Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Friday May 24th, 2013, 11:57am

CTU Kicks Off Effort To 'Change The Political Landscape In Chicago' (VIDEO)

In the wake of the Chicago Board of Education’s vote to close 50 schools across the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) district, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) hosted deputy registrar training Thursday night in an effort to get more people to the voting booths next election cycle.

“Brothers and sisters, mayoral control is a disaster,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU. “We must change the political landscape in Chicago.”

Thursday’s one-hour training, attended by nearly 100 people, was the first of what the CTU said will be a series of deputy registrar educational sessions. In April, the union announced an initiative to increase political activity and add a minimum of 100,000 new voters on the rolls.

According to the CTU, it’s time to “change the face of City Hall.” In a letter to each participant, the organization said the event “is the first in a citywide political education campaign where those who opposed school closings can channel their energy into a positive, organizing effort to return democracy to the city.”

Deputy registrars are individuals sponsored by state-certified organizations to assist constituents in voter registration. Hosted at Bethel A.M.E. Church, at 4440 South Michigan Ave., the training was conducted by representatives from the Cook County Clerk’s office. Attendees learned the ins-and-outs of becoming a deputy registrar including what qualifications are needed, how to sign up voters and how to meet deadlines.

“We need to figure out a way to change the hearts and minds of the voters, the people to whom the mayor is accountable,” said Lewis, who received a standing ovation from the training attendees. “We have to let people know ‘your vote means something.’"

Here's more from Lewis:

The Chicago Board of Education’s decision Wednesday to shutter 50 schools came after months of protests and outrage from the union, parents, students and school staff.

The district is attributing the closures to a reported $1 billion deficit and a “utilization crisis” of nearly 140 half-empty schools. According to CPS officials, the plan will save the district more than $400 million.

But Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), who stopped by the voter registration workshop, said the board should have given each school its due attention.

“I’m a little upset,” he said. “This is the largest school closing in history, and honestly, we are ill-prepared to go forward with this.”

Sawyer said he supports the CTU’s ongoing push for an elected school board and, in light of the intensified political activity, chuckled over never wanting to get on the union’s “bad side.”

“Everyone should get involved in the political process,” he said. “It’s just good to see people register to vote and get active in registering others to vote.”

Lonnie Beasley, of the Cook County Clerk’s Community Relations Election Department, said deputy registrars have a unique ability to reach potential voters in neighborhoods and communities.  

“They’re in the community, they’re your neighbors, they’re your friends, and it’s very important because they make it easy for people to register to vote,” he said. “We have limited offices that do voter registrations, but deputy registrars are mobile.”

He said Cook County is home to a plethora of potential voters who may need assistance navigating the registration process. Beasley conducted a portion of Thursday’s training.

“Everybody needs to play a part in the process,” he said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel won Chicago’s 2011 mayoral election with 55 percent of the vote, but less than 50 percent of registered voters casted a ballot.

With that low voter turnout in mind, Lewis called on CTU members to ramp up political activism.

“The school board made that vote to close my kids’ school, but it was really Rahm’s decision,” said Rousemary Vega, 32, a parent of two students enrolled in Jean D. Lafayette Elementary School, on Chicago's West Side. “Rahm put those people in place and they gave him what he wanted, at the end of the day he is the person I hold accountable.”

Lafayette will close in June, thanks to the Chicago Board of Education’s vote Wednesday. Vega's students welcoming school is Frederic Chopin Elementary School.

With tears in her eyes, Vega, an attendee of Thursday's workshop, said if Chopin doesn’t provide the same educational support to her seven year-old son diagnosed with ADHD, she will take her children to City Hall and “demand the quality education CPS promised."

“I feel betrayed, I feel like we don’t matter, I feel like Rahm doesn’t have a heart,” she said, adding she and her father are both Lafayette alumni. “He needs to get the hell out of my public office.”

The CTU’s next phase in its push for political activism is a two-day “Political Campaign Academy” class in July. Intended to teach individuals “how to run progressive campaigns that win,” the workshops are slated for July 6 and 7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hosted at CTU headquarters, the workshops are being conducted by Northside Democracy for America and will provide campaign lessons, such as how to gather petitions and understand campaign finance requirements.

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