Somewhere in the early hours of that first day on the picket line, I was called over to speak into a microphone. This did not come as a shock to me, since I had volunteered the day before to be our school's spokesperson if the press showed up. And just my luck, a couple members of the media did appear on our little stretch of sidewalk. I spoke from the heart, and tried hard to stick to the high-minded rhetoric that I had been fashioning over the past few weeks. I talked about the importance of keeping teachers in Oakland. I expressed my hope that we were starting a new era of hope and faith in public education. I ran through my bit about the ridiculousness of a school district and its teachers fighting over the scraps left over from a budget picked clean by so many other priorities. I was asked what I thought about billionaires attempting to privatize public education, and that's when I pointed to the front of our school, named after the father of public education, Horace Mann.
Sadly, I did not have a pithy quote from the late senator from Massachusetts. Now I believe I might go with something like, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Or maybe I could have substituted one from Bruce Springsteen, "Nobody wins unless we all win." Which is why I felt so oddly out of place taking a side: in or out. In the days leading up to our teachers strike, I considered all kinds of different factors, not the least of which was what this might cost me. The somewhat legendary strike of 1996 took place the year before I entered the teaching profession. I have grown up as a teacher hearing about those five weeks that became increasingly desperate and how lucky I have felt to have participated in work actions that were primarily for show and not for substance.
And there I stood, looking out into an uncertain future, with the expectation that this stoppage too would pass, but wondering just what it might take beyond those clever words all strung together for the entertainment of this guy with a microphone. After I had spoken my piece, he turned and asked a colleague of mine some of the same questions. I returned to the picket line, picking up the response to one of the chants that was hanging in the air: "Show me what democracy looks like - This is what democracy looks like!"