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1963 school boycott

Tuesday is the 50th aniversary of the 1963 Chicago school boycott, and a commemoration at DuSable Museum features a panel discussion and a screening of highlights from Kartenquin Films’ documentary-in-progress, 63 Boycott

The panel — on “Lessons from the 1963 Boycott – The Struggle for Quality Education in Chicago Then and Now” – features Rosie Simpson and Fannie Rushing, leaders of the ’63 boycott, along with CTU president Karen Lewis, historian Elizabeth Todd-Breland of UIC, and Jasson Perez of the Black Youth Project.

The free event takes place Tuesday, October 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Place.

On October 22, 1963, 250,000 CPS students boycotted school and thousands marched downtown.  They targetted the segregationist policies of CPS superintendent Ben Willis, under which students in black schools were crammed into classrooms and mobile units and taught in split shits, while nearby white schools had empty classrooms.  Spending on white schools was 50 percent higher than black schools.

In May, Ben Joravsky wrote about the documentary, giving some background on filmmaker Gordon Quinn’s involvement — and drawing some parallels with public education struggles today.

The People’s World has a retrospective that highlights the role of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations and the Congress of Racial Equality.  NewsOne credits the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC — a group which held its own commemoration two years ago.

At the time Newstips noted:

“The boycott and a demonstration by thousands of students and supporters in the Loop was a huge success.  The outcome was somewhat limited, though:  Willis was forced to resign, but school segregation continues to this day, [Sylvia] Fischer [of Chicago SNCC] said.

“In 1980 a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice resulted in a court ordered desegregation plan, but by then many white familes had moved to the suburbs, and many others had moved their children to private and parochial schools.  By the 1990s, two-thirds of Chicago’s white students were in private schools.   Today the city has a majority black public school system and a majority white private school system.

“The court order was lifted in 2009 over the objections of civil rights groups and students, who pointed to continuing inequities in Chicago schools.  In a blow to school desegregation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007, in a 5-to-4 decision, that using race as a factor in public school admissions is unconstitutional.”

Corporate lobbying group draws fire

A broad coalition of labor, community, environmental and faith groups will protest the 40th anniversary annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.

The meeting takes place August 7 to 9 at the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe; the rally takes place there on Thursday, August 8 at 12 noon.

Long a major but shadowy behind-the-scenes player, ALEC came to prominence in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, when the group’s role working with the NRA to promote Stand Your Ground legislation became known.

With funding by major corporations and membership by one-third of the nation’s state legislators, ALEC provides model legislation in a wide array of areas.

The group joins corporate America’s economic agenda with a right -wing social agenda, according to In These Times editor Joel Bleifuss.  He joined Rey Lopez-Calderon of Common Cause and Brian Echols of Concerned Black Men on a recent episode of Chicago Newsroom to discuss ALEC.  (Watch it here.)

“They’re a great example of the power of Corporate America in American politics,” Bleifuss says.

In 2011 In These Times first exposed ALEC’s use of model bills — despite its tax exempt status which prohibits legislative activity — to undermine public employee unions and privatize government.

Charge tax fraud

“We think it’s tax fraud,” Lopez-Calderon says.  Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy recently filed a complaint with the IRS charging ALEC with filing fraudulent tax returns.

ALEC has gone after collective bargaining rights, clean energy legislation, and campaign finance reform, Newsroom panelists relate.  The group is behind a series of restrictive voter ID laws as well as SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial “Show Your Papers” law.

Echols notes that, on behalf of private prison corporations, ALEC has pushed the War on Drugs’ harsh sentencing laws, targetting African Americans and vastly increasing the nation’s prison population.  Now they’re pushing laws that will increase the detention of immigrants on behalf of the same corporations, Lopez-Calderon notes.

“They’ve viewed this as a long-term way for corporations to make money,” he says, adding that ALEC helped create the Corrections Corporation of America.

Read the rest of this entry »

King Day: Occupy the Fed, foreclosures, schools

The civil rights movement, the Occupy movement, and community organizations will come together for a series of events marking Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, including a demonstration Monday at the Federal Reserve led by African American clergy including Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At the time of his assassination, King was organizing an “occupation” of Washington D.C., and after his death thousands of people occupied Resurrection City there from May 12 to June 24, 1968, demanding jobs, housing and an economic bill of rights.

