In EUJ, we believe in the wisdom and greatness of our neighbors. Today, meet Becca Rozo-Marsh: one of the organizers behind this year's successful OEA Teachers Strike. (!)
You’re a teacher who helped organize the successful OEA Strike (congrats!).
Y’all won important gains. What would you do even better next time?
There was so much that was beautiful in this strike that wasn’t even about the contract we actually won. The city-wide mobilizations, and the level of participation and support on picket lines, were incredible.
Truth be told, we really built the strike itself in just 6 months. For the first 2 years of bargaining, I don’t think anyone believed that we would actually go on strike.
Some of the gains you mentioned:
+ We won the first high school class size reduction in 3 decades.
+ We won the first caseload reductions in over a decade
+ We won support positions for Newcomer students that have never been in the contract (we are possibly the first school district in the entire state to have this)
+ And we won better teacher compensation that will make us slightly more competitive with other districts, so we can recruit and retain teachers.
The fact that we were able to go on strike at all after just 6 months of preparation, and then that we won some things in the contract, is very lucky and due to the hard work of so so so many people. But, this short preparation timeline and some other organizational challenges left many of us disappointed with the contract.
Some important ways we can improve as an organization and as individuals:
1. We need to have more clarity about OUSD finances. Even at the end of the strike, there were different OPINIONS on whether or not OUSD had the money to finance our demands. (!) This led to confusion on what was winnable, and how to do messaging throughout the campaign. It also led to confusion around who our target was. Should we target OUSD because of their mismanagement of existing funds? Or the State because all CA schools are hugely underfunded?
2. We need to start preparing for strikes sooner. Despite a lot of good buildup with families and community orgs leading up to the fight, this work was rushed. We need to invest in long-term coalitions of parents, students, teachers and community members so that we are better prepared to fight and win.
3. We need a stronger analysis of what a strike means in the context of a bigger fight for education. Can this contract help us fight for greater educational justice? How can we push it to do that? What are the limitations of strikes as tactics and unions as organizations? We need to understand both strengths and limitations in order to imagine what other tactics and spaces we still need in order to grow the schools our students deserve.
What were your proudest, most surprising moments from the strike?
The strike woke people up, especially teachers, in a way I have never experienced in my life.
Many of my co-workers have not been at all interested in politics and actively refused to go to meetings — even ones on campus during their lunch. I was so nervous the night before the strike about what the picket line would look like at my site, at the 85 other schools around the city, and how many people would show up to the city-wide event in Downtown Oakland.
It was beautiful. Starting at 6:30 am my co-workers came out and we chanted, marched, made up songs, danced. Neighbors and allies brought us so much food everyday that we were always fed and had leftovers. Some of our students emerged with the strongest and most creative chanting voices, deepest analysis, and even helped us storm the State Building.
As you raise a child in Oakland, what do you want public schools to be able to teach him in the next 10 years?
My kid, Emiliano, is going to be in Kindergarten next year in OUSD. I have always wanted there to be a great school in every neighborhood but now I feel it in a different way. I wish that families didn’t feel like they were competing for specific spots in specific schools. All of our schools need to be great because all of our kids are great.
Our kids are the best (just like all kids). They deserve all the resources, all the support that they need to make their dreams come true. And in those few days of this strike, I felt such deep love and support for our students and teachers. The community loved us, we loved each other and we loved ourselves. We made something beautiful happen and worked incredibly hard in impossible conditions to do so. Thousands of people marched and picketed who have never marched or picketed before. We have so much to be proud of.
Honestly, I look back at it with some sadness because we did not win all that we wanted, and of course, did not win all that we deserve.
It is both beautiful and heartbreaking. How wonderful to know our worth.
How tragic to return to conditions that continue to be oppressive.
We didn’t win enough and we are not satisfied.
So all of us are dealing with that in different ways, but I don’t think we will lose
that feeling of unity, of power. We are getting ready
for the next time we need it.
I want smaller class sizes so each of our kids get the attention they need and feel loved every day by each of their teachers. I want classes and curriculum where they can be creative. I want their to be experiential learning through trips and experiments and technology and art. I want all of the teachers to be both experienced and inspired, respected and loving their jobs.
During the strike we used the aspirational messaging of Schools Oakland Students Deserve and that is what moved people into picket lines and marches. We went on strike not for a specific percentage or number in our classrooms but for a dream of what education can be. We are a small step closer to that dream and more importantly, we are stronger for the many fights that lay ahead.