On the frontlines of change

Alumnus David B. Goldberg reflects on advocacy journey from UCSC to teacher’s union president

(Oakes ’94, community studies)

David B. Goldberg was never late to Professor Dana Frank’s labor studies class. 

Three days a week, promptly at 8 a.m., Professor Frank closed the doors to her lecture hall. The expectation was that if the working class could wake up to get to work before the sun rose, her students, privileged enough to attend college, should be able to reach class on time. 

Goldberg (Oakes ’94, community studies) took great interest in the power of organizing on behalf of the working class while he was a student at UC Santa Cruz and in her class. 

When speaking with Professor Frank about his desire to become a union organizer, she told him, “Become a worker first.”

And that’s what Goldberg did, following in his mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps. Both were educators and strike captains for United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). In 1971, when it was illegal for teachers to strike, Goldberg’s grandmother walked the lines to protect teacher’s rights. His mom walked the line in 1989. Thirty years later, he did the same. 

Now, Goldberg serves as President of the California Teachers Association (CTA) which represents 310,000 educators in the state. 

Goldberg didn’t always know what he wanted to do. He came to UCSC wanting a break from his competitive streak as a basketball player. Division III ball was the perfect median. Coming from Los Angeles’s Fairfax High School filled with the hustle and bustle of city life, Santa Cruz’s tall trees and tranquility enchanted him. 

“I remember running around the track and thinking, ‘Oh my god, is this for real?’ And then all of a sudden, you’re looking over the ocean,” Goldberg said. 

Along with the trees, Goldberg found solace in his major, community studies. His first stint at educating came through working at the Ark Independent Studies school as fieldwork for his major. 

Ark was a continuation school for students who left comprehensive school for various reasons. The teacher Goldberg worked with spent a lot of time with her students, developing different ways to engage their learning.

“It was beautiful to see what it meant for a teacher to lay everything on the line and be connected with her students and have both be accountable to one another,” Goldberg said. “In the community studies department, we spent a lot of time doing work and looking at the theory and practice of how those relate to each other.”

Goldberg found a community on campus called Concerned Students, where he could practice what his professors preached. He was part of a student-led protest that advocated for freezing fee hikes and other student-centered demands. A confrontation with campus police during a takeover of McHenry Library resulted in Goldberg’s arrest. But that didn’t deter him; organizing is in his blood.

His father was an outspoken free speech advocate in the ’60s and was expelled from UCLA and UC Berkeley for it. For the past 50 years, his father has served as a community lawyer in Los Angeles. 

“I didn’t come into organizing without pretense. I grew up  going to actions,” Goldberg said. 

Both organizing and working with teachers, and professors like Dana Frank, pushed Goldberg to find his path into education. As soon as he graduated in 1997, and after a short season of professional overseas basketball, Goldberg decided to pursue his teaching credential. 

He started work as a bilingual teacher in Boyle Heights, in Northeast LA. 

“I came to teaching amid a huge attack on students I was serving. It was during the time of No Child Left Behind, right after Prop 187, an attack on undocumented students. I was a bilingual elementary teacher, and the government had just outlawed bilingual education. I found myself at the frontlines of a lot of bigger struggles.”

The path was clear, and just like his mother and grandmother before him, Goldberg began organizing with UTLA. From employee protections to pushing for an anti-racist curriculum for all students, he stands on the frontlines for equitable education. 

Goldberg wanted to influence a more widespread change among members of the union and students. His part divulged into more involvement with the union. He went from serving as site leader to becoming union treasurer. 

Goldberg didn’t even know the CTA existed before 2008—until the recession hit. Teachers and union members were being laid off left and right. Goldberg realized if he wanted to increase protections for teachers at a larger scale and to fight for what his students deserved, he needed statewide support. 

Goldberg has since served on CTA’s Board of Directors for six years, served as secretary-treasurer for a four-year term, and then served as vice president for another four-year term. Now, Goldberg is serving his first term as president.

“I feel blessed that what I chose to spend my life working around is an issue that is great to build movement around and it resonates with people,” Goldberg said. “It allows us to put anti-racism, class issues, and social justice issues at the center of our work and help serve our community every day.”

Goldberg hopes one day to make a better world for his kids and future generations to enjoy. A world he attributes to his mom, grandmother, father, and wife's work and their consistent love for people. 

 “It is a privilege and honor to be in connection with others that serve the community,” Goldberg said. “The work we do is to continue to fight for a better world that doesn’t have so much pain and hurt to begin with.”

From the frontlines of student advocacy at UCSC to the forefront of teacher’s rights in the state, Goldberg’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of passion, purpose, and a profound commitment to creating a better world for generations to come.