In Newark–finally, some heroes, some risk-takers

Students hold the line against efforts by mounted policeman to break through
Students hold the line against efforts by mounted policeman to break through


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.”





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.

Kristin Towkaniuk, president of the Newark Students Union, forms the chain to block Broad Street
Kristin Towkaniuk, president of the Newark Students Union,  and Tanasia Brown, help form the chain to block Broad Street

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.

Lauren Wells, Mayor Ras Baraka's chief education adviser, talks to students
Lauren Wells, Mayor Ras Baraka’s chief education adviser, talks to students

“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.

Branden Rippey, head of the NTU’s insurgent caucus: The students could change the world.

–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.

Student Hector Maldonado, one of the links in the chain across Broad Street
Student Hector Maldonado, one of the links in the chain across Broad Street

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.”

Students provided water to their classmates forming the chain
Students provided water to their classmates forming the chain





  1. I asked Bob Curvin at his book signing where the future activists will come from.
    Now I know.

  2. Thanks for the great coverage of this significant event. I am a recently retired (“pushed out”) NYC public school teacher, with a story to tell about how we put together similar- but not as effective, in the end- actions, to stop our school from being “turned around”. We started a rally every Friday morning, before the school day started, in the front entrance to the school, called it “Fight Back Fridays”. The insurgent caucus in our union picked up on it, ran similar “fight backs” in other schools similarly threatened. As here, the students made all the difference! My school was “truned around” eventually in all but name, but it did energize us to do the “street action”. And it got a number of us involved in the fight against the 1 %ers at Zucotti Park. Praise those Newark kids- true heros!!!!

  3. Thank you for the fine reporting of this inspiring event.

    What a shameful thing that the NTU and AFT have allowed things to get to this point, and that the adults must rely on the kids to save them.

    Also, as you say, kudos to Mayor Baraka and his staffers for defending the students and their right to protest.

  4. Welp, Cami Anderson and Christie need to listen to the residents of Newark. Cami you have wronged a lot of people. You should just resign. You are not a leader. You are a follower. Perhaps you need to not have destroyed people’s lives. I could do a better job than you. Christie and others im the administration need to take action. Meet with these students. Their parents and families want answers. The One Newark plan failed because many people dropped the ball. You didnt think this through. Many people alienated Newark residents instead of listening to them.

  5. The AFT or The NTU will never use children to fight the war.

    Bob Braun: No one ever expected the union to “use children to fight the war.” Indeed, most of the comments posted about what happened to the students–and Kristin Towkaniuk specifically–are musings about why children were fighting the war adults should have been waging. I’m sorry, guys, but if you are fighting a war against Cami Anderson, it’s not a very obvious one. Ok, so you couldn’t pull off a strike vote–you at least could have had some teachers join the demonstration after school hours Wednesday. Don’t you guys remember the words to “Which side Are You On”? Here are some of them:
    Which side are you on, boys?/
    Which side are you on?
    They say in Harlan County/
    There are no neutrals there/
    You either are a union man or a scab for J.H. Blair/
    (Change Harlan County to Essex County, and J.H. Blair to Chris Christie–and you get the point).

  6. According to what I read, the goal of the “One Newark” plan is to increase the desirability of a lot of schools, instead of restricting students through zoning to certain failing schools.
    This plan sounds good to me. I imagine the problem has been in the execution of the plan. As a parent, I have been forced to homeschool(my child is still in Kindergarten), because the only school my child enrolled to attend was a failing zoned school.
    There has to be a way to increase options available to parents instead of being stuck to a particular school because of your zip code.

    Bob Braun: I’m sorry but I fail to see the logic behind this. If the school is failing, fix it. Provide it with the resources it needs. Why go through the torturous process of having some of its patrons–but not all–abandon it?

    1. Janet, Cami Anderson has had 3 years to “increase desirability” of schools but instead she fostered charter schools. The Zuckerberg-funded consultants made ~$20 million–but didn’t ensure that you had a nearby public school for your Kgartner. Hard pressed to think “this plan sounds good to me.” Please read Mr. Braun’s posts & Jersey Jazzman blog since Jan 2014 and reflect. Then call, write, e-mail your reps & NJ Dept of Ed 877-900-6960 to demand better for Newark students/demand Anderson’s ouster/ask why Newark One Plan has both NJ lawsuit & federal US Dept of Ed investigation re discrimination. Get your relatives outside Newark to call–we all pay for public schools & have legitimate interest in their serving youths.

  7. […] week students in Newark led major demonstrations protesting the ravages of corporate reform in their city. I call that a success story – […]

  8. […] Braun reports that the real heroes in this struggle for democracy are the high school students of Newark. While most of the adults seemed resigned and ready to bow to authority, the high school students went into the streets to protest. A group of them chained themselves together, sat down in the city’s main thoroughfare, and blocked traffic. The newly elected Mayor Ras Baraka tried to protect the students. He ran for office as an opponent of Cami and “One Newark,” but he has no power to stop her. […]

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