CTU Strike — Days 1 & 2 Emotional Recap — Solidarity Forever

CTU Strike — Days 1 & 2 Emotional Recap — Solidarity Forever
CTU Strike on Clark Street, September 10th, 2012

I didn't think this strike would happen.

I still don't think it will last more than a week, but every day that passes, I am less and less sure. The mood on the streets seems to increasingly be, "If we're doing this, let's do it right." After all, the whole country is watching, even if not very closely or carefully. If we fold early, we may as well be saying that unions are dead, and more importantly, that Chicago is dead. For anyone who has paid attention to the anti-union measures passed all over the country, CTU's strike is a test of whether Wisconsin's failed recall election really did spell the end of labor, or if there's life in these old bones yet; and for anyone who's paid attention to Chicago in the past decade, this is a test of whether this city really cares about its least fortunate.

Notes on a few things:

Teachers are outside striking from 6:30 - 10:30 AM by their neighborhood schools and Rahm's PR First holding centers, where we drink coffee, get happy honks from the community, accept free donuts with goosebumps and a smile, and giggle like school children every time we get a truck to honk its horn. If children approach, we smile, make sure they're comfortable, and help clear a path to the school, and/or answer their parents' questions. A lot of the day is spent talking about education reform with our colleagues, and explaining misunderstandings to community members who've gotten their news from the nightly local stations, which for the most part have disappointed everyone. We gather again for approximately 3 hours in the afternoon, downtown at 125 Clark. On Monday, it was 3-6, and today it was about 2-5. Some groups may have stayed well past 6/5, which is when I left, but I imagine at some point they realized there were more Free Bradley Manning signs around them than CTU STRIKE signs, and decided to leave. Just a guess. But you know I'm right.

Very high. Everyone shows up in the mornings. The afternoon protest is more difficult to know, as everyone gets lost in the crowd. Estimates are famously only estimates, but even given the fact that many teachers live and work far from the loop (can you imagine taking public transportation to and from the far south or far west?), there were still a good number of friends, family members, students (college, high school), and professional protesters on Clark in support of CTU, so I would be very surprised if we didn't have 15-20,000, if not 30,000-50,000. I read a police estimate of 8,000. I think that's highly unlikely. I was told that the Tribune or someone noted "hundreds" of us. So there are always naysayers, apparently. Well, you've seen the photos, I'm sure. Make your own guesstimates. I couldn't see either end of us, for what that's worth, and I haven't yet seen a picture that could, either, including panoramas. We nearly wrapped around a city block, filling the street. How many? That many.

Drums add an element to any gathering. A percussive element. Don't leave home without them. I recommend investing in drums. Or just find the nearest marching band and follow them around. I have a new appreciation for marching bands.

Keeping our spirits up with the help of the community's overwhelming support. There has apparently been a poll that says 47 percent of registered Chicago voters support us, while 39 percent oppose the strike (+/- 3.8%). I don't much trust polls, but I can say this: we've been seeing a lot more support than not. People are honking, bringing us food, walking up and expressing their support, and generally making me tear up. Police cruisers, CTA buses, and even CTA trains have made a point to support us.

The most common chant, or anyway the most beloved and long-lasting chant that no one ever wants to end, is the classic, "Rahm Emanuel's got to go! (Hey Hey, Ho Ho)". While Rahm's 6-year extended term means he'll have plenty of time to make people forget this strike, I think the public will remember, if only in the back of their minds, the fact that even die-hard Obama supporters have completely and totally turned against Rahm Emanuel. That will make a difference. His bike path better be mind-blowing.

This is the stuff I don't want to skim through, because I don't want to spread false, poorly-argued information anywhere but on my friends' Facebook feeds, and besides, I have to wake up in 5 hours. But I will say one important thing: that whether or not CTU is negotiating wages and benefits, every teacher I've talked to is showing up every day passionate about the other elements of this strike: all of the improvements to our schools for the sake of the students. I haven't heard one person talk about money. For 8-12 hours a day, at least, teachers are thinking about how this strike can help students, and their own children. You can call the teachers naive if you like, but don't call them greedy. This strike is a response to being kicked around, disrespected, and ignored for too long, and not just in regards to compensation or evaluation: teachers are frustrated that they've been talking about what is needed for children to make our schools and neighborhoods succeed, and no one has listened; and now, all of a sudden, anti-union, privatizing "reformers," who think that bad teachers are the biggest problem in our schools, have taken over the Democratic Party, creating a false narrative that teachers defend the status quo, when in fact it is teachers who have demanded the most radical and practical reforms for years, only to be ignored.

So without getting into details, I just have to say this: I am dead tired, and I have never felt more alive. This was not a strike of choice for the teachers—Rahm decided on a "stall of choice" tactic month after month after month, until he couldn't stall any more, because he thought we'd back down—but it was a strike of choice for me. I'm in SEIU. I could have volunteered to work at Rahm's PR First sites. I could be getting paid to help Rahm and Brizard with their anti-teacher scab magnets. And my coworkers would not have been upset with me, either—all of our SEIU brothers and sisters have been treated nicely as they enter. But I decided against it, and I'd like to think it's not out of enlightened self-interest. Yes, I want to be a teacher, and their strike affects my future contract. But more importantly, the point is that I don't care about excellent public education and union rights because I want to be a teacher: I want to be a teacher because I care about excellent public education and union rights.

And that's how everyone around me seems to feel. We cannot be divided if we are all fighting for what we believe in.

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