A voice from New Orleans schools: ‘Are we gonna be alive?’


By Big E
New Orleans

This slightly edited talk was given at the Aug. 6 Workers World Party webinar, “War on the Working Class: the Socialist Response,” which featured education workers. Big E is an activist with New Orleans Workers Group.

Thank you, everybody out there, and much love to workers of the world as well. 

To touch on our situation here in Jefferson Parish and in the New Orleans area, what we’re looking at is: The capitalist class has an agenda. And that’s to put the workers back to work — they need glorified babysitters; that’s the way they view us as teachers. To push the kids back to school, get the parents back to work and keep this capitalist machine rolling. 

I’m saying that’s their objective. It’s on us to put up as much of a fight in resistance as we can.

‘Our life here, right now’

To point out a few more of the issues: Our population here is majority Black, about 56% or so, and the rest Latinx, white and Asian. There’s also some undocumented. But everybody’s poor — you know what I’m saying — that’s the uniting fact. It’s poor kids, poor teachers, right? Title I schools. [Title I is the largest U.S. federal aid program for public schools, begun in 1965 as part of the “War on Poverty.”] 

And the undocumented students, they don’t have access to the free internet or the low-cost internet or the free laptops that some schools have been offering. They also don’t have the ability to go get tested. 

The [school systems] are doing this hybrid thing. They’re not teaching people how to teach digitally. Nobody has taught you the process. They don’t have the software together, because they had a contract with whatever company. Now they got a contract with Google. We all got Google email. Now as Google sees the hustle of Zoom, they’re jumping into the streaming thing, and yet it’s not ready. But we are still expected to learn it as the [children] learn. 

The kids are coming next week. [The state] is still talking about state standards and testing issues and all this kind of stuff. And we be like, “Man, are we gonna be alive?” We’re talking about our life here, right now.

Just last week this parish closed two bars because people weren’t adhering to the facemasks and the 6-feet rule and whatnot. So now they expect children, they expect to have elementary kids in school five days out of the week — middle, high, every level. They are holding those children to a higher standard than they are people who sell alcohol!

Uniting the working class

We had a protest yesterday; we plan to have some more actions. The New Orleans Workers Group actually has an action Aug. 8. We are uniting unemployed workers. Next ones will be at Duncan Plaza — that’s one of our little home spots where we set up shop and we meet the people. It’s a major bus stop in New Orleans. 

And something I wanna say about New Orleans. People think it’s just a fun, partying, liberal city. Yeah, you can come get drunk and have a good time and all that, but it’s racist as f–k. You know, it’s capitalist, it’s a racist, divided city and always has been. Don’t let what they sell you on TV confuse you. You know — I’m sure we all knew this already — but even if you have Black faces and whatnot in different [government] places, they’re puppets. They’re controlled by the rich ruling class, whether it’s oil barons they got down here or the real estate tycoons.

Me and Josh Guzda [another organizer of education workers], we are frustrated. It’s a matter of a lot of people feel the way we do, but [hold back] due to the economic impact and the fear of losing your job and not having your health benefits. I had a brother of mine tell me about how he almost lost his wife — she had a heart attack, and he had just recently lost a job. He was able to find some emergency insurance or something of that nature. Otherwise, [the money would] come out of pocket and he doesn’t have that. People don’t realize just how frightening that is for somebody. 

We are constantly trying to tell people about the power that they have. We are trying to unite the working class here. 

We are going door to door, always taking precautions. We have a newspaper, Worker’s Voice Newspaper. That’s the work we do with Take ‘Em Down NOLA, the New Orleans Workers Group, the People’s Assembly and the Hospitality Workers Alliance. People can check us out on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

Fighting ‘separate but equal’ schools again

Now what we want to accomplish for those kids is that schools be provided for. All the schools should be closed. They said, we’ve got to break up a fight. You got to get in there! And we expected to have 20 kids in a class. You know, it’s just ridiculous. 

The schools have to be closed. But the digital divide needs to end; it should be free internet as well as free laptops and everything given to students who can’t afford it. 

As it’s Title I schools, they’re actually creating separate but equal all over again! Kids who are with it [and have money], they’re not going to miss their education — but those without, they are clearly going to miss out. 

They’re being put into a petri dish, as well as teachers, staff, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and everybody.

They talk about how they don’t have money for us. They have full undercover police out there! And they had two drones following me and John Guzda around. So it’s a real impactful and intense situation, but we ain’t gonna back down!

You know we’re gonna keep the struggle alive, and we’re gonna keep fighting.      This thing ain’t going away. Much love. All power to the people!

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