Out of all the protest action in Olympia today, the gold star goes to Hagopian, who had the most over-the-top, yet succinct and powerful, message of the day (sorry, "Budget Cut Sucks" just wasn't doing it for me.)[pullquote]"The kids in my classroom should come before tax loopholes for some of the wealthiest corporations in the world."[/pullquote]
Hagopian was with a group of union teachers, though they said they were not speaking for the Washington Education Association union (which was also out in force today) calling themselves Social Equality Educators. The group disrupted the house proceedings shortly after noon today by chanting from the third floor gallery: "Paramount Duty! Paramount Duty!"—a reference to the state constitutional mandate to fund education.
After being escorted out by several state troopers onto the marble landing off the gallery, Hagopian emerged as an unstoppable and hyper-eloquent spokesman for the crew of 10-plus teachers who stood around in a circle mesmerized (as were the press) as he had his say.
Brandishing a pair of handcuffs, Hagopian told the police that rather than arresting protesters (no one was actually arrested), they should go down to the house chamber and arrest legislators for not upholding the state constitution. "Arrest them, not the people that don't have camping permits," he said, echoing Matt Taibbi's call in Rolling Stone for the NYPD to stop focusing on the Wall Street protesters and arrest the financiers upstairs who caused the financial crisis instead.
In February 2010, King County Superior Judge John Erlick ruled in the case Network for Excellence in Washington Schools vs. Washington State (the ongoing case brought by education groups and parents challenging the state's declining funding for K-12 schools) that state policy was unconstitutional because education is identified in the state constitution as the state's "paramount duty." (K-12 funding has dropped from 50 percent to 41 percent of the state budget over the last several decades—and has taken a $2.5 billion hit in the last three years.)
"I came down to Olympia today to demand that the state fulfill its constitutional duty," Hagopian said. "The kids in my classroom should come before tax loopholes for some of the wealthiest corporations in the world."
"Do you have kids in public schools?" Hagopian asked the stoic troopers.
Interestingly, after Hagopian's lecture on law and order, the group did an Occupy-style mike check (I can't shake how creepy those are with their call and response robot tones) thanking the police and "recognizing" that they are part of the 99 percent.
Following that initial action, Hagopian and his group disrupted the house ways and means committee meeting and the fire marshal temporarily stopped the meeting due to overcrowding. A teacher was arrested during the protest, though we haven't confirmed that it was Hagopian.
Today's Loser: State Rep. Ross Hunter
Hunter was holding court to an attentive gaggle of reporters in the Democratic house caucus room, Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber's tape recorder rolling and everybody dutifully taking notes, when Hagopian's group of teachers disrupted the floor ceremony.
We all rushed out to see what the commotion was, leaving Hunter, who does like to hear himself talk, talking to himself.
And in a literal Jolt: KIRO7 TV and KOMO TV are tweeting that the Washington State Patrol has tasered four protesters at the capitol building. Protesters were told to leave the building, but many did not and the police are coordinating with them for peaceful arrests.
These protests are separate from the action at the ways and means committee meeting in a different building.