Last Sunday I attended a meeting held by the Glenview Area Groups for Action (GAGA) who were gathered in a church to plot how they will support their teachers if they go on strike sometime this month. They were full of ideas, resources and enthusiasm to improve their kids schools. Like many parent groups, they are working closely with OEA and other unions who are willing to take this step.
I was reminded of the two long strikes my kids and I experienced while they attended Oakland Public Schools and I’m hoping to pass along some tips on how your family may come out stronger-I really can’t remember every detail and may conflate some memories of one strike with the other, so bear with me-but I did learn a lot and so did my kids.
During the first strike which lasted at least a month (we do hope it won’t take that long for our school board to get it together) my kids were little and attending Crocker Highlands Elementary. We were living by San Antonio Park and often had a roomate who traded rent for some evening childcare as I have always attended many public meetings, but sometimes my kids attended school board and council meetings with me during this period. I remember bringing food and art supplies when this happened–being a parent and activist in Oakland is kind of like taking a trip– you gotta prepare for all contingencies.
During both strikes Oakland parents and teachers organized strike schools in homes and chruches so that it was possible for kids to learn and parents to go to work. The strike schools and picketing responsibilities brought many of us together in ways we hadn’t experienced before. We built solidarity around our kids needs that many of us took forward into the into the next struggle and that we still feed upon.
Here’s Sharon Rose’s, another engaged parent and current education and immigration activist’ recollection of one of the strikes:
“In 1996 I was president of the PTA at Sequoia elementary. The leaders of the congregation at the church on the corner of MacArthur and Coolidge – walking distance from the school – kindly lent us their building to use for our “strike school.”
We were lucky to have quite a few moms and grandmas who had teaching or professional childcare experience who could take the lead on setting up activities for the kids with the help of other volunteer parents. Most of the volunteers juggled time off from work to be able put in shifts at our school. I don’t remember how many children we served, but it seemed that every nook and cranny of the building had something going on all the time.
My son was in the fourth grade and I think the experience taught him a lot about building community. I remember that some of the older kids were asked to take responsibility for the littlest ones. The older children were also assigned tasks such as cleaning bathrooms, and we had a few volunteer students from Skyline HS who were of enormous help.
My son also came with me to support the picket line. I still have the poster he drew. Wolverine, one of the X-men, is saying “I support my teachers!” As far as I knew, no Sequoia family crossed that picket line.”
Don’t get me wrong, it was work and not easy for most of us who decided to keep our kids out of school. I would not wish it on parents, teachers, or other workers but we felt we had no choice. Despite the fact that many Oakland schools ill serve many of our kids and that some teachers are not prepared for the life struggles that many of our kids bring with them to school, our city has always supported front line workers in tough jobs, not just teachers. However, education and those that put it first are especially dear to our hearts.
The first thing I learned about getting through a strike while trying to organize your life around reliable childcare and learning, was almost amusing. As a single mom, every day in my life was already fraught. If one thing fell through or changed in my day, I had to improvise twice as hard as dual parent families even those where both parents worked. I had to laugh when I realized that many parents were dealing for the first time with my average day. It gave me a chance to feel a little less inadequate watching everyone else struggle with these fluctuating life circumstances.
During that first strike I so often spoke before the school board that my daughter decided that she should also be able to make a public statement. I said, ok, but you have to memorize what you’re going to say, there’s nothing worse than a speech that’s obviously read (take note adults, it’s true for everyone, notes are fine, reading your script is not.)
She made her brother and me go up to the podium and stand next to her while she encouraged the board to “put classrooms first.” My daughter, Jennifer later joined children’s theater groups where memorizing lines and saying them with feeling was never a problem. She often speaks on panels these days so I suppose she is a natural but I believe this early lesson was helpful.
At some point during the long early strike, I decided to organize a teach-in so kids could spend part of a day learning about the strike and being entertained by socially concious artists. We held it at Laney and had a good crowd. I had figured that 3 days was enough time to pull it off, yeah, being a crazed single parent obviously overheated my brain, but with the help of friends and colleagues, we did it!
What I remember more than the actual teach-in was that a local TV station decided to follow me around for the day as I planned it and announced it at some of our strike meetings. They asked if they could also film me at my house preparing dinner before I attended a meeting. I said yikes! My house which, on the best of days, is cluttered and less than pristine, was a complete mess due to working, organizing and yeah raising two little wild things. What to do with my dish filled kitchen?
They said, no worries, we’ll just film up, meaning film our faces, maybe the cabinets, don’t know what but I agreed. I couldn’t think of what to cook at the last minute, no time to shop, so I made us some waffles. I still remember opening up the waffle iron to find little bits of leftover burnt waffle. Oh well, too late now so I poured more over it. Yeah, probably don’t try the waffles in my house but nowadays, they’re likely to be toaster waffles.
They asked my kids what they thought about all of it. My daughter gave a cogent answer having already delivered a speech, but my little son just said, “I dunno.” He’s now the political leader in the family, btw, despite this first public speech being a bit weak. But he also made it big time on the front of the Oakland Tribune wwhere there was a photo of him climbing over the seats in city hall while we waited to implore the council to assist us.
We marched as a family for classrooms first, we spoke at meetings, we organized as a family and a community and we won a victory though you can see it was perhaps not as long lasting as we would have wanted since Oakland schools continue to struggle and the board continues to have difficulty leading.
I want to mention that at the end of the strike (one or both of them, I honestly can’t remember) the state declared that it would not deduct the ADA (average daily attendance money on which schools depend) and fund the schools as if the children had attended so it can be done, remember that.
When my daughter returned to her classroom her teacher remarked that she seemed to have thrived during this time. Part of that is because the strike schools were good, the lessons she learned as a small organizer empowered her but also because many kids do better (mine especially) in an evironment that allows them to take a more active part in their learning rather than sitting in classrooms for hours. But that is a discussion for another time.
Even though we live in a city known for progressive politics, we are in many ways in the same boat as families in places like West Virginia whose teachers said-Enough! From Denver to LA to Oklahoma, families are standing up in both Red and Blue states and making demands of a system that has put all their children last for too long.
I am proud once again of our community and our teachers and their union. They’re doing many jobs at once and most of them better than I remember us doing during past struggles. It will not be easy and it’s never convenient. It should not even be necessary but as an old saying goes, “Dare to struggle, dare to win!”
Don’t forget to chip in so that Oakland students and teachers can eat during the strike. https://donorbox.org/breadfored?fbclid=IwAR156os6rrIzk18r4EN5QFBOk3r5ltSS7vZJM3luI0SHa982DctmKRTsmSo