Monday, May 7, 2018

Six Days in Phoenix

On day one, Thursday, we marched to the Capitol, 75,000 strong. The legislature basically flipped us off, and adjourned until Monday. 

On day two we had a smaller crowd in Phoenix; many attended marches in their hometowns. Both days I carpooled teachers up here in my minivan. 

Saturday we had a leadership meeting in Tucson (Leslie the art teacher and I are co-liaisons), and then a lunch meeting with staff. At first it seemed like the gov and lege had moved our way in their budget deal (though they refused to meet with our leadership) —but that turned out to be smoke and mirrors. We rejected it and vowed to battle on. All were in agreement we had to go to day three. 

Sunday was a day of rest, but a small contingent of parents and students rallied in our stead at the Capitol. 

Monday was day three and we had another huge show of force.  After three days, our district couldn’t keep schools open any more (they had been running cafeterias and front offices on a skeleton crew) and shut down for the week. 

Tuesday, day four, I caught a ride up here with Jessica the librarian, but she headed home midday and I stayed on. Leslie the art teacher and I waited in line to get into the House chambers and were resolved to stay until they adjourned.

It was our expectation they would pass the budget somewhere in the middle of the night. We signed up to comment on the K-12 funding bill and waited about eight hours for the Appropriations Committee to debate all nine budget bills. Then we waited in line with 98 teachers, each given 60 seconds. I made the most of my time, as seen in the video above. Then we left to get some dinner, and shortly after we returned, both chambers adjourned for the night. We crashed at her pal’s house nearby. 

The gov and lege got spooked again and made a new budget offer a little closer to our demands, but still inadequate. Our leadership, somewhat prematurely, decided this was the best we were going to get, and announced we would all be heading back to work when the budget passed. That’s when the lege started dragging their feet and bringing up poison pills. By day five our crowds were much smaller, but still impressive. 

When Leslie and I arrived early on day five, we waited in line to get in to the House chambers and we didn't leave until about four am on day six. Once we were in, the line to get back in was around a two-hour wait, so nobody wanted to leave. The Democrats helped out by buying us pizza and organizing donations of water, coffee, sandwiches and donuts from local businesses.

We met with friendly legislators just coming in to work. They told us the Republicans were acting unconcerned on camera, but offstage were nearly panicked, and we should keep the pressure on. Many schools across the state started to announce reopenings for Thursday, but we rallied our troops and kept most of them shut down. Word reached us that the GOP was short on votes. They could either go far right and make the budget nastier, but many were looking over their shoulders at November. Or they could get votes from Dems, which they were loathe to do.

We started working on the wavering Repubs through social media, and the Dems started crafting amendments that codified some of our key demands. Word was that they’d start debating the budget Wednesday, and it could take five to ten hours to get through the amendments. I believe the whole process ended up lasting about thirteen hours. In the end, every Democratic amendment was shut down on a party-line vote (a number of Republicans did complain about all the emails they'd received, though). By 4am they were done with all the speeches, and they passed the Republican K-12 budget. We staggered out into the early morning light and somebody stuck a camera in my face and this is what I told them:

At this point, we have achieved a four-elevenths victory on our demands. A month ago they were basically offering nothing. That is, their initial budget, before we threatened and achieved our walkout, had $65 million in increased spending for education. When all was said and done, they had coughed up $405 million. That's less than a third of what we demanded, but more than six times their initial offer. We made our voices heard, we're organized in a way we never were before, and now we know who our friends and enemies are. We're just getting started, and we will, most assuredly, remember in November.

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