‘My students are fearful’: Berkeley teachers rally for May Day

More than 100 Berkeley High teachers and supporters gathered before school to rally for immigrant rights and education. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Just days ago Civic Center park was occupied by members of the far-right rallying for the freedom to spread ultra-conservative ideas. Today the same park hosted a different sort of rally — one organized by Berkeley teachers in support of immigrant students, public education and workers’ rights.

In one of several “May Day” actions occurring throughout the city and Bay Area, more than 100 Berkeley High School teachers and supporters gathered before school for speeches, chants and a collective “walk-in” to campus for the first period. Mayor Jesse Arreguín, education leaders and students stood up on the City Hall ledge to deliver short speeches and pep talks.

“We’re here to support immigrants, and to stand against the Trump administration and the policies that have a disastrous impact on our communities,” said Matt Meyer, economics teacher and organizer of the rally. “All morning schools across Berkeley are having rallies and actions to show solidarity, supporting all our students.”

A number of BUSD teachers are also taking the day off to participate in rallies around the Bay Area.


The Berkeley Federation of Teachers negotiated with Berkeley Unified School District so teachers could take a personal day to participate in political actions, said Cathy Campbell, the union president. She said the union encouraged members to get involved in at least one May Day event in the Bay Area.

Dan Plonsey, a Berkeley High math teacher, wrote to Berkeleyside saying he was one of dozens of teachers he knew of who requested a substitute for the day, “to protest the conditions our students face, which make learning increasingly difficult. It is long past time for educators to engage in action.”

Teachers from the Academy of Medicine and Public Service rally on May 1. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Science teacher Claudia Gonzalez, who participated in the rally, said May Day has always been an important holiday for her, a daughter of immigrants.

“And it’s an important day for my students too. Some of them are really fearful,” she said.

Science teacher Allen Boltz said he and other teachers were there to support Senate Bill 54, which would bar local and state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.

Others said they were there to protest Trump’s proposed budget, which would cut funding for the Department of Education but expand charter schools and school-choice programs.

Berkeley High senior Emara Shabir speaks in support of her teachers. Mayor Jesse Arreguin, right, addressed the crowd too. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Plonsey said his protest extended to income inequality, threats to healthcare and housing, and climate change — and how the intersecting issues affect students.


“What we see in our classrooms is an increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, and, as the competition for college and need for scholarships has increased, kids who are focused on grades rather than learning about the world,” he wrote.

While many teachers headed to their classrooms after the morning rallies, a contingent planned to join UC Berkeley students rallying on campus at noon and protesters gathering at Fruitvale BART at 3 p.m. for an immigrant rights march.

The UC Berkeley rally is organized by a Berkeley Against Trump, a coalition of student activist groups. The groups are gathering to support the demands of the new Undergraduate Workers Union, and to call for better protections for undocumented students, said organizer Erica West, a graduate student in the School of Social Welfare. The rally will begin with speeches on Sproul Plaza before a march down Bancroft Way.

At May Day events this year, “there’s a lot more emphasis on the history of May Day and re-politicizing it,” said West, a member of the International Socialist Organization at Cal.

More than 100 years ago, the labor movement declared May 1 a day of support for workers’ rights, in commemoration of several striking workers who were killed by the police in Chicago close to that date. Also called International Workers’ Day, the holiday has become a platform for other causes — especially immigrants’ rights — in recent years as well.

UAW union Local 5810 rallied at UC Berkeley on May Day. Photo: Natalie Orenstein.
Students from the Undergraduate Workers Union at the May Day rally. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Activists from BAMN at the May Day rally at Cal. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

There is unusually large momentum for May Day protests this year, with tens of thousands expected to take to the street across the country.


Protesters chained themselves to the doors of the Alameda County Administration building in Oakland early in the morning, briefly preventing workers from entering, according to CBS News.  Four people were arrested. Demonstrators also blocked car access to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office. Some stores, such as Market Hall in Oakland, shut Monday in solidarity with workers.