At the first in-person school board meeting since August, Moses Omolade, one of the original hunger strikers protesting school closures in Oakland and a community services manager at Westlake Middle School, brought the house down April 13. Omolade dramatically turned his back to the Oakland School Board during the public comment segment and spoke directly to the community: “We got the power! We got parents, we got students, we got teachers. Let’s join together and let’s go on strike.” Needless to say, the audience cheered.
Students, teachers and the community had to fight to be heard at the school board meeting. School Board President Gary Yee looked for every opportunity to end public comment as speaker after speaker raked most of the school board over the coals for supporting the school closures and mergers.
Later on, the board tried again to shut down public comment, but the passionate students could not be silenced. When denied the microphone, students used a bullhorn.
A senior at MetWest High School was scathing in her denunciation of the School Board majority. “These school closures,” she said, “plus the fact that you’re not listening to the students anyway, shows you don’t even really care about us.” Other MetWest students protested the firing of several teachers.
Ben “Coach” Tapscott, who began his teaching career at McClymonds High School, said, “These school closures are an attack on Black and Brown students. You are paid by the wealthy to promote charter schools.”
Megan Bumpus, a teacher at Reach Academy in deep East Oakland, raised concerns about the safety of students about to be relocated with the closing of Parker Elementary. She challenged the Board to listen to parents who are worried about their children walking long distances to their new school. Bumpus also chastised the Board for trying again to shut down the voices of students and the community.
Teachers ready to strike
Omolade’s strike call echoed the call of many rank-and-file Oakland Education Association members, who voted overwhelmingly April 11 to authorize the OEA Executive Board to schedule a vote on holding a one-day strike April 29. Rank and file teachers are reaching out to union members to get their support for this action. The legal rationale for the strike is to support an unfair labor practices charge filed with the Public Employees Relations Board for breach of contract around the issue of school closures.
OEA President Keith Brown, on behalf of the entire OEA Executive Board, has endorsed the call for a one-day teacher strike.
OEA teachers, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 members, students and parents from schools threatened with closure or merger, and community organizations and activists have been meeting for several weeks to plan this one-day strike action April 29. Leaflets with the headline: “Stop Privatizing Oakland! Port Shutdown! School Shutdown” are beginning to blanket the city. This new coalition, which has long-range plans after the strike action, is called Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP).
In this unique and nascent coalition, people are joining together to stop the rampant and racist gentrification of Oakland. Rank-and-file teachers and Service Employees Union (SEIU) Local 1021 classified workers have been fighting the closure or merger of 11 East Oakland flatland schools impacting primarily Black and Brown students. At the same time, new charter schools continue to be approved by the school board, and are being promised classroom space on public school campuses.
Local 10 members and other longshore workers are facing the closure of Howard Terminal, a major port area in Oakland. John Fisher, the owner of the Oakland A’s baseball team (and an owner of several charter school companies including Kipp Academy) is attempting to move the stadium to the port and build a complex of housing and shops that will cost dockworker jobs and continue the gentrification of Oakland.
SLAP is organizing a day-long protest April 29 which will start with the teacher strike in the morning, with picketing at school sites and possible morning rallies at the schools scheduled to close at the end of this school year. Then at 2 p.m., teachers, longshore workers, parents, students and the community will rally at Oscar Grant Plaza. At 3 p.m. they will march down Broadway, first stopping at the offices of David Shorenstein, one of Oakland’s biggest real estate developers, and then ending at the empty offices of the Oakland Unified School District.
Protesters hope to make a mural on the plaza outside of OUSD, which has been shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic. The school district pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent for the empty building but claims it has no money to keep neighborhood schools open.
Later in the afternoon, OEA members and SLAP activists will hold a car caravan to the Port of Oakland to picket several terminals and shut down the port, building support for this critical fight against the racist gentrification of this city.
For more information or to help build the April 29 strike, go to slapbayarea.org