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Rally for NJ Working Families (Aug 20th)

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 splinters,
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.


Power Concedes Nothing

Metaphors can leave strong images in the mind. The power of language. Here, through his choice of quote, Joe Del Grosso, President of the Newark Teachers Union, likens the relationship between the Vice Presidents who ran under him in the election in June 2013 and the Vice Presidents who ran on the NEW Vision slate to civil war:

In closing, I am reminded of something President Lincoln said when faced with a much more serious issue, but one that expresses my feelings. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourself the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government while I shall have the solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend it”.

Let’s chop this up. Really, Del Grosso? So, God has ordained you now? He has bestowed upon you, YOU, of all people, “the solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend” this Union? And its members? It must only be a select few, namely yourself. Because you weren’t protecting members with this contract that has the teacher constituency on two different salary guides. And you weren’t protecting members when you allowed the creation of the “Educator Without Placement” pool, all while new teachers and staff members continued to be hired into the district.

Yes! We are dissatisfied. And we’ll take being called the aggressors. Because we deserve more and we deserve better. But beyond deserving, we have the RIGHT to be included in our union.

You assailed us when you called us, “Losers,” complete with making a “L” with your fingers. You assailed us, me in particular, when I stood at the January Membership meeting to demand that we push back on the new teacher evaluation system that was being unfairly implemented throughout the district, only to be rudely interrupted. You even had the audacity to snidely ask, “What do you mean when will I get back to you? Do I work for you?” You damn straight you work for me!

And your latest assailment is attempting to cancel today’s Executive Board meeting all because you didn’t like the tone of accountability. At some point you’re going to have to get used to it. We’re not here to play games. You can no longer wield your power as you see fit. I wouldn’t liken this journey to civil war, but it damn sure is going to be a struggle.

Too many of us have stood in the face of adversity, time and time again, with the determination to overcome. I guess we are reminded by a different quote:

Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” –Frederick Douglass

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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


ba dump

the center of progress

ba dump

pumping new ideas throughout bodies

ba dump

life itself

ba dump

it takes heart

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Posted by on July 11, 2013 in Uncategorized


IDEA#347: Require School Employees to Live in the Districts They Serve

For at least economic and community building purposes, if the thought ever occurred to you to require teachers to live in the districts in which they teach, here’s the reason why that can’t happen:

18A:26-1.1. Residence requirements prohibited
    No board of education of any school district shall require any teaching staff member to reside within the school district within which he is employed.
 L.1967, c.271.

A debate will ensue, of course. But something to point out: This law was passed somewhere near the end of 1967, or at least after July. What happened in July 1967? The Newark Rebellion. Which part of its aftermath was a dramatic shift in the demographics of the public schools to majority Black. White families fled, and someone felt the need to make sure no teachers were stuck here either.

Laws and policies are created in response to a society’s values. What are our values? What’s important to us? How do our current laws and policies reflect these values?

Too bad no chapter law from 1967 is readily available on the NJ Legislature’s website. More research is needed…


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Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized



How many does it take

to start a revolution?

a mutiny?

a rebellion?

an uprising?

…a recount???


Don’t sign my name on the dotted line

or cut no check for me!

Pressed a thousand times over,

yet the type is set

the pages numbered

the booklets folded

and the sunshine yellow cover stamped: 2012-2015.


How many does it take?

just 1

each and every 1 of us

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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

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