More than 100 demonstrators taking part in mass civil disobedience were arrested in Chicago on Wednesday as several thousand people marched against the largest proposed round of school closings in recent memory.
Many carried placards proclaiming "Strong Schools, Strong Neighbourhoods" and "Protect Our Children" while chanting "Whose Schools, Our Schools" and calling for mayor Rahm Emmanuel's resignation.
"We're signalling that there is going to be a large and determined movement that will use the tactics of civil disobedience and direct action in order to keep these schools open," said Chicago Teachers Union vice-president Jesse Sharkey, who was arrested outside City Hall, one of 131 detained by police. "We see this event as kicking off an extended campaign this spring and we think it was a great success."
The city last week announced plans to close 54 schools affecting more than 30,000 students, primarily in low-income black and Latino areas. The proposals – which had already sparked huge, rowdy protests at hearings throughout the city prior to the announcement – mark Emmanuel's second major confrontation over education in less than six months following the teachers' strike in late August.
"People have a right to the neighbourhoods in which they live," said CTU leader Karen Lewis at the rally. "Children have the right to a safe, nurturing, loving environment."
Chicago Public Schools claims the closings are necessary to plug a $1bn deficit in the third-largest school district in the city and that consolidating under-utilised and under-performing schools will save $560m over 10 years by reducing investment in shuttered buildings. The district insists the savings will go to improving classroom resources including air conditioning, libraries and iPads for all students in grades 3-8.
Roughly 100 schools in Chicago – the third-largest school district in the country and with 87% of students from low-income families – have already been closed since 2001. Eighty eight per cent of the students affected in those closings were black, even though black students comprise just over 40% of the city's student body as a whole.
Community groups, unions and many parents argue that the closings will devastate already struggling areas, raise student-teacher ratios, put children in danger by forcing them to cross gang lines to go to new schools and are based on flawed calculations and savings.
"For too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilised, under-resourced schools," said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CPS chief executive, explaining the announcement. "The district must consolidate ... to get students into higher-performing schools."
Opponents point out that there is little evidence that school closings achieve that aim and claim the closings mark an acceleration of the city's bid to "privatise" education by forcing students into charter schools.
"In the same time these school closings have been taking place over the past decade, the city has opened about 100 charter schools in the very neighbourhoods where they're now closing schools through under-utilisation," said Sharkey. "Meanwhile supports of charter schools have been very open ideologically about making school competition part of the larger picture.
"We have not yet won the argument with the people of Chicago that this is a critical moment to be active. But this was a good start. Four or five thousand people and lots of different schools represented today. The argument can and will be won."
A study by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research revealed that from the 38 schools closed between 2001 and 2006 only 6% of students who were moved went to high-performing schools.
"Our research found that school districts tended to save under $1m per school [closed]," Emily Dowdall, a senior associate at the Pew Charitable Trusts told the New York Times. "So in some ways that's not a game-changing amount."
Sharkey further argues that the city rarely follows through on its promises on savings. "In the past there's been investment for the first one or two years. But the money dries up once the attention is gone."
Emmanuel, who was absent on a skiing vacation on the day the closings were announced, which many here interpret as a bid to disassociate himself from the move, has since joined the fray. "If we don't make these changes we haven't lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago," he said. "And I did not run for office to shirk my responsibility."
The CTU emerged with considerable public support after it blunted Emmanuel's attempts to tie teachers' pay to test scores last year. It has pledged to continue the campaign of non-violent disobedience. "People who work in the schools and rely on public schools will oppose the mass closings by any and all peaceful means," Sharkey has told union members. "[School closings] are not something we are prepared to accept without a fight ... We're going to take this fight as far as we have to, to defend our community schools."
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Charter school operators aren’t the only one’s not being held accountable—a major complaint of the Chicago Teachers Union—it’s the machine politicians angling for electoral support and continued political power.
The War on Independents Wages On
Battle lines were once again drawn between Chicago’s machine democrats and independent democrats when Ald. Toni Foulkes was remapped out of her Southside 15th Ward that changed from a majority of African Americans to 68.3 percent Hispanic.
There may be numerous candidates campaigning for the open 15th Ward aldermanic seat but there is certain to be one...
RA Monaco | Sheffield Gazette 29 Jun 2014 Hits:196 Illinois
Senate Democrats plan to make an end-of-session push this week to “rectify an historical wrong” -- and perhaps give women a strong reason to go to the polls this fall -- by putting Illinois on record in support of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The bid to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, which was the subject of an epic Statehouse battle in the early 1980s that helped kill the feminist push to amend the U.S. Constitution, comes from state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago and could be a vehicle for...
