A few hundred public education activists took to City Hall and the Thompson Center Monday evening to deliver their holiday list of demands as well as lumps of coal and candy canes to the offices of naughty and nice elected officials. Progress Illinois was there for the protest.
Santa isn’t the only one keeping tabs on who’s been naughty and nice this year.
A few hundred Chicagoans took to City Hall Monday evening to deliver lumps of coal to the offices of “naughty” elected officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and more than a dozen aldermen, based on their record when it comes to public education issues.
Following a record-breaking number of school closures and deep classroom spending cuts this year due to "underutilization" and the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) $1 billion budget hole, the activists said their holiday wish list includes policies that improve “public school funding” and “public school accountability.”
Zerlina Smith, a parent at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and an Action Now member, lamented the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education's decision last spring to close a whopping 50 neighborhood schools, mainly on the South and West Sides, citing budget constraints.
"Yet, they are opening more charters and giving schools like Lincoln Elementary [on the North Side] millions of dollars for upgrades," she said. "This is why we need leaders to answer to parents, to teachers, to students, instead of the mayor."
But Asean Johnson, the fourth-grade student at Marcus Garvey Elementary School who gained national attention for speaking out against Chicago school closings, gave Emanuel credit for at least one thing.
"I have to thank Rahm Emanuel, because if he never did what he did, we would have never come as a group to fight for one cause, and that is public education," he said.
Chicago was one of at least 30 cities participating in Monday’s national day of action, spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers, to “reclaim the promise of public education,” according to organizers.
The Chicago education activists decided to do a holiday-themed event to highlight the disparities in wealth and opportunity in the city.
“When you think about how much wealth there is in our society, and you look at what the holiday spirit means out in the malls or on Michigan Avenue, it’s in sharp contrast to just how difficult it is throughout the neighborhood public schools,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said after helping to deliver a sack of coal to the mayor’s office.
“We’re trying to ask the person, with really more power and more influence than anyone else in the city, who has that bully pulpit, who should be advocating for fixing the budget, and asking those with the most means to contribute their fair share to the schools,” Sharkey continued.
Some of the Chicago aldermen who tried, but failed, to free up the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Surplus Ordinance from the Rules Committee last month, a measure that would send funds to the school district to help ease recent budget cuts, were on the group’s “good list” and received candy canes. They included Alds. Joe Moreno (1st), Bob Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th), Michele Smith (43rd) and John Arena (45th).
Outside of City Hall, CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson said the protestors want to “reclaim the promise of public education and reclaim our city from the 1 percent who continue to plunder our communities, destroy our schools and undermine the health and well-being of our families.”
“Too many elected officials have helped undermine our community institutions and harmed our communities by supporting school closings, charter proliferation and TIFs to wealthy corporations,” he stressed.
Here’s more from Brunson as well as scenes from the protest:
In addition to candy canes and lumps of coal, the group delivered a list with their demands to City Hall as well as Gov. Pat Quinn’s office at the Thompson Center.
While marching to the Thompson Center from City Hall, activists sang holiday carols, modified with their own twist about public education issues. Others outside the state of Illinois building held up large illuminated letter signs, which together spelled out “fund public education."
The group's holiday “needs list” urged elected officials to pass the TIF Surplus Ordinance, set up a democratically-elected Chicago school board, place a moratorium on charter school expansion and renegotiate “toxic” interest rate swap deals that are reportedly taking millions of dollars away from CPS annually. The list also calls on politicians to take action on issues including a “fair” Illinois tax system, a higher minimum wage and the elimination of the state’s charter school commission.
Activists stressed that the Chicago Board of Education is the only appointed school board in Illinois, and it’s ultimately up to the state legislature to change that.
“The mayor and his rubberstamp board are guilty of racism [and] discrimination in setting education policy,” said Irene Robinson with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). “The answer is simple. We need an elected, representative school board. There are 892 school boards in the state of Illinois, and Chicago [is] the only one without an [elected] board. We will not accept taxation without representation.”
Protestors also blasted the governor and the Illinois General Assembly for signing off on the controversial pension reform plan that state lawmakers approved last week.
“The public service people of this state have been robbed,” said CTU teacher Pat Boughton. “The Constitution of the state of Illinois promised us that our pensions would not be reduced. What has happened in the last week? That promise has been broken.”
Other groups involved with Monday’s action included the Grassroots Education Movement, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Northside Action for Justice, Pilsen Alliance and Stand Up! Chicago, to name a few.