Why we’re protesting, part three

March 3, 2010

March 4 will be a day of strikes and protests to defend public education for students, teachers, faculty, campus workers and members of the community in California. The movement to save our schools is building at every level of the public education system.

We asked some of the people organizing for the day of action to explain what they're fighting for. Read more statements at part one and part two of this feature.

Mike Davis
Professor, University of California Riverside, and author of Planet of Slums and the essay collection In Praise of Barbarians.

IN 1934, when the state was "broke" and the economy plummeting, the working class of San Francisco, led by radical maritime workers, did the impossible: they stood up against bayonets and lies to win an epic victory for worker rights that, in turn, reversed the tide of Depression.

Indeed, the general strike--far more than the New Deal--provided the cornerstone for an economic recovery in California led by strong unions, higher wages and progressive social spending.

The next wave of layoffs and budget cuts will destroy what remains of that legacy unless we commit ourselves to massive, unyielding resistance to save the people's California. It it is our season of struggle, our turn to shake the mountains. Remember 1934.

Dana Blanchard
Teacher, Le Conte Elementary School, Berkeley, and site representative, Berkeley Federation of Teachers

I HAVE been teaching fifth grade in the Berkeley Unified School District for four years, and have been a site rep for two years. In the four years at my school site, we've experienced a series of devastating cutbacks that have gutted the already minimal support services for our high-needs students. Our health care costs have tripled, and teacher stress is at an all-time high as we continue to be asked to do more with less.

Fresno State protesters demonstrating against budget cuts and furloughs last October
Fresno State protesters demonstrating against budget cuts and furloughs last October (Diane M. Blair)

All of this is happening in the context of being labeled a "program improvement school" under No Child Left Behind, and being told we must bring our test scores up--or else lose even more funding.

In those same four years, I've also seen an inspiring coalition begin to form between teachers and parents who are tired of being told their child's education is not a budget priority. I have seen dozens of new teachers become active in union actions and the beginnings of a public campaign to demand change.

On March 4, teachers, students and parents will be protesting outside the district office to demand that it take a stand for public education. During the day, many teachers will also be bringing their classes to the nearby UC Berkeley rally to link up the K-12 and higher education fightback against the cuts that effect us all.

For us, March 4th is also a chance for teachers to talk about how the California government needs to start taxing the rich, starting with the corporations. Instead of putting education and social services last on the list of things to fund after prisons and police, we demand that our children and their future be put at the top.

In one recent union meeting, one speaker asked, "What kind of state do you want to live in 10 years?" and the answers people gave capture the spirit of why we feel we must fight back.

Teachers in that meeting said we want to live in a state where our kids have free, decent health care and never have to go to bed hungry. We want a state where families have decent jobs, live in comfortable homes, and where there are more hospitals and universities than prisons and police stations. We want a California with schools that aren't falling down and poisoning our students--and where teachers have the freedom to inspire their students to dream big dreams and not be told their worth is measured by a standardized test score.

This is the vision that drives us to the streets on March 4 and will keep us fighting for control over our education system in the days afterward.

Mat Taylor
Teacher, Fremont High School and South Area Chair, United Teachers Los Angeles

ENOUGH IS enough. The financial agenda behind school reform in this country is becoming obvious. We need to shine a light on the fact that when our president and our superintendent or whoever talks about reform, they have a financial agenda.

With Race to the Top nationally--and the Scholastic scandal, where our superintendent in Los Angeles got caught taking $150,000 from a textbook company--clearly what is happening is that corporate profits are driving the agenda. These people are about money, not about the education of our youth.

The school that I've worked at for the past 25 years is being reconstituted, and all of the staff is being forced to reapply for their jobs. There's a connection between these degenerate reforms, like at Fremont, and the budget cuts. My school is symbolic of how morally vacant education reform is.

The March 4 protest is part of the same fight because, what we really need in our schools is more resources, not deform.

Andy Libson
Teacher, Mission High School, San Francisco

FOR THE last 30 years in California, we have been sitting back and watching as public education, access to college and social services have been slowly eroded. We have watched and waited as the UC Regents have enriched themselves while forcing the students they are supposed to serve into more crowded classes, with fewer curriculum options at a higher price tag.

We have watched and waited as public education has been turned into a dirty word by systematically starving schools of funds. Each year, we have watched and waited as "pink slips" and consolidations have threatened and demoralized dedicated teachers who had hoped to make a difference in the lives of our students.

I believe March 4th signals the "end" to watching and waiting and hoping some politician in California or Washington will come in and save us. March 4th is the beginning of teachers, students and parents saying that we aren't waiting anymore. We are going to be heard.

Their side has been attacking the needs of working people for decades. March 4th signals the end of this one-sided fight. March 4th is the beginning of our side fighting back.

Alessandro Tinonga
Student, Laney College, Peralta Community College District, Oakland

LAST FALL, following a speakout and town hall meeting, members of the student government, professors and representatives from various student groups formed the No Cuts Peralta Coalition to fight budget cuts on campus here. The coalition has been successful in getting a core of two dozen students to lead protests against proposed cuts.

Also last fall, the administration and board of trustees of the Peralta Community College District tried to pass draconian budget cuts that would have cut millions from student services. Due to protests by the coalition and members of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, approval of the budget had been postponed three times.

Protests also brought continued attention to the corruption and cronyism of Chancellor Elihu Harris and his administration. In January, it was announced that the district would not renew the contract for Harris or Vice Chancellor Tom Smith.

Despite these successes, the cuts are still being handed down to the students and staff. Over a dozen staff were served with layoff notices in December, and over 500 classes have been cut throughout the district.

Furthermore, the cuts to education in the UC and CSU systems have forced many students to seek classes in community colleges, leading to a growing student population. The influx of students coupled with reduced classes and student services has led to frustration. This semester began with students suffering long lines and longer waits to get registration and financial aid processed.

Members of the coalition hope that the March 4 actions will build solidarity between students, staff and faculty, and organize frustrated students into the movement to save public education.

Outreach thus far has been successful in creating a buzz on campus. Laney College is plastered with walkout fliers. Additionally, the Peralta Federation of Teachers Local 1603 support the March 4 actions.

Some students and faculty are hesitant to participate in the walkout. One student said, "If I miss one day of classes, I may not get the grades I need. I feel like my education can slip right out of my fingers." We as student activists should be patient and understanding about such concerns. By reaching out and mobilizing as many students as possible, we can build confidence.

We could get hundreds of students to walk off campus and march to downtown Oakland. However, if we get a hundred or so students to participate in the rally and get them involved in the movement, that would also be a step forward.

Rose Curreri
Elementary school teachers, San Francisco

I'M MARCHING I'm marching on March 4th because I am so outraged by the chutzpah of our dirty, deceitful politicians who are in bed with greedy, arrogant corporate flunkies, who want to suck the last remaining pennies from the taxes real people who actually work pay, and deprive them of the services they need and deserve--the most important of which are health care and public education.

Read more statements at part one and part two of this feature.

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