By far my favorite picture from today’s rally outside of 2 Cedar Street, NAACP-Newark President Deborah Smith-Gregory leads the charge and keeps the momentum. It was a great image of union unity and I look forward to keeping the pressure on Newark Public Schools to provide all workers with a fair contract.
More than one union that serves NPS has gone years without a contract or pay increases. Cafeteria workers, electricians, custodians are among the workers whose income has remained stagnant while cost of living steadily increases. A great job has been done in painting us union members as selfish and overpaid, but this is not reality.
The people who attended today’s rally are Newark residents. They are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They are people with responsibilities–both at work and in their homes. If workers take care of their responsibilities at work, there should be nothing that hinders them from taking care of their homes. That’s only fair.
Below is the speech I wrote for the rally. I didn’t get to read it because we were running out of time, but I did recite Langston Hughes’s poem. Enjoy!
Get up! Get down!
Newark is a union town!
My name is Leah Owens and I’m a proud member of the Newark Teachers Union, and an even prouder member of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, also known as NEW Caucus. We are a group of teachers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, clerks and other staff who know that we can not have educational justice without social and, particularly, economic justice. We also know this fight is difficult. It made me think of the poem, “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes. The first part goes:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Raise your hand if you can relate. Raise your hand if life ain’t been no crystal stair.
What we’re doing right now is called class unity. We are acknowledging the commonality in our economic condition. We are all workers in this factory called Newark Public Schools. The boss, she don’t give a damn about you or me. It’s all about the bottom line–but we have to have our own bottom line.
Our bottom line is: stop closing schools!
Our bottom line is: stop union busting!
Our bottom line is: fair contracts!
Our bottom line is: no privatization of public goods!
The second half of that same poem provides hope. It goes:
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair
We’ve turned some corners and reached a landing. We’re heading into the dark where there ain’t been no light, but we won’t turn back. We won’t set down and we won’t fall–not til we get to the top of that crystal stair.