California Teacher Association’s Occupying the Wrong Offices3 min read

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It’s a headline sure to stir the hearts of progressives, education activists, and Californians who are just plain sick and tired of watching their public schools driven to collapse by the Republicans: the California Teachers Association is going to mount a “Wisconsin-style occupation” of the state capitol in Sacramento.

Only problem: it won’t accomplish a thing.

Here’s what The Nation has to say about it:

Following the Wisconsin tradition of meaningful protest, the California Teachers Association is planning a weeklong “State of Emergency” campaign designed to focus on budget cuts in schools and the need to avoid further reductions to spending.

CTA President David Sanchez told delegates to the state Democratic Party convention last weekend that protesters will stage “daily sit-ins” inside the Capitol.

State of Emergency hopes to convince legislators to pass a state budget with tax extensions estimated to generate some $12 billion for the state and local governments, and also to change the tax structure in order to support stable funding for public education.

The problem here is that this is going to be a short-term occupation, with a specific end date that will come whether or not anything is achieved. That’s not what happened in Wisconsin, where the Capitol was occupied for as long as it took – and once the bill was passed, the occupation only ended so that recall signatures could be gathered. What CTA is planning is more like a “demonstration” and while it will be disruptive to those working in the Capitol, it will almost certainly fail to produce anything, just as their previous efforts have failed.

Activists need to learn that you have to start shutting things down and committing to it for as long as it takes – any protest that has a pre-scheduled end will simply be endured and then forgotten.

Another reason I’m not sure this will achieve much is that the issue is with Republicans who are refusing to vote to put new taxes on the ballot. Democrats will happily do it, but it requires a 2/3 vote, and as we know, Dems are short in both houses. So I’m not entirely sure what the theory of change is here for CTA. At least they’re doing something – they’ve spent the last 5 years sitting on their ass while K-12 has been hammered by cuts – but this doesn’t seem like it’s going to go very far.

Better to devote their efforts at organizing in a few key GOP districts. Why not organize sit-ins at their offices in the districts? Stay there until the GOP members vote to put taxes on the ballot – and start circulating recall petitions if they don’t. Whatever the specific form of action, organizing in the districts themselves needs to be a top priority.

SD-12 and SD-15 (Cannella and Blakeslee) are two obvious targets, as is SD-19 (Strickland). There are a few ADs that might be picked off too, maybe AD-33, maybe AD-37, perhaps still others. CTA is getting a lot of pushback from their members in the school districts who are finally getting fed up with CTA’s inability to translate their money and their political pull into anything resembling action to save K-12 education. We’ll see if this is the start of something better, or more wasteful fail.

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Robert Cruickshank is an editor at Calitics.com, where this article originally appeared. Born in Orange County, Robert has lived in Berkeley and Monterey and is active in state politics.

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