Editors note: This is part of an occasional series chronicling one teacher’s experience as Oklahoma educators fight for better funding.
The last day in Anthony Cherry’s AP History class before the Oklahoma teacher walkout took effect was, weirdly, like just about any other.
Students came and went and the lessons went on like normal. In between classes, one senior student came by for help on a paper he was doing about slavery and the Civil War. The student had to finish the paper by the following Tuesday — the walkout would be happening, but online assignments still had to be turned in, he said.
When Cherry’s class started, he asked the students to think about World War II and the nuclear bombs that had been dropped on Japan. The U.S. had been involved in heated conflicts since then, but had never again deployed nuclear weapons.
Why was that, he asked? Unbeknownst to the students was an acronym written on a marker board behind them.
Cherry finally pointed to it — “MAD.”
“What does that stand for?” Before long it clicked, and one student raised his hand.
“Mutually assured destruction,” he said, referring to the idea of deterrence by threat of mutual nuclear annihilation.
It was a fitting lesson for the last day of school before the walkout kicked off. The following Monday tens of thousands of teachers, whose demands for better pay and school funding had been ignored by lawmakers for years, stormed the state Capitol.
And Cherry was among them. He boarded a bus with his 10-year-old daughter Jayda outside Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School at 7 a.m. and hit the road.
“It’s going to be packed, it’s going to be crazy,” Cherry said of his expectations for day one of the walkout before getting on the bus.
“The morale is not good right now. There are going to be optimistic teachers, there’s going to be some pessimistic teachers. But overall they’re going to be emotional enough to want to be there and demand change.”
Indeed they were. The Capitol grounds were swamped on Monday. Teachers congregated on multiple sides of the building and a line of chanting teachers walked in a circle around the campus for hours. Inside the Capitol, teachers spent the day going from one legislator office to the next to make their voices heard.
Cherry was able to meet with several. He teaches in Tulsa, lives in Claremore and his daughter attends school in Oologah — so there were a lot of names on his list to visit.
It wasn’t always easy. Some of the hallways outside lawmaker offices were so packed you couldn’t navigate your way through the crowd. Not all the legislators were at the Capitol, either, and some were in other meetings for part of the day. To visit with Democratic lawmakers Sen. Kevin Matthews and Rep. Regina Goodwin, Cherry had to wait for the end of a lengthy Oklahoma Black Caucus meeting.
Cherry attempted to meet with Claremore Republican Marty Quinn. He said Quinn promised to meet with teachers at 12:45 p.m., but by 1:30 p.m., with no sign of the lawmaker, the frustrated group left his office.
Cherry also met with Travis Dunlap, a Republican state representative from Bartlesville. Dunlap, who somewhat famously emailed a constituent in 2016 and said that public education was “atheist-based,” told Cherry he was “optimistic” about funding issues.
But afterward Cherry said he wasn’t buying it.
“He feels like they’ve done a good job,” Cherry said. “I don’t.”
Cherry left Oklahoma City on Monday feeling tired, but positive. Being a teacher can feel lonely sometimes, he said, but being surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded educators had lifted his spirits.
He couldn’t return to Oklahoma City on Tuesday because he had to focus on his second gig, his rent homes. But on Wednesday he plans to be right back at it.
“I’m ready to go the long haul,” he said.