Six quotes from the teacher walkout rally at the Oklahoma Capitol Monday revealed the realities that brought about the action that will continue on Tuesday.
1. Teachers have a hard time making a strike work. The purpose of a strike is disruption to achieve a goal. But, teachers care more for students than their own selves. They just hate to be out of the classroom. – Tom Ritter, Teamsters Local 886 president and husband of a public school teacher
When Free Press saw Ritter in his Teamsters cap and jacket we asked him about why he was at the rally.
He said his wife is a teacher and he would be there anyway to support an action where teachers are trying to get support.
He talked about how hard it is for his wife to be away from her students. He said she was very committed and that is her weakness when it comes to fighting for what’s best in her job.
Normally, when organized workers go on strike, they intend to create a disruption that will bring balance back to the relationship between the workers and the owners, Ritter said.
He said that teachers naturally have a disadvantage in labor struggles because what gets disrupted when they strike are students more than the Legislature.
2. The only people I am here to thank today are my fellow educators. – Whitney Saunders, Sand Springs Pre-K teacher
Saunders’ quip was in direct response to Governor Mary Fallin, who said at the signing of the bill to increase teacher pay that she hoped teachers would come to the Capitol to thank the Legislature.
Saunders reminded the crowd that Fallin has yet to sign other bills that would increase education funding and help students.
3. This bill [1010xx] is a band-aid on a wound that needs stitches. – Hope Davis, student from Moore
Hope Davis used American Sign Language as she spoke and told the crowd about her own struggles to find the kind of specially-trained teachers she and other students need for the higher-level courses at her high school.
She currently has to take courses online to complete high school because her school cannot find teachers to teach the higher-level courses.
Her point was that HB 1010xx, the bill to hike teacher salaries, was only a small part of what is needed to bring public schools up to what students need.
4. This is not an act of God. This is man made, this crisis, and it is shameful. – Lilly Eskelsen Garcia, president, National Education Association
In response to repeated talk from the Republican super-majority and Republican governor that there isn’t anything they can do about the crisis, the NEA president argued that this crisis was ten years in the making and is in the control of the Legislature.
Her words are notable in that the particular talking point is seldom heard in such a large assembly and on the record.
5. From this day forward, no backsliding on Oklahoma’s commitment to children. We just won’t allow backsliders in our house. – Ed Allen, president, Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers
Allen made the point early in his speech that the Capitol building behind him was “the people’s house” and belonged to all people of Oklahoma.
He also referred to those who have allowed education funding to continue to go backwards as “backsliders.”
Allen encouraged rally-goers to remember “whose house” the Capitol building is and demand education be funded and treated with the attention it deserves.
6. You have knocked on their doors. And you have asked them nicely. And you’ve been willing to be exploited. And instead, they’ve given to the oil companies and not to the future. – Randi Weingarten, president American Federation of Teachers
Certainly, in Oklahoma this kind of statement is thought and said privately, but seldom in public and in the forceful way Weingarten delivered it.
She said the “oil companies” have been given the benefits of government, but not the children of Oklahoma through adequate education funding.
Alicia Priest, the newly re-elected president of the Oklahoma Education Association, was the MC of the event.
Before it was over she announced “we will be here at nine o’clock tomorrow.”
The Legislature made little progress on any funding measures for education in the afternoon adjourning early.
Teachers filled the House gallery and were present on every floor of the Capitol.