Over the past six weeks or so, I have served as site liaison for Arizona Educators United as the Red for Ed movement evolved from t-shirt activism to an unprecedented statewide walkout of Arizona teachers. It has been an intense experience, and I am glad to be back in class, but I feel honored to have been a part of it, and I have learned a lot. Namely:
- To understand politics, you have to watch a process. A “no” vote on a bill or amendment you championed could actually represent support for what you value most. Most who voted against the budget that puts approximately ½ billion new dollars into education for next year weren’t voting against educators, but holding out for better policy, such as sustainable new revenue sources for education.
- Once the elementary teachers get angry, there is no stopping them. I have been teaching at the secondary level my entire career, but am in awe of elementary teachers’ ability to organize, collaborate and engage families. The scenes I saw during the walk-ins on elementary campuses, with parents arm-in-arm with teachers demonstrating their commitment to kids honestly had me misty-eyed.
- Social media has made anything possible. We organized a loose movement into a walkout in a handful of weeks. The multiple open and closed discussion groups, pages and texting apps made it possible for the leaders to strategize, delegate, encourage and communicate next steps while most of us were still getting the word out, hashing out ideas with our friends and families and hearing multiple perspectives in the discussion groups.
- Our state teachers’ association has an important role. There was a lot of disagreement at times over the role of the state association, whether they were “taking over” the movement or going for a “power grab.” But honestly, without the district relationships, access to funds for printing signs and renting port-a-potties, and the organizational knowledge about things such as event permits, security, and other strategic and practical aspects of the rallies, I am not sure that we could have organized our campuses, or that those big events could have come together.
- This type of activism is intense. Trying to organize my colleagues while acting within the bounds of ethical behavior on campus, and maintaining communication once actions such as the walk-ins and stand-outs started happening, was tricky. Continuing to teach each day and move my students forward in their learning at the same time was double-tricky. Once the walkout began, keeping up with the day’s events, what leadership was saying and making sure my site was informed was more than a full-time job. It is a relief to be back at school connecting with my students. I will continue to advocate for them, and am proud of what we have accomplished, but I am glad to be back.
- Bonus Item: I come back to school with a greater knowledge of the people I work with, their caliber, their commitment to students and our interdependency. We know our strength, and we will not relinquish it.