May 28, 2022
Buffalo River Every Friday our union staff gets together on a group conference call to compare notes, count the numbers, and collaborate on problems in our various offices and units across Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. Our most recent call was missing Toney Orr, our field director, so I was presiding. We represent school-based workers in the Houston and Dallas area as well as Head Start facilities there and in Louisiana and Arkansas. The members were raising the roof over security in the wake of the Uvalde killings.
In our Houston Head Start facilities, managed by Gulf Coast Community Action, members were demanding that phone lines be installed in the classrooms. Barring that, they wanted the union to demand that the bar against them having their personal cellphones in the classrooms be lifted. Simple fact, if they faced an active shooter, they would have no way to raise the alarm. They would be sitting ducks. A phone wouldn’t save them necessarily, but it would give them a chance to give a warning and call the police.
Organizers reported that security officers in the schools in the Houston and Dallas area were running in and out of meetings and giving continual briefings about steps being taken. Classrooms were locked down. Drills were in progress, as they had been in Uvalde. We were getting updates. None of it seemed enough.
One question hung in the air. We represent hundreds of cafeteria workers. Perhaps the largest gatherings on a daily basis in public schools are the lunch times that make lockdowns harder. Teachers immemorially have complained that there are never enough cafeteria monitors, so they are hardly the answer. Cafeteria and custodial workers are often an afterthought in the focus on classroom drills. What special precautions should we demand for their work areas and their protection, as well as the children they serve? It’s only a miracle that we haven’t seen cafeterias as part of these crazy, tragic killing fields.
Too many guns are everywhere. Toney wasn’t with us, because he was in Shreveport working with our members at our nursing homes as well as the Head Start facilities we represent. Only days ago in one of our homes, two of our members taking a client outside in a wheelchair on the grounds were there as a man came up to the patient, pulled a gun, fired twice, killing him, and then disappeared, still at large. The workers were traumatized, so we had negotiated leave for them, and were trying to manage the situation.
Is there a fix on any of these catastrophes that doesn’t involve serious gun control? Texas Governor Greg Abbott once again is a case in point for the ridiculous, kneejerk reaction by too many of our elected officials in our cities and states where guns are ubiquitous and open carry is the law. Abbott in the wake of the Uvalde shooting praised the local police as heroes, and was now having to go back to Uvalde and walk back the fact that once again his mouth and his narcissism acted without the facts. It’s not just me saying this. As the Washington Post reports,
Abbott — the most visible messenger in the days following the massacre — faces increasing criticism that he moved too quickly to amplify a false law enforcement narrative that aligns with his own political beliefs. Federal authorities were “flabbergasted at the amateurish communications coming from Texas,” said a federal law enforcement official who, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to address sensitive matters related to the shooting.
The NRA meeting for their annual convention in Texas, ironically at the same time, did their usual, praising the guns and dissing on the shooter, as if the two were totally disconnected. Trump and Senator Cruz were there toadying to the crowd. They won’t learn anything from all of this and neither will Abbott.
Our members – and all Americans – have serious questions and concerns and are looking for real answers. If they can’t get them from their elected officials, blinded by campaign contributions and false ideologies, where can they get help? What can they do to protect themselves, their communities, and the people for whom they are responsible? Is it simply everyone for themselves now?