The author is a public school teacher at Fairmount Elementary in San Francisco and participated in the week of action in Sacramento and San Francisco.
Hundred of students and teachers descended on the Sacramento State Capitol on May 9 to kick off a week of action called by the California Teachers Association.
The day started with a press conference and prayer followed by a procession around the state capitol. Even though the procession was advertised as a silent procession, a group of teachers voiced their anger and opposition about the attacks on public education chanting “Who do we tax? The rich! When do we tax them? NOW!” Teams of teachers from all over the state—including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and elsewhere—then lobbied legislators about the effects of budget cuts.
The most inspiring action took place in the rotunda of the state capitol at 5pm. Over 300 teachers and students entered the rotunda chanting “Tax, tax, tax the rich, we can chop the deficit!” They marched and chanted for the better part of the hour, carrying signs and banners about the need for public education and demanding that there be no more budget cuts to social services. The crowd then sat in the rotunda for an impromptu rally.
Betty Olson-Jones, the president of the Oakland Educators Association, opened with an appeal to teachers and students to come together to take action against the budget cuts. A student from Santa Cruz spoke about the desperation and frustration students are feeling as they are denied access to education. She warned the legislators that if they didn’t take action soon they would see the result of this frustration and anger. The author, a San Francisco teacher and member of Party for Socialism and Liberation, spoke about the need to build a movement independent of the Democrats and Republicans in order to defend public education and social services.
Midway through the rally, as students and teachers continued to speak out, the California Highway Patrol ordered everyone to disperse or be arrested. Sixty-five people continued to sit in and were arrested over the course of 2 hours. Some were released that night and others were held until the next morning. They were charged with misdemeanor trespassing. The specific bogus charge was “skiing on a closed trail.”
Cuts to education over the last 4 years have totaled $20 billion; 40,000 teachers and paraprofessionals have been laid off and thousands more secretaries, janitors, nurses and specialists have lost their jobs. There is no doubt that public education is in a state of crisis.
Across the state, teachers’ unions have made concessions in pay, healthcare contributions and other wages. School years have been cut down by days and weeks as districts institute furloughs—both cutting teachers’ wages and denying our students important time for learning. Music, art and physical education programs have been cut.
In the midst of the crisis, we are being told that there is no money for education and public services. While banks received bailouts, corporations continue to pay little to no taxes and the federal government uses trillions for wars and occupations in foreign countries, while school and social services are being cut.
California governor Jerry Brown’s plan for “saving” education is to push through a budget that has $18 billion in further cuts and extend sales, vehicle and income taxes already in place. This is not a plan for defending public education. The $18 billion in cuts are drastic attacks on welfare, housing and education. The tax extension continues to tax poor and working people more heavily than the rich in order to pay for public services.
There are very clear solutions to the budget crisis. The money that lies in the hands of bankers and corporate bosses should be redirected to fund education and public services. But both the Democrats and Republicans in the White House and halls of the Sacramento State Capitol refuse to make the real change that is needed.
The CTA, one of two state union federations representing teachers, called for the May 9-13 week of action to confront the state of emergency in California. The union rightly recognized the crisis and called for actions throughout California. Thousands of teachers have engaged in grade-ins, sit-ins, forums and protests this week to bring attention to the plight of public education.
Unfortunately, the CTA was not willing to take a strong political position for this week of action. They have merely focused on calling for support of Gov. Brown’s budget and the proposal to extend taxes. The CTA leadership is so tied to the interests of the Democratic Party that it has been unwilling to organize real mass action to confront the attacks on education or take a principled stance against the budget cuts, calling for real solutions to the crisis.
Despite the union’s weaknesses, the week of action is and continues to be an important event for defending public education. The attacks on education—and housing, health care, public transportation and other services—will not be stopped by legislators and wealthy politicians. An independent movement is needed that can push back the attacks on education and demand that education be treated as a right, not a privilege.
Thousands of teachers, students and families and their supporters will be rallying in 5 major cities across California on May 13 as a culmination of the week of action.