Arizona Republic, Arizona teachers won’t soon forget this #RedforEd civics lesson

By Linda Valdez, 5/3/18

There will be a new normal after #RedForEd.

It could mean long-term improvements in Arizona politics.

Mind you, I wasn’t in favor of the walkout – and I’m still wary of the backlash.

But magnitude of what’s happening cannot be denied.

“It’s the biggest civics lesson in Arizona history,” says Democratic Sen. Steve Farley.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, speaks to the teachers and other supporters in the gallery in the Senate during the fifth day of the Arizona teacher walkout at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on May 2, 2018. (Photo: David Wallace/The Republic)

Every day, thousands of teachers are “listening with rapt attention” to the hearings and debates in their Legislature, he says.

And they are “horrified at what they see,” says Farley who is running for governor.

On Wednesday, House Appropriations Chairman David Livingston refused to allow #RedForEd organizer Noah Karvelis time to explain his opposition to the budget bill.

Democratic Rep. Randy Friese read Karvelis’ comments, and Democrats tweeted their outrage over what happened in the GOP-led committee.

They felt the sting Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s refusal to meet with #RedForEd leaders.

They saw how lopsided political power is in our state. How it leans right and ignores the left.

And the power structure presumed them to be left.

Teachers saw how politics works (or doesn’t)

Three teachers from Independence High School in Glendale stand outside the State Capitol after the Senate passed the budget bill that included teacher pay raises on May 3, 2018. The session lasted through the night and to the next morning.  Richard Ruelas/The Republic

There are lessons from seeing the sausage-making machine try to chew you up.

Teachers saw the ideological prejudices of the men and women who make the decisions that shape this state and determine the quality of life for its residents.

If they ever had any doubt, the now know that politicians are just average people with oodles of flaws.

Not brilliant. Not exemplary. Sometimes not even logical.

Teachers have seen the political process. How it gets stuck. How it gets greased.

How power makes it run. Or stop.

That may be the most illuminating observation any of them will make.

And it will come from a long look in the mirror: This is what power looks like!

Constant pressure made a difference

#RedforEd has made its case to lawmakers and got only a bit of what teachers wanted. Is it finally ready to make its case to voters? Joanna Allhands, opinion columnist

The movement had power: Teachers made Republicans cough up money the GOP previously insisted didn’t exist. They made the state stop and pay attention.

I believe that much of the progress made by #RedForEd happened before the walkout. The extension of the Proposition 301 tax, the governor’s offer of a 20 percent raise – these things were in response to teacher activism, but they predate the walkout itself.

I think closing the schools was unnecessary, and it hurt parents and children.

Farley insists the walkout kept the pressure on.

“Having the presence here has been amazing,” he says.

He calls it a “multi-partisan movement” and says “this isn’t going away.”

That’s high praise considering the movement is linked by some to Farley’s chief Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, David Garcia.

Arizona Educators United organizers say they do not endorse candidates. The Arizona Education Association endorsed Garcia the same day as an early #RedForEd protest.

They will teach kids about their own power

Farley is right about the significance of what the teachers saw on their trip to the Capitol.

They saw the tricky maneuvers. The dodging and weaving. The majority party’s refusal to include Democratic voices.

They will take these lessons back to the classrooms.

They will become the living civics textbooks for their students.

They will also return with a renewed sense of their own power as citizens. Following the teacher walkout in Oklahoma, a number of teachers decided to run for office.

There will be fallout from the Arizona walkout. If the political structure of the state remains hard right, there will be relentless efforts at payback.

But the teachers who saw how things work at the Arizona Legislature probably figured that out.

They will go home changed by this journey to the center of Arizona politics.

Their firsthand experience with their own power can change this state for the better.

Reach Valdez at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.

May 3, 2018