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Chapter 6 - Solidarity Forever

The ongoing support of teachers by the community, students and parents increased following strike schools. Suddenly, many organizations got involved, students set up their own demonstrations and parents voiced their solidarity with the teachers' fight loudly. The number of strikers who attended demonstrations swelled and community support came from all over. Songs were sung and people chanted. At times thousands of supporting strikers could be heard at the Oakland Federal building singing the IWW Ralph Chaplin song Solidarity Forever.

Community organizations showed their support as well. Daily, Free Radio Berkeley covered news about the teachers' strike. Interviews were conducted and teachers and supporters could voice themselves for fifteen to thirty miles around on the airwaves. Alternative unions also got involved. The Industrial Workers of the World covered the teachers' strike in their newspaper the Wildcat, and IWW union members joined the marchers everyday in support. One OEA union representative was, and is, in fact, also herself a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Toward the end of the strike Food Not Bombs had even offered to help out by providing free food and coffee everyday at the picket lines to help financially struggling strikers.

Other people from the community also joined in solidarity with the teachers. Reverend Betita Coty, for instance, spoke out on behalf of the strike. She even set up a tent in front of the administrative offices and went on a hunger strike, demanding the district comply with the teachers' concerns or she would simply starve herself. When others tried to move Coty, worried about her health, she responded by saying, "I am not budging. I am not moving. I am not going anywhere. Whatever is going to come is going to come and I am going to pay the price. This is my will."[40] When two children saw her they asked, "Why are you starving yourself?" Cory replied, "I am doing this for my son, for the children of Oakland because you need to be in school."[41]

One of the largest sectors of support could be found among high school students. Alongside teachers and parents on the picket lines they remained loyal to the cause. High school student strikers were both in favor of the teachers' strike and concerned about lowering class sizes as well. Lauren Taylor, an 18 year old student at Skyline High School, said, "All the students I know are very supportive." But high school students were also concerned about graduating. She continued, "Even if it means skipping spring break and extra days, I'll do whatever it takes to graduate. "[42]

More militant support came from the Student Power Union who was dedicated to making the strike stronger, more fierce and more advantageous for the people it concerned. The Student Power Union worked to draw students out of schools and into the streets to demonstrate with the teachers. They saw many of the OEA's tactics as too passive and exclaimed, "we must demand that the union rebuild militant mass actions -- marches, rallies, mass picket lines, and a mass demonstration at the school board meeting[s] ."[43] While the OEA's leadership didn't like the Power Union's more militant attitude many teachers appreciated it. The Student Power Union even established their own separate demonstrations and pickets aside from union marches. As far as the Power Union was concerned the teachers' strike, "looked like the beginnings of a new mass civil rights movement-a movement that could win all the teacher's demands rapidly and which could at the same time establish the basis for continued gains for Oakland's black, Latino, Asian and working class. "[44]

While less militant than some of the student organizations, the students' parents were also incredibly supportive. In November of 1995 parents formed Parents for Classrooms First in support of the teachers and the lowering of class sizes. Displeased by the district's refusal to quickly cooperate one parent from the organization exclaimed, "Wake up and listen to us. We're your employers. You cannot continue to run schools from on high."[45] Parents for Classrooms First brought enormous support to the picket lines. This organization also encouraged students to stay home or help out on the picket lines. As one reporter described Parents for Classrooms First, they have encouraged, "parents - even those who have never been terribly politically active in the schools or in politics - [to] boldly step into the light of publicity, holding press conferences and meeting with politicians. They're running alternative strike schools, charging into school board and City Council meetings. "[46] Many parents chose to join Parents for Classrooms First. They realized how important it was. Al Weinrub, a member of Parents for Classrooms First, expressed his view on the organization, "We're an organization that supports our children. We're not an anti-government, anti-anything group. We have been characterized as merely in support of teachers, we do support their issues."[47]

With the help of Parents for Classrooms First, the student organizations and strike support, the community solidarity and aid of multiple organizations and alternative media, these various forms of solidarity were putting pressure on the district to come to some sort of fair agreement with the OEA. The district felt the pressure and so they negotiated.

Footnotes 40 - 47

40. Coty, Betita, as quoted by Mike Fitelson, "Praying for strike's end," Montclarion, March 1, 1996.

41. Ibid.

42. Taylor, Lauren, as quoted by Angela Hill, "Anguish over teachers' strike reaches boiling point," Oakland Tribune, March 4, 1996.

43. Student Power Union, Strike To Win Bulletin #6, March 5, 1996.

44. Ibid.

45. Strokes, Peter, of Parents for Classrooms First, as quoted by Angela I Hill, "Anguish over teachers' strike reaches boiling point," Oakland Tribune, March 4, 1996.

46. Hill, Angela, "Oakland parents go to head of class," Oakland Tribune, March 6, 1996.

47. Ibid., Al Weinrub, as quoted.