This morning I made a quick run to my mailbox in the school office to check for mail. Our union flyer I had hung there last Wednesday that reminded teachers to wear red as a show of solidarity for the opening of the special legislative session today hung over me as I sorted through mail. I caught just a snippet of a conversation leaving through a door questioning if red was appropriate-- "Isn't red the color of Communists?" one teacher questioned, mostly in jest. Still, I sent this quick note to the staff and thought I'd share it with you all as well.
Why red today?
For those a bit uncomfortable with the Socialist and Communist links to red, a bit of history might allay your worries. Red has long roots as a signifier of defiance. Captain John (a teacher on our staff known for nautical lore) might tell you that late 13th Century records show ships at war sometimes used red flags to indicate ‘no quarter would be given’ meaning surrender was not an option and any prisoners taken would be killed. Red meant business. It’s time we as teachers mean business when we say “no more cuts!” http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/vxt-dvb2.html#baucens
Later on, castles, ports, and towns that refused to surrender during a siege would hoist a red flag, following this tradition. Perhaps we should all hoist red flags above our public school buildings, above each and every crowded classroom.
Socialists and Communists certainly adopted red in their 19th and 20th Century struggles. Teachers as well, many with Socialist and Communist tendencies, adopted red flags as their symbols. One was Yetta Stromberg who taught at a summer camp that helped working-class kids. She was a dedicated teacher and communist. She was also 19 years old. Her problem was hoisting a red flag daily which violated a California law passed in 1919 that prohibited the public display of red flags—dangerous stuff. Yetta was arrested along with other camp counselors. Their case went to the Supreme Court. Alito and Scalia weren’t on that court, and the Court found for Stromberg. Ah, the good old days when our Supreme Court actually protected individual speech. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0283_0359_ZS.html
Red, of course, has other symbolism. Blood, passion, anger—all of these should fit the circumstances of our teachers in public schools today as this special legislative session opens to figure out what to do with a budget short fall. A short fall not caused by us, but by national circumstances and regressive tax structures within our state. We put our blood and passion into this job, and we should all be damn angry that any legislature would entertain cutting our public schools again.
So time to hoist the red flag gang!