 3 – Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich
I might have reminded the membership of our crowds and Robert Reich’s arguments. I might have showed pictures of the crowds. I might have urged local politicians to stop waiting and join the effort.
Day 3 – Outside the State Building
On the third day, we marched to the Elihu M. Harris State Office Building. Inside the building, OEA and OUSD were negotiating. They could hear the crowd. On the sixth day, the crowd returned and entered the lobby.
Day 3 – OEA Negotiating Team Breaks to Join Crowd
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond was inside, but the voices could be heard throughout the country. This was not a small movement.
Day 4 Verdese Carter Park
And yet, when it was time to play big, the big names played small (or disappeared completely).
Day 4 – 98th Avenue
I didn’t notice one elected official demonstrate the leadership and bravery worthy of the Oakland students. I heard many elected officials willing to “stand with teachers.” That phrase sounds too much like “thoughts and prayers” when coming from an elected representative.
Day 4 – Boots Riley at Roots International
We need politicians who are willing to be bothered. We need politicians who are willing to bother their constituents to create a more equal public school system. (When Boots Riley attended the rally outside Roots International, I thought that #BootsAtRoots would catch on. It hasn’t yet.)
When children “stand with teachers” or carry signs in the rain, we are inspired. When school board members or mayors “stand with teachers,” it feels like a Dead Poets Society sequel instead of Stand and Deliver.
Day 5 Birthday Celebration
Day 5 Press Conference
Day 6 California Teachers Association President Eric Heins
On the sixth day, there was sun. It would be the only day of the strike that we would go inside.
There were teachers
and famous people (W. Kamau Bell)
Somehow, we marched into the state building. Would we have made it without the students? Would it have been worth it without the students?
On the day of the tentative agreement, the school board meeting was shut down a second time. The board had been scheduled to eliminate programs and positions that were important to students.
Even after the TA was announced, the protest continued Friday evening.
The Board Meeting would be rescheduled for Monday morning. Teachers and students would not be able to protest the next meeting, if OEA ratified the new contract.
On Sunday, the new contract was ratified. OEA leaders probably received a better deal than expected when the strike began. However, the union probably did not expect the OUSD School Board to blame the new contract for the need to cut programs the next day.
When the School Board finally met Monday, members argued that cuts were essential. As I understood the argument, Alameda County and representatives from the state told the district to cut programs if OUSD wanted to approve the new teacher contract.
Students reminded the district that this is the home of the Black Panther Party. We organize here, and students help each other. Students suggested alternatives; the students explained the impact of the board decisions. Students fought for their community.
At a time when Oakland youth needed policies with vision, the school board seemed blind of the times. Unfazed. Unmotivated. They were reasonable when the times called for something more.
I have been disappointed by this district often since 2001, but Monday was different. I thought that the board members heard the voices from the street and the podium, but I was wrong.
I hope that the students do not lose hope. Just as I feel depressed by the old leadership, the students may feel as though their leaders have fallen cold and dead, but I also see the emergence of new leaders. The students have each other… and I am willing to follow these new leaders.
Note: I edited this post on 3/11/19