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At Bridges Academy, a school’s teaching staff marches to support Occupy Oakland

on November 2, 2011

All 22 teachers from the Bridges Academy at Melrose elementary school, plus six parents, one infant and one middle-schooler, represented their school as they marched in support of Occupy Oakland’s general strike on Wednesday morning. Toting protest signs, tambourines, maracas, and a giant banner that read “Bridges Academy at Melrose, sí, se puede,” they walked from their school, near 53rd Avenue and International Boulevard, to downtown Oakland. Along the way they chatted with, and handed out flyers to, almost everyone they passed.

“We’re here because we teach the 99 percent, and we teach the 99 percent to share,” said Pat Kaplan a 4th grade teacher who was wearing this year’s Halloween costume for the second time in a week—a Fidel Castro-esque military uniform with the label “General Huelga” (General Strike) written on its lapel and cap.

Kaplan described the frustration teachers have felt at having no money for field trips and having to ask parents, who are already struggling financially, to help out by contributing school supplies to their children’s classrooms. “Look around here,” Kaplan said, pointing to homes opposite the school. “There are houses that are boarded up because of foreclosures. These parents are already affected by the economic downturn.”

When teachers at Bridges Academy met late last week to discuss the possibility of joining the Occupy Oakland strike, every one of them agreed to participate. As long as teachers found a substitute they were allowed to count their absence as a personal day. Even the principal, Clara Tarango, supported the decision, though she could not join them for Wednesday’s march.

Many of the marching teachers said felt it was important to participate, and connected Occupy Oakland’s criticism of Wall Street to the recent decision by the Oakland Unified School District to close five elementary schools. “OUSD could be doing a lot better with the money they have,” said Marla Kamiya, Bridges Academy’s kindergarten teacher, describing the inequity she sees in OUSD’s spending priorities. “We don’t need to spend $20 million for professional development for the administrators in the district.”

“We’re really upset about the five [school] closures and the cuts we’ve had here,” said Kaplan.

4th grade teacher, Pat Kaplan, helped organize the teachers’ march in support of the general strike. She decided to put this year’s Halloween costume to use for an extra day.

Although the group of teachers had hoped more students and parents would participate in the march, they knew it was a slim possibility. The teachers hosted a meeting for parents on Tuesday to explain why they wouldn’t be in school and to talk about what the general strike was all about. They also reassured parents that school would still be open on Wednesday.

Though six parents participated in the march, none brought their children. José Alvarez wanted to bring his daughter, but thought that, at 5 years old, she is too young. “I heard about the schools closing and I couldn’t believe it,” he said, describing why he decided to join in.

Bridges’ music teacher, Linh Nguyen, brought his infant daughter, but they broke off from the march halfway down International Boulevard. Another Bridges teacher, who wanted to remain anonymous, brought her son, a student at Oakland School for the Arts. His school, in downtown Oakland, chose to close for the day, citing safety issues.  Bernadette Zermeño, a kindergarten teacher at Bridges, said that she thought some parents who are undocumented wanted to participate, but didn’t because they fear getting arrested.

As the group got closer to downtown Oakland, the honks and cheers from passersby grew louder and more frequent. Though some passing drivers looked confused, and some pedestrians were baffled—one woman paused her cellphone conversation to ask “What’s the 99?”—others were clear supporters. Car after car honked at the group, as did a trash truck, an AC Transit bus and a fire engine waving a giant American flag out its window. As the group neared Laney College, the site of a large gathering of public school and Laney College supporters, a white-haired, middle-aged man stopped to high-five everyone in the group.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in front of the OUSD building at 12th Street and 2nd Avenue, before heading to Frank Ogawa Plaza.

By the time the march arrived at the OUSD’s headquarters, the group from Bridges Academy joined a group of perhaps a thousand elementary, middle and high school students, teachers, parents, union members and other supporters chanting in the street, drumming, and holding signs.

Even though Bridges Academy students didn’t experience the march or the Occupy Oakland strike itself, teacher Pat Kaplan still thinks that the participation of the teachers will have a positive effect on them. “It’s very educational for the students to see that their teachers are invested in their future,” she said.

You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here. 


1 Comment

  1. […] 2 strike began peacefully, as thousands took the streets to march, including related marches in support of Oakland schools. But by afternoon small groups of protesters had begun to act more aggressively, vandalizing banks […]

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