In other King Day activities, housing rights groups are stepping up the drive to occupy foreclosures, and teachers and community groups are demonstrating against school “turnarounds.”

Over a thousand community activists are expected for an Occupy the Dream event (Sunday, January 15 at 3 p.m. at People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence), where elected officials will be called on to support jobs and tax reform, including closing corporate tax loopholes and instituting a financial transaction tax.

It’s sponsored by IIRON, a regional organizing network that includes Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Northside POWER, and the Northwest Indiana Federation. Occupy Chicago has endorsed the event.

“We are organizing in the tradition of the civil rights movement,” said Rev. Dwight Gardner of Gary, president of the Northwest Indiana Federation.

“In Dr. King’s very last sermon, he warned us not to sleep through a time of great change like Rip Van Winkle,” he said. “This is a moment of great change and we must put our souls in motion to occupy his dream.”

At the Fed: National Day of Action

Monday’s action at the Federal Reserve (Jackson and LaSalle, January 16, 3 p.m.) is part of a national day of action to “Occupy the Fed” by the Occupy the Dream campaign, with African American church leaders moblizing multicultural, interfaith rallies in 13 cities.  They’ll be emphasizing racially discriminatory practices by banks which have resulted in high foreclosure rates, as well as the issue of student debt.

“There needs to be economic equality, there needs to be jobs for all, there needs to be opportunities for the next generation,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of Occupy the Dream.

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Constitutional clouds over eavesdropping statute

Things aren’t looking so good for Illinois’ controversial eavesdropping statute.

A downstate Circuit Court judge recently ruled the statute unconstitutional, and in Chicago another Circuit Court judge is considering a similar argument.

Meanwhile two federal cases challenging the constitutionality of the law are wending their way through court.

‘Smart phones and dumb laws’

Lawyers from several of those cases will discuss the law at a forum on Smart Phones and Dumb Laws, Wednesday, November 9 at 6 p.m. at DePaul University Law School, 25 E. Jackson, Room 241.

Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Chicago SNCC

The story of Chicago SNCC – and of Freedom Day, a massive boycott of Chicago schools demanding desegregation on October 22, 1963 – will be discussed Saturday at an event marking the opening of the Chicago SNCC archive.

Chicago SNCC veteran Sylvia Fischer will interview comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, and the SNCC Freedom Singers will perform as part of the program, Saturday, October 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the DuSable Museum, 760 E. 56th Place.

The archive, which includes oral histories along with posters, photographs, and correspondence, is housed in the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted.  An exhibit featuring items from the collection and videos of oral histories runs at DuSable through December 23 (reservations for Saturday’s event are full).

Chicago Area Friends of SNCC was one of  a number of groups in northern cities formed to support the work of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, which faced jailings, beatings and killings as it organized voter registration drives in the South.  In addition to raising funds and marshalling public sentiment, Fischer and others often housed activists who came north for a break from the constant tension, she recalls.  “It was a very busy home, with people coming and going,” she said.

The Chicago group went further than others, though, becoming involved in local struggles.

Read the rest of this entry »

War on Drugs: 40 years of failure?

Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle will speak at a rally Friday to “end the war on drugs” – while the White House steps up efforts to defend its drug policies in the face of growing criticism.

A broad coalition of civil rights, health, policy, faith, community and student groups will hold a Rally to End the War on Drugs on Friday, June 17 at noon at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Dearborn.   It’s the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

Participants cite the racially discriminatory impact of the nation’s drug policies – they’ve been recently tagged “the new Jim Crow”– and the expense and inefficiency of addressing health disorders through the criminal justice system, while support for treatment lags.

Meanwhile the White House released a report showing that Cook County leads the nation in the proportion of individuals testing positive for drugs following their arrest.  Read the rest of this entry »

Charge swastikas in workplace

Warehouse workers from Joliet will be in Chicago Thursday morning to file discrimination charges against their employer. Read the rest of this entry »

King Day: Hazel Johnson, jobs crisis, public workers

On more than one Martin Luther King Day, Chicago columnist Vernon Jarrett wrote columns highlighting the role of E.D. Nixon, the local organizer who recruited King to lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.

