May 24, 2012
Anyone witnessing the CTU rally and march Wednesday had to be amazed by the incredible level of solidarity and militancy – and wonder whether Mayor Emanuel may have taken on more than he can handle when he chose teachers as the enemy against whom he would prove his toughness.
Emanuel “pretends he has a new approach, but we have seen it before and it doesn’t work,” said CTU activist Jennifer Johnson at the overflow rally across from the Auditorium Theater. “Starving and closing schools doesn’t work, driving veteran teachers out of schools doesn’t work, putting education in the hands of private corporate providers doesn’t work, and disrespecting the people who do the work of educating children helps no one.”
And she put it in a national context:
“Educators across the country are facing the same corporate-driven policies; educators across the country are fighting for the resources they need and the respect they deserve. But people are paying attention to Chicago, because the CTU is standing up. We have become the epicenter of this struggle.”
Could Chicago be this year’s Madison, with Rahm Emanuel playing Scott Walker’s role? It looks possible.
CTU president Karen Lewis referred to the recent Tribune poll that showed a large majority of Chicagoans favoring the union’s approach to school reform over the mayor’s. “You are not alone,” she told the teachers, who greeted her with great warmth. “We have parents with us, we have students with us, we have communities with us – Chicago loves us!”
CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey summarized the unions demands: smaller class sizes, more art, music, and physical education in the longer school day, fair compensation, and job security for veteran educations. “We’re going to stand for our demands,” he said.
The enthusiasm and unity and the sheer vast number of all those teachers gave his stance a great deal of credibility. Chicago teachers have been under attack for some time, but clearly they’re through playing defense.