The south rose again in 2018, this time in a wave of teacher strikes that began in West Virginia. Local teachers convinced the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) to hold a strike vote. The strike swept across the state and resulted in a five percent raise. It also inspired similar actions in seven other states.
One of the most successful of these was in Arizona, where 20,000 teachers struck statewide. One of the leaders of the strike in Arizona was Noah Karvelis, a 24-year-old art teacher in a Phoenix suburb. We talked a few days after teachers had returned to work. It can be difficult to keep energy high while holding tempers and impatience in check. A leader feeds anticipation with everyone ready to head to the picket line, yet ready to return to work if a settlement looks imminent. The internet has played a crucial part. “Much was done through social media, in addition to mobilizations on the ground,” said Karvelis. “It was a slow escalation of actions to build solidarity, power and courage.”
DM: How will this change the plight of teachers? Any blowback?
NK: No blowback as of right now. It changed the entire mentality of the educators here. Now, we continue forward with that mentality and energy and continue our work.
DM: Was there a turning point you can point to?
NK: I think when we mobilized in protest of the Governor at a radio appearance …the beginning of March. I think that was a major turning point. The first RedForEd day (March 7) was also huge. That was a pivotal day.
DM: When did you realize you had won hearts and minds and victory was in sight?
NK: Both on the night of the strike vote and the first day of the walkout. Those were incredible days and the sheer numbers were mind blowing honestly.
Teachers returned to the classroom on May 3 with a 9 percent raise promised next fall with 5 percent raises for each of the subsequent two years. They turned down an earlier settlement, holding out until the governor offered a raise for support staff and agreed to cut student-counselor ratios.