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Boots Riley Spoke at the Oakland Teacher Strike; Here's What He Said

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Boots Riley on the set of 'Sorry to Bother You.' (Pete Lee)

Before Boots Riley was the award-winning director of Sorry to Bother You, he was better known as an Oakland rapper and community organizer who led direct actions during the Occupy movement and spoke out against corporate greed and police brutality with his group, the Coup. Today, Riley took to the streets once again to lend his platform and support to the Oakland Unified School District teacher strike, now in its fourth day as teachers lobby for a 12-percent wage increase over the span of three years.

This afternoon, at a rally in front of Roots International Academy in East Oakland, Riley joined students, teachers and community activists to champion direct action and criticize privatization of public education—a contentious topic in the Bay Area as public schools lose funding to charters. Riley cheered on protesters, reminding them that they’re setting an example for students and teachers across the country and world. Read his full speech below.

Boots Riley at the Oakland teachers' strike on Feb. 26, 2019.
Boots Riley at the Oakland teachers’ strike on Feb. 26, 2019. (East Bay Majority)

What’s up, thank y’all for fighting. My name is Boots Riley. I’m not gonna rap after that. But I will say in one of the Coup songs called “Strange Arithmetic,” there is a very simple but true lyric that says “If your school don’t teach you how to fight for what’s needed / They’re teaching you to go through life and get cheated.” And that’s what y’all are doing, teaching the students how to fight. You’re not just teaching them the facts of what happened: you’re teaching them to make something happen. And that’s very important because otherwise, all these little templates they get, they won’t know—when they get out in the real world—what to do with it, how to do anything but wish that things were different.

And this is not wishing that things were different, because what y’all are doing is the real way that all the changes that we’ve seen throughout history have actually happened. They don’t come from hoping the right leader gets out there and gets into office, or the right superintendent. They come from the leaders and the elected officials and the superintendents being scared of y’all, being scared of y’all being able to just shut down the machine, shut it all down, and not to give in ’til you get what you want, right?

And this right—it might seem that it’s right here, all these people right here, but there are people looking at it all over the world, trying to figure out what they should do in their life. They’re looking to Oakland teachers, they’re looking to L.A. teachers and they’re looking to y’all as an example—and you’re giving a great one. And obviously, this wouldn’t be a fight if they just gave in right away. That would be too easy. So y’all are in the thick of it, and I’m glad you’re staying in it because what happens here is going to have a lot to do with what people do all around the country and all around the world, and I thank you.


I thank you for what you’re doing, because without y’all, they will privatize everything. They’ll privatize every single thing and you’ll have to have a credit card for each lesson you get. And what’s stopping that is not just that the people in charge have good hearts. A lot of them may have good hearts. But it doesn’t have to do with what’s in people’s hearts. It’s not a personality thing. It’s a function, it’s how this system works. And this system is about profit, as you probably all know. They will, little by little, take away all the funding that’s happening there. And no matter how great of a person gets there in office, they’re not going to be able to do all the things to fight for people that they say they’re gonna do if there’s not a real fight going on. So y’all shutting it down is how it happens, and so thank you.

Scroll to 19:22 to hear the speech below.

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