Well, they don’t have a daughter who is a teacher.

unnamed (1)

From West Virginia to Colorado, Kentucky to North Carolina, public school teachers across the country have gone on strike or walked out over work conditions– in a strong rebuke against the policies of privatization and austerity that have undercut the very foundations of the public education system.

Last week, teachers in Oakland, CA organized a seven-day strike with demands for smaller class sizes, more support staff (nurses and social workers), better pay, and an end to school closures.  This, in the context of resources being moved from the Oakland Unified School System (OUSD) to charter schools that continue to open up and pull more students away.

One teacher, Linh Linh Trinh, is a Seeding Change alum whose school is slated for closure at the end of this school year.  Linh Linh began teaching in 2017 as a middle school science teacher. Over the course of her first year, she shared stories of challenges and triumphs that were telling of the poor working conditions teachers face, but also the resilience they lead with. Last week, Linh Linh reflected on the necessity of the strike, writing, “There is some seriously deep injustices happening in OUSD – some schools already have smaller class sizes and I’m still dealing with 33 in a class; some schools have expansion plans and my school is carelessly being closed, and I do not have long time veteran teachers to learn from because they’ve all left the district due to low pay…My [students] deserve to be prioritized and loved up with resources. We need to stop privatization of public education. The money needs to be in public schools so they can be better funded and for us not to fight one another for the crumbs.”

With the strike having ended, we wanted to highlight the work Linh Linh did in speaking up for the students at her school as they are facing closure, in striking with Oakland teachers, and what is coming up next.

unnamed (4)
Seeding Change Alum and Roots teacher, Linh Linh Trinh, holds a sign that read “Fight for the Schools Students Deserve.”

SC: This is your second year teaching at Roots International Academy. In your first year, you shared the challenges of being a new teacher who wasn’t aptly supported. This year, the district voted to close your school, which is a school that serves mostly students of color and working-class students. How will this affect your students?

LLT: Around early October-November, there was buzz that the District would release a city-wide plan to close 24 schools. They planned that a number of schools with shared campuses would merge and a number of schools would be closed. My school, Roots, was on the list of closing schools, but it seemed like a far away thing; however, we were told during Thanksgiving break that the closing could be this year or next year.

The difference between a merger and a closure is that in a merger, students still get to go to the school – the school is just under a different name and administration, but the students are not displaced. Roots is getting closed even though we share a campus with another school. The biggest issue with all of this is displacement– they’re planning to send Roots kids to schools 30 blocks… two miles away. We have about 100 kids that live in this neighborhood, who want to go to the school that we share a campus with, but the school says that they cannot expand quickly enough to take the kids from Roots. The decision to close the school this year and displace over 100 students is in the hands of just a few people who are NOT from the community and who did not ask what the community wanted. I think it’s easy to do this to our school because our families are working-class, our parents don’t speak English, and it’s easier to target communities who don’t know the system.  

unnamed (3)

SC: What are actions you took after learning about the closure at Roots?

LLT: We found out about the closure during Thanksgiving break. When we came back, a veteran teacher that I share my classroom with, Ms. Mary Scott (who grew up with the rise of the Black Panther Party), encouraged us to do something about it.  A fellow teacher, Quinn Ranahan, and I organized our teachers to meet at our house to figure out where we all stood on the closure. Our principal told us the news of the closure individually and broke us up so that we didn’t have a collective voice to stand up. In the short two months we had before the school board’s final vote to close our school, 3-4 Roots teachers held strategy meetings and started talking to school board members; we had several meetings with our California assembly member, Rob Bonta, and his office. During these meetings, we realized that the issue of Roots being closed is tied to a larger issue of privatization and poor budget management. The district claims that they need to cut school programs and close schools to show that they are “financially responsible,” because of bill AB 1840, that is specifically school districts, such as Oakland and Inglewood, who are in debt to the state. This bill says that if our school districts show that they are fiscally responsible, then the state would cut the debt by 30 million dollars. But the brunt of the district figuring things out falls on the teachers and students.

unnamed (2)

SC: What changes need to be made so that you feel more supported as a teacher?

