Chicago: From the teachers’ picket line

 

Chicago: From the teachers’ picket line

Posted by kasama on September 13, 2012

Kasama received this from Rita, a teacher in Chicago. 

Impressions:
Day 3 of the Chicago Teachers Strike

by Rita Stephanie

I ride my bike to the picket line at 6:30 in the morning and everyone on the street with a red shirt on raises a fist or shouts a greeting. Chicago is a friendly city, but I’ve never felt anything like this.

Suddenly, I have people all around me that are waving, saying hello and wishing me well—we have taken a stand together. We have walked off our jobs. We have taken that risk! I am suddenly thrust into a community of some 26,000 other people—instantly we are brothers and sisters. I look around and feel that the world is different. Everyone seems to be on strike, yet, life goes on as before. It feels surreal!

I get to the picket. A woman that none of us know drives up, stops her car and gives us a Dunkin Donuts box of coffee, cups, sugar and cream. She doesn’t stay, but gives us a smile and drives off. Cool!

Everyone is tired. It’s before 7:00 a.m. and we are standing outside of our school talking about how much easier and nicer it would be to be in school getting ready to teach.

Instead, we start a line and chant. The teachers at my school were all friendly, but we really didn’t know each other well. We have a diverse staff—mainly African American and some white teachers. Wow, on the picket line we finally have time to talk, get to know each other, gripe about the conditions and collaborate on how best to serve our students.

I learn that my fellow teachers are: from Mississippi, grew up in the hood and had a house around the corner that was torn down for a fancy townhome, feel proud because their grandparents were socialists or communists, remembered being at a farm workers demonstration as a kid, and are mad at the poverty that is crushing our students, are mad that the city thinks that because most of us (the teachers) are women that they can disrespect us so easily. I develop a greater respect for my fellow teachers. I learn why they care about our kids. It starts to become us vs. them. A real unity is getting forged.

I have to admit that I had a vision that we would never strike because of the bigger political picture: “Obama would never want a strike on the eve of the election. He needs labor so he would make sure that Rahm would work out a compromise.”

I was wrong—things are more complicated. STRIKE!

The interests are complex and if the problems of education were easily solved it would have been done already. All morning on the picket line we talked about the problems of poverty. The teachers on my picket line wanted to talk about the big problem of poverty. We still need to teach our babies, but society needs to take responsibility for the problem of poverty.

Those on the line were bitter that they were being blamed for the failure of the education system. Instead the majority of the teachers want to put the blame too narrowly on the mayor of the city of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. One teacher meekly started a discussion saying that she might offend all of us, but she had to say it… she is mad at Obama because he isn’t standing up for us. The debates and discussions of the problem and solution are beginning!

We set out to North Avenue a nearby major street to picket—(our school is on a side street without much traffic.) We marched, we chanted, we sang old union songs. We wanted to take our struggle to more people and we were bored and needed some feedback and interaction with more people.

The support was amazing. I can tell you that the truck drivers, especially the waste removal and all hazardous material trucks are with the teachers. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, construction/maintenance workers, all beeped, waved and fist pumped their approval. Overwhelmingly, most cars that passed us beeped their approval. With our drums, singing and the beeping vehicles we were able to create a considerable ruckus.

An observation that I find difficult to report as a communist is the role of the police: I have to say that the police were some of our biggest supporters. The police approached us to make sure that they didn’t give any of us tickets for being parked in restricted areas around the school. The beat cops wanted to talk about how they were next and that public servants are taking the brunt of the economic crisis. Their contract is coming up and they know that they will be messed over too. The cops allowed us to swarm out on North Avenue and stand in the middle of the intersection slowing down traffic. The police cars that went by were some of the most enthusiastic beepers and fist pumpers.

It really makes me think about how sophisticated we need to be in recognizing how at different times the rulers lose the allegiance of those they rely on to enforce their rule.

It became even more intense when we rallied later in the day on the Westside of the city. I remember going to the very same area to join protests after the LA rebellion/Rodney King protests. As a protestor at that time I was treated with the full viciousness of the police.

Today, I had a young white cop look at me directly and put his fist in the air and say, “You Go Teachers!” Really weird!

The news was just on. It seems that we are still on strike tomorrow. We will be on the lines at 6:30 a.m. again tomorrow morning. The teachers are taking this very seriously.

Thousands of us have walked off our jobs. We know that the rest of the country is watching to see what we do. It is exciting and scary all at the same time.

The people need a victory. The teachers in Chicago need to stay strong and win this struggle. I’m not sure how far this will go, but we’ve talked about how we aren’t teaching history, but maybe making it. Not bad! Go Teachers!

As the strike continues I will try to continue to write my impressions.

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