A teachers’ strike report from mid-day:
A large, vocal crowd of teachers, parents, students and supporters marched from the Arch Ford Education Building to the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday, where they gathered in protest of the state Board of Education and in support of the Little Rock School District teachers’ strike ahead of the board’s discussion of the LRSD this afternoon.
Picketers arrived on the steps holding signs and chanting messages of support for teachers and the Little Rock Education Association — “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union;” “L-R-E-A, every student, every day!” — and messages condemning the Board of Education, its members, and government officials: “Separate is not equal, shame on you Asa;” “Hey hey, ho ho, Johnny Key has got to go!” Supporters raised their voices in song to the tune of “We Shall Overcome,” singing, “We want full control today, all of our students truly deserve; we want full control today.”
Picketers at the front of the Capitol steps held bold, colorful and sometimes humorous signs: One referenced the long-running cartoon “South Park” with an illustration of one of the lead characters, reading “OMG! Key is killing LRSD!” Another poster featured a drawing of tortilla chips that read, “LRSD is nacho charter.” One picketer held a small sign that read “Because they’re mine, I walk the line.” They also unrolled two large parachutes: a purple one reading “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds” and a black one with red “LREA” lettering and the Little Rock skyline.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, who announced this week that she’ll be challenging Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill for the Second District in 2020, took the mic to a chorus of “Beat French Hill!” Elliott thanked the protestors for their support and educators for “standing up for our students.” She then told the crowd she wanted to say “a little something about people who have money and power.”
“As the sign says over here, you can buy a lot of things, but not LRSD,” Elliott said. “They would have you think that you are somehow the worst people in the world because you don’t sit down, and lie down, and rollover when they tell you to.”
Elliott went on to “invoke” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “Dr. King said the only way people will walk on your back is if you bend over and cooperate with them. There is no bending over. There is no walking on your backs unless you submit. Do not submit.” Elliott ended her comments by reminding the crowd that “if you think you can’t make a difference, you try sleeping in a room with a mosquito, and see if it won’t ruin your night.”
“I’m asking you today guys, let’s be mosquitos and do everything we have to do to make sure the Little Rock School District is not operating in 1957 in 2019,” Elliott said.
Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the LREA, took the podium first to thank protestors for their presence and reminded the crowd that “this battle may not be won today, but we’re prepared to fight as long as it takes,” to uproarious applause.
Gordon reiterated the points that the LREA has held throughout the conflict with the Board of Education, saying LRSD students deserve one school district and a locally elected board with full authority, and “they deserve it now.”
“We will not stand for continued state control in our district,” Gordon said, to cries of “No!” from the crowd. “Your time is up, it’s time for you to go. You have failed our students. We will not stand for division, we will not stand for resegregation, we will fight until this battle is won.”
Gordon ended her comments by saying, “to Johnny Key, to Asa Hutchinson, to Diane Zook, to the state Board of Education: not our children, not on our watch.”
Activist and Grassroots Arkansas leader Dr. Anika Whitfield also spoke, telling the crowd, “this is about our students. This is about our parents. This is about our teachers. This is about our community. This is a union strike. This is a community fight, and we’re going to fight until we get the Little Rock School District back.”
“We’re going to fight until we have true liberation,” Whitfield said, to cries of “Yes!” from the crowd as she paused. “We’re gonna fight until we have equity. We are gonna fight until Asa says, ‘You’re right.’ We’re going to fight until Johnny Key turns in his key.”
She closed her comments by leading the protestors in a song, sung to the tune of “Chain of Fools”: “Shame shame shame, shame on you Asa.”
Reverend C.E. McAdoo was the last to speak at the protest, and he brought along the funeral program of civil rights attorney and state legislator John Walker. He quoted a line from it, and repeated it with the crowd: “Not how did we die, but how did we live. Repeat after me: Legacy living!” He also spoke about the importance of the teachers’ union.
“I’m a former teamster, I’m [formerly] with the United States Post Office. I know what a union has done for us,” McAdoo said. “It’s collective bargaining. They can take and take us, and pull us off one at a time, but when you collectively come together, you can’t divide everyone. And so this union is about collective bargaining, because if they [can] treat you any kind of way, they will. … We’ve got to leave here today and tell someone, you need to write Asa Hutchinson, and tell him the words that Dr. Whitfield said, ‘Shame on you,’ doo doo.”