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Commentary: Resist: Striking teachers go back to roots

by Christina A. DiEdoardo

Protesters assembled alongside Roots International Academy February 26. On the sign, CRT stands for critical race theory and SWBAT is an educational acronym for Student Will Be Able To. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo
Protesters assembled alongside Roots International Academy February 26. On the sign, CRT stands for critical race theory and SWBAT is an educational acronym for Student Will Be Able To. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo  

Before the weeklong Oakland teachers strike formally ended Sunday night with teachers ratifying a new contract, members of the Oakland Education Association marked the fourth day on the picket line against the Oakland Unified School District by focusing on the school that's at ground zero in the battle for the district's soul.

Several hundred people, both union members and non-union supporters decked out in "Red for Ed" gear, assembled in the streets near Roots International Academy at 1390 66th Avenue in East Oakland February 26.

By Oakland standards, Roots is small, serving approximately 300 middle school students, 98.4 percent of whom are classified as "economically disadvantaged" by the California Board of Education and nearly all of whom qualify for free or reduced-cost meals. Over 40 nationalities are represented in its student body and 43 percent of Roots students are learning English for the first time.

Besides those challenges, Roots students must cope with their out-of-school environment every day. According to Oakland Police Department statistics, the city's Area Four, which includes East Oakland, saw a 31 percent jump in homicides, a 66 percent jump in commercial burglaries and a 16 percent spike in arson in 2018, as compared with 2017.

Not surprisingly, all of this has had a negative impact on the test scores of Roots students, which the district believes justified its decision to close the school, effective at the end of the present school year, in January.

As it was with their colleagues in Los Angeles, who staged a weeklong walkout in January, the Oakland teachers strike wasn't primarily about compensation, but improving the levels of support staff like guidance counselors and nurses so that teachers can do their jobs effectively. In Oakland's case, it was also about the union's efforts to reverse the closure of schools on the district's chopping block, most of which are in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are people of color.

Boots Riley, who's best known outside the Bay Area as the director of "Sorry to Bother You" and within it as the voice of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, praised the example the striking teachers were setting for the students at Roots and elsewhere in the district.

"That's what y'all are doing, teaching the students how to fight," he said to a cheering crowd at the rally. "You're not just teaching them the facts of what happened: you're teaching them to make something happen. And that's very important because otherwise, all these little templates they get, they won't know, when they get out in the real world what to do with it, how to do anything but wish that things were different.

"They don't come from hoping the right leader gets out there and gets into office, or the right superintendent. They come from the leaders and the elected officials and the superintendents being scared of y'all, being scared of y'all being able to just shut down the machine, shut it all down, and not to give in 'til you get what you want, right?" Riley said.

The union announced March 1 that it had reached a tentative agreement with the district. According to the union the deal "is a historic no-concessions contract with a win in every major proposal we made." Members approved it March 3.

Once more unto the breach
While the battle to ban gun shows from the Cow Palace has gone on for decades, with measures sadly dying either in the Legislature or on the governor's desk thanks to pushback from those trying to keep the largest gun show in the Bay Area alive, this year may be different. Last month, San Francisco Democratic legislators gay state Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Phil Ting reintroduced Senate Bill 281, which has a new wrinkle in solving the problem.

If the bill becomes law, not only would gun shows be banned at the Cow Palace, but the facility itself would be transferred from state ownership (which is exercised through the 1-A Agricultural District, whose boundaries are co-extant with the Cow Palace) to a new joint-powers authority comprised of representatives from the City and County of San Francisco, San Mateo County, and Daly City.

This would foreclose a repeat of then-Gov. Jerry Brown's cowardly decision to veto last year's gun show ban (Senate Bill 221, which was also sponsored by Wiener) on the ground that the district's board of directors (who, by the way, all serve at the pleasure of the governor) knew better than the members of the directly-elected Legislature when it came to guns at the Cow Palace. It would also transfer effective control of the Cow Palace to those communities closest to it, which some area residents have demanded for years.

Boycott continues
Manny's and United to Save the Mission announced in a joint statement February 28 that they had entered into a memorandum of understanding whereby Manny's would, among other things, "hire, train and maintain" a workforce that was proficient in Spanish and English, "ensure [the] Spanish language is equally represented in events, menus and general signage" and "ensure strong Mission representation on Manny's advisory board."

Manny's, a cafe and wine bar at 3092 16th Street founded by Manny Yekutiel, a gay Jewish man, has been picketed every Wednesday evening by a growing coalition of groups including Gay Shame, the Lucy Parsons Project, the Brown Berets, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Organization, and the Bound Together Anarchist Collective Bookstore since December. Members of the coalition, which object to the gentrifying effects of Manny's on the Mission as well as Yekutiel's declared support for political Zionism, intend to continue their pickets, with Gay Shame tweeting rhetorically on March 1, "When will it stop? Not till it's shut down."

Yekutiel said the MOU speaks for itself.

"We have no further comment, and are directing people to the recent joint statement from the coalition of Mission advocacy groups that make up United to Save the Mission and Manny's," Yekutiel wrote in an email response for comment.

All good things
This marks the last Resist column, both for me and for the Bay Area Reporter. While it was always intended to be limited in time — for the last 19 months I've written it, I had secretly hoped the last entry would be a post-mortem of the regime after its collapse — I was disappointed to learn on February 21 that the paper had decided to go "in a different direction" and was canceling the column entirely.

For those of you who have followed these pages for almost the last two years, thank you. While Resist may have ended, my resistance — and I hope, yours as well — has not. There's a country to take back and a world to save and I hope what you've read here has been of assistance in your efforts to do both.

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