Letters to the Editor 

Week of April 27, 2001

They Probably Thought Estragon Was a Sex Hormone
TO THE EDITOR:I enjoyed Kristianna Bertelsen's review of Beckett's Irish Pub in the April 13 Express. One nice coincidence you may have missed is that this year, 13 April fell on Good Friday the 13th, the same as the case in 1906, the day of Samuel Beckett's birth.

I was thinking of visiting Beckett's Pub that evening in Sam's honor (unfortunately I hadn't read your review yet) but decided against it when I called in the morning and asked if they were doing anything special. The reply: "No. Why?" Now that I think about it, that was rather appropriate.
Andy Black

Class Action
TO THE EDITOR:There were four factual errors on the front page of the April 20 Express in the first two paragraphs of "Class Struggle":

The teachers' salary raise was not "21 percent." It was 24 percent. There was a strike in 1996 so there was no talk of a strike in 1997, not "1977." Piedmont (in Oakland) is an elementary school, not a "middle school." Union reps meet on Monday. That was April 2, not "April 3."

Details? Yes, but this type of slipshod reporting continued throughout the story. At one point the writer stated, "...no one remembers them doing..." Oh? Do we have an omniscient reporter who knows what we Oakland teachers don't remember? That type of figure of speech has no place in professional investigative reporting.

The piece is badly flawed by teacher bashing, demonizing two young female teachers, dissecting people instead of issues, and repeating political propaganda verbatim.

It did, however, reveal the core conflict which plagues this union: insider bickering between those who want to focus on classrooms and teacher working conditions versus idealists who push their save-the-world mentality.

And this story rang a bell when it exposed a union expense of thousands of dollars that funded a Berkeley protest--on a school day--which ended in theft and vandalism. I'll be asking our union for a full investigation of that money, how it was allocated, how it was spent, and how our elected union officials used our Oakland teacher union dues for a Berkeley rally and riot.
Paul August
Oakland High journalism adviser

CHRIS THOMPSON REPLIES:Actually, the raise was 24.36 percent--on paper. But some teachers have argued that the increased workload in the new contract effectively whittled the raise down to 21 percent, and others have argued that since the raise is staggered over several years and tied to Cost of Living Adjustments, no one knows exactly what it will be in the end. I went with the revised figure--which is still an impressive amount--to be on the safe side. My point about the strike is not that teachers haven't been considering a walkout since 1997, but that during the last round of negotiations, teachers didn't discuss a strike as an option for the first time since 1977--a point I thought was fairly clear in the story. But Piedmont Avenue is an elementary school, and the meeting took place on April 2, not April 3, and for these errors I am duly chagrined.

Here They Come, Ready or Not
TO THE EDITOR:Thanks for the piece "Class Struggle" (April 20). I teach at Oakland Tech High School and I'm an Oakland Education Association (OEA) representative from that school as well. At our school during the last teacher strike the group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) graced us with a group of non-teachers hell-bent to "help us." This included screaming at another picket captain and myself in front of TV cameras. While the cameras were rolling they slammed cars of those who crossed the picket line with their own BAMN signs. At strike meetings and on picket lines our issues or discussions were irrelevant; they waved doctrine at us.

At Oakland Tech we all support the affirmative action movement, and surely rallies are rarely tea parties. Yet, many of our own students who went to the UC student rally by way of Tania Kappner's "field trip" told me they didn't know what they were getting into, felt unsafe at the rioting on Telegraph, and definitely felt used. Is that the way to inspire youth towards a worthy cause?

I've been on the OEA Representative Council for many years. Though meeting time has lengthened, we're able to accomplish a fraction of the business that we used to because board and council meetings have become forums for BAMN and grudge-holders. Some can't see the meaning of unionism beyond their own "mid-life thing." Many reps as well as myself are alienated by three hours of hysterics and melodrama. Few who dominate the meetings think of the needs of teachers as a whole or are willing to really listen to the rest of us. Instead we're met with arrogance and sneers at our OEA. Kinda reminds you of Jerry Brown, don't it?

In response, the union's leadership has become very entrenched and often overreacts. Paid staff, skilled in organizing, have quit in response to the juvenile and polarized atmosphere at meetings. Many of us have sorely witnessed infantilism and arrogance fueling much of the self-immolation of the left over the last thirty years. BAMN seems intent on torching the rest. Trying to protect teachers without a union when dealing with the Oakland school district would be like defending ourselves with a toothpick against a shark. Discussion and debate are fine, but in the final analysis we have to listen to one another and close ranks when it's time. Whatever their jargon, for BAMN, Kappner, and company, the affirmative action or union movements are just new venues for playing "capture the flag" by any means necessary.
Vaughn Hovanessian


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