LLT: During this process, I started to look into other schools and talking to other teachers. I learned that some schools in our district are held at very different standards and have different resources. I think all schools should have those same resources – we need to have classroom sizes that are at most 27 students, we need to be fully funded so that teachers are not spending out-of-pocket to supply the classroom; we need fair pay; we need more support in terms of counselors and nurses. We only have 22 nurses in the whole district and each nurse has to visit 4-5 schools as part of their job. We need to keep pushing and challenging what education should or can look like – one that widens the definition of success.

unnamed (6)

SC: What fueled the strike and can you share what you felt as the strike was happening?

LLT: As our school community was still making sense of the school board’s 6-1 vote to close our school, we also had to emotionally and mentally prepare for a strike. Oakland Unified School District and Oakland Education Association – our union – had been in negotiations since 2017. That pressure built up until November-December and we knew a strike was coming. As the number of people who was down to strike increased, we added a fourth demand for no school closures.

While on strike, most people became invigorated because of the “no school closure” demand. On the first day, we had Roots students and teachers speak to the crowd about what this strike meant for us and why we were demanding no school closures. By the fourth day of strike, we got all of the teachers to rally from East Oakland – to walk from the school that our kids would be displaced to, to Roots, which is about 2.5 miles. It was symbolic of the changes that students at Roots would experience. During the strike, there was a lot of emotions and anxiety about whether or not we would get all our demands, and how we would go back to the classroom. It was physically exhausting as well. But I got to know a lot of other teachers and there was a strong sense of community.


SC: What were the moments of joy you felt, despite the challenges?

LLT: At Roots, I feel like we became really divided and lost a sense of community when the decision was made by the district to close our school. We really had to work to rebuild our community and look out for each other. One community member came out and made a coffee stand for us, one of our teachers started a mandela. Some of our students led a march and spoke in front of so many people. It was good to have teachers who had never been to East Oakland visit East Oakland and it was beautiful to see our actual families cheering for us during the rally because most of our rallies were in Downtown and most of the people who would come out and see us were in suits, people who probably didn’t even live in Oakland. Overall, there was an immense sense of community.

unnamed (5)

SC: What are some lessons and reflections you can share from the organized strike, rallies, community events supporting teachers?

LLT:  When teachers in  Los Angeles went on strike before us, my parents would tune in to the radio and people would call in asking “why teachers need to get a raise when they earn enough. There are also some bad teachers who don’t deserve a raise.” My mom said, “well, they don’t have a daughter who is a teacher.”  It’s important that people understand the challenges of being a teacher and from my perspective, the union did a really good job, prior to the strike, of getting the community to understand where the teachers were coming from. I think we did a really good job of having community support us.

When we got the tentative agreement, I was definitely disappointed, realizing how much energy and effort it took to organize and get to that scale of action.  It took 3,000 teachers and 36,000 students to not go to school. I’m trying to remind myself that striking is only one tactic and it can only bring us certain results and won’t always bring all the changes we need.  For example, the class sizes decreasing just one student per year, felt little. These proposals don’t do anything for schools like Roots where going from 33 to 32 students per classroom won’t make much of a difference.  While what we got in this agreement is not enough, we were able to change the conversation around public education and investing in teachers and students. Oakland is a part of the larger movement for systemic change. Hopefully, other cities who strike after us can gain from this momentum and make the changes that need to happen. 

unnamed (7)

SC: What are the next steps for the Oakland School District?

LLT: Teachers are planning to organize at the state-level in Sacramento to demand a cut in debt. For the school board, specifically, three or four members’ terms are ending soon so we are strategizing on how to get these people out of office and replaced by people who will serve our community. More schools are supposed to be closed or merged, so I’m thinking about how I can personally support other teachers at these schools based on my experience and story.

justiceakaigurley (smallest)

#JusticeforAkaiGurley Selfie Action

Call out for Asians to Participate in #JusticeforAkaiGurley Selfie Action

As many of you know, ethnic and corporate mainstream media have responded to the indictment of NYPD Officer Peter Liang for the death of Akai Gurley by framing the indictment as dividing the Chinese community, and focused on calls to drop the indictment of Officer Liang. Furthermore, they are using issue to pit Asian and Black communities against one another.

CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities has been working closely with the family of Akai Gurley, community organizers in East New York, Brooklyn (where Gurley was visiting a friend) and other groups since the shooting happened late last year to show our solidarity and support. CAAAV and the family of Akai Gurley call for the accountability of ALL police officers who kill unarmed civilians. We know that we have support from Asian Diasporic communities, and in the last couple of weeks we have heard from our communities located in cities including the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Oregon and New York, showing solidarity with Akai Gurley’s family.

RIGHT NOW, it is critical for Asian American communities, especially Chinese, South & Southehast Asians, to move our communities in support of Black-led organizing against police brutality. We believe a strong turnout will send a powerful message.

Given this context, we are really hoping you will participate in the Justice for Akai Gurley Selfie Action to show your solidarity and that you stand with Akai Gurley’s family.

THREE easy steps to contribute to the #JusticeforAkaiGurley Selfie Action! We are accepting submissions on a rolling basis, but hoping to get massive numbers posted prior to April 24th!

1) TAKE A PHOTO OF YOURSELF HOLDING YOUR SIGN using #JusticeforAkaiGurley #holdALLcopsaccountable #BlackLivesMatter and your location (Seattle, Chicago, Bay, NYC, etc.) so we can show the Akai Gurley’s family that they have support from many places outside of CAAAV.

2) Write a short paragraph, text only, that begins with this prompt: “I am a ___________, (e.g. Korean American woman, Asian comrade, etc.) and I demand Justice for Akai Gurley because_____________.”

3) SHARE this action out on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SEND the photo and paragraph to caaavjustice@riseup.net.

Also! If you are having a meeting, event or action, please consider asking folks to take a selfie for #JusticeforAkaiGurley.

Here are some examples:

ag1 ag2 ag3 ag4

APIs4BlackLives have posted their selfies here.

Read more here:

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do I have to show my whole face in the photo?
No – whatever you are comfortable with. Wear a hat, glasses, cover part of your face, whatever you’d like.

Should my ‘because…’ text be separate from the sign I hold up in my photo?
Yes.  The sign you hold up in the photo should simply read “#JusticeforAkaiGurley”, “#holdALLcopsaccountable”, “BlackLivesMatter” and “Boston” or city/town you’re repping.  Then, whatever truth you share, you should send as text in the body of the email.

What if I have multiple identities that I would like to acknowledge?
You can definitely add to the truth prompt, for example, “I am a mixed race queer man, and an adoptee, and I demand Justice for Akai Gurley because…”

Will you accept photos/truth after the deadline?
Yes, this will be an ongoing project.  That being said, if you can possibly send me something by the deadline, that would help us out tons.  We’re trying to get this up and running before April 26th.



Three Practices for Movement Builders for the New Year

Photo Caption: At the Black Lives Matter Story Time: Family Teach-In and March in Oakland organized by the Colorful Mamas for the 99%. (From right to left) Tomu, Cliff Hong, Olivia, Marie Choi, Collin, Mychi Nguyen, Kimi Lee, and Alex T. Tom.

This is also cross-posted on Movement Strategy Center’s Let’s Talk: At the Heart of Movement Building 

I usually don’t share a lot of personal stuff on Facebook but lately as a new parent I’ve been leaning into it and sharing more, and at times, even ‘over-sharing’ my thoughts and reflections. Folks who know me well know that I like to give self-care/self-love advice and human/relationship development advice. Sometimes it’s unsolicited; but I believe it can still be helpful. I think all this is crucial for a strong and resilient movement and community. As we get into the New Year, I wanted to offer three practices that have helped me through the years as an activist, organizer, and Executive Director (and a good partner and father too!).

We should all be reflective of what happened this past year — the ups and the down. We should take stock of what we appreciate and take time to detox from all the negative energy and toxicity. We are not immune to any of this since we (still) live in such an oppressive and unequal society. People — especially frontline organizers, service providers, healers, unity builders, movement builders take on a lot of society’s alienation, so need to take care of themselves while they are taking care of others. Every year, too, there is a lot of pain and loss; it is important to take this time to sit with things and remember the community we have that support and love us.

