Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers joined their classroom brethren and sisters following West Virginia’s successful school boycott over cuts in pay, benefits, and school funding. The statewide teachers’ strike that shuttered West Virginia schools for almost two weeks resulted in the governor signing a bill to give teachers and other state employees a 5 percent pay raise long withheld by the state legislature.
The Sooner and Bluegrass teachers used social media to organize the rallies attended by thousands of demonstrators to the surprise of the teachers’ own labor unions and lawmakers with signs that said, “Thanks to West Virginia” and “No Funding, no future!”
Arizona may be next.
The protests also suggests that labor activism has taken on a new, grassroots form, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and March to Save Our Lives. It is also tribute to the internet guru Clay Shirky’s dictum that with the Internet and social media platforms, “collective action just got easier.”
It also suggests that labor unions and the organizations that govern them are becoming obsolete in the face of mass marches happening with them at the back of the parade not the front. Students leading the March to Save Our Lives said basically the same thing, “we’re running the show here, not some celebrity or third-party organization.”
Oklahoma teachers aren’t just marching, they’re bending ears of lawmakers inside the state capital. They’re demanding better school funding and a commitment to education so that teachers can better prepare students for the future. Past legislation has either frozen education budgets or stole from them to pay for more politically visible projects. Since education is a state-funded mandate, this seriously impacts classrooms all across the nation.
With mid-term elections looming, and red states at risk from blowback against President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, legislators are under the gun (no pun) to re-assess education funding, including teacher salaries.
This may be an “education spring,” or a version of “morning in America,” but indeed something’s happening. The question now is– where will it go?