California teachers, students and parents engage in week of actions

Public education under attack? Stand up, fight back!

Some 25 teachers were arrested during a civil disobedience at the state Capitol, May 12, Sacramento.

Tens of thousands of teachers, students, parents and their allies engaged in a week of actions beginning May 9 to draw attention to what the California Teachers Association has called a state of emergency.

There is a crisis of public education in California. Billions of dollars have been cut and tens of thousands of teachers and other education workers have been fired. The week of action helped to build solidarity and consciousness against the attacks on education.

The CTA led the week of action, and for that it deserves credit. But the message it put forward was limited and shortsighted. The solution proposed by union leaders was to support the tax extensions called for by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The extensions are not a true solution, even in the short term. While the tax extensions will make the cuts less than they would be otherwise, they do not stop painful cuts to education and services. The budget already includes $18 billion in cuts. The income, sales and vehicle taxes that would be extended also adversely affect working and poor people—who pay more than their fair share already. The rich and corporations regularly pay little or no taxes.

The week of action is important but only if it becomes a step towards building a stronger movement. Teachers, students and their families, and the labor movement and its allies need to build a powerful movement against the attacks on education and public services. Any movement that aims to win real change—and it is only a people’s movement that is capable of forcing real change—cannot be hamstrung by the will of the Democratic Party and opportunistic calls for limited demands.

A movement is needed that recognizes public education as a right for working people and fights for adequate funding for this and other services that meet people's needs. A movement is needed that is willing to take on the powerful corporate and bank owners the system serves—along with their bought-and-paid-for politicians who continue to fund war and corporate welfare rather than education and public services.

The following is a roundup of the actions in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles.


May 9 marked the beginning of a week of action at the State Capitol. On this day, hundreds of people rallied outside and inside the Capitol against the budget cuts and in particular cuts to education. The rally started at 10 a.m. and continued throughout the day. People entered the Capitol at 5 p.m., having planned a civil disobedience action. By 6 p.m., the California Highway Patrol officers announced that people would be arrested if they did not leave. There was a line of people waiting to speak, and people started chanting: "There's a line! There's a line!"

Soon people started to get arrested and a solidarity rally began forming outside. Yeimi Lopez, who was outside with the rally, said, "It comes to show that the rising student movement is about taking action for somebody other than yourself."

It took the officers about an hour to arrest all of those inside. Arrestees sat around at the CHP station, some until 3 a.m., before being taken to jail. There they sat in holding and release cells for three to eight hours while being processed. They were charged with “Trespassing: Skiing on Closed Trail.”

The police tried intimidation, but people went back to the Capitol and continued to protest. As one of the arrestees put it, “They used the political move of arresting 65 people to try and stomp out the movement, but we will continue the struggle."

From Tuesday to Thursday, smaller rallies were organized to recruit and build people's consciousness. The CTA lobbied politicians, but on May 12 a group of 25 teachers were arrested for civil disobedience and rallied outside politicians' offices in the Capitol demanding to be heard.

On May 13, at a CTA-organized final rally of a few thousand, teachers spoke about the cuts and problems in the classrooms and the need for change. A number of students and teachers called for intensifying the struggle.

This seems to be a growing sentiment. Students and teachers are losing faith in the capitalist political process, and it is time now to take change into our own hands. Teachers, students and workers must unite to fight back against these cuts and demand that the rich pay for their crisis!

Jesse Thomson-Burns, college student (participated in the week of action and was arrested for civil disobedience at the Capitol May 9)

San Francisco

Almost 3,000 teachers and students and their parents rallied May 13 in San Francisco’s Civic Center to culminate the CTA-called week of action to protest the budget cuts. The demonstration was one of five that happened statewide and altogether included more than 10,000 protesters.

The rally featured a long set by the Angry Tired Teachers' Band as well as speeches by teachers, parents and labor leaders. Teachers from all over the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont, Hayward, Richmond and other cities, participated in the demonstration.

Elementary, middle and high school students—although they did not share their voices from the stage—made their mark on the demonstration. A contingent of fourth- and fifth-grade students led teachers and parents from Fairmount school to the Civic Center, chanting, “We’re fired up, we won’t take it no more! Tax the rich, not the poor!”

The students carried homemade signs demanding that the budget cuts be stopped and their schools be saved and attacking the lie that there is no money for schools. Students marched to the Civic Center and took buses from different schools in San Francisco to participate in the rally.

Nathalie Hrizi, public school teacher at Fairmount Elementary (participated in the week of action in Sacramento and San Francisco)

Los Angeles

On May 13, 5,000 teachers gathered at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles to protest the ongoing attacks on public education in California. As one regional action amongst many that took place in the state, tens of thousands of teachers throughout California have proven that they are willing to fight back and take action to save public education.

Pershing Square was filled with thousands of teachers from various unions who traveled from all corners of the Los Angeles area to be there. Since the rally took place on a Friday, and the downtown area is prone to ferocious traffic jams, the turnout displayed the dedication of the many professionals in attendance. It was also evident that the fight for accessible and quality education is an issue with great potential, since it is a struggle that unites broad sections of the working class, including union members, parents and students.

Parents were present in considerable numbers at the rally, but especially heartening was the significant presence of students who understood that mass layoffs not only impede workers' rights but imperils their own futures as well.

Earlier in the day, teachers took part in many rallies at their schools, then afterwards traveled along with parents and students to Pershing Square. Chanting slogans such as “When they say get back, we say fight back!” and “Furlough? Hell no!”, workers were in an angry yet spirited mood. It was inspiring to see Pershing Square filled with thousands of teachers united for the common purpose of protecting their rights and speaking up for students.

It was apparent that the teachers, parents, and students gathered on that day were far ahead of the organizers, the California Teachers Association, since many were ready to take further action and march. Yet the CTA is unfortunately tied to the Democrats and was not oriented towards real struggle. Teacher unions must channel the justified outrage of teachers about layoffs and budget cuts to a more militant approach, more taking to the streets and occupations of places such as the State Capitol and the Los Angeles Unified School District main office.

At two LA City schools earlier, students walked out of their classes to show support for their teachers and public education. Judging from the well-placed anger of many in attendance, the CTA could have mobilized the thousands at Pershing Square to march to either the LAUSD building or City Hall, both of which were nearby.

Many teachers had signs that read, “Tax the rich to fund education,” a common theme among protesters. CTA leaders want to extend regressive taxes such as vehicle license fee and sales tax increases, which workers primarily pay, to evade $12 billion in statewide cuts to social services. But workers are ready to take a more strident “Tax the rich!” stand.

Despite the shortcomings of the leaderships of CTA and other unions, teachers must unite with parents and students and keep organizing. Only because of actions by workers in Wisconsin and pressure from their own members did CTA members occupy the State Capitol in Sacramento and organize the various statewide “state of emergency” demonstrations last week. We are starting to push our unions in the right direction. We must continue to fight to make our unions fight.

David Feldman, public school teacher in Los Angeles

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