North Point Teachers Join in Demand to Keep the Promise

As the work day came to a close and the daylight waned on March 14, the streets of Annapolis, Maryland were more alive than ever. Thousands of people, young and old, black and white, male and female, walked in unison from Navy Stadium to the heart of the city, lining every inch of the pavement near the State House. The crowd had a single message, which it chanted repeatedly and with increasing fervor, for the Maryland legislators whose offices they surrounded: keep the promise.

Planned by the Maryland State Education Association, the Rally to Keep the Promise brought 15,000 public employees and members of the community together to protest a $100 million cut to education funding, as well as harmful changes in the pension system for public employees.
At 4:45pm that evening, a bus set off from North Point carrying twenty-eight staff members and two students to the event. There were as air of excitement as the group entered Annapolis, driving past a growing mass of bodies enthusiastically applauding the arrival of new people to join their ranks. News helicopters hovered in the sky, keeping watch over the goings on. Glow-necklaces, beads, bells, and thunder sticks, all in the signature blue of the Maryland educational movement, were distributed to the teachers just before they set of on their march to the State House.

“I want to take an active role in the future of education in Maryland,” said Mr. Kirby of his reason for spending his precious post-school hours at a rally far from home. For Mr. Campbell, attending the rally primarily served as a way of making his feelings heard on the $100 million proposed cuts to education. Part of him also wished to show support for teachers in Wisconsin, a state that has received international attention for its governor’s attempt to eliminate the right of public sector employees to bargain collectively.

Moving toward the stage, the crowd sustained chants of “keep the promise!” and “enough!” that echoed between the buildings, enveloping everyone present. Legislators and their staff appeared in window frames above the sea of people, encouraging them and bringing the enthusiasm to new levels.

Speakers at the rally included a PTA president, aspiring teacher, retired public employee, Richard Trumpka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, as well as, an unexpected guest: Governor Martin O’Malley.

Descending from the State House steps to speak directly to the thousands strong group that spent the evening loudly objecting to his policies, O’Malley argued that the state’s budget situation demands sacrifice from public employees. He did, however, reiterate his support for unions.

Many in the audience felt mixed feelings over the Governor’s message. Campbell felt reassured that collective bargaining was not being attacked, but was unsatisfied over the issue of pensions. “I thought that what the governor said was kind of ill timed. We know there are tough times, but he should have shown more solidarity,” stated Kirby.
Nonetheless, there was a definite feeling accomplishment surrounding the crowd as it dispersed in the darkness after the event came to a close. It was obvious that many, especially those who had not experienced an event of this nature before, would have memories to last a long while.

A week later, the ralliers have already succeeded in meeting some of their aims, as the General Assembly has restored $58.5 million to the education fund. Many legislators point to the rally as their main reason for doing so. It seems that promises made may in fact still be promises kept.