There are so many potential divisions among us in Chicagoland. Big things like race and class or lefties vs. right wingers (although it must be admitted, right wingers are few here). Smaller things like north siders vs. south siders, Cubs vs. White Sox.
It's easy to be divided. Those divisions and many others have separated folks in this city for a long time.
I wrestle with the problems of divisions real and imagined. I've been told my race and privilege should keep me out of the education advocacy conversation. My religious affiliation once caused someone to spit out their drink at me accidentally, you know, in shock, at a party. (It's really not that shocking, I'm just a Christian.) And every once in awhile my status as a stay-at-home mom is thrown back at me like a grenade to blast apart any comments or critiques I might level, my antiquated social position making any utterances, I suppose, probably irrelevant.
On a national scale there are huge divisions, deal-breaker divisions, among education activists. Folks in other states face the same problems we do here--school privatization, teachers' union busting, terrible curricular standards pushed onto the schools by the political class, endless standardized tests, and alarming data gathering. In other states, education activists are divided along political lines so all those folks who essentially agree with each other about what should be done in response to the corporate attack on public education refuse to work with each other. Progressive activists hate conservatives, and the conservatives distrust the progressives, and none of them will even talk to each other. Common Core opponents don't find common ground with those opposed to standardized tests, and sometimes those opposed to both have no problem with charter proliferation, which alienates those opposed to charters. More people who won't work together.
That's how it looks in many cities across the nation. People all tripping over those cement blockades of divisiveness, or getting walled off by that police tape of anger and suspicion, cordoned into separate groups.
It's hard for those divisions to be overcome. And the consequences are pretty severe. A hundred divided groups of people can't accomplish anything. A thousand self-proclaimed separatists will find their power dissipating into a handful of sand.
But that's not what we have here.
Not in Chicago.
We have a special situation here. We're lucky.
It is a gift, our special situation. It's a gift given to us by our mayor.
Mayor, you may not be aware of it, but you did this.
You created an indivisible group.
You united us.
When you put people through the kind of trauma that you caused last year when you closed those schools? You remember. When you said somebody had to do this and you wouldn't stand idly by and not close 50 schools? You and Barbara Byrd-Bennett made a poor show of listening to the concerns of parents, of communities, and then told thousands of people that it didn't matter, they no longer needed their neighborhood school, their community anchor, and you shut them down by the dozens without so much as a plan for the art on the walls.
Well, all those people forged a bond, the kind that tends to stick. All those people that went through that, well, they have each other's backs.
They're very different, all the people that you traumatized, that you alienated. They never would have even met each other if it weren't for you! There are rich west siders, there are poor north siders. There are folks with PhDs, there are folks who maybe didn't finish high school. There are folks from every one of our diverse neighborhoods, from different spots on the political spectrum, from faith communities and from no faith. But they have absolutely no doubt who their friends are, who their tribe is. And they cannot be separated.
You did that.
When you put people through that kind of trauma, another thing happened that you probably weren't expecting. One of those unintended consequence things. Oops. You created a whole new class of leaders, folks who never had a reason or a need for a city-wide stage but now they have both, fearless moms who will not back down and whose fearlessness provides an example for others to follow, many others. Leaders emerged who see beyond superficial divisions and are inclusive as they build community. Leaders emerged who researched and crunched data, and formed neighborhood groups, and spoke to hundreds or thousands, and created school-supporting events, and went on tv and radio and social media. Some of those leaders aren't even adults yet. But they are leaders.
You did that.
Oh, the efforts to divide still go on--now they're being kicked into high gear around here. But your mistreatment, bad governance, and broken trust also continue apace. So we will resist it when you or your CPS network chiefs try to pit teachers against students, or principals against teachers, as has been happening with this ISAT opt out. We'll resist the temptation to become divided from parents who aren't opting out, because we know that some folks have their reasons and that there are many ways to work against the destruction of our public schools, ways that we can and will work together. We'll resist because we know that when we are divided our power dissolves, melts, evaporates. We know that to save our schools, we have to do the job together.
So thanks. Thanks, Mayor Emanuel. You've given us all a precious gift.
Unfortunately for you, it will be the gift that keeps on giving.
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