‘Their battle is our battle’: Berkeley teachers continue support for Oakland teacher strikes

Ben Klein/Staff

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Berkeley teachers continued to stand in solidarity with their striking Oakland counterparts Tuesday morning with walk-in demonstrations at two local K-12 schools, which according to Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, members, may precede local teachers’ pushes for similar gains.

The walk-ins coincided with the fourth day of the Oakland teachers’ strike, from which strikers hope to gain higher pay and more student support in the Oakland Unified School District, or OUSD. Organizers in Berkeley have been providing support for Oakland teachers by picketing alongside demonstrators since the strike began Thursday.

Despite the rainy weather, teachers, parents, students and community members congregated in front of Malcolm X Elementary School and Willard Middle School early Tuesday morning carrying signs and chanting.

“Teachers never want to strike. It’s really hard. They want to be in their classrooms serving their students. But Oakland had to do it,” said Cynthia Allman, a teacher at Malcolm X Elementary School. “Their battle is our battle. It’s the same. Our students need the same support theirs need.”

Organizers at the walk-ins emphasized the similar struggles faced by Berkeley teachers, who, according to demonstrators, are also underpaid and undersupported. BFT members may soon follow in the footsteps of Oakland teachers as they push for more support from the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, according to demonstrators.

“We see the struggle in Oakland as … really part of our own struggle. We’re not in contract negotiations yet, but we will be,” said BFT Vice President Matt Meyer. “We’re going to be … in a fight as well. It won’t be the same fight, and their fight is a lot further along, but … the issues are similar across the state in terms of funding public education.”

Rachel Curtin, an English language development teacher at Malcolm X Elementary School, also highlighted the similar struggles Berkeley teachers and Oakland teachers face.

“We have different student populations in some ways, but the issues facing public education across California are the same across districts,” Curtin said. “Here in Berkeley, even where the community really believes in public education, we still really need more per (person) state funding.”

UC Berkeley community members also showed support for Oakland strikers — the Student Environmental Resource Center encouraged students to attend the Oakland rallies, and the UC Berkeley Young Democratic Socialists of America organized a rally Tuesday afternoon on Sproul Plaza.

Berkeley teachers’ support of Oakland strikers has been met with approval from BUSD board Vice President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, who said in an email that there is a lack of fair funding for education. In voicing her support for Berkeley teachers, Leyva-Cutler also recommended a “national focus on compensating educators.”

“I support 100% BUSD teachers supporting their colleagues in OUSD,” Leyva-Cutler said in an email. “We must ALL take an active stance in Sacramento that schools are underfunded; and acknowledge that a collective vocal voice is always stronger in conveying this message.”

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc ‏.