"Who are the high school students and who're teachers?!", one old-head was heard asking another, while joining the afternoon picket-line of nearly 100 young activists at Military Park in Newark on March 4, 2010.
The fight against funding cuts to public schools (which began over a year ago with students hitting the streets, taking over buildings and seizing campuses at state and city colleges in California) turned national on March 4. The influx of very young warriors that this represents is the most exciting development that these aging activists of the People's Organization for Progress has seen in many years.
A new organization, Teachers as Leaders in Newark (TaLiN), had called the demonstration on short notice, asking POP's endorsement merely days before. The organization was so new at that point that Leah Owens, the founder of TaLiN, told POP members that demands for demonstration had not been formulated yet. This seeming lack of organization is why some grumpier, older activists were shocked to see how well attended and expertly organized the Newark picket-line, march and rally were in the end.
This was truly a young people's demonstration, with students, young and recently hired teachers and even very young candidates to the Newark Board of Education making up the bulk of participants. The young activist teachers of TaLiN pulled together a coalition including student groups like the East Side High School Debate Team and the American History debate team along with more established groups like POP and NOW. The demands TaLiN's members united around indicated their political depth as well as their dedication to struggle:
- Flat Tuition
- No Educational Cuts
- No Layoffs of Staff
- Jobs and Education, Not War and Occupation!
Governor Christie has just announced a freeze of a half billion in education funding and $62 million in state college funding. Newark Public Schools is losing close to $102 million.
The cuts well set off a round of public layoffs, cuts to education services at the K-12 level and hikes in tuition and fees as well as cuts at the state college level.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is not allowing bail outs for state budgets and has frozen service funding increases for every thing but war spending. The US is spending $57,000 per minute on the war in Afghanistan, as of December 2009, and that cost has gone up considerably since.
These young teachers and their student allies are the new leaders of these struggles with slogans like: "We need Jobs and Education, Not War and Militarization!" Leading an extremely broad and very multi-ethnic new movement, these young comrades have a lot to teach the People's Organization for Progress and our traditional allies. Compared with the hundreds of demonstration across the US yesterday, in the context of the hundreds of thousands of people activated in this fight, our experiences in Newark, NJ may appear to be insignificant. But what we learned yesterday in this small, aging, former industrial hub of New Jersey has far-ranging lessons for the future of activism here and everywhere…