Chicago teachers strike Day #4: Solidarity, paid lies plus a lot of questions


Chicago teachers strike Day #4: Solidarity, paid lies plus a lot of questions

Posted by Mike E on September 14, 2012

Chicago teachers strike, day 4 photo: Rita Stephanie

Kasama is publishing reports from a striking teacher in Chicago. Rita’s first impressions appreaed here.

by Rita Stephanie

Today was junk food Thursday. Really!

We arrived at the picket line at 6:30 a.m. and found several teachers from another school had brought us bagels and coffee. They felt they had gotten so many donations because their school is close to area restaurants—they wanted to share some of what had been brought to them.

Nice way to start the day.

We headed back out to North Avenue to soak up the beeping horns, fists pumps and thumbs-up of support. The cheering we are getting is rather addictive. I joke with another teacher about whether I will get this sort of enthusiastic response from my 8th grade students when we go back to school. We laugh together at the absurd thought.

Today we were again greeted with overwhelming support and more food.

First, a retired teacher from Winnetka (a wealthy suburb north of Chicago) drove into the city to support striking teachers. Our small contingent had about 60 teachers spread out on the four corners of the street. This woman delivered boxes of donuts to each corner. We hugged, we cheered her and we continued to chant.


Thank you. photo: Rita Stephanie

The donuts were followed by a donation of a box of home-made red velvet cupcakes with red sprinkles on top. These cupcakes came with a lovely note from a woman whose mother is a retired teacher (see picture right).

We were so touched.

A bit later we had another woman stop her car. She called me over and handed me a large bag. It was filled with muffins. Her words as she pulled away were,

“Strikers need to eat.”

In addition we had parents stopping with water and other snacks. Today we not only felt the love on the streets, but we tasted it too. Good thing that I’m biking to and from the picket lines.

Everyone was excited about the afternoon rally on Wednesday. After our morning picket teachers went to three different Chicago high schools.

Picketing on the Westside

I was assigned to Marshall High School on the Westside of the city—the heart of the Westside ghetto.

The school I teach at is 99% African American and rated 99% high poverty (free or reduced lunch). It is an interesting school because it is a particular “pocket” of poverty in an overall more affluent area.

The Westside is different. It is grinding poverty where people are isolated and abandoned. The teachers from my school were exhilarated attending this rally. This was the first time that most of the white teachers have ever been to the Westside. They were surprised at the support of the people living in the area and horrified at the poverty.

A couple of the African American teachers from my school live or grew up on the Westside. One teacher was so excited to tell me how her father had an honorary street named after him in the area because of his service to the residents.

This experience creates so many opportunities for different communities to get to know—and understand—each other. It’s thrilling!

Facing media offensive

The talk this morning was all about the media coverage. Everyone had seen a TV commercial that was run repeatedly on all the major networks the night before. It was put out by a group called Education Reform Now Advocacy. This group is based in New York and lobbies on behalf of Charter Schools. The group is spending huge amounts in Chicago to portray teachers as villains and to influence the outcome of the strike.

I did a bit of research and found that this organization is directed by two hedge fund managers:

  • R Boykins Curry IV, owner/partner of Eagle Capital Management Hedge Fund and
  • John Petry, Hedge Fund Manager.

Prior to the union strike authorization vote this group sent robo-calls to all CPS parents from an alleged Local School Council member saying

“Teachers deserve a raise. But it bothers me that the union is taking a strike vote before an independent arbitrator offers a compromise.”

Of course, if you fact check, this is untrue. Before the teachers held the vote to authorize a strike an independent arbitrator had ruled that teachers deserved a large raise.

This group tried to influence public opinion before our strike vote and is now inserting itself into the strike negotiations. The commercials are showing teachers as greedy, over paid, and just out for themselves.

The teachers really feel that this is “class warfare”. The teachers and other public employees are being viciously attacked by the rich. It is rich vs. poor. This makes for some good chants, but it isn’t an adequate analysis of what is happening and why.

The teachers on my line are not yet thinking or talking about the system behind these policies.

The conversation shifted to a local billionaire Board of Education member, Penny Pritzker. She received $5 million in TIF funds and for years she has repeatedly appealed paying her property taxes (which are used to fund local schools.) Teachers want to take this on.

Creative with the Sharpies

I wish I had been taking pictures of posters from the beginning—teachers are very creative.

One teacher had a poster showing how her room was funded for “extra” supplies. She made a comparison chart:

  • $100  (Chicago Public Schools);
  • $1,000 DonorsChoose (a charity that funds teacher requests),
  • $2,000.00 Ms. Smith (the teacher).

Another teacher suggested that we use this as a teachable moment and create a bar chart that would illustrate how close teachers are to poverty compared to our wealthy detractors. The families we serve are at the bottom, teachers would be up a centimeter or two and the Hedge Fund managers and school board member Pritzker would be off the chart!

A question: Where is Obama?

Another interesting discussion that broke out this morning was on the topic of international education. Teachers wanted to discuss how it is that the United States is the richest country in the world, but lags so far behind in education. It is obvious the priorities are wrong, but people are struggling to understand why, especially with Obama in the White House. And, again the questions were raised: Where is Obama? Why isn’t he speaking out?

The discussions will continue this afternoon as we all gather again at a central rally downtown. Today’s gathering site is the Hyatt Regency (owned by that education board member, Penny Pritzker). Everyone is still strong and determined to fight for teacher’s rights, but the discussion is changing and teachers feel a responsibility to fight for themselves and others around the city and country. The “sea of red” will move through the loop again this afternoon. We’ll be back on the picket lines at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. Peace! Rita.

I spent the afternoon at the central rally downtown. I have a couple of words to say—marching bands. Marching bands make for the very best and most lively marches!

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