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You are going about your day, taking the roads you normally take to get to the place you normally need to go and the job you need to work. Some of you are alone in your cars. Some of you have family members, friends, and children. If you’re anything like me, your commute is probably a blur. The scenery is always the same, the same buildings, the same scenery, and the same roadwork. But this past weekend, it’s been different. There are lines of people, groups of them, outside of regular buildings and outside the schools with signs and different noise makers. And you have a choice on how you respond.
Do you drive by as if you don’t see them? That’s an option. But you can be sure the state trooper wouldn’t drive by your car if you were wrecked. The correctional officer wouldn’t walk past a group of inmates fighting in the rec yard. The social worker wouldn’t ignore the child who is bruised and hungry from abuse and neglect. Those teachers and service personnel on that street corner? The teachers wouldn’t ignore a struggling student. The cooks wouldn’t ignore a hungry child. The secretaries won’t ignore a call from a parent no matter how trivial the reason for the call might seem. Last year, I was in a classroom of three students who were severely disabled. One of them had a one-on-one aide. This aide, for all intents and purposes, could have completely ignored my other two students. It wasn’t his job to take care of them. But this man went above and beyond to make sure to meet all of my student’s needs. These are the people you’re ignoring when you drive by like they don’t exist. The state trooper might not be on the line with us. Neither is the DOH worker or all the other workers under PEIA insurance but the teachers and school personnel are standing for them as much as they are standing for themselves.
Another option you have is to boo us or call us names, possibly give us the middle finger. That’s alright. We have withstood worse; all public employees have. Most of those who are under PEIA insurance put their lives on the line every day for the people in our community. Every spouse of a state trooper when they kiss them goodbye in the morning knows it might be the last time. A DHHR employee could get cursed at and threatened just for checking on a child in need. DOH employees could end up injured from a reckless driver during any shift they take making sure our roads are safe to drive on and then get bad mouthed when someone has to take a detour on their way to work. School personnel understand your lives might be a bit inconvenient right now and trust me when I say all of us would love to be back inside the classroom, but it’s not just about us. It never was.
To those of you who choose to honk and wave and shout, thank you! Thank you so much for your support. When you have spent hours on your feet in rain and shine and God knows what else, those little shows of support you give us let us know we are not alone. We have the strong individuals of our great state behind us. I thank you on behalf of every teacher, aide, cook, custodian, and secretary. I thank you on behalf of every single public employee. I thank you on behalf of my nieces and nephews and of the children I will one day raise in this great state. Your support is helping us bring about change and to create a better West Virginia.
Then there are those that go above and beyond, the businesses and individual citizens who have brought us food and drinks. Thank you. Thank you so much. It makes me want to cry to know that there are those out there willing to spend their own money on us. And those who are bringing food and water to give out to our students (school personnel and non-school personnel alike), we are so grateful to you. One of the biggest worries I know I had and I know that a lot of other students have is the fact that our kids who rely on the school for food were going hungry and knowing there are people out there helping is such a load off of all of our shoulders.
Still, there is work to be done. Those of you who are with us, please, please, call your legislatures. Those of you who are silent, stop being silent and speak up for those who can’t. Those of you who want us off the side of the road and in the classroom call your representatives, tell them to give us what we need, if not for us, for the public employees that can’t strike and the ones that put their lives on the line every day. We are doing what we can to make sure that we are heard by the capitol. We are using our voices to enact change. We are #55strong and we are not going anywhere.