Chicago teachers strike Day #5: Marching through Cabrini Green

 

Chicago teachers strike Day #5: Marching through Cabrini Green

Posted by Mike E on September 14, 2012

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

by Rita Stephanie

A full week on strike!

It is Friday and we are back on the picket lines at 8:00 a.m. We are all exhausted and running out of red clothes. The weather is a bit chilly and we stand close together as we talk about yesterday’s march.

The main discussion is about how lively the march was, and I have to say that I agree. The march was orderly, and stayed within all the allowed boundaries. Yet, this march had an enthusiasm and vitality that was contagious.

Maybe it was the high school marching band that joined us. Maybe it was that we were all wearing these goofy redrain ponchos that were donated to the union. Or, maybe it was the high school students that were laughing and being silly behind me. I’m not sure what it was, but the mood was happy and you could feel the possibility of something different in the air. How can we hang onto this feeling of comradery?

Today we have a different agenda. We are going to picket at our schools for an hour and then we will canvass the neighborhood. We want to find out what our community thinks and encourage everyone to come to our Saturday rally and march.

As we stand and talk, we suddenly hear, “Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town” being chanted. It is loud, but we don’t see anyone.

Then from around the corner marches a long line of teachers. They yell a welcome and call on our school group to join them. They call it a marching “bus” and it’s going to pick-up all of the teachers from all of the schools in our general area. What fun! We immediately get onboard.

The ghost of a community

We set off on a fast paced march of a few hundred that takes us through what is left of the old Cabrini Green neighborhood — where for decades people were concentrated in tall housing projects.

Marching where Cabrini Green once stood. Photo: Rita Stephanie

This is a bittersweet march for me.

I worked as a revolutionary organizer in this area years ago — part of a movement to stop the destruction of Cabrini Green, and save public houseing. The city and federal authorities succeeded in carrying out their policy of depopulated the area — and despite significant moments of struggle, they displaced thousands of residents and tore down all of the old high rise buildings. These buildings (half prison, half community) are all gone.

On streets where there had been large high rise buildings full of poor and working people there are either empty lots, new high priced townhouse developments, and multi-million dollar homes.

As we walked, I wonder (as I have so many times) about the people that were forced out of this community.

Where did they all go? What are their lives like now? How long will the families that attend the school where I teach be able to stay in the area that is so close to the center of the city?

Marching doesn’t provide the best opportunity for conversations, but as we march I hear snippets of white teachers talking about the segregation in Chicago and conditions of life for poor people. Several high school teachers are talking about creating a unit of study for their students on food deserts and what the people can do to combat these inequities.

 

Through the low-rise buildings where Cabrini Green once stood. Photo: Rita Stephanie

I’m walking with a group of African American teachers. One tells us how her brother was shot and killed. He had gotten into life on the street. She looks at the young men and boys hanging on the corner. Whenever she sees them she thinks of her brother. She boldly tells them to get on. She knows they aren’t so tough. When they go home to their  family they are sons and brothers.

 

I am struck by the difference in life experiences that we have all had. I am feeling empowered by the unity that we are beginning to forge in the course of the strike. I am learning so much from my fellow teachers.

Today we don’t have an afternoon rally. The union house of delegates will meet. Our delegates will be updated on the progress of the negotiations.

Our job for the rest of the day is to organize everyone that we can to go to the rally Saturday at 12:00 noon in Union Park, Chicago. (Lake and Ashland Ave.)

See you all there!

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