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Teachers’ ‘state of emergency’ rocks California

Published May 23, 2011 8:48 PM

The California Teachers Association called a “state of emergency” the week of May 9 in response to massive budget cuts and more than 30,000 teacher and 10,000 other school employee layoffs statewide.

Teachers and supporters defend education
in Sacramento, Calif.

Union actions included sit-ins and occupations of the state Capitol in Sacramento, local protests and legislative lobbying, all of which culminated in large, CTA-led rallies in several cities including San Francisco. All the activities were strongly supported and well-attended by parents, teachers, students, custodians, clerical workers, union representatives and community activists.

According to the CTA, three years of budget cuts, including more than $20 billion from education, have devastated basic services and caused a statewide crisis of momentous proportions. A CTA fact sheet reveals that budget cuts over the past three years have amounted to the state paying $3,051 less per student.

WW photos: Judy Greenspan

The state of emergency, according to Gail Mendes, CTA secretary-treasurer, is a message that “is being sent loud and clear to lawmakers from all over the state to stop these cuts, extend current tax rates, and stop decimating our schools and other essential services.”

The week began with a Wisconsin-style rally of several hundred educators, parents and other supporters inside the state Capitol building. After the rally, dozens of protesters refused to leave and were arrested. (See related article, this page.)

On May 11, the United Teachers of Richmond, a CTA local, held a Teacher Appreciation Day in front of the Richmond City Hall. Union members were warmly greeted by Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who led the teachers in a chant of “Tax the rich!” McLaughlin, a Green Party activist, read a proclamation declaring today the “Day of the Teacher” and pledging her city’s support for struggles against layoffs and budget cuts. Other union members, including Diane Brown, UTR president, lambasted the state for allowing devastating cuts to education and human services.

Another sit-in was held May 12 at the state Capitol building. CTA president, David Sanchez, and about two dozen other labor activists and teachers were arrested. Unlike the May 9 occupation, the protesters were released very quickly.

The week of protests ended May 13 with rallies in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego and Los Angeles, to highlight the education crisis and state of emergency.

More than 3,000 teachers, school employees, parents, students and others rallied in the San Francisco Civic Center demanding, “Money for Schools! Not for Prisons and War!” Speaker after speaker demanded that the state Legislature bail out the schools and social services, not the banks and the rich.

The musical group “Tired, Angry Teachers” led the crowd in singing, “Where Have All the Dollars Gone?” with the conclusion that they have gone to the prison-industrial complex, to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa, and into the coffers of the billionaires.

People left the rally ready to continue the fight for education, health care, jobs and human needs.

The writer is a Richmond public school teacher and a member of the United Teachers of Richmond.