The teachers’ strike in Los Angeles was on its fifth day on Friday, and a big rally which gathered 50,000 educators and parents happened downtown in Grand Park, just facing City Hall, and the teachers got with the support of a few celebrities including Tom Morello. These teachers are fighting for their lives, they are grossly underpaid, they have to endure crowded classrooms and they are fairly asking for a change. As a teacher myself (I teach in a private school and unfortunately do not belong to a union) I am well aware of all their frustrations, and if my classrooms are certainly smaller than the LAUSD’s classrooms, I share many of their other frustrations. Teaching is hard, it has to be one of the most unrewarding jobs ever, and I am not only talking about salary. Looking at the signs everywhere, the number one demands were smaller class sizes, more school staffing, and more school funding, and I completely understand! I teach 12 different classes this year, 8 different levels, and I feel overwhelmed every day.
One thing s certain, teachers are resilient, L.A. had a full week of rain but it didn’t stop the thousands of educators, as all week-long, the picket lines were strong throughout the city, and the strike was still going strong today, on its 5th day. I still don’t know exactly how many people attended the rally, but more than 30,000 educators have walked off the job on Monday, and I read that an estimated number of 50,000 people had gathered in Grand Park. The union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), represents teachers and support service personnel throughout the massive Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and they are mostly fighting district superintendent Austin Beutner, a former investment banker who doesn’t even have a background in teaching.
Celebrities coming on stage to support the strike was a big deal, it was moral support, and a warm fight-the-system message of hope. When I arrived, the rally was already impressive, the crowd was massive, and I was wondering how I would ever be able to get close to this stage, but I slowly made my way through the red-shirt crowd of teachers and students holding signs with hundreds of messages, from ‘Sorry for the inconvenience, we are trying to change the future’… ‘Children are the future, invest in them’,… ‘I teach my students to stand up for themselves, here is my real life example’.
I almost missed Aloe Blacc, who also performed for the crowd of teachers, including his famous and appropriate song ‘I Need a Dollar’. If the crowd was already energized, Tom Morello brought another level of excitement, with the help of MC5’s Wayne Kramer and later on, Jane’s Addiction Perry Farrell! Morello has always the perfect songs for this type of event, and he performed, with his usual confidence, ‘Union Song’, ‘Union Town’, and ‘The Road I Must Travel’ from his album ‘The Nightwatchman’, and followed with the famous Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’. Wayne Kramer had joined him on stage at this point, then Perry Farrell (for the greatest joy of the teachers) and, of course, anything from the Rage Against the Machine catalog would have been perfect, but ‘Fuck You, I won’t do what you tell me’, performed with the UTLA marching band, sounded about perfect, just like the obligatory Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land’.
All three men are known for their social activism, Tom Morello is well-known for his political activism, but he also had a very personal reason to be there: his mother, an incredible political activist herself, but also a teacher for more than 22 years, was present backstage. Wayne Kramer has been providing instruments, workshops, and prison concerts across America with the independent initiative ‘Jail Guitar Doors’, and Perry Farrell has joined Tom Morello on his Axis of Justice tour to raise money for the homeless in Los Angeles and participated into several actions such as ‘Road Recovery’ a New York non-profit organization which helps young people battling with addiction and other adversities… All of them supporting the teachers’ strike was an important validation.
Fists were in the air, red was the color of the day and the mood was high,,.. I don’t know if teachers will get what they want, but negotiations are still going on, and they got the support from mayor Garcetti who had lunch with some striking teachers… California may be a blue state but education reform has never been on Democrats’ list of priorities, and it’s time for a change. Striking teachers were not paid but the strike may continue next week.
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