In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather is joined by friend and comrade Melissa Tomlinson. Melissa has appeared on NJRR more than any other guest, because she is just that awesome.
Melissa was Heather’s very first guest when she started reporting for NJRR. That was just about a year ago, and you can check out a remastered version of that initial interview here.
Melissa continues to be just as busy as ever. Her role as an education activist never ceases. Teachers are striking across the country. The phrase “Direct action yields satisfaction” proves itself true once again. She says the biggest news comes from West Virginia. Teachers there held a 2 day “Wildcat” strike in protest of legislation that opened the state up to charter schools. West Virginia is one of only a handful of states that prohibit predatory charter schools.
Solidarity across the state
West Virginia teachers spoke with legislators who ignored them. So, they organized in solidarity. Every county except 1 participated in the strike. Legislators pulled the vote because of the work of the teachers. This victory took a massive organizational effort and was years in the making.
This kind of organizing doesn’t happen overnight. Melissa says you might not even realize you are organizing when you begin. It starts with conversations. Identify other organizers to be a point person in each local area. NEA and AFT (two teacher unions) called for the strike vote once they saw the overwhelming grassroots support among membership throughout the state.
LA, Oakland, and Virginia Strikes
West Virginia does not stand alone in teacher activism. Teachers in LA started the year with their own strike effort. Their strike grew out of a 4 year organizing project. Hear more about that here. Elsewhere, Virginia educators organized a statewide day of action at their state capital. 4000 people showed up, which is the largest number of people to show up at the capital since the suffragette movement. In Oakland, teachers are striking against a 100% manufactured financial crisis. Oakland went from millions of dollar surplus to a deficit almost overnight. Corporations look to siphon money away from wherever they see it, so money gets spent on standardized testing and consultant fees.
All of these actions demonstrate the building blocks in a social movement. In response to conditions, grassroots organizers got to work. For instance, teachers saw schools in disrepair and pay disparities. So, they organized to improve their conditions. Even while they are fighting for their demands, they are planning for the future. Support snowballs, and small actions lead to bigger actions. Solidarity grows and grows.
Connecting the dots
Melissa, and other activists, seek connect the dots between all the attacks on education throughout the country. Groups like Teach for America are directly tied to corporate interests, like the Walton Family foundation. It feels like things are happening fast, but they have been laying the groundwork for these attacks for years. Locally, legislators like Sweeney are doing the heavy lifting for these corporate attacks. The pension system in NJ is another manufactured crisis custom designed to attack public education.
A growing solidarity movement
In states where teachers have everything stripped from them, educators are beginning to explore the boundary lines of what their breaking point is. Even in states like Florida, where teachers could lose their certification for striking, educators are having conversations. If they stand together will the state really decertify an entire state of teachers? As attack after attack appear on education, teachers are building strength in numbers. What will be the straw that pushes people to the breaking point of a national strike?
Front line for class consciousness
Teachers don’t want to strike. Ask any teacher, and they would rather be with their kids. Conditions force them to take a stand. Because of their unique view across the class spectrum, they see firsthand the effects of poverty and class. Children come to class suffering from food and housing insecurity. Systemic problems are in the face of teachers every day. Teachers care about their students 24/7. That concern doesn’t stop when the bell rings. They have no choice but to fight for working class and low income people. Teachers are on the front line and as always they have much to teach us.
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