The first week of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) strike concluded in much the same way as it had begun – with tens of thousands of teachers, staff, parents, students and supporters gathering in a veritable tsunami of solidarity.
For the second time in five days, the area of Grand Park in front of Los Angeles City Hall was awash in red as supporters of the striking teachers assembled for another #Red4Ed rally. With help from Mayor Eric Garcetti, Union and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators returned to the bargaining table Thursday and were scheduled to continue meeting throughout the day Friday.
Unlike the week’s previous actions, Friday’s rally took place under sunny skies. The thousands at the rally enjoyed speeches and musical performances by Marisa Ronstadt accompanied by Ted Hampton of Gage Middle School, Aloe Blacc, Maya Jupiter and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.
On the stage, speakers routinely criticized LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and Board Member Monica Garcia and acknowledged the groundswell of support for the teachers since the strike started on Monday. Speakers on the stage were frequently drowned out by the crowd and a cacophony of horns, bells, whistles and other noisemaking devices.
More than 31,000 UTLA members at 900 schools are striking over issues of class size, staffing levels, pay raises and the threat of privatization. It’s the first work stoppage at the nation’s second largest school district since 1989.
Several people at the Grand Park rally had signs acknowledging their connections to the two strikes 30 years apart. Now in her 35th year of teaching, Julie Sylber picketed in 1989, and she’s back on the line now.
“It’s the same idea. It’s always about the kids, and in 1989 we won other things as well,” said Sylber, a 2nd grade teacher at 92nd Street School in South L.A. “I’ve spent a lot of time testing my kids and not teaching them as much as I want to. It really is about all the extra people.”
Helen Butapetch, a math teacher at King Drew Magnet High School, said that she has been especially gratified by the support from the parents and the community. Between the donations of umbrellas, coffee and donuts, “we’ve been pretty well fed this week. We’re going to expect this when we come back,” she said, laughing.
“Coming into his week, there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty,” Butapetch continued. “Once we got into it, I’m starting to see a lot of solidarity. I’ve been talking to teachers I haven’t talked to and getting to know so much about them. I think at the end of this, whenever it happens, we’re going to come in more unified than we started, which is great to see.”