How mothers can make a difference, one picket sign at a time.
For nine whole days, teachers in West Virginia, which ranks 48th in the country when it comes to teachers’ pay, traded chalkboards for picket signs, rallying at the state capitol to demand a higher salary to make up for quickly rising healthcare costs. School was cancelled across the state, as the teachers — many of whom are mothers, with children in the public school system — refused to leave the capitol until their demands were met.
The move was risky; as many as 67 percent of kids qualify for school lunch in West Virginia, which translates to thousands of hungry children; and with no school, West Virginia’s working parents were left in a childcare bind. But teachers woke up earlier than ever to prepare free meals at churches, and those who weren’t at the capitol rallying for better health coverage and higher wages, were at community centers forming makeshift daycares to look after kids whose parents still had to go to work.
Their rallying paid off. West Virginia leaders ultimately agreed to increase teachers’ salaries and investigate the state’s health insurance program. Emboldened by that success, public school teachers in Oklahoma, who are paid even less than those in West Virginia, will likely strike unless lawmakers approve pay raises by April 2. Teachers in Arizona and Kentucky could follow close behind.
The groundswell of activism is an important reminder of what we can do when we make our voices heard, and how standing up for what’s right is our responsibility as mothers — to our children, to our communities and to each other.
Here are a few of the courageous teachers — and mothers — behind West Virginia’s successful strike.