Grown-ups tend to believe that teens are only obsessed with Snapchat kitty filters, Lil Nas X, and crawling into bathtubs with dead squids. But this is both unfair and inaccurate. When all is said and done, the kids are alright, as demonstrated by the recent efforts of Gillian Sullivan, a teenage girl in Nevada whose TikTok went viral for trying to organize a student strike in solidarity with Clark County, Nevada teachers.
On August 26th, Sullivan posted a TikTok addressed to kids in the Clark County school district (CCSD), calling for students to strike in solidarity with their teacher on September 5th. The teachers were in mediation with the CCSD, and had planned to strike on Sept. 10 if a deal was not reached.
“Our district is refusing to give [a raise to] teachers who spent the past three years earning enough credits out of their own pocket. [They’re] spending extra hours outside of school to earn credits to get a raise, and our district won’t give it to them,” Sullivan says. “Literally, they won’t pay the teachers what our teachers earn.”
“I’m kinda sick of our district thinking it’s OK to walk all over teachers and students all of the time,” Sullivan says before calling on other students to strike, adding, “I’m done, and you should be too.”
These kids on tiktok are organizing a general strike in solidarity with their teachers? Holy shit? pic.twitter.com/h1Rny03xwc
— Klaudia Amenábar 🇨🇱 (@kaludiasays) August 27, 2019
In an interview with Rolling Stone (conducted after lacrosse practice on Wednesday evening), Sullivan, 16, a junior at CCSD’s Foothill High School, says she became aware of the negotiations after talking with her mom, a teacher in the district for more than 20 years. She says her mother had been promised a raise after getting additional credits from college classes, only to never receive it. She had attended a board meeting at another high school, where students had brought up the possibility of striking in solidarity.
“I was really frustrated and I felt students should be informed about what’s going on in their districts. No students have supported them in any way, shape, or form,” Sullivan tells Rolling Stone. So she posted her message on TikTok, hoping it would make the #foryou page, which offers users personalized recommendations. (She also posted similar messages on Instagram and Snapchat.)
Although the TikTok was intended exclusively for students in the Clark County School District, it ended up going viral, in large part because it was shared on Twitter by social media producer and podcaster Klaudia Amenabar. As of publication, it has racked up more than 36,000 likes and 780 comments, and has prompted other CCSD students on TikTok to join Sullivan’s call to strike.
Sullivan’s TikTok also inspired fellow CCSD student Leonardo Bueno, 17, a senior at El Dorado High School, to post his own TikTok in support of the teachers’ organizing. “For most people TikTok is perceived as another Vine. Not a lot of people hear about political stuff or things like that,” he tells Rolling Stone. But now, thanks to his and Sullivan’s TikTok posts, “a lot of people have seen it and they’ve been talking about it and wanting to learn more about the strike.”
The fifth largest school district in the country, the Clark County was embroiled in mediation with nearly 2,600 teachers belonging to the the teachers’ union, the Clark County Education Association. Members of the union threatened to strike on September 10th if the district does not agree to certain terms in their 2019-2021 contracts, which would affect students at nearly 350 schools. As Sullivan outlines on TikTok, one of the major points of contention is a previously instituted policy requiring teachers to get advanced degrees in order to qualify for a pay bump. Many of the teachers threatening to go on strike said they spent thousands of dollars in pursuit of advanced degrees, only to be denied the raise they were promised.
Tensions grew even higher on Monday, when the Clark County School District, helmed by Superintendent Jesus Jara, filed an injunction attempting to prevent teachers from striking, arguing that the effect of such a walkout would be “crippling” for the district. It is illegal for public employees to conduct such strikes, according to Nevada state law, with the teachers’ union facing a potential fine of up to $50,000 a day, and the teachers who strike could risk dismissal.
Thankfully, on Wednesday the school district and the teachers’ union reached an agreement, with the district agreeing to the union’s demands of a 3% pay increase for teachers, a 4% increase to the district’s contributions to monthly health insurance premiums, and a $5,400 salary bump to teachers who earned professional development credits.
With the strike averted, Sullivan is emboldened by the response her TikTok got from students, particularly among those who’d had little knowledge of the issues facing their own community. While she doesn’t consider herself strongly political, she’s happy she played a role in getting the message out there.
“I’ve never used TikTok as a serious platform. I make videos pretending to be VSCO girls or making fun of them or things like that,” she says, referring to a Gen Z trope referencing a type of girl who uses the photo-editing app VSCO. “But I was just so frustrated, I figured I may as well talk about it on social media.”