On Friday 21 February, all four teacher unions in Ontario united and walked out of classrooms – that is a total of 200 000 members – to show solidarity. The members working in my locale were asked to go and picket at Queen’s Park for one shift. The day dawned with blue skies and crisp air. It was chilly – but not as cold as it had been for previous walkouts.
When I arrived at Queen’s Park, the crowds were already gathering and by 10:15am people filled the closed off streets around the park. The flags of the four unions waved above the heads of educators fighting for the right of a decent public education programme.
I was proud to be standing with the others (it was reported to be over 30 000 bodies at Queen’s Park – including some parents with their children). Children in the province have a right to a decent education without having to pay for it and I was proud to be their voice at the rally.
We walked the route at a slow pace with each turn taking about half an hour. At the end of the day when I arrived home, my feet were aching (winter boots are not made for walking!) but I was satisfied with making a stand.
The teachers of our union, ETFO, have now entered phase 6 of the strike action. No walkouts have been planned but some physical and online picketing are to occur within the next two weeks. Time will tell whether these efforts will make a difference.
Yesterday, on 12 February 2020, the elementary teachers of Ontario walked out of their classroom for the fifth time this academic school year to protest the changes proposed to public education by the current conservative government. Elementary teachers are protesting the proposed cuts to special education, the increase in class sizes, and the wish to change the current kindergarten model. In addition, teachers want the government to address the issue of the violence in the classroom which is on the increase.
Yesterday, I joined the picket line at the Royal York Hotel where the Minister of Education was to speak to the Canadian Club. When I reached the venue, I was stunned at the number of people already at the site. Teachers had already begun picketing outside the hotel, and the vibe in the area was electrifying. Once all my colleagues had arrived, we joined the demonstration happening in front of the hotel.
As we marched, we chanted and made some noise with our tambourines, shakers and cow bells. There were a number of leaders at different points of the line that lead us in the chants that kept us going. The feeling of solidarity I felt energised me and gave me the zeal to continue for the next three hours.
I was happy to see that we were being noticed. The TV cameras were there: the protest was live streamed and seen in the media – unlike so many other protests that had been ignored. Our local communities had seen us, but not the larger. Yesterday, we were noticed. Yesterday, we made our voices heard.
The police presence was strong – though we did not create any problems. After all, teachers are a group of people who are used to following both the rules and the dictum “safety first”! Ours was a peaceful protest despite there being so many people in one space.
Yesterday was the most electrifying experience that I have had on the picket line. That energy has charged me and will help to keep me going on with the fight. Today, I walk into my classroom and work with the children for whom I am protesting.