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Reclaiming Our Schools: Workers’ Action for Change in Los Angeles

By Albert Ramirez

At the inception of Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles in 2016, much of the coalition goals focused on issues such as community schools, civic engagement, and forums highlighting the policy of random searches, the likes of which occur at Dorsey High School, Robert F. Kennedy High School, and other predominantly Black and Brown schools. By summer and fall of 2017, Reclaim Our Schools LA initiated community meetings to hear from education stakeholders about issues connected with the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)’s union contract fight. These community forums were called Bargaining for the Common Good, which provided collective knowledge and feedback from parents, teachers, and students. Attendees to the community forums gave voice to concerns about available green space, the need for an immigration legal defense fund, a desire to expand community schools, and the need to regulate charter schools, among other issues. These community forums, coupled with community and worker organizing, assisted in creating deep relationships between parents, educators, students, and surrounding neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.  

As excitement, nervousness, and intensity brewed in August and September of 2018, parents, community, and educators began intensifying community organizing efforts throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)—a constituent part of Reclaim Our Schools L.A.—in partnership with fellow organizers from the Alliance of California for Community Empowerment (ACCE), UTLA, and Students Deserve (SD) built community power through three years of door-to-door knocking in local neighborhoods, school outreach, engaging students, and engaging parents to understand why we must fight for the schools that LA students deserve. We also encouraged our audience to support the Give Kids A Chance platform, which demanded investments in community schools, reduced class sizes, more counselors, full time nurses, and more librarians to ensure that all students thrive in public schools.

However, power is not built overnight. Our organizing included rigorous community organizing events and strategies as well as learning hard lessons through setbacks. In September and October of 2018, we hosted a series of regional meetings in areas such as the San Fernando Valley, Northeast Los Angeles, and the Harbor Area. These meetings included panel discussions from parent leaders, students, educators, and coalition partners from ROSLA. Each regional meeting had well over 80 participants expressing support for UTLA’s bargaining platform. Parents understood that educators’ teaching conditions were their children’s learning conditions. In addition to in-person organizing, we utilized social media and digital strategies, which resonates with education stakeholders, especially younger folk. For instance, as bargaining continued between UTLA and LAUSD in October, November, and December, and contract negotiations began to falter, parents and community leaders took to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to amplify our message. Specifically, various parent committees created Facebook pages such as Eastside Parents Against Privatization, Harbor Area Defenders of Public Education, Parents Supporting Teachers, Northeast LA Parents Supporting Teachers, Defend Public Education Now, and many more Facebook pages that aided in driving parent organizing. The power of Reclaim Our Schools LA balanced both grassroots organizing and social media organizing. Social media assisted with broadcasting rallying meeting points, sharing positive news posts, and connecting with parents in areas such as the Harbor Area, Northeast LA, South LA, both East & West Valley, and East Los Angeles.

During the strike, community, parents, students, and educators kept Los Angeles and the rest of the nation updated with day to day activities such as delegations, marches, and actions. After six days of striking, we won key bargaining demands by holding sustained pressure on the district to truly hear parents, educators, and students. The key takeaway was the successful intersection of both traditional community organizing and online digital organizing, as well as identifying new leaders and engaging folks who wouldn’t have been active months or years ago. Our creation of new infrastructures and committees, our relationship building, discipline, measured messaging as well as digital media strategies perfectly balanced old school community organizing with technology and digital platforms to ensure that the strike was on everyone’s mind, that the average person could contribute to the strike effort, and to provide an amplified voice to demand education justice. In the end, these strategic directions led to our win.

Albert Ramirez is a Senior Community Organizer on the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) Reclaim Our Schools LA campaign. Albert previously worked at LAANE starting in 2006 as a student attending Loyola Marymount University (LMU). After graduation, he joined LAANE’s Ports Campaign as a Community Organizer in support of the Clean Trucks Program. He then worked for Unite Here International in Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles. After graduating from UCLA’s Urban Planning Master’s Program in 2013, he worked at Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER) mentoring youth. In his personal time he organizes on matters of youth voter registration and political education.

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