Although members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association union have voted to strike against Denver Public Schools, the date the walkout will begin is still unclear, given a DPS appeal for intervention to Colorado Governor Jared Polis and the state's Department of Labor.
But plans are already under way for an unusual undertaking to support striking educators: Tamales for Teachers, sponsored by the Denver wing of the International Socialist Organization. The project is raising money to provide homemade tamales and more to teachers on the picket line. But Denver ISO member Jason Metter says his group is also hoping to broaden the message being sent by this looming job action.
"We want to win the widest possible support for the strike, but we also want to bring in some politics," Metter says. "We think Tamales for Teachers is a great way to connect to immigrant rights and racial-justice issues."
According to Metter, the inspiration for Tamales for Teachers was Tacos for Teachers, an initiative on behalf of instructors in Los Angeles, where a teachers' strike recently concluded.
The Colorado effort "is being led by Carlos Valdez," Metter divulges. "He's a member of the Denver ISO, as well as an Aurora high school history teacher who's in the Aurora Education Association — and he's been designated by them to give support to the Denver teachers' strike."
In addition, Metter continues, Valdez "is the child of two formerly undocumented immigrants who own El Molino Bakery in Aurora. They make a lot of things, including tamales, and they want to help."
So, too, do others in the activist community, including Jeanette Vizguerra, who's became a face of the immigrant resistance movement locally and nationally in recent years after seeking sanctuary in a Denver-area church. Metter says Vizguerra has pledged to make tamales for teachers, too.
As for why the Denver ISO wanted to get involved, Metter says, "We feel it's our job as socialists to support the struggle of workers and oppressed peoples — and we want to see them go as far and be as bold as they can be. We have this phrase: 'people coming into motion.' That means they've shaken loose from their normal life and they're starting to ask big questions about politics and justice. It's almost like sacred territory when people come into motion and see this dot and that dot are connected."
The main online place to help the Tamales for Teachers cause is the project's GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $2,000 toward a $3,000 goal at this writing. Once the strike is under way, Denver ISO reps will team with the Front Range Worker's Initiative for Liberation and Defense to distribute tamales and other food (likely rice, beans, grilled chicken, drinks and perhaps even tofu and seitan) to demonstrating teachers. Denver's Democratic Socialists of America branch is also partnering with the Denver ISO.
Additionally, the Denver ISO is hosting "Teachers' Revolt: Connections to Gender and Class Oppression," an event scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 30, at the King Center, 855 Lawrence Way, on the Auraria campus. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.
Expect this gathering to make explicit more of the links Metter sees between the Denver teachers' strike and a broader struggle.
"We think a strike is a beautiful, powerful thing that really shows workers their own power," he allows. "So we want to support that, and we're completely honored to play any sort of minor role in it. But unlike the L.A. teachers' strike, the Denver teachers' strike has, for the most part, been lacking in political demands, like getting cops out of our schools and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. We hope those issues are raised, too."
And served with piping hot tamales.
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