Student Gabrielle Salamon was limping from a bad blister but still smiling as education supporters pressed on in Oklahoma City Tuesday afternoon to complete their 110-mile march to the Oklahoma Capitol.
But marchers were left wondering exactly what they had arrived to find at the Capitol after seven days of a walkout for restoring education funding cuts over the last decade.
It was the most dramatic demonstration to date of resolve on the part of teachers, administrators, parents and students to demand better funding for Oklahoma’s public schools.
“Being 49th is not OK,” the Tulsa student said.
“I’m doing it for the teachers and also for school funding so that we can get desks, we can get chairs, we can get supplies. There is so much more than we can need.”
At one point Salamon had to jump in a car for Oklahoma City to interview at Oklahoma School for Science and Math. But then she went right back and caught up with the march.
Her mother, Jennifer Salamon, a Gifted and Talented teacher in Tulsa was in the march, but reluctantly at first.
“I didn’t want to sign up for the whole thing, it was my kids that pushed it,” she said laughing.
The group was led down N. Kelly Avenue and then over to the Capitol by the OKCPS Douglass High School marching band.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest and other supporters joined the group on that last leg.
“The resolve to go 110 miles in all the weather conditions with a week to get ready, and the community support along the way should tell the Legislators that nothing will keep us from fighting for our students,” said Priest.
“It’s the right thing to do to fund education.”
Walkout demonstrators made a corridor for the group as they arrived on the Capitol grounds giving cheers and high-fives as they went.
The group arrived after hearing that not much had changed during their week-long march except that Governor Fallin signed a bill that repealed one part of the package that was meant to fund the teacher pay raise in teacher pay and funding passed over a week ago.
Recovery and prep
Caroline Knights was in good spirits Tuesday evening as the Tulsa marchers and others involved in the walkout were hosted by the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers and other supporters at Dunlap Codding Law Firm event space on Film Row near downtown.
Her left foot had developed a series of blisters that had been treated by a volunteer sports medicine doctor who had made the entire trip with the group treating the increasing number of blisters and other ailments that developed along the way.
She was only one of a majority of those who walked the entire way who had developed blisters. A few had been forced to leave the march because their feet were getting too damaged.
The doctor refused to let us use his name saying “this isn’t about me. It’s about the teachers.”
After the meal was served, the group was given an opportunity to ask questions and try to find a way to move the needle on the situation that was moving far more slowly than the group thought it would when they stepped off in Tulsa days before.
A group of Democratic Party Legislators came to brief the group on where negotiations stood by the end of that day.
As Free Press moved through the group we noticed a common thread of comments.
Marchers were surprised that the issues of funding were not yet resolved at the end of the seventh day of the walkout.
“We thought about half-way through they would tell us it was done,” said one of the Tulsa participants.
“It was disappointing to come in and get Fallin’s signing of the repeal of the Hotel/Motel tax news,” said Aaron Baker, a Mid-Del 8th grade Social Studies teacher who went to Tulsa and made the entire march with the group.
Heather Cody, a third-grade teacher at Mayo Demonstration School in TPS helped organize the march.
“We have all been surprised that we would arrive after all these days to find the walkout still going on,” she said.