Last night on Chicago’s West Side, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) hosted the first of two “Citywide Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Trainings” aimed to prepare education activists for upcoming protests and coach them through non-violent protest techniques, such as disruptions, occupations and demonstrations.
The CTU will host a rally and march in downtown Chicago on March 27, just a few days before Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is set to meet her March 31 deadline to announce the final list of school actions.
Preparing for the worst, CTU is educating parents and activists on the proper practices of non-violent protests. Police arrested 10 protesters in November for rallying against school closings outside City Hall. They were charged with violating a Chicago trespassing ordinance.
“It’s the willingness to engage in radical acts that are challenging the core of what’s going on,” said Lisa Fithian, a political activist and scholar, who, for decades, has worked as a community organizer on a range of issues. “We need to create conditions that allow for the transformation for us to be more liberated.”
Sponsored by CTU and the Grassroots Education Movement, Fithian was brought in to tutor and inspire Chicago’s activists at St. Agatha Church, 3151 West Douglas Blvd.
“The entire system that we live in is designed to keep us from accessing the power that we need,” she said. “If we had all the power we wouldn’t be in this situation right now ... These guys do a lot of things to keep us from getting the power we need to get better schools and better education."
Here's more from Fithian:
Facing a $1 billion budget deficit, CPS is addressing building utilization in the next wave of actions, saying nearly 140 schools in the district are more than half empty. The school system has classroom space for more than 500,000 students, but just over 400,000 students are enrolled, according to CPS.
A list of 129 schools that face closure was released last month, and the Commission on School Utilization, a committee charged with helping Byrd-Bennett evaluate which schools to close, issued their final recommendations earlier this month. Among other suggestions, the commission recommended CPS close or consolidate a maximum of 80 schools.
“People who work in the schools and rely on public schools will oppose the mass closings by any and all peaceful means — this will be a bombshell, these closings, to our schools and our communities,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey at the training.
In addition to yesterday's event, the CTU is hosting a second training session Saturday morning on Chicago’s South Side. The 10 a.m. training will take place at Pleasant Gift M.B. Church, 4526 S. Greenwood Ave.
“(School closings are) not something we’re prepared to accept without a fight,” Sharkey said. “Tonight is about us training our people in the methods of non-violent civil disobedience because we’re going to take this fight as far as we have to, to defend our community schools.”
The impending school closures disproportionately affect minority students though, and many activists say school actions are discriminatory in practice.
A majority African-American study body exists in 117 of the 129 schools that face the chopping block. According to an analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times, that translates to the statistic that nine out of 10 students facing school closures are black.
“We have a large population of minority students and special education students, and I’m going to do whatever I can do to stop the school from closing,” said Cielo Munoz, a special education teacher at William Penn Elementary in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood of North Lawndale. Munoz attended the non-violent protest training and said she plans to attend the March 27 rally.
Penn, which according to CPS data is more than 80 percent African-American, was included on the list of schools that may close. Munoz said she fears her special education students may not see a smooth transition to a new school.
“(CPS) can’t be so crazy to send black and Hispanic kids all over the city,” she said. “I worry about my students every day, they have severe disabilities and this is a pretty unsafe neighborhood.”