Dave McKinney | Chicago Sun-Times 19 May 2014 Hits:368 Illinois
More than 40 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first passed by the U.S. Congress, an Illinois state senator is taking another crack at getting her colleagues in Springfield to adopt the provision that would enshrine in the U.S. Constitution the idea that rights can't be abridged on account of sex.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the proposed amendment is still relevant today given the ongoing debates about equal pay, abortion rights and other issues on which women are fighting for equality.
And she said it's symbolically important to "get Illinois...
John Byrne | Chicago Tribune 19 May 2014 Hits:317 Illinois
It’s official: Illinois on Wednesday joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, accompanied by state Rep. Greg Harris, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and several other dignitaries, signed into law a measure allowing gay couples to begin marrying on June 1. “It’s a triumph of democracy, a triumph of government by the people,” said the governor, shortly before signing. “We want to have a new birth of freedom across America, and love is not relegated to second-class citizen status.”
The historic nature of...
Emma Margolin | MSNBC.com 21 Nov 2013 Hits:404 Illinois
On Monday, November 18 at noon almost 100 voters rallied in Springfield to ask Senator Richard Durbin to keep cuts to Social Security off the table. Senator Durbin has proposed possible changes such as lifting the Social Security eligibility age and implementing “Chained CPI” for individuals that earn more than $24,000. After an informational picket along Edwards Street the group followed lead organizer JoAnn Conrad retired AFSCME, IEA-NEA, chair of the Progressive Democrats of Greater Springfield, led the rally across Edwards to the senator’s office. The message was “Scrap the...
JoAnn Conrad 18 Nov 2013 Hits:461 Illinois
Those who rely on food stamps will have to make do with a little less beginning today as a boost in funding from the federal stimulus package is set to expire.
The change will affect more than 2 million low-income residents in Illinois who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. Nationally, about 47 million people are expected to feel the pinch.
The move marks the end of an extra $45.2 billion the federal government funneled into the food stamp program beginning in...
Monique Garcia | The Chicago Tribune 03 Nov 2013 Hits:382 Illinois
As another coal train derailed in southern Illinois last weekend, the Illinois State Historical Society teamed up with the Illinois Coal Association on Saturday for their own collision with history during the installation of a historical marker for the state's "First Coal Mine." The real train wreck: Among numerous errors, the Illinois State Historical Society marker fails to mention that other coal mines abounded in southern Illinois, thanks to enslaved African American labor -- including the so-called "first coal mine" -- while the Illinois Coal Association took the occasion...
Jeff Biggers | The Huffington Post 28 Oct 2013 Hits:433 Illinois
The pinnacle of last week's Take Back Chicago rally at UIC came near the end, when the 11 aldermen onstage were asked point-blank whether they support pending proposals to slow privatization and tax increment financing deals. Yes or no?
As more than 2,000 of the city's most dedicated activists looked on, the aldermen all said yes—even though a couple of them are among the most consistent council supporters of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
They then sat there smirking, as if to say, you can't trap me, because I'm too slick.
Things got so absurd...
Ben Joravsky | Chicago Reader 23 Oct 2013 Hits:404 Illinois
Two sections that essentially told kids that coal was safe and good for the environment disappeared today from the website of a state agency in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has removed coal-related educational sections from its website, less than two weeks after the launch of a grassroots campaign demanding that the pages be taken down.
The website sections were supposed to educate children about energy, but had been widely denounced because they focused on misleading pro-coal messages.
It wasn't just environmentalists who objected to the way Illinois was...
Jeff Biggers | Yes Magazine 14 Oct 2013 Hits:507 Illinois
As absentee oil and gas companies register with the state of Illinois this month, downstate citizens groups are taking the lead among statewide environmental groups and laying out scientific and legal standards for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to consider prior to drafting the controversial horizontal hydraulic fracking rules.
In a letter sent this week to the key legislative committee and state IDNR agency officials, the groups representing rural communities targeted for fracking operations cite "several new scientific studies and academic research papers that...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 08 Oct 2013 Hits:658 Illinois
Dear Rep. Schock,
I am a constituent, writing in my role as coordinator of the Greater Peoria Chapter of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).
I and other PDA members were at your town hall meeting in Heyworth, where some of your constituents encouraged you to vote to shut down the government unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded. In reply, you made the sensible point that ACA can't be defunded through the budget process, and that shutting down the government would bring extremely negative political consequences for Republicans. You also stated that...
Larry Jones | Journal Star 29 Sep 2013 Hits:593 Illinois
For many residents in southern Illinois dealing with the fallout of a sanctioned coal and fracking rush, the time has come to revamp the historic Illinois South organization and its role in providing impacted residents with a voice in state and federal regulatory matters.
Call it deja vu all over again.
