UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
Kristin Towkaniuk, the leader of the Newark Students Union, was injured last night when police tried to forcibly remove chains she had used to link herself with other students during a protest of Christie administration school policies in the states largest city.
Family members reported to me that her hand was broken. She was treated at St. Michael’s Hospital.
The incident occurred around 6:30 p,, according to a report by New Jersey News Channel 12 whose reporter had remained on the scene after the all-day demonstration ended and most of the students had left the scene on Broad Streetin front of Newark Public School headquarters.
The incident marred what had been a peaceful demonstration matched by restraint by the police despite the protesters’ success in shutting down the south bound lanes of Broad Street for more than eight hours. Lauren Wells, Baraka’s chief educational adbiser, had less than two hours earlier pledged the mayor would protect the students’ right to protest and would “keep you safe.”
THIS STORY WAS FILED EARLIER:
Newark’s public schools will be saved from privatization only if supporters are willing to take risks. Yesterday, Newark finally saw some risk takers–the high school students and handful of adults who blocked Broad Street for eight hours, refusing in a very adult way to give up their lines despite an effort by police to plow through, and a mayor who risked criticism for not arresting the students.
“The children are doing what the adults are not doing because the adults are too scared to do it,” said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson about the siege of board headquarters at 2 Cedar Street organized by the Newark Students Union. The school board member spent most of the day monitoring the protest.
But did it make a difference? Will the risks taken by the students and Mayor Ras Baraka–the courageous actions taken yesterday by both –hasten the end of Anderson’s tenure? Will it quickly end the “One Newark” plan that has brought so much pain to so many city families?
Maybe not. But this is what they will do: They will keep the fight alive, keep the light shining, in the face of the inertial forces that would try to gloss over the pain Anderson is causing and bring on a complacent, apathetic business-as-usual attitude that will allow Anderson to continue her plans unimpeded. Without the students, Anderson would be free to act without, not just restraint, but even without notice.
Although the children led the way yesterday with their act of civil disobedience, this is not child’s play. They were protecting the jobs and rights and income of adults. Eventually, if employees do not resist, they will have to bend to the assault from Chris Christie–and his Democratic allies like George Norcross and Steve Sweeney–on tenure, collective bargaining, and public employee unions. Those who believe the students’ fight is not every unionized teacher’s fight are simply burying their heads in the sand.
They’re coming for you.
They’re coming for you in Wisconsin. In California. In New York–and, yes, in New Jersey. In places like Newark and Paterson–ask Paterson teachers about the great contract they “won” from the state-operated district. And. remember, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the people who almost made Shavar Jeffries mayor, believe tenure and other protections are the dam that “must be burst” to reform education.
Think about it. Those are Democrats. They might eat your rights elegantly with some fava beans and a little Malbec–but they will do it every bit as effectively as the Koch Brothers who would just as soon have public employee union leaders jailed and shot.
The kids were heroes yesterday. Kristin Towkaniuk and Tanasia Brown and Hector Maldonado and Jose Leonardo and others whose names I didn’t get. After marching to the Broad Street entrance of Anderson’s castle of fear, school security guards, without authorization from the city, closed Cedar Street–but only selectively. They closed it only to those with NPS identification, but not to anyone else. Not, for example, to anyone who might want to walk down a public street from Broad to Halsey.
When I asked a Newark policeman how they could close a public street, the cop referred me to a Newark security guard who ordered the street closed.
“It’s a public street, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Not now it isn’t.”
Later, a man identifying himself as Eric Ingold, the NMPS security director, denied NPS security guards has closed the street.
“They don’t have authority to close a public street,” he said. “It must have been the city police.”
This is the Cami shuffle, well known to those who have to deal with her and her subordinates. It’s not a lie exactly. Just a trip to Wonderland where the Hermit Queen of Glen Ridge makes up her rules as she goes along and rearranges facts to suit her whims. Ok, all right, so it is a lie–like when she denied sending out a letter saying Newark children would commit crimes if they were away from school.
But back to the students. After an hour of picketing, the young people spilled out onto Broad Street and seven of the student leaders linked their arms together through pcv pipe, chained themselves to stationary objects, and sat down, closing down the south bound half of the largest commercial thoroughfare in the state’s largest city. Scores of other students joined the sit-in, surrounding the protesters and shielding them from the police.
In a few minutes, one cop on a horse and one cop on a motorcycle decided to test the students. Young teenagers–13 and 14 years old–stood before the mounted cop and, to the cheers of their friends, they did not budge. They were afraid, sure, but they knew their rights and they stood fast.
–I said this to the person who smirked behind me when the kids stood tall–yeah, these are our leaders. The only ones with the kind of visceral coverage so many adults in Newark now lack.
So the line held, the cops didn’t push. Newark students showed the police, Anderson, Christie–everyone–they would put the safety of their bodies on the line for what they believed in.
“I am so proud of him,” said Grace Sergio, whose son Pedro was sitting in, although not part of the group that were locked together. “He is doing what others should be doing.”
The students asked for the chance to speak to Cami, but a delegation was not allowed inside. Ingold told them they had to call a special number and make an appointment. Anderson is a very busy woman and could not afford five minutes to see the students she hypocritically professes to love every chance she gets to spew her spiel in front of an uncritical reporter and a camera lens.
Baraka deserves credit on this one. He acted reasonably, like a man who intends to keep his promise to protect those who dissent. Lauren Wells, his chief education policy adviser, was there all day, keeping an eye on the students, the cops, and Cami’s people.
Toward the end of the day, Wells stood before the students and, to their cheers, told them they had “energized” the fight against Anderson and for local control.
“We wanted to make sure you were safe,” she said.
Good for her. Good for Ras Baraka.
There should have been more students there. And more teachers. After class ended, some teachers showed up, including Branden Rippey, the head of the insurgent caucus of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU).
“This is a great example of students showing solidarity with school workers,” Rippey said. “If more students and more teachers were out here, we could change the world.”