Find the protests near you: MAP (with updates throughout the country)
When push comes to shove, the first question that must be asked by any union or group that is dissatisfied with the status of education is whether you have the power to change it. Ultimately, this comes down to whether your rank and file will go out if you call a strike. At the present time, I think it is clear to all involved -- LAUSD and UTLA alike -- that if UTLA called a strike, it would not get sufficient support of rank and file to be successful. Furthermore, it would have the collaterally negative effect of helping LAUSD and the State of California balance its budget in exact opposition to the avowed purpose of the March 4th demonstration.
While clearly teachers cannot afford to bleed as much as rich administrators like Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who made over $500,000 above and beyond his present $250,000 annual salary with LAUSD from his three year conflict of interest with Scholastic Publishers -- plus benefits -- a little judicious self-blood letting done in a coordinated and intelligent manner can finally bring about meaningful change to an LAUSD culture that is antithetical to real public education reform. Our greatest ally in this quest are the parents, many of whom are also products of this failed system. These parents have for far too long taken for granted that teachers will go along with whatever they fail to do in monitoring their children's behavior or the anti-academic culture that LAUSD has unconscionably allowed to become the rule in its schools. If a cohesive professional teaching corps shows that it is no longer willing to go along with schools that are an affront to everything they know to be good pedagogic practice, parents who join them will bring immediate and direct political pressure to bear on school district administrations that up until now have shown contempt for both parents and teachers reasonable desires for an excellent public education system.
Listen: UTLA Vice President Josh Pechhault on KPFK
If education is in fact the valuable tool that we believe it to be, then we must show that we ourselves have enough of an education to organize a coherent and very specific alternative through two-way accountability in lieu of the failed top-down model that is at the root of the quagmire we have allowed public education to descend to over the last 60 years. To that end:
1. In the past two years, California legislators have cut $17 billion from public education spending forcing tuition hikes, increased class sizes, cutting classes, programs and laying off educators. In the context of these cuts, teachers continue to respond to cuts directed toward them, while never asking LAUSD why it still has eight mostly empty mini-districts, a television station, expensive textbooks that could be published far cheaper on the Internet and money spent on new schools of questionable necessity, while the fundamental reform of lessening teacher-to-student ratio is never addressed. Instead of lying to the taxpayers of California about having made all the cuts possible, while asking for a $100 parcel tax, why not go to each budget entry line and examine the reality of where the money is actually going?
There is pretty convincing evidence offered by previous LAUSD Inspector General Don Mullinax that pervasive fraud has gone unprosecuted in LAUSD and that arbitrarily exorbitant amounts of money have been gotten from voters. In order to implement progressive tax measures, which demonstrators are being asked to support, greater specificity must be presented to the already burdened taxpayer in these difficult times.
2. Protesting cuts to education and vital community services cannot be expressed in a vacuum. What has necessitated these cuts is not just the unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but tax cuts to the most wealth segments of our society and the greatest factor in the failed budget, the 334,000 people incarcerated in California, the vast majority of whom are the failed product of the public education system we are trying to fix. When the cost of the cheapest ticket at the Geffen Theater in Westwood is $85, I realize that everybody in our state is not feeling the present budget crisis to the same extent.
3. Large demonstrations tend to seek the lowest common denominator of commitment, especially when UTLA, the long in-house LAUSD teachers' union controls the demonstration permit for March 4. UTLA Vice-President Josh Peshhalt says, "We have to have the confidence that the people who speak won't get us into trouble" one wonders why the exercise of 1st Amendment rights is seen as potentially getting UTLA into trouble? The only "clear and present danger" is to education, if this travesty that has done more damage to this country than Al-Quaeda is allowed to continue unchallenged. UTLA has had far too incestuous a relationship with LAUSD for too many years. One need only ask how many grievances have ever come to fruition or how many times UTLA has actively advocated on behalf of its dues paying members in arbitration or subsequent legal action to know that a UTLA controlled demonstration will do nothing to make anybody in the self-serving education bureaucracy take notice. This is common knowledge to disheartened UTLA rank and files whose dismal support of the December 2009 manifestation at LAUSD headquarters can only be seen as a harbinger of any UTLA defined demonstration.
4. Besides having one of the hardest jobs in this country, teachers need to step back from the all consuming reality of teaching and balance two factors: one is the dedication and commitment that got most of us into the profession in the first place; the other is the level of apathy and cynicism that has caused too many of us to anthropomorphize LAUSD. Either we overcome what appears to be our natural aversion to risk or we will spend the remainder of our short time on this earth like Sisyphus. The reality is that profound positive change in public education is not so far away, if we empower ourselves to strive for it. Omar Hussein, 25, a high school physics teacher and member of United Teachers Los Angeles, said in an interview, "We don't have a crisis of resources we have a crisis of priorities. We're being attacked with privatization and budget cuts. And it's an assault on all levels of public education."
When I lived in France and there was a similar demonstration based on alleged budget deficits in running the trains, a well-educated locomotive engineer pointed out in highly educated and elegant terms that it was the TGV bullet trains used by the rich that had created the deficit, so why should his class be required to pay for it? Currently, the state faces another $19.9 billion deficit. If the powers that be continue to encounter no resistance, the bottom's the limit. When we see each other on March 4th, let's talk about what people with a failed 50 year career presiding over the dismemberment of public education like Superintendent Cortines might be able to do to pick up their end of the sacrifices. Did you ever wonder why all education "reform" leaves LAUSD intact?
There will be protests throughout the day at University of California, Los Angeles; California State University Northridge; California State University Los Angeles and Pershing Square downtown throughout the day. The main rally will be at Pershing Square starting at 3 PM.
On March 4, UTLA members hand out informational flyers to parents
UTLA members are encouraged to attend one of four afterschool rallies at the following locations:
Downtown Los Angeles location
4:00 pm (Gather at 5th and Hill by Pershing Square)
4:30 pm-6:00 pm (March and rally at Reagan State Building -- 300 South Spring Street)
4:30 pm-5:30 pm ( Rally at Bruin Plaza)
San Fernando Valley location (Cal State Northridge)
3:45 pm ( Gather in the quad)
4:15 pm (March around CSUN)
5pm-5:30 pm (Unity action and rally at CSUN quad)
Long Beach rally location
4:15 pm (Gather and rally at Wilson High School gymnasium -- 4400 East 10th Street, Long Beach)