“I don’t know what you’ve been told,
but Rahm Emanuel has to go!
Teachers are under attack, and all we want is a fair contract!”
That’s what thousands of teachers sang this afternoon as they marched through the streets of downtown Chicago, on strike for the first time in 25 years.
As Alan Maass noted in Socialist Worker, which has had amazing daily strike coverage:
Rahm Emanuel thought he had this fight sewn up.
He thought the teachers would be intimidated. He thought the 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) would never even vote to strike, much less go out on one. He thought the relentless anti-teacher propaganda campaign of the political and media establishment would keep “public opinion” on his side. He thought that parents, students and the rest of the city would go along with the teacher-blaming and embrace his corporate school deform agenda.
But Rahm thought wrong.
Just how wrong started becoming clear in the early morning hours of Monday, September 10, when the picket lines went up on the first day of an all-out strike by CTU members at nearly 600 public schools in every neighborhood in the city.
And it became undeniable later that day when teachers left the picket lines and converged, with at least as many supporters, on the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters downtown for a massive rally. The streets around the building overflowed with a sea of humanity, dressed in CTU red. “This is an amazing display of democracy,” Rick Sawicki, a 7th grade teacher, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a wonderful lesson for children and adults alike. I’m honored that we are all sticking together.”
The teachers and those who support them taught a lesson on Monday for the whole world to learn: When your jobs and your profession and your schools and your lives are under attack from a bully, you have to stand up and fight back.
On the ground, the strike is not just a massive fightback against neoliberal education “reforms” and the union busting at their center, it is a celebration: of education, working class culture, and solidarity, and I wanted to share some of my favorite moments from the strike so far.
On Monday, I joined the picket at Social Justice High School, which has been a center of struggle all school year (and since its founding–when parents in the Little Village neighborhood waged a 19-day hunger strike to win the school for their children). About 150 teachers, students, and community members lined the corners of 31st St and Kostner St, drawing a near constant stream of horns, blaring in solidarity as they passed.
Teachers led a solidarity march to a nearby elementary school, where teachers greeted us with a chorus of “Solidarity Forever.” Teachers made personalized signs on the back of their printed “on strike” pickets.
After the picket, teachers relaxed and debated how to build community support for the strike and keep teacher morale up. After a short rest, they headed over to the park for a community speakout and picnic.
Then, teachers and parents in Little Village and Pilsen, the heart of the Mexican community in Chicago, organized a march from the neighborhood to downtown. Parents from Spry and Whittier Elementary schools came out in solidarity with the teachers, and we marched to some very loud traffic and some great beats from an impromptu drum line. (Videos of one of the rally speeches here.)
I think part of being a revolutionary is the ability to dream big, and I knew the rally downtown would be massive, but I still was unprepared for what it was–downtown Chicago brought to a halt, cars halted as masses of red shirts swarmed around them. It reminded me of my time in Madison, Wisconsin last year–with better weather. Substance News reported more than 50,000 people at the rally. All I know is that as the march snaked through the Loop, I never saw the front or the back of it.
On Tuesday morning, the rush of pure adrenaline had run out, and teachers began to dig in. Pickets were even more spirited. The picket I went to at Farragut Career Academy in Little Village was almost like a festival. Elementary school teachers were dancing a CTU hokey pokey with children on the picket line (“You put your union in, you kick Rahm out, you throw a strike in, and shake it all about…you do the hokey pokey and you win your contract now…that’s what it’s all about!”)
Teachers from three schools marched around the neighborhood together. Most cars honked in solidarity. As the strike continues, keeping the picket lines fun and morale boosting will be important, and not only is the feeling of solidarity wonderful, it allows all the people there to showcase their multitude of abilities–making signs or songs, dancing, cooking, playing with kids, organizing their colleagues.
Then we went back downtown. I rode on the train with a group of teachers from Orozco Community Academy and Cooper Elementary in Pilsen. As we walked toward the Board of Ed building, the group swelled, and though I haven’t seen any numbers, I know every time I looked down a side street, the march was still flooding the streets six or seven block back and several blocks in front of me. People in the windows of Roosevelt University danced along to our chants. Like the morning pickets, it felt like a massive solidarity party.
Tonight, on my way home, a friend and I were walking back from the park tonight, and I was wearing my Chicago Teacher Solidarity Campaign shirt. Some kids who go to Benito Juarez High School stopped us to ask if there was school tomorrow. We began talking about what the CTU strike means, what teachers want for the students. One of the students, Jessica, said “I thought they just wanted more money and I supported that. But I want art in my school. The only fun thing I have is gym.” And as we talked, their friends and mom came out, and they’re going out to the picket at Cooper tomorrow morning!
I’m excited to hit the picket line in the morning!