An Amazing Day – Protesting With the Teachers
For several years various groups have been putting pressure on the state legislature to fully fund basic education, as dictated by the state constitution. Several ballot measures have passed to increase spending on education, and the legislature has pretty much ducked or ignored them all.
A few years ago the legislature was sued by several groups working in unison, including several large districts and the WEA. That alone is mind-boggling. The case wound up in the state Supreme Court, and the forces of education won. The legislature continued to ignore this, and is now working in special session on a state budget, under threat of a contempt of court citation from the Supreme Court for their historic failure to follow our constitution.
Last week Susan asked if I would like to join her in a one day protest against the legislature, with sign waving and other activities, followed by a rally. This is part of a “rolling protest” organized by WEA, with different districts going out on different days. These are not strikes but protests, and the districts are no opposed to them, with the day made up at the end of the year. Seattle’s by the way, is May 19th. Join them! Northshore and Lake Washington were both protesting today.
I said sure. Been there, done that. In fact, I’ve been involved in every strike and protest in the district since 1969, which is pretty much all of them.
Susan suggested we might want to take two cars, as I would likely choose to skip the rally. I agreed, making the snarky comment that the only person I enjoyed listening to at such rallies was – me. Prophetic words, as it turned out.
Then I remembered that I have a strike sign from the 1978 strike (the 3rd one in three years when I was President of LWEA), and it would be fun to carry it instead of whatever this year’s version was. Because I am becoming polite in my dotage, I e-mailed current President Kevin Teely to see if this would be OK. He responded that would be terrific (we later changed our minds on this), and added that he had been a 1st year teacher that year and my actions and those of others had made him a teacher activist ever since.
More snarky – I replied with “So it’s all my fault?”
Sobering reply. “Yes.”
Then he asked if I would like to speak at the rally. “Sure,” I said, not really having any idea of the size and scope he had in mind.
Still on a polite kick, I worked up a synopsis of what I would say if nobody else gave me any pointers, and added that I could cut it or lengthen it or toss it and start over if desired. He replied that he loved it and that I would be placed last on the list.
I asked, in my innocence, how many people he expected to attend.
“2000.” This was a bit staggering, and I could not believe they could amass that many people, as there are only 1700 teachers in the district. The rally was intended to include parents and students and non-teacher employees, but really.
The other speakers would include the current President of WEA, a parent, a building secretary, a teacher, and a student, and I would be the tumultuous conclusion. No pressure, then.
At his invitation, I attended a Monday afternoon meeting of building reps where the details were discussed. It was really a weird experience, since I had conducted many such meetings almost 40 years ago. I kept flip-flopping between now and then, back and forth.
Susan prepared me for the day by purchasing one of the special red t-shirts almost everyone would be wearing, reviewing my synopsis of my intended speech, and urged me to get a haircut on Tuesday, which I did. This was also a step back in time, because she performed similar valuable services, and many more, when I was President.
The day started with massive numbers of people, all in red, occupying freeway overpasses and high traffic density corners all over the place. From our assigned station on an I-405 overpass near Lake Washington High, I could see two other overpasses, both filled end to end with red shirts and protest signs. It was amazing.
I started out by waving my sign and waving, but soon switched tactics. So many of the people driving under us were honking their horns and waving that it was better to simply wave back and give a thumbs up to individuals.
Turns out truck drivers are almost entirely pro-teacher. Of course, many of them are union members. Or they simply like to honk their horns whenever there is any reason to. I even wondered if owners of trucking companies encourage their drivers to honk and wave at ANY group of demonstrators to create a positive impression of their company. I doubt it, but it’s not a bad idea. Whatever the source, the support was astonishing. Of course, there were a few people offering solo finger salutes, but far fewer than I would have guessed.
After that it was time for the “secret mission.” This plan was unveiled to the teachers in detail only today, because the element of surprise was critical. In about an hour, 25,000 pieces of literature detailing the positions of the 45th District Republican Senator who is the chief budget writer were placed on doorsteps. 25,000!
