Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Getting Heard

 Getting a day off work shouldn't necessarily mean that I have to be at my place of employment earlier than I would if I were going to be spending the day teaching, but that was the case this past Friday. I showed up with the sun at six thirty, ready to carry a sign and chant up a storm. I was there to make my voice heard and my presence felt. After months of trying to put our collective point across at school board meetings, at town halls, at marches through various parts of the city, it was time for a strike. In my mind I could hear Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein declaring, "A riot is an ugly thing - und I think it's about time we had one!"

It was just three years ago that I was last on a picket line. I went out in support of all those newer teachers who hoped to make a living wage and be able to live and teach in Oakland for years to come. Seven days of standing outside the school where we all would much rather have been, we won a new contract. One of the agreements made at that time was that any future school closures would have to be accompanied by a year's worth of community engagement. 

This did not happen at the beginning of 2022. Suddenly we were all reminded that "Oakland is a union town," as we were joined by several others, including longshoremen, service employees, and teamsters from across the Bay Area. Faced with what the school district insisted was an "illegal" strike, the superintendent sent a message to families across the city: "Keep your kids at home." They sent an administrator from downtown to sit in our office "just in case." 

No one came across. Our staff met and marched and chanted alongside some of our students and parents and neighbors, but no one went inside. The school that they want to close sat empty. On our terms. We are all aware and grateful for the backing we have received from our community, and we want to return that support by keeping our neighborhood school open for years to come. 

Around ten that morning, we were packing up our signs and feeling confident in the show we had made, a UPS truck pulled up in front of the school. Our union rep grabbed her megaphone, and we fell into line in front of the entrance, chanting with renewed vigor. I stepped up to the curb where the driver was preparing to step off the truck to make his delivery. "We're striking here," I told him. He seemed frustrated by this reality. He sighed. Behind me, the picket line was picking up intensity. I asked him, "Do you really want to walk through that?" I gestured over my shoulder to the newly invigorated OEA members. 

"I'm just trying to do my job," he said.

"Me too," I replied. "You're union, aren't you?"

He sat back down in the driver's seat. He took some video of us doing our thing. Then he went to the back of the truck, perhaps to rearrange the freight, but probably to talk to his supervisor. A few minutes later, he started up the truck again and drove away. 

Oakland, I am reminded, is a union town. 

1 comment:

Kristen Caven said...

Interesting how the school board member who called the strike illegal and also, thought of this cool idea to close 17 schools LESS THAN 6 MONTHS AGO has now resigned.