And perhaps no one understands this better than Rev. Dave Ostendorf, the co-founder of the Illinois South citizens group in 1974, and a long-time community organizer for civil rights in Chicago and across the heartland and nation.
"Building critical mass around the...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 06 Sep 2013 Hits:562 Illinois
Two years after a national campaign exposed a coal industry-bankrolled curriculum foisted on unwitting teachers and children, the state of Illinois is still dragging its feet to revamp its own widely denounced, misleading and climate change-denying "Coal Education Program" for schools.
Here's the punchline, kids: On the heels of a recent study that the coal industry annually drains nearly $20 million from the Illinois state budget, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Coal Development now says it's too broke to promptly respond to a long-awaited evaluation of the...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 29 Aug 2013 Hits:579 Illinois
On the cusp of a hydraulic fracking rush, southern Illinois should recall its boom-bust history
CARMI, Ill. —
When an oil rush swamped her town of Carmi in the early 1940s, my great-grandmother leased her small farm acreage for drilling, but the wells came up dry. So she installed a new bathroom and cashed in like the rest of her neighbors, boarding the roustabouts. At 150 million barrels per year, Illinois pumped out more petrol in those days than Iraq and Iran combined.
(photo: A pump jack works on Wednesday, April 4, 2012, in...
Jeff Biggers | Aljazeera America 16 Aug 2013 Hits:545 Illinois
When farmers, families and besieged Hillsboro residents gather this evening for a public hearing on a controversial permit proposal by a coal company to build a second 77-foot-high high hazard toxic coal slurry impoundment within city limits, the stakes will go beyond the threatened health of this iconic central Illinois farm town.
(photo: Jeff Biggers article: Coal Slurry Scandal: Gov. Quinn, the High Hazard Dam in Hillsboro Is a National Disgrace. Construction on High Hazard Coal Slurry Impoundment at Deer Run Mine, Hillsboro, IL, 8/12/2011, prior to receiving proper permit, photo courtesy...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 14 Aug 2013 Hits:683 Illinois
Inside the 40th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Chicago, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and other right-wing big-wigs addressed ALEC members and on-the-dole politicians.
Has Rep. Brad Schneider finally gone too far with his recent vote against implementing the very small amount of health care reform that was so very hard won?
In case you…
Brad visiting the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge with Rep. John Lewis earlier this month. (From his Facebook page)
While I have been very pleased with the fact that our congressman, Brad…
It is too bad Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08) was not on the House floor last Wednesday when they voted on the McGovern Amendment to the Farm Bill which would have…
Parents and students occupied a Chicago school Wednesday, refusing to budge from a Lafayette Elementary classroom on the final day of education before the school is permanently shut down by…
The backroom negotiations behind the midwestern state’s new fracking regulations may be a taste of what’s to come in other places.
What happens in Illinois, doesn't stay in Illinois.…
On the eve of the historic fracking bill vote in Illinois, a citizen uprising led by nationally acclaimed scientist Dr. Sandra Steingraber, health workers, community groups and threatened downstate residents…
What happens in Illinois, doesn't stay in Illinois -- especially when you're dealing with the national ramifications of a combined fracking and coal mining rush unparalleled in recent memory.
Within hours of renowned climate scientists announcing a staggering milestone in carbon dioxide emissions, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn rolled out the booster wagons for Big Coal and celebrated his state's…
PDA Chicago Chair Bill Bianchi speaks with 25th ward Socialist Aldermanic candidate, Jorge Mujica. Is this a new day in Chicago politics? Visit http://VoteMujica.org or http://chicagosocialistcampaign.orgBookmark/Search this post with:
Walk on the WaterBy Charles Pierce, Esquire Magazine, July 18, 2014DETROIT -- The march began at Washington and Larned, just down the block from Cobo Hall, where the Netroots Nation hootenanny was being held. There were nurses, and retired...
By Natasha Korecki, Sun-Times, July 15, 2014 Photo - Rich Hein/Sun-TimesKaren Lewis’ potential bid for Chicago Mayor has moved beyond just a thought — it’s an “organic,” growing movement, the fiery Chicago Teachers Union president...
Can Amara Enyia become the Next Mayor of Chicago? How does the 31 year old daughter of Nigerian immigrants dare to take on Rahm Emanuel and his millions? What issues will she run on and how does she plan to win? Bookmark/Search this post...
By Bill Bianchi, PDA-ChicagoA Populist Moment Needs a Long Term StrategyIn his set-up piece to the Nation's recent print forum, Progressive Strategies in a Populist Moment, Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America's Future, says...
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, July 8, 2014Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s relations with teachers unions just got more difficult. Delegates of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest...
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Legislators Who Have Cut Ties To ALEC