Chicago teachers step up resistance to school closings

By on May 23, 2013

Chicago school teachers held a large rally on May 20 that focused on resisting attempts to shut down as many as 54 public schools, most in oppressed Black and Latino/a neighborhoods.

The right-wing, anti-people, anti-Black administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been waging a war against public education. City Hall and the heads of the Chicago Public Schools system claim that many schools in the city are “underutilized.” They use this as an excuse for their plans to shut these schools down.

The truth is that most CPS schools are overcrowded and underfunded. And the schools targeted for closing are almost exclusively located in Black or Latino/a communities.

CPS has also waged a war on Black teachers, drastically reducing their numbers ever since the years when Mayor Richard M. Daley ruled the city with an iron hand. Emanuel has continued and expanded Daley’s racist policies, and is in the process of trying to create a two-tiered, apartheid, “separate but equal” school system. That would have underperforming, non-union charter schools for working-class and oppressed nation communities and well-funded magnet schools and private academies for children of the bourgeois brahmins, represented by the Emanuel administration.

The Chicago Teachers Union, AFT Local 1, just reelected its popular, struggle-oriented leader, Karen Lewis. She has provided bold leadership in resisting Emanuel’s war on public education and oppressed nation communities.

The CTU held marches and demonstrations at schools targeted for closing on May 20 that culminated in civil disobedience at City Hall and a giant demonstration at the adjacent Daley Plaza. The timing of these actions is crucial, as the Board of Education is set to vote on the closure of the 54 schools.

The Board of Ed is also facing a lawsuit, filed by Black parents and the parents of disabled children, charging that the school closings violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

On May 20, after a morning filled with marches and demonstrations in communities with schools targeted to be closed, CTU members and their allies marched on City Hall with chants like “Hey Rahm, let’s face it, school closures are racist!”

Adapting a popular slogan from the movement to free Black political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, they chanted, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, no school closings, save them all!”

CTU activists and allies delivered a petition to the mayor’s office demanding a moratorium on school closings and then blocked access to ground-floor elevators at City Hall, underlining their commitment to keep the schools open. Some 26 people were arrested in this bold civil disobedience action.

The demonstrators, nearly 1,000 strong, then took over the nearby intersection of LaSalle and Washington on their way to the Daley Center for a huge rally, which included many students, parents and teachers.

The only way to stop the Emanuel administration and CPS from pushing forward their racist privatization agenda is the path of struggle opened up by Karen Lewis and the CTU.

Photos: Jenna Pope

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