As I stood on the corner, cars racing past me, I was impressed once again with the concept of "Rush Hour." I had taken up a spot behind the first row, who were eagerly leaning off the curb to be seen and heard by the late afternoon traffic. Horns honked. Voices were raised. This was a work action.
And I was in it.
In spite of my ambivalence.
I was hollering, as my tired voice allowed, along with my fellow teachers. I was waving my sign, though my arms were sore from a day of lifting and stretching and leaning down to tie kids' shoes. I made my presence felt.
This is what I tell myself now as I reflect back on the hour that I spent on that corner, repeating the call and response chants that became more familiar each time they reached my ears. The noise from the street at times overwhelmed that from the sidewalks, so I sometimes just uttered random monosyllables to feel as if I were participating. Because I wanted to participate. Because I wanted to be heard.
This was a demonstration of solidarity. My union is preparing itself and the community at large for a strike. That decision is still pending, since we won't need to strike if the school district bends to our demands, and we can all relax and get back to the drudgery of our day to day jobs.
That ambivalence I mentioned earlier? I remain conflicted by the very need for a teachers' union. Why isn't education a priority in our country? Why do I, as a professional educator, need to stand on a street corner on a December evening and scream at passing cars? Because when fresh-faced graduates from a credentialing program arrive in Oakland to discuss the possibility of starting their careers in our schools, they look at the salary schedule. They want to be here, helping those students who really need them. They also want to make a living wage. The fringe benefits are pretty amazing: being the first on your block to acquire the newest strain of flu, constantly changing directives and curriculum, a sea of faces that all require your special attention, and the opportunity to shape young minds. And the chance to keep your old mind fresh.
So why do I feel as though I accomplished more here in these paragraphs than I did standing on that corner?