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A member of Black Lives Matter who was a keynote speaker at last year’s DSA National Convention has been elected president of the largest teachers union in Los Angeles.
Cecily Myart-Cruz captured almost 69% of the vote last week when union members picked her to lead United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents more than 30,000 educators, librarians, and counselors working in the nation’s second-largest public school system. The L.A. Times reports that Myart-Cruz is “the first woman of color” chosen for that position, adding, she “identifies as biracial, black and Latina” and “has long been part of the union’s activist wing.” She has 25 years of experience educating elementary and middle school kids.
“I see teaching as a revolutionary act, just the way I see organizing,” she has said.
Myart-Cruz, 46, describes herself as an “organizer” and “activist.” She helped form a progressive caucus that gained control of UTLA in 2014, when she was elected as a vice president. The faction quickly changed the union from a service model to an organizing model, developing a plan that included children, parents, and local advocacy organizations.
UTLA partnered with Black Lives Matter and youth-led groups to push “racial justice” and education reforms within the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD), which serves more than 600,000 students. According to the L.A. Times, “the overwhelming majority” of schoolkids come from low-income families. In a deal with the district that ended a six-day UTLA strike last year, Myart-Cruz claimed to have negotiated on student-activists’ behalf. Part of the agreement led to the end of a mandatory, random search policy, which had been in place since 1993. BLM members and students had joined UTLA on the picket lines.
OUR Cecily Myart-Cruz, the force behind #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool, comrade in the fight to end random searches of our children in LAUSD, and courageous visionary, was elected as the first woman of color president of @UTLAnow!https://t.co/0ln3TliQoW
— #BlackLivesMatter-LA (@BLMLA) February 29, 2020
Dr. Melina Abdullah, who leads BLM’s L.A. chapter, has called Myart-Cruz a “sister” and “comrade.” Both Abdullah and Myart-Cruz are part of a coalition of black women who have been advocates of replacing L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey with a more progressive prosecutor.
In 2016, UTLA and BLM co-sponsored the first Black Lives Matter event held inside an L.A. public school. Myart-Cruz went on to help establish “Black Lives Matter In Schools” week, an annual observance that has since been adopted by the National Education Association.
The union’s bond with BLM created a conflict with the school police department in 2018. UTLA had used its social media platforms to encourage “youth of color” to organize against “the over policing” of L.A. public schools.
“(Students) are not the future; they are the present,” Myart-Cruz told her “sisters, brothers, and non-binary siblings” attending a national DSA gathering last August. “We need to wrap our arms around them because they are leading at this moment. And it is up to us to change where we are, to engage with them in a way that shakes the very foundation of our nation.”
“The time is now to lead, act boldly, and to be unapologetic in our quest for building power and complete liberation for our people.”
Outgoing UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who once called The Daily Wire “a right-wing, Trump-supporting, anti-union rag,” is termed out of that position. However, he was elected to a vice president spot and will remain in an influential role. In effect, Caputo-Pearl and Myart-Cruz, who are allies, have swapped jobs. According to the L.A. Times, fewer than 5,300 UTLA members cast ballots out of approximately 31,000 eligible voters. Myart-Cruz takes over leadership duties in July.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.