Sunday, July 28th– Monday July 29th 2014
Almost 5 hours of driving down I-95 and its accompanying roads, service stations, and DC traffic is enough to wear out even the most high flying BAT, but inspired by the potential of meet and greet, dinner, and a great rally the next day, I showered, changed and ventured down to the Bat Social in the Holiday Inn Capitol.
I was surprised to see fewer people than I expected, in a room smaller than I expected, but with energy that was over the top. Adults and children were all smiles and actively listening to music provided by teachers and playing games at banquet tables as well. Snacks and refreshments were served. T-shirts were sold. A good time was had by all. They whooped and hollered as they danced to the Commodores’ “She’s a Brick Hoooouuuuse”.
It was a reminder that BATS is more than a viral pro public education reform group. It is, at the same time, a support group and what I saw and heard during that social was just that. People who felt estranged in their home schools partied as if it was a family reunion, which in fact it was. We are a family of teaches tired of what we have to put up with from people who think they can do our jobs better.
There I watched the “oligarchy response team” and bat costumed women dance their troubles away. It was mostly women. I counted fewer than a dozen men (three were the musicians and one a husband videographer) among over a hundred people. But this is not unexpected. Teaching is still a predominantly female occupation. That helps explain why it is hammered so.
I saw a few people I recognized (shout out to Anthony Cody, Jesse Turner, Danisha Jones, Morna McDermott (without her famous straw cowgirl hat,) from previous DC demonstrations and conferences (from Save Our Schools and United Opt out), but at this Social were mostly BATs from 38 states and family members who came because they were drawn to the occasion. I knew some of them as well: notably organizers Marla Kilfoyle, Priscilla Sanstead, and the omnipresent Mark Naison.
I did meet some terrific older kids from the Newark Student Union and discussed good education with them including getting at least one of them really excited about the WISE program (experiential learning for HS seniors). I also met and heard Janet Garrett, a kindergarten teacher running as the Democratic candidate for Congress in Ohio’s 4th Congressional District.
Most interesting was being interviewed for a film (Do they still use that word?) by Jack Paar. (No, not the former Tonight Show host who has been dead since 2004, but the one who is doing this film about what must be done to save public education for his wife, who is a teacher.)
Dinner brought me to a table with Joan Kramer, Joe Lieb, Jesse Turner and Rosie Reyes. All are FB friends and colleagues, although I knew Jesse most and Rosie least, so I thought.
Two hours later, after some fun and serious talk about what is going on in everyone’s neck of the woods, mostly hearing stories about Connecticut being “New Jersey east”, I discovered that Rosie, ELL teacher from rural Connecticut, is really Rosie who graduated from Adlai Stevenson High School in the Soundview section of the Bronx in 1979 while I was teaching there. I immediately went form Dave to Mr. Greene. It was soooo funny. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t stop.
The next day brought unusually great weather for DC in July. Instead of the 93-degree days with high humidity we suffered through in July 2011 for our Save Our Schools March and Conference, It was in the mid 70’s with a strong but refreshingly cool breeze.
At the vendors’ table set up on the right side of the venue, I had the opportunity to share stories with other “vendors” Ruth Rodriquez and Bess Altwerger (both of SOS as well), rapper Jeremy Dudley (who performed as aka Origin) and Yo Miz, also from NY and also the singer of the National Anthem. Of course I met lots of new people from all over the country and listened to their stories as some of them actually bought my book, “Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks”.
Of course, there were performances from adults like Barry Lane and Dell Akron, but the show was stolen by a group of high school dancers, slam poets and rappers from nearby Chancellor HS. Damn Good! I have been to many rallies, even helped to or organized some, but each time I am knocked out most by students and kids who know what this is all about and know how to fight for their academic lives. I can’t help but hold out all hope.
Amongst the revelry, song, dance, and celebration of a few hundred teachers and their families were powerful speeches of hope, pride, and progress in our fight for public schools by several people I knew like Jesse Turner, Danisha Jones, 10 year old Wiz kid from Chicago Asean Johnson and his mom, Shoenice Reynolds’ (who both spoke at our SOS rally in NYC on May 17th).
I was also amazed by new speakers Gus Morales, Rousemay Vega, Helen Gym from ravaged Philadelphia, Adele Cothorne who blew the whistle on Michelle Rhee in DC, and Dr. Yohuru Williams, who just blew us all away.
However the two who stood out most to me were two candidates for Congress, the aforementioned Janet Garrett and Allen Cannon from New Jersey whose raw emotion came out so powerfully as he tried to hold back tears. When two DEMOCRATIC candidates for Congress rather than Republican or Tea Party candidates jumping on the anti CC express go public at a rally like this I am even more energized.
When I meet and chat with candidates like Allen Cannon and Janet Garrett I want to stand up and fight even harder.
How about you?