We started to hear rumblings of a teachers’ strike just a couple of days before it happened.
To be honest, my first thought wasn’t one of solidarity. It was instead of utter inconvenience.
If the teachers don’t show up to teach, who’s going to look after my children during the day? How am I going to get my work done? Why is this happening now, less than three weeks before the end of the school year?
Communication wasn’t as it had been four years earlier, when public teachers walked out for a seven-day strike. Then, we received daily updates; we heard from the teachers, the parents, the administrators, the district. We showed up at the picket lines with homemade signs made of cardboard painted on the floor of the garage; we engaged in meaningful conversations about the importance of protest over the scratched and worn dining room table. Then, my oldest son was only six.
Now, my boy is in the fourth grade. Like the rest of the country, after the first strike came a pandemic that kept him and his peers away from the classroom for over a year.
I guess you could say I wasn’t exactly feeling keen about my son and his younger brother missing an undetermined number of school days yet again.
And, I stand with the teachers. I believe in the importance of protest.
I support the eight-day strike, even if it was far from convenient for my schedule. Because a strike, of course, isn’t about me and the inconveniences posed upon the working hours I keep while my children are at school.
For the city my family calls home, the strike was about the teachers who teach in Oakland making enough money to live in Oakland. The strike was about teachers bringing language to those who aren’t always heard: to unhoused students, to Black students, and to other common good demands that extend beyond the walls of the classroom but are felt within school buildings each and every day.
I think about the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who often described riots as “the language of the unheard.” While Dr. King believed in nonviolent protests in lieu of riotous demonstrations, the sentiment behind instilling words to those who aren’t always heard proves true of the recent teachers’ strike.
The teachers I stand behind and beside encounter these shouting needs each and every day; unable to often equip these needs, the cries continue. The wounds fester. The bleeding doesn’t stop.
It’s not until the teachers stopped teaching, ultimately in hopes of putting a stop the gaping lacerations present in their classrooms, that change finally came.
I, of course, am speaking as a parent on the other side of it all.
I do not know the intricacies that took place in the wee hours of the night, when school district administrators and educational representatives came to a place of agreement at a proverbial table of understanding.
But I do know that a wild, audacious kind of hope was in that place – a hope that was not a sentiment, as theologian Willie Jennings once said of living in a racialized world, but of discipline.
Because when hope is a discipline, everything changes. Hope, then, is not so much a verb or a feel-good, trusted sort of feeling, but a grounded, rooted, disciplined noun that tethers us to this earth. Hope becomes the anger that wakes us up in the morning, the sadness that holds our tears in the evening.
Hope becomes the stuff the fight is made of, which on the other side of it all, is also the thing that keeps me going in the end.
It’s the thing that prompts conversations with my children, just as it’s the thing that begs me open my door to those who don’t have a place to go during the day. It’s the thing that keeps me from having my children cross the picket line, because I know the sacrifice of not crossing the line is sometimes the best support of all, and it’s the thing that beckons me show up with homemade cardboard signs to march and fight and walk alongside those who protest.
Inviting my children into this isn’t easy – in fact, it’d be far easier to keep them at home, away from a picket line or protest rally. But as a person of faith, I want my young, elementary-aged boys to know the value of listening for the language of the unheard and of putting down roots to a wild, audacious kind of hope.
For this is a rumbling that changes them, just as it dares change me.