Politics & Government

From Avengers to Harry Potter, teacher protest signs are all about making a statement

Teachers marching in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday chanted, wore red T-shirts and made clear their list of demands for better pay and respect. But there was perhaps no better way to showcase those demands than in the signs they carried from Fayetteville Street to Halifax Mall.

Marchers taking part in the May 1 Day of Action, organized by the N.C. Association of Educators, borrowed heavily from pop culture to inspire their signs. Photographing the signs became a part of the rally experience.

References to The Avengers (and Thanos’ dreadful snap), Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss and “Game of Thrones” frequently popped up along with a variety of memes.

“Hogwarts had a full-time nurse. Why don’t we?” read one, referencing Harry Potter’s wizarding school.

“I survived the Battle of Winterfell but I can’t survive on an NC Teachers salary,” read another, alluding to a big battle on last Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones.”

Even Ariana Grande and Sir-Mix-A-Lot got shout-outs, respectively, with “Thank u, next @markjohnson” and “We don’t want NONE unless you’ve got Funds Hun!”

Meanwhile, Netflix star Marie Kondo graced another with, “This does not spark joy,” a reference to the organizing maven’s cleaning philosophy.

There were political barbs pointed at legislators and NC Superintendent Mark Johnson, some more diplomatic than others.

Jana Johnson, a social studies teacher at North Mecklenburg High School near Charlotte, carried a sign that said, “We want resources not roaches.” Other teachers admired it and snapped photos of it, comparing war stories about critters found at their schools.

“Y’all have roaches, too?” Johnson asked.

“Oh yeah!” they replied enthusiastically, adding that they also lacked air conditioning.

“Amen, sisters, a-men,” Johnson said.

She said she asked her students why they wanted her to come to Raleigh to march. They listed a lack of textbooks, crowded classes and not enough seats in computer labs. Then they showed her a photo of a urinal with bugs crawling all over it.

“They said, ‘We’ve got to get rid of these bugs,’” she said, pulling up the photo on her phone. “They made me this sign and said, ‘Carry this tomorrow.’ I said, ‘I’m all in.’”

Teacher rally sign 7.jpg
Frank Burns, a math teacher at Moore Square Middle School, with his daughter, Madeline, a first-grader at Willow Springs Elementary. Thousands of teachers carried signs May 1, 2019, in downtown Raleigh during the May 1 “Day of Action” organized by the N.C. Association of Educators. The signs ranged from clever pop culture references to more direct demands for higher pay, supplies and respect. Jessica Banov jbanov@newsobserver.com

Several marchers brought their kids along, and they, too, carried signs of support.

Madeline Burns, a first-grader at Willow Springs Elementary, carried a sign that was on theme with many others: “My dad is a teacher! What’s your superpower?”

She accompanied her father, Frank Burns, a math teacher at Moore Square Middle School in Raleigh. His sign was more serious, spelling out why he was marching: “Duty-free lunch, instructional planning, higher wages, more funding. No excuses!” Together, some of the letters spelled “Union.”

Burns said it takes thought to execute a good sign, one that carries the message effectively. He saw plenty using humor and satire. And last year, after borrowing a sign, he knew he had to elevate his sign game.

“I did my homework and said, ‘I’m going to make my own sign,’” he said. “I wanted my sign this year to make a statement.”

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Features Editor Jessica Banov oversees coverage of entertainment, the arts, food and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.