His point was that while history focused on King–  the way it always focuses on great leaders — the vast grassroots movement he shepherded was far more than a mass of aggrieved followers.  It included hundreds of local leaders, deeply rooted in their communities, many of them maintaining struggles over decades with remarkable tenacity and determination, often at great risk, and far outside the limelight.

A longtime Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters organizer and president of the Montgomery NAACP, Nixon had led a march of 750 African American men to the Montgomery County courthouse to register to vote – in 1940.  He not only recruited King, he also recruited Rosa Parks, another long-time activist, for the campaign against segregation on city buses.

So it’s more than fitting that on this King Day, Mary Mitchell’s column memorializes Hazel Johnson, who died Wednesday at age 75.

Johnson shared the stage briefly with another great leader, Barack Obama, who worked on a campaign for asbestos abatement at Altgeld Gardens in the late 1980s, before heading on to law school and broader horizons.

Johnson began researching toxic contamination of the far south CHA development after her husband died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 41. She contacted public agencies and demanded information about the toxic waste dumps, landfills, incinerators and refineries that ringed the community, and when she didn’t get answers, she kept demanding.

Johnson – who also pioneered green jobs with training for Altgeld residents in environmental remediation — is the precursor of Van Jones and Green For All, Jerome Ringo (of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley) and the Apollo Alliance; and locally, of groups like Blacks In Green and Little Village Environmental Organization.  And People for Community Recovery continues its work under Johnson’s daughter, Cheryl.

Also part of her legacy is the ban on landfills on the Southeast Side, a long process initiated by Mayor Harold Washington after he toured Altgeld with Johnson in 1986.  In 2004 Waste Management was barred from accepting refuse in the last active landfill in the area.

Jobs crisis

When Martin Luther King Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign shortly before his assassination in 1968, it was in response to economic conditions that would look good today.

Unemployment in 1968 was 4 percent, 7 percent for African-Americans.  It’s double that or worse now, writes Isaiah J. Poole of the Center for America’s Future.

Poole calls for reigniting King’s drive for economic action, offering quotes from a sermon delivered by the civil right leader days before his assassination – quotes that ring true today.

Citing the Declaration of Independence, King declared that unemployment threatens its core commitments: “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”

To a political establishment that has abandoned action on the jobs crisis while it funds overseas wars, King declares: “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?”

Poole rejects “the constrictions on today’s political debate, which limit our horizons to variations of the discredited conservative notion that giving business what it wants — few rules to follow and even fewer taxes to pay — will lead to a revitalized middle-class America, when in fact we’ve already done this for more than a decade and what we have gained is a shrinking middle class caught in a race to the bottom.”

The Poor Peoples’s Campaign was necessary, King said, “because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.”

Today, “we could use a massive, dramatic confrontation on behalf of the more than 27 million who are unemployed or underemployed today,” Poole writes. “The spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. would certainly be in its midst.”

Public workers

A year ago we noted King’s final campaign was on behalf of public service workers in Memphis.  A year later, attacks on public workers and their unions have ratcheted up considerably.

The Progressive points out that this shifts the blame for the nation’s economic problems away from the powerful and further weakens the meager recovery now underway.

Labor Notes argues it’s based on a number of myths –that public employees make more money than their private sector counterparts, that private enterprise is more efficient, that taxes are too high (the problem is really that tax system is unfair, with working families taxed more heavily than the very rich).

It’s the latest phase of a largely successful, decades-long drive to neutralize unions by severely limiting workers’ right to organize.

The latest manifestation in Illinois is what Labor Notes describes as a billionaires’ attack on teachers unions.  In a sign of bad times, Democratic leaders like Mayor Daley and Rahm Emanuel have endorsed limits on teachers’ strikes, though the last strike in Chicago was decades ago.  Emanuel also wants to cut pensions for existing city workers, although the state constitution bars such action.

Mike Klonsky points out that Emanuel’s “I’ll Hammer Teachers” program ignores the real problems facing Chicago schools and makes it much tougher to attact good teachers. (Miguel del Valle has spoken up forcefully in defense of teachers.)

Ambitious candidates may chase the latest wave of political opportunism, but Martin Luther King – who once vowed to “fight laws which curb labor” — would advise them to get on the right side of the arc of the universe, the one that bends toward justice.



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