This week's boisterous protests in Olympia were largely billed as an outgrowth of the Occupy movement. But the self-declared 99 percenters were not the only ones who showed up. So did 600 teachers, making for the largest local demonstration by their profession in years.
After years of budgets cuts to education, and even more on the table now, teachers are getting militant.
The Washington Education Association organized the Monday action. The teachers' union had a tent and held a rally on the lawn outside the Capitol building. The teachers wore red--"red for ed" was the motto--and many of those who couldn't come because they were working wore red to their classrooms.
Meanwhile, local chapters of the union staged various actions in their home towns. The Seattle Education Association held a "grade in" at Westlake Center on Monday evening. About 30 teachers grabbed dinner in the food court and graded papers, says SEA president Olga Addae. The idea, she says, was "to make the invisible work we do visible."
More broadly, the local and statewide union say they are trying to stop the significant education cuts that are in Governor Chris Gregoire's dire proposed budget. Those would shorten the school year by four days, eliminate state funding for class size reduction and suspend teacher salary increases.
Cuts in the past few years have already taken their toll, says Rich Wood, spokesperson for the WEA. "Class sizes have gone up. There have been cutbacks on librarians and music specialists. Parents are starting to realize that their kids are getting a less well-rounded education."
And some students, too, apparently agree. Witness yesterday's walk-out by a group at Garfield High.
Teachers union officials are careful to draw a distinction between their protests and the Occupy movement. They point out that teachers who joined the Occupy protests and disrupted a legislative hearing, including arrested Garfield staff member Jesse Hagopian (see video), did so independently.
Still, there's obvious crossover. Among other things, the teachers union-just like the organizers of Occupy the Capitol--is asking Gregoire to stem the fiscal crisis by closing tax loopholes favoring corporations.