Tuesday, February 12, 2013

After being locked out in the cold, we made our voices heard [Updated]

Outside the church, crowd chants, "Let us in!" (M. Klonsky pic)
While hundreds of us were enduring the sub-freezing Chicago night, locked outside the Armitage Baptist Church in Logan Square, where the Fullerton Network School Utilization meeting had been called, I was remembering a similarly cold night in 1987 following the death of Mayor Harold Washington. That night we stood in the snow and cold, locked out of City Hall while the forces of darkness pulled off the coup d'etat that put the city back in the hands of the corrupt Democratic political machine, after its brief flirtation with democracy. But I knew that wasn't going to happen last night. We were going to get inside the meeting one way or another.

At the Logan Square Auditorium. (M. Klonsky pic)
The current movement to save our public schools also evokes memories of the movement that led to Harold's Election and beyond.

After rallying at the Logan Square Auditorium, we marched up Kedzie to the church. There we were forced to stand outside in the cold for close to an hour, a diverse shivering crowd, black, white and Latino neighborhood folks, lots of teachers and working class and middle-class moms, with kids in hand, chanting, "Let us in! Let us in!" That picture, those chants, tells you all you need to know about the nature of the growing battle over neighborhood  school closings.

If they thought the freezing wind would disperse us and send us home while they allowed a few to trickle into the church, they were wrong. Finally a nervous Ald. Waguespack showed up and I think it was he who pressured them to let us all inside. [Update: I have since been informed by a Goethe parent, that Waguespack was not at all involved in getting CPS to allow more people to enter. See comment below].

The CPS bureaucrats now had to face the brunt of the angry crowd, chanting, SAVE OUR SCHOOLS! and singing, "... Like a tree that's standing by the water, We shall not be moved." Apparently, they have become smarter since the first community protests began. First they trotted out the priest who warned the crowd to "be respectful" since we were now in "the house of God."  These "public" hearings are all being underwritten with private, pro-charter school Walton money. Holding hearings in a conservative Baptist church was obviously part of the game plan -- a way to divide the crowd.

Inside the church. (M. Klonsky pic)
The standing-room only crowd of about 700 was anything but disrespectful. Yes, we were loud, angry and determined not to lose our neighborhood schools to the charter operators and privatizers. But we were also there to engage with CPS. After the local pols had their say, one by one, the parents took the stage, representing Brentano, Darwin, Goethe, Ames and other local schools, research -- statistical and anecdotal-- in hand, every speech translated in English and Spanish, trying to convince the invisible powers that be, that their school  be saved from the CPS death list.

I imagine these same forces of darkness, having made the school system a wing of City Hall, are not resting easy over the emergence of this  new grassroots democratic movement. I'm certain Rahm and his boys are paying close attention.

The word is that tomorrow, they will put out their list of schools they want to close. If the past is any prelude, they will try and divide the movement by backing off some of the schools where the loudest and most militant opposition has been organized. It that's the case, I suspect that at least some of the well-organized Logan Square schools will saved.

I left the meeting hoping that things move to the next level -- from Save our school, to Save OUR SCHOOLS. Then we will really have something.

6 comments:

  1. I'm glad voices at the Fullerton Network Meeting were heard. There was another meeting last night for the Fulton Network where many west side schools are on the "list". Our parents were loud too. We were respectful but demanded to be heard. Many schools were organized and talked about how closing schools, especially on the west side is dangerous for our kids. Parents pointed out how each school serves their community to the best of their ability with the resources they are allotted. It is not the school employees failing our community. It is CPS and the lack of resources for our communities that fail our kids. I don't know how anyone could attend one of these hearings and walk away with any other message.

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  2. Goethe Parent & Logan Square residentFebruary 12, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Just a little correction to your piece this morning. It was in fact me who enabled the crowd to come in to the church. I'll tell you why. The "district president" who I was told was Ms. Williams was requiring everyone to sign in at two tables, which meant that as of about 6:45 p.m. there could only be let in 10 people or so every minute or couple minutes, funneled through a gap between the sign-in tables. There was a single door open at the front and at least 300 people chanting outside.

    When I got in (I got to the front when I saw the issue), I demanded to speak with the "district president" and asked her why she was requiring people to sign in. She could not give me a satisfactory answer, so her head of security stepped in and offered me the start of some excuse which I didn't listen to. I proceeded to inform anyone coming in that they could register if they wished but they were not required to. If they could pass on by the blockage at the sign-in table that would be good. After that we reached 100 a minute and no one was left outside after 5-10 minutes. The security then hinted that they would be locking the doors, which I strongly advised them not to. I stood by the door ensuring people were let in for about 5 minutes after that. Had I not done this people would still have been filtering in half an hour later, or gone home from the cold/wind.

    I encountered a lot of CPS employees who were "doing as they had been told" by Ms. Williams. They insisted people had to sign in and there were people posted on the stairs to stop people coming in. Whenever they demanded people sign in I flatly denied it and encouraged people to move forward. I have been to these hearings before with no signin. These are classic (and stupid) "crowd suppression attempts". When outside before, I had seen families leaving because of the wait and the cold. Absolutely poor show by CPS.

    Scott Waguespack did not talk anyone in to letting the people in. I did. Scott was there but he was observing. I asked Scott what the situation was and if I could help and he was not responsive. I don't blame him for not doing anything (I don't think any of the alderman or politicians got involved at this point, and I understand why).

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  3. Mike,

    You failed to mention that Ald. Joe "the Hipster Alderman" Moreno was heartily booed and ridiculed by the crowd, even as he announced his opposition to the closure of some Logan Square schools. Obviously, many of us still remember how he was Rahm's attack dog in the city council during the teachers strike.

    No matter how he shifts his position on various issues, he will always be seen as a scab and a sellout by Chicago teachers and their supporters.

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  4. Funny...there was no mention of this meeting (no pictures, obviously) in either of the newspapers. You would think, with that many people, it would be news. Oh, wait--I forgot--only the "Schools Choice" event was worth an article + photo.

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  5. Standing with the people demanding to get into Armitage Baptist Church I saw numerous people from our group attempt to hold the one door being opened and closed, open for all to come in. Employees inside kept yanking the door closed. The crowd yelled, "Open the doorS. Open the doorS, let the children in!" and one of our moms got hold of a second door and she held it, calling to us, let the children in first, let the children through and let them in. Someone inside tried to wrest the door from her but she would not let go. It appears that a number of our people were key in getting those doors to stay open.

    It's the Walmart Foundation that is paying for the CPS effort to sooth the communities into letting them shutter our schools so they can put our money into opening more and more charter schools. Walmart is notorious for their extremely low pay, bad working conditions, and stranglehold grip over suppliers. They too want more control over how and what our children learn.

    Ames as a Marine Academy ~