Brownies, drums and solidarity on the picket line

Sam Burbank
November 17, 2023
Hundreds of educators, parents and students joined a rally Nov. 1. 2023 at Roosevelt High School in northeast Portland to support striking teachers who want better pay, smaller class sizes and more planning time among other demands. (Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Hundreds of educators, parents and students joined a rally Nov. 1. 2023 at Roosevelt High School in north Portland to support striking teachers who want better pay, smaller class sizes and more planning time among other demands. (Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

I am a 10th grade English teacher at Franklin High School, and Friday is our 13th day of striking. Based on my experience on the picket line, I believe our strike is well understood, but there are also wildly varying accounts of what the sentiment is among teachers.

The public deserves to know more about what we’re experiencing here.

None of us wanted or expected this to happen. On our first day of striking, there was palpable uncertainty in the air: Is this really happening? How long will it take? How do we do this? We began the morning on the exceedingly quiet Southeast Woodward Street side of Franklin with a couple dozen teachers, some snacks and supplies for making signs.We quickly realized that moving to the busier Southeast Division Street side of Franklin would be a good first tactical move to make the public more aware of our concerns.

As that day went on, and from that day forward, we saw our numbers grow to what must now be near 200, including our families, students, their parents and other community members. A teacher from nearby Atkinson Elementary School began bringing his guitar. Another Atkinson teacher brings a trumpet. A couple Franklin teachers brought drums and played them with bare hands for hours while most of us wear gloves to hold up our signs. On Wednesday, teachers danced to music playing from a speaker on top of someone’s truck.

One teacher bakes a new tray of brownies every morning. Someone brings boxes of doughnuts everyday. Another brings breakfast burritos. A fund of over $200 has been raised to buy coffee and provisions for the picket line, and over $1,000 has been raised in just one day to help cover the cost of food for the educators most affected by the loss of salary.

There is a constant flow of signs being made by our youngest supporters, and a group of Franklin students who come to keep them company everyday. Kids are coming up with rhymes to shout through the bullhorn and hear all the teachers repeat them, in what must feel like a delightful role-reversal to them. We’ve got at least three  or four teachers frequenting the mics who could take up the role of preacher for just about any congregation.

These teachers, parents and students are tired and deeply worried for so many reasons. Our students have already experienced so much disruption to their education. Many of us have financial burdens that have become crushing without our salaries coming at the end of the month. Some mornings it seems like the spirit might be dwindling, but without fail some act of solidarity from our community has bolstered it up again.

Last week, a crowd of us gathered around a dozen or so students who had been slated to perform their rendition of The Little Mermaid before the strike deferred those plans. They danced and sang several of the songs from the musical, and there were beaming faces in the crowd of teachers, who are missing the energy that our students bring to this community right now.

On Tuesday, Where’s Coffeegirl, a local, mobile purveyor of coffee, rolled up with their sprinter van and served free coffee to a long line of teachers. They had no tip jar or QR or quick-response code set up for donations, just a bowl of Smarties for us to take. DC Vegetarian at Southeast 50th Avenue and Division Street has given us a key to their restroom and offered us free coffee and cookies as we come and go. Dos Hermanos Bakery donated a box piled with pastries the other morning.

The number of honks we get from passersby took getting used to. It’s a paradigm shift not to register those as being angry sounds. But the joyous screams and fists thrown out the window help with that reconditioning. We hear support from passing Priuses, minivans, Teslas, beat-up pickups with mis-matched toppers, lawn-care and other company vehicles, garbage trucks, city of Portland employees, bus drivers, firefighters and one police cruiser.

Of those last few categories, one stopped, very much in the middle of their workday, stepped out, and on being offered a loudspeaker, gave us a heartfelt declaration of their solidarity.

Schools are a place where we make community, and we’re seeing that happen out on the streets now, too. Teachers are connecting with one another in ways we rarely have time or occasion for during our workdays. It is a shame that such stressful conditions precipitated this experience, but nonetheless we are having our eyes opened to what a treasure and an inexhaustible resource our communities are.

We’re grateful for those standing with us.

Source: Brownies, drums and solidarity on the picket line – Oregon Capital Chronicle

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