Several hundred protesters yesterday shut down Newark’s central business district in a rush-hour demonstration aimed at showing the growing strength of the organized opposition to the Christie Administration’s “One Newark” plan that would close neighborhood public schools, expand charter school enrollment, and lay off experienced city teachers despite seniority.
“We are building our movement,” said Branden Rippey, the head of the Newark Teachers Union’s New Caucus and a lead organizer of the protest march that twice closed down Broad Street, the busiest business thoroughfare in the state’s largest city. The protest also showed the growing strength of the Newark Students Union, an organization that has become the most energized of the groups opposed to state control of New Jersey’s largest school district.
Some 300 to 400 marchers began the protest in front of the Prudential Center on Market
Street and marched a block west toward the busy crossing with Broad. There, they divided into four groups and spilled onto the open intersection, eventually locking arms and shutting down traffic. By the time they cleared the intersection 20 minutes later, traffic was jammed for blocks in all four directions.
“We have a duty to fight, we have a duty to win, we have a duty to protect each other,” called out Kristin Towkaniuk, the student union’s president.
The students, many of them from the city’s prestigious magnet high schools, were the first to enter the busy intersection and stop traffic. The heavy crossing was well patrolled by city police but the officers made no effort to clear the intersection once it was occupied by the protesters.
“They did a good job, they were well organized,” said Lt. Robert “Bobby” Sarappa, the officer in charge of the police supervising the demonstration.
Sarappa and Rippey and other march leaders discussed plans for the protest before it began and it was clear they reached agreement on how it should proceed. That was an agreement that almost ran aground when a group of Newark parents, led by activist Donna Jackson, led the protesters back out into the street after they left Broad and Market and marched to school headquarters on Broad Street.
“You’ve got to tell these people what this protest is all about, they’ve got to know,” Jackson said as angry motorists began blaring heir horns at Broad and Raymond Boulevard.
The glitch illustrated both the possible strengths and weaknesses of the movement against the actions of Cami Anderson, a close political ally of former Newark Mayor Cory Booker who was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Chris Christie to run the city schools for the state. Historically, parent organizations and school employee unions have eyed each other warily in Newark–so their ability to work together now is a tribute to just how badly hated Anderson is in the city, so despised she can unify varying groups against her. But parent and civic leaders like Jackson might prove less cautious about dealing with the school leadership than have the employee unions.
Rippey conceded he was a “little disappointed” that the demonstration was not the mass protest of more than a thousand its organizers had hoped for–and thought possible because of the real threat to teachers’ jobs in Newark. As part of her “One Newark” plan, Anderson says she plans to lay off more than a thousand of the 3,200 city teachers–and she has asked the state for permission to overlook seniority as the only deciding factor of who gets laid off. The threat of layoffs apparently was not a strong enough motivation to hit the streets of Newark Tuesday afternoon.
NJ Communities United has been holding much of the anti-Anderson coalition together, especially by helping the students’ union to organize–all factions support the students. Other groups backing the protest were the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Parents United Against One Newark, the Newark Teachers Association, the City Association of School Adminstrators (CASA), the People’s Organization for Progress (POP), and unions representing cafeteria workers and maintenance men. Although mayoral candidate Ras Baraka did not speak at the protest, many demonstrators carried signs supporting his candidacy. Baraka opposes Anderson’s plans
One of the featured speakers was Daryn Martin, a parent leader who was first banned from all city public schools and then jailed on a complaint brought by Tiffany Hardrick, an assistant schools superintendent. In January, in the midst of an effort by Anderson to silence criticism of “One Newark,” Martin posted notices of a parent meeting at the Ivy Hill School. Hardrick ordered them removed. Martin signed a complaint against Hardrick but the school officiial responded with a much more serious charge of aggravated assault.
“Putting me in jail is not going to stop us,” Martin told the rally.
Opponents of Christie Administration educational plans are planning a statewide rally March 27 in Trenton.