‘Oakland is a union town!': W. Kamau Bell marches in support of striking teachers

“Hey, hey! Get down! Oakland is a union town!” Comedian and host of CNN’s ‘United Shades of America’, W. Kamau Bell, marched in solidarity with striking Oakland teachers on Thursday. 

On day one of the strike, Bell joined nearly 1,000 educators from Oakland Unified School District at a rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza (referred to as Oscar Grant Plaza in his video on Twitter) and City Hall.    

“We gotta support the teachers, whether your kids go to the Oakland public schools or not. Better public schools equal a better world for all of us,” Bell said in a video posted on Twitter Thursday morning. 

The self-described sociopolitical comedian and Bay Area native— born in Palo Alto— referenced the Bread for Ed campaign, an initiative that not only helps feed teachers, giving them sustenance while they’re on picket lines, but also students who won’t be crossing those picket lines and may not have access to resources. 

The campaign, organized by Oakland Education Association—the teachers’ union— has raised more than $108,000 as of early Thursday evening surpassing an earlier goal of $80,0000. Volunteers said they made 900 sandwiches Wednesday night.     

Bell, has been a vocal supporter of the union on social media, even tweeting about the food-nutrition campaign over the weekend before the strike began.   

The union is asking for a 12 percent raise over three years, but besides a living wage, other concerns include obtaining more school nurses, more student support, reducing class sizes and scrapping plans to close as many as 24 schools in the district. 

The offer from the district is currently an 8.5 percent pay increase comprised of pay raise and bonus money over three years, up from the previous offer of 5 percent, district spokesperson John Sasaki said.  

“We do have one of the best ratios of students to teachers in the state among similarly-sized school districts. We know that we’re on the right track. We just need to improve it still,” said Sasaki. 

But in one instance, a Spanish teacher from McClymonds High School claims he doesn’t know Spanish, and that the district hasn’t been able to fill the job properly because of the low pay. Sasaki said the district is aggressive in their hiring practices and has even gone overseas to hire foreign language teachers. 

The district and teachers’ union are set for a new round of negotiations Friday at 9 a.m. 

Union representatives held a news conference early Thursday evening. Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown said they’d return to the bargaining table in good faith. “I am confident that we will win,” Brown said. He added that the union’s bargaining team felt empowered. Brown said the city of Oakland will make students a priority and provide them resources.

Other union representatives characterized the first day of the strike as reenergizing, festive and full of dancing. Many said they were overwhelmed by the show of support from the community.