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Editor’s Letter – 1/2/19

The 2018 Oklahoma teachers’ strike feels like it happened on another timeline.

In that feverish 27th month of the Trump administration—as we settled into a pattern of institutional abuse at the hands of a predatory billionaire game show host—public workers fought back against austerity in massive numbers. What started with disaffected teachers and state employees in West Virginia swept states like Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Oklahoma into a collective uprising best described by one of the most delicious phrases in the English lexicon: strike wave.

I was a state employee at the time, writing copy for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism. Our staff walked off the job on April 2, in solidarity with teachers and fellow public workers. I stayed out a second day—in memory of my mom, a former encumbrance clerk for Madill Public Schools, who passed not long before. I thought about her a lot during the strike, along with my two sisters who currently teach in the Madill school system, where all three of us were educated.

Each following day, I marched 1.3 miles from my office to the capitol with a simple message scrawled on poster board: WE WANT REVENUE. Energized by the 20,000+ teachers whose demands echoed through the rotunda, it seemed that Oklahoma finally had a chance to repair the damage done by decades of tax cuts and corporate giveaways that have decimated our agencies, cheated our kids, and bludgeoned our core services.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Teachers got a little more than half of their original salary demands, and our anti-tax legislature refused to secure the robust, recurring revenue we so desperately need. Six months later, most of the 65 teachers who ran for office lost. Now we’re staring down the barrel of a Kevin Stitt governorship, steered by a mortgage lending company CEO who opposed the teachers’ strike and the compromise funding package that ended it.

Despair is easy, but all isn’t lost. We can’t ignore the gains where they exist, including the sixteen educators who won their races in November on the strength of their education-focused platform. You’ll hear from some of them in our cover story—like former Booker T. Washington social studies teacher, John Waldron, and former Bixby assistant principal Melissa Provenzano, who share their hopes and goals as they enter the 57th state legislature, which convenes to organize next week before its first session in February.

If last year’s strike wave showed us anything, it’s that another world is possible. We may only get inches when we need miles, but we won’t go anywhere alone. I hope you hear the voices of these educators-turned-lawmakers with moral clarity as we gear up for a new year in this maddening, beautiful, unpredictable place we call home.

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