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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Education & Student Activism
Letter re: March 4 protest from President of the Oakland Education Association
from Betty Olson-Jones, President, Oakland Education Association
I was watching the local news last night and saw an oddly crafted story on yesterday’s March 4th freeway protest against public education cuts. Having been one of the motorists at the front of the 880 northbound freeway jam, and a teacher, I had a personal interest. The story’s point was that the freeway protesters were probably “professional protesters” who hijack peaceful protests. Evidence of this was archive protest footage of a bearded non-UC Berkeley student who had appeared at two separate campus protests for different causes (although he was not among these freeway protesters). I mused, “Who pays these professional protesters? Can I get on the payroll to supplement my teacher‘s salary?” The story went on to paraphrase the freeway protesters themselves saying they weren’t sure who the other protesters were. The point of the story was obviously to discredit the freeway protesters as “professional protesters” however it showed not even a scrap of footage or interviews with those involved that supported this.
Here’s what I observed when I was parked on the freeway for 40 minutes on March 4th at 5:00 in the afternoon. First, the other motorists did not appear upset about the delay. After all, we have a front row drive-in view of an empty freeway and riot police a few hundred yard ahead engaged in some mysterious activity. And how refreshing to be parked on the freeway, walking around socializing with the people who only moments ago I was trying to maneuver around at 60 mpg!
After 40 minutes of speculating, listening to the radio, calling friends and craning our necks a long parade of handcuffed protesters was escorted down the Jackson street offramp. Many drivers watched silently from the guardrail. Others, after a several moments, began cheering. Then to my surprise others began cheering. A little girl yelled who was with her mom and sister yelled “Education!” Some protesters waved and cheered back to us. Then I heard someone yell my name. Looking more closely I noticed one of my teacher colleagues was one of the protesters. I ecstatically waved back. I would like to add that she is one of the most committed, professional hard-working teachers at our public elementary school.
So who is the news media trying to appease with this non-story? On a more personal note I ask myself, why wasn’t I one of the first people to cheer for the protesters? Why did I wait for others to cheer before I made my views public? I’m a public teacher at a low income school. And I know that civil disobedience has pushed social change in this country since its beginning. So why didn’t I feel comfortable giving a shout to the protesters right away? For me March 4th turned out to be a learning day on the freeway.