Report from so-called Detroit about recent bus blockades that were attempting to stop the return of students to indoor instruction during the height of the pandemic.
We got up in the early morning every day for weeks. Bus drivers start their days early, so we had to start even earlier. We arrived at the bus lot between 4-6 am each weekday. The goal: stop school buses from collecting children to bring them to summer school, an indoor gathering during the first summer of covid, where the virus would likely be spread among children then to the people they live and interact with.
Some Detroit schools were opening for summer school, but it was mostly Black and Brown kids, and those whose parents were stretched thin from lack of protection or support from their jobs and the government who were expected for in-person school. Guardians were presented with the choice of online or in person classes, but with the demands of capitalism and constant threat of poverty or homelessness, was it really much of a choice? For homes without reliable internet or personal computers, online classes were already inaccessible. Then, if all the adults of a household were still required to work outside the home, a child could not be left alone regardless. For the suburban white families, this was an easier choice: these homes often had jobs that allowed remote work, reliable internet, greater stability (cushion of savings and social capital with similarly-positioned folks), and computers for each child–or were even offered computers and take-home wifi hotspots in wealthier districts.
Protesters arrived early in the morning and walked in circles in front of the entrance/exit of the school bus lots. We held signs and chanted about Detroit schools and the failings of Superintendent Vitti. We did not intend to target individual bus drivers for harm or intimidation; they are just working class folks like most of us who are facing similar difficult choices. One bus driver even quit as a result of the protests, and community fundraising was done to support them through the period of lost income. By showing up and talking to bus drivers about why in-person school was not safe for these children, and how they were being used as guinea pigs for reopening while the suburban kids had the option to remain at home (often with accommodations!), we hoped to convince them to go home instead of following through on work duties.
For about a week there were no arrests, then one day they started suddenly. We knew it would probably happen sometime, but it’s always hard when our friends go to jail for any amount of time. I’m not sure about the charges, but jail support was ready to go and watched the livestreams to keep track of each person taken hostage by police.
Though these actions did not bring about the equitable conditions Detroit youth deserve to thrive, we were able to delay start times, cancel some days of in person school, and show both bus drivers and child caretakers that there are people looking out for them and the children of Detroit.