My ancestors were not Red Diaper Babies during the McCarthy Era or protesters involved in the Haymarket Riots of 1886 here in Chicago. I don’t come from a long line of social activists involved in protest movements or general acts of civil disobedience. I remember there being talk of a great-grandfather who was a union member while working for one of the auto companies and that he was involved in strikes back in the day, but no one else remembers, so until I find proof, I can’t claim this connection. However, my parents did strike in 1967, while working as teachers for the Detroit Public Schools, and since my mom was pregnant with me at the time she was picketing, maybe I can claim that as at least an influence, if not a family tradition.
Anyway, I taught for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from 2001-2009 before moving to New Orleans and while I remember there being much talk of striking, there was never a majority of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)’s membership rank and file willing to vote in favor of calling a strike. While I was in New Orleans, however, the CTU struck in 2012 for 7 days, accomplishing gains that I benefitted from when I returned to working in CPS in October of this past year.
While being appreciative of those gains, it was risky returning to CPS. Not only had Illinois been incapable of passing a state budget, but the schools within CPS were running without a contract and there was plenty of talk of both Chicago and Illinois being broke and how that impacts public education. The CPS/CTU contract agreed upon in 2012 only went through the 2014-15 school year which meant things could get contentious and there was talk of the Board of Ed needing to make major cuts, which meant that being the low woman with seniority could get tricky. But, I took the job anyway and benefitted making a good salary (especially compared to what I was making in the Charter School Capitol of NOLA) and solid benefits. I have survived the budget cuts that were made to schools in January and the layoffs that were made at Central Office in February.
Within a month of my being at my new school, the CTU did a straw vote to see if members would vote for a strike and the vote tally was in the affirmative. The true vote as to whether or not CTU members would agree to a strike was held in December and it too was in the affirmative, with more than 86% of members agreeing to a strike. There is still talk of an extended strike in May, but after additional cuts were made to school budgets; the faculty and staff at all CPS schools–as well as central office staff–were given 3 furlough days (i.e…we aren’t being paid for these days); and a contract proposal was made by the Board of Education which the union leadership rejected (if x number of members had not retired within a certain time, the contract would have been voided and CTU members would have lost big time), the CTU leadership voted to hold a one-day Day of Action/Strike for April 1st.
We started the morning picketing outside our schools and during the day there were teach-ins and rallies at different Chicago area locations such as jails (protesting to stop the school to prison pipeline that has had devastating effects on Chicago students) and state supported universities that have been crippled by the budget impasse like Chicago State University and Northeastern Illinois University. At 4:00, CTU members and other group members supportive of CTU, converged at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago for a rally…
We then marched all the way to Lake Shore Drive in the rain. It was a crazy, exhausting day, but exciting as well.
My Take Aways
- I was impressed with the Chicago Fire Department captain who–with a truckload of buff firemen–stopped by our school and told us that we were more than welcome to stop by their engine house to use the facilities. Apparently, members of the neighborhood Chicago Police Department stopped earlier to give us the same invitation.
- I appreciated my administration (principal and two assistant principals) who came out of our school while we were picketing to offer us goodies (bananas, muffins, doughnuts, etc.) and show support.
- I loved seeing so many teachers and staff picketing and at the rally with their dogs and kids. If Zoey were still alive, I would totally have had her with me.
- While I’ve become friends with a number of my new co-workers, I didn’t want to hang out with them exclusively. Going solo meant I could move around more and see more. There was a randomness to the afternoon that I appreciated. I ran into a favorite co-worker from my days at Harper High School, Lizzie, and another favorite from my days at Gage Park High School, Katie, and it was so cool to catch up with both of them. Thanks to Facebook, I know that other cool former colleagues were in the crowd such as Maria (and her dynamic daughters); rebel rousing Debby P; NOLA loving Anne; and documentarian Nikki M.
- I was also fascinated by the random conversations I had with people throughout the day, especially at the rally and while marching around the city. There was the labor union woman who came in to town to see how an effective strike is carried out. There was the 30-something couple with their 2-year old in a stroller who asked me to take a picture. Turns out they are not teachers, but were out showing support and advocating for the best public education possible for their son. There were also the two women in their 20s who were working in higher ed at the public level that I talked to during the speeches that I could barely hear. There was the server at Starbucks–where I stopped before catching the ‘L’ to go home because I was freezing and had to pee–who was genuinely interested in the strike and becoming informed. And there was the women who I spoke with for almost 15 minutes while waiting for the #15 bus to get me to our apartment who was close to my age and had made it out onto Lake Shore Drive at the end of the march.
My biggest take-away:
It was really cool to be a part of such a large Day of Action and realize that collectively, we at least made an impact on downtown Chicago, the 3rd largest city in the country, for a couple of hours. Let’s hope the Day of Action made a difference!