Hundreds of teachers from around the state flocked to Sacramento the week of May 9 to participate in a weeklong protest against cuts to education funding. Among them was CVHS English teacher Daren Wilkerson.
The protest’s main goal was to support a tax extension that, if passed, would prevent thousands of teachers from losing their jobs. The endeavor was sponsored by the California Teachers’ Association, which reimbursed many of the protesters for the time they took off work to attend the demonstration.
“One of the main reasons we have unions is to get the funds to perform these kinds of things, to get the attention of legislators,” explained Wilkerson, who was encouraged to represent Castro Valley schools at the rally by Castro Valley Teachers’ Association president-elect John Green.
Over the course of the week participants dressed in blue T-shirts marched through the streets, picketed the Capitol, and engaged in conversation with legislators from both parties about educational funding. Many teachers sat in at a Senate committee hearing to speak out against two bills perceived as “anti-teacher” by the union, which would decrease the salaries of temporary teachers and remove seniority as a deciding factor for layoffs. Both bills died in committee.
Some teachers and college students chose to bring attention to their cause through civil disobedience, refusing to leave the Capitol building after visiting hours were over and being placed in jail overnight.
While Wilkerson himself did not get arrested, he expressed his admiration for those who did: “There were a lot of older teachers there, who have been doing their jobs for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “It’s a very noble and brave thing.”
The main point of the event, Wilkerson emphasized, was to show that supporters of education are a strong political presence and an important voice in the ongoing debate over California’s budget.
“Everybody understands that educational reform is needed,” acknowledged Wilkerson. “But if you take money out, you’ll ensure that education won’t be able to be reformed at all. They can’t reform us by cutting salaries.”
The week’s activities culminated in a massive rally on Friday, attended not only by teachers, but by firefighters, parents, and students of all ages. The protesters made it clear that despite what cuts must be made, funding education should be the community’s top priority.
“We’re 43rd in the state in educational funding, yet first in spending on prisons,” commented Wilkerson. “A lot of people find a lot wrong with that.”