Here are my 3 suggested practices for movement builders:

#1 — Read (or re-read) “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz: This is by far the best and quickest read for me. It has helped me process and detox from the negativity around me. Negativity that comes in all forms. Whether it’s self-doubt, being too hard on yourself and others,  processing the pain and trauma of others, or letting anger and outrage overpower our love and compassion, we are all living in the same movement ecology and impact each other. The Four Agreements are very practical and help me everyday. They remind me to be compassionate and kind to myself, and others, even to not so kind people in my life.

The four agreements are basic:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

(Note: You should still read the book. It’s so much deeper than this.)

#2 — Meet with yourself: This is my favorite. Movement builders have a lot of meetings and retreats to evaluate the year. Why don’t we develop a practice of scheduling 1-2 hour or day-long meetings with ourselves and do the same thing? Some people call it a “self retreat”. Every week, I try to set aside some time to meet with myself and do at least one self-retreat a year. If you decide to do weekly or monthly meetings with yourself, it should be a meeting you schedule well in advance that you don’t move or change unless an emergency comes up. Often times, since it is a meeting with yourself, you may feel like you can just reschedule to accommodate others. If people continue to ask what meeting you have that you can’t move, you can practice saying, “I have an important meeting with myself.” Of course, you should be flexible when needed; but if you have a pattern of always putting others before yourself, you can practice prioritizing meeting with yourself even if it is only an hour.

#3 — Meet with your partner and/or other people: After you meet with yourself, meet with your partner (however you define it) and/or other close friends to share your reflections of the year, priorities for the next year, then get feedback. Self-care/self-love is about collective care and love. This is dialectic and should be done simultaneously. For partners/couples, it’s a good time to celebrate moments throughout the year and talk about stressors in the relationship and hard topics like tensions, shared finances, and long term planning, for example. They too should meet with themselves before this retreat. You get the idea.

This year, I did my self-retreat for a few hours on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, Mychi, my partner, and I had a mini-brunch/retreat. This was actually our first “date” together, since we had our newborn, Collin, 3 months ago. We took pause and appreciated each other. We reviewed the year, which included looking at our calendars, pictures (mostly from our phones) and notes from our own reflections. In the midst of the challenging year, there were a lot of beautiful moments we forgot about besides having a beautiful child together. We also reflected that we are fortunate to have such an amazing community of chosen and non-chosen family and have deep gratitude for what we have in life.

Here are some of the reflection questions we use to reflect on personal life, paid work, and movement and community work:

  • What happened this year? What are some highlights, themes and takeaways for the year?
  • What triggers and stressors did we notice in ourselves?
  • What did I change the most? What did I change the least?
  • Where did I exercise the most and the least leadership?
  • What are our personal and collective priorities for next year?
  • What are practices we want to continue or develop?
  • What kind of support do we need from each other?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I write this humbly and know there is no formula on how to do take care of ourselves. There are a lot of other resources and expertise, especially in the Bay Area, for self-care in the movement. These are just a few practices that have worked for me.

Many of my practices actually comes from OGs in the movement that I met at a weeklong silent meditation retreat in my early 20s. They said I was too young to be so “burnt out” already. One woman in particular told me she scheduled important meetings with herself at least every month and said I should do the same. You can do a lot of things during your retreat like going outdoors, meditating, reflecting, and writing. You can do this through your organization and/or collective. The most important thing is setting your intentions to actually create space in your life to make this a practice. Of course, some of this is easier said than done. In fact, it is hard sometimes to make time for this. But we also have agency and can make choices. Even if you did this once a year, it will have a tremendous impact on your life and others.

In particular, I encourage more cisgendered, hetero men, and men of color to dive deeper into this practice. Patriarchy and heterosexism also runs deep in the movement so we really need to make time for self-reflection and take care of our needs for ourselves and the movement. Overall, I hope this blog can help catalyze more conversations, more practices, and, yes, more meetings.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that there is a lot going on, and, like many of you, I’ve been totally inspired by the current moment and the new vibrant ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter and Black liberation movement that’s emerging in this country and world. I hope everyone gets a chance to soak it in, reflect, and replenish for yourself, your community and the movement. For our fierceness, courage, and collective liberation, we need to do this. I, too, will commit to do my best and will be my best self for the moment and beyond.

Happy 2015 and happy year of reflection and resistance!

Alex T. Tom is the Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco, the co-founder of Seeding Change – a Center for Asian American Movement Building, and a new father.