After a break for lunch, we gathered at Heritage Park in Kirkland (shuttle buses from Juanita High and Lake Washington High avoided clogging Kirkland to a standstill for a two block walk to Marina Park for the rally.
The speeches were well done and blissfully short and to the point. The young man just before me is a senior at Eastside High and was very impressive. As I watched I realized, good heavens, there ARE 2,000 people here!
My speech went very well and was received very well. An abridged version of this follows. I’ll try to put up video later.
The wonderment continued after. As I left the stage area I was approached by Beth (nee) Crampton, who had been a student of mine when I was elected President. Her father was Loris Crampton, who was a counselor at Redmond High where Susan graduated. Loris was one of the older and wiser folks who got me to run in the first place, and he often dropped by during my time in office to offer counsel and sage wisdom. He was such a help to me, and an inspiration. I was thinking about him as I prepared my speech, in fact.
Beth hugged me, told me my speech was wonderful and said “You were channeling my father.” And she was absolutely correct.
Then a woman came up and told me she had been in one of my Honors English classes at Kamiakin Junior High, and had now been a teacher herself for 20 years.
Funding basic education is important, which is why it was put into the state constitution in the first place. The legislature has been derelict in their duty for decades, and have ramped up their abuse of power exponentially in the past few years. Now the time has come for change, and the people I witnessed today are going to make it happen.
Speech – LWEA Rally against the Legislature 05/06/1
Thank you, etc.
LWEA strike history
1976 – teachers allowed to bargain master contract. I am elected LWEA President. (Current contract is a descendant of that one, and none of you have read it, which is a good sign as most of it is now business as usual.
First successful strike vote in district history – contract settled that night. Master contract secured. Picket signs stored
1977 – 2nd strike – a couple of day
1978 – as I am leaving office – 3rd strike – a few days
1990 – strike for a few days
2015 – a protest, and there have been a few others.
How this year is different
No longer us (LWEA) vs. ‘them” – everyone else
Coalition of support – district, other districts, parents, and students – and the state Supreme Court!
Mass standardized tests and attendant ills and waste of time
- Some of the media and even some of your colleagues will tell you that teachers should not “waste time” on strikes. This district has been on strike for about 10 days in 50 years = .2 of a day per year. If you work 10hours a day, as many of you do, that is 2 hours – per year. How much time has been spent just this year on preparing for, administering, and dealing with the aftermath of mass standardized tests? (Hint: it is more than 2 hours.
- These tests are to be scored by people whose qualifications are a college degree (in anything) and eagerness to score the tests for the salary provided. They do not need to have any knowledge of education, or of children, or even of the subject matter. This is analogous to Boeing designing a new plane and having the flight testing performed by people who “always wanted to fly.”
What happens now? Several scenarios, and all of them are positive.
The state legislature is operating under the threat of a contempt of court citation from the State Supreme Court. (Amazing!) Legislature does nothing, and Supreme Court responds or does not. Either way, the media attention makes the situation obvious to all. Advantage – education.Legislature passes a budget they feel meets their constitutional mandate. Supreme Court agrees or disagrees, and further actions take place. Advantage- educationStandardized tests come under increasing fire, and student protests continue. Advantage education. 1976 was a crucial year for education in this state, and 2015 will be as well. You have taken a bold step today. You may need to take more, but from now on you will not be toiling alone. With the support of your district, parents, and students, your efforts on behalf of your students in your school in your community will triumph. Not in the long run, but soon. When basic education is fully funded, and schools are operated at the local level by dedicated teachers, I want you to take a moment to remember this day. Remember this morning, remember what you did after the sign waving, remember where you are right now and remember the people who are standing with you. For the rest of your life you can remember with pride, and say to yourself “I helped make this happen.”Thank you. It is an honor to speak to you today. David Preston LWEA President 1976- 1978