I am a YEA! Network member and a junior at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, and as a Minneapolis Public School student I had an out-of-the-ordinary March.
Minneapolis educators went on strike for the first time in 50 years, demanding smaller class sizes, mental health resources for students, increased workforce diversity, and improved wages and benefits. At the beginning of February, I was approached by one of my teachers wondering if a friend and I would be interested in raising money for the strike fund. At this point, a lot of educators and education support professionals (ESPs) were starting to worry about a potential strike and the financial implications that it could have. To show student support and to help our educators, we started collecting money for the strike fund run by Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
For one week, some friends and I sat at a table every lunch with a box for cash and a Venmo QR code and tried to convince people that they should donate. By the end of the strike we had raised $800 from the students at Southwest for our teachers. This was just the beginning and most of the students at school were still confused and unaware of what was going on and what it would mean for them. A few weeks later and the teachers had voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ to strike. The conditions had gotten to the point where students and educators needed to take a stand and go on strike.
I was anxious about the immense amount of uncertainty, but I knew this was necessary.
The first day of the strike was Tuesday, March 8th, and I was at school ready for my first picketing experience by 7:30am. This would become my new routine for the next three weeks; go to the picket with my school at 7:30, go home to rest, and then head back out to the union-wide protest. In the beginning, I was full of excitement. I was getting to know my teachers as actual people and I loved it. We were dancing and singing all around Minneapolis.
That excitement and joy continued but the ‘strike fatigue’ did set in towards the end of week one and week two. I hadn’t expected the strike to be over sooner than two weeks, so that wasn’t the hard part, but it was rough standing outside, especially as it was so cold. My teachers always brought a positive attitude and they made me feel like I was a part of something that was really important.
At the end of week two the literary arts magazine at Southwest High School reached out to me and another editor of Southwest’s newspaper, and together we created a strike zine. When I heard the idea I was so excited because I wanted to be covering this as much as I could, especially when it felt like the school district had so much power over what the narrative was.
The zine made me feel even more inspired by my educators after putting it all into print. The zine got a lot more notice than I originally thought it would. The library where we printed them had some on display and when we would pass them out at pickets. Some people would already know what they were and say things like, “Oh, I wanted one of those,” which was one of the coolest moments.
Four broken picket signs, lots of pastries, and three weeks later I was back at school. The strike was an awful, amazing, inspiring, and surreal experience that I have learned so much from, and I am happy I was a tiny part of this much bigger movement for public education. I will never forget sitting on the steps of the Davis Center after sunset holding lights and candles.
My grade saw schools closing due to the pandemic during my Freshman year; an entire year online during Sophomore year; more distance learning during the Omicron surge my Junior year; and then the longest Minneapolis teacher strike in 50 years. It has been, let’s say, an unforgettable high school experience.
Libby Kramer is a junior at Southwest High School and has been working with YEA! Network for about a year and a half. She also loves reading, being outside, and writing for her school’s newspaper.