UTLA teacher Strike is about continuing to fight for and cultivate community schools

The last week has been a mix of emotion for me as I watch scenes pour in from the historic teacher work stoppage on my various modes of connected technologies. And while the real distance of time and space has at times brought on a strange sense of melancholy fomo, the overwhelming emotion that has informed my work this week has been one of pure pride and optimism. The text messages, tweets, IG stories, and at times even our media outlets have helped to communicate what is at the heart of this strike and a larger movement; community. Contrary to how many outside the Los Angeles educator community may see and understand this “sudden” demonstration of collective power across the city, this has been the culmination of years of hard work and fighting.

And while a part of me wishes this moment had happened in 2009 before we laid off thousands of young and talented teachers in the district and across the state, it is quite clear looking back from this moment that we were not ready. What we are witnessing right now from the teachers, students, parents, and community members that have showed up in force across the entire expanse of the urban and suburbanscape of Los Angeles is revelation that community organizing works and that it is absolutely vital to the progress of any movement towards equity and justice. Despite the conversations I have had with folks close to me who continue to insist that this strike is not the answer, to me and many others it is clear that the strike is the way to get people talking about the real problems; and eventually answers. I am also of the school of thought that not everything worth learning has to be or even can be learned in school. With all the renewed buzz for civics education, one would be remiss in dismissing the power of learning about social movements by being an actual part of one, by having your voice heard alongside of tens of thousands of other voices all saying the same thing. This is something that cannot be replicated within a classroom, despite many educators’ efforts to critically think through how to authentically engage our students’ voice.

Striking is not sustainable, but an organized disruption to a corrupt and broken system is essential to get towards a more sustainable and equitable solutions finding process. And we can see that this is already happened. Not only are both parties back at the bargaining table, but this has sparked statewide and national conversations about how we fund and fundamentally see public education with the context of our democracy; which like others around the world is currently being tested to see whether or not it will survive the onslaught of right wing populism and corporatization.

As this next week begins I continue to look forward to seeing the outpouring of support that educators have galvanized nationally from this strike. I also hope folks continue this support and dialogue beyond the inevitable end date of the strike. For it is only through this continual organizing work that we will begin to break through the realities of structural racism and the inequality of its legacy in education.

4 years without a contract and no work stoppage…. Yet

Last week the long shore men and dock workers reached a tentative agreement that will put an end to the work stoppage at the Long beach ports. The long shore men had been working without a contract for 9 months. What is the problem with that? Uncertainty. For hours. For job site rights. If it’s not in contractual language, it’s left up to the overseers. It’s an equation that ends in the disenfranchisement of large groups of people, workers. Bosses have the upper hand.

What’s wrong with that you say? Well, nothing if your boss is one who’s principles would never allow them to prioritize profit over people. If you have bosses who value true collaboration and want to empower their employees to be creative, innovative, and happier.

But what if this is not your reality? What if your bosses balance their budgets in non transparent ways that leave their clients (the folks you actually provide services for) more burdened and disenfranchised? What if your bosses ignore the actual communities they are charged with serving, opting instead to privilege the perspectives of outside “experts” in the name of reform? What if your bosses managed in ways that continually left your organization cash strapped, insolvent, and unstable (even in times of economic rebound driven by voter supported increases in taxes to fund your industry) … In a top down style of management that killed any research based or proven best practices, or insights from the skilled laborers closest to the work?

Unfortunately these are not what if scenarios for Los Angeles teachers. We have been working without a contract since 2011. In that time, schools have seen counselors and nurses virtually disappear (the ratio at our campus for counselors is 520 to 1 and for nurses its 1500 to 1). Buildings and grounds crews are skeleton status. Librarians are rarely full time if even staffed. Class sizes at many sites have remained large, while teacher wages have remained low (when I tell my friends who much I truly make I have to be ready to remember my EMT training in order to revive them from the shock… Or utilize multiple tactics to avoid a pity party).

When the dock workers go without a contract for months, they strike. And they are supported. Perhaps it’s the billion dollars a day the port and its workers help feed into the economy…. But I wonder if you measured the long range earning and spending potential of the 920,000 LAUSD students… Would that be enough to garner the outrage and support of the public?

These are the reasons that teachers around LA are up in arms. These are the reasons that our union is standing firm in our demands for policies that bring the schools San education that students deserve.

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Photo cred: Jay Davis / Hawkins HS Art Teacher & CHAS Vice Chair