To be a teacher in New York is to know intimately the brutalizing effects of racial capitalism. We see our students lose their homes (1 in 10 students in NYC is homeless), get harassed by cops on the way to crumbling schools, pack into classrooms too big to support individual attention, and fear trips to the hospital because their parents don’t have sufficient health insurance.
On Saturday, educators, parents, and students came together to make clear that Black lives matter and that our communities need cops out of schools. In front of the shuttered United Federation of Teachers (UFT) headquarters, we heard a Black student organizer tell us exactly how many billionaires live in New York and precisely how much money is being stolen from our students and teachers.
We heard a Black biology teacher from the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) express righteous fury against the teachers union that issued a paltry email response eight days after George Floyd’s murder urging union members to wear black and have a day of peace. Of course wearing a T-shirt, as the speaker said, is not anti-racist. Our demobilized union has refused to engage with the Black Lives Matter at School Week organized annually by teachers in February. And it continues to rely on friendly politicians while steering clear of threatening the untaxed wealth of billionaires who seek to dismantle public education itself.
With the carefully embellished signs that only educators would make, we marched down Broadway in the shadows of the very billionaire-owned businesses we intend to tax to give our students the education they deserve — predominantly Black students and students of color in New York City. Bucket drums, handmade shakers, and well coordinated call-and-response megaphones made a joyful procession through the street. The chants themselves were more centralized than any of the night or day marches that I’ve attended with a uniquely anti-capitalist language communicating razor sharp demands. Educators, parents, and students shouted “Black, Latin, Asian, white, workers of the world unite,” and “fight back” against budget cuts, racist cops, sexism, and the profit system, and “defund the NYPD, we want books, not cops!”
The lively march arrived at Tweed Courthouse where powerful youth speakers took the stage surrounded by a sea of supporters. They spoke about their experiences walking through metal detectors, the criminalization of their Black bodies, counselors overwhelmed by untenable caseloads, and the racist budget that prioritizes cops instead of students.
Converging at Washington Square Park, we entered a near-silent crowd of thousands, standing enchanted by a mournful singer whose voice held the crowd. Protestors received free homemade muffins, falafel, fruit, chocolate, and personal protective equipment from volunteers in the crowd.
In a show of solidarity with labor and the call to defund NYPD, DSA members from across New York mobilized to the teachers’ march. DSA members handed out palm cards to thousands of very receptive people looking for ways to continue the fight after today. Our clear, concise literature stood out and facilitated great conversations that I haven’t experienced in the street before today.
As a teacher and organizer, this march was also a powerful opportunity for bringing coworkers into contact with DSA and MORE. I was able to bring five coworkers to the march, agitate around the UFT’s insufficient response, and share the politics of the defund the police campaign with my entire school. One of my coworkers even joined us in flyering and took a stack to hand out on her way to the train!
In all, I am mesmerized by the coming together of radical educators, parents, students, and socialists ready to build a world where, instead of the brutal Band-Aid of police, we have community investment that alleviates the root causes of crime. Talk to your coworkers! Join us in the streets! Make a beautiful window sign! The multiracial working class is rising, and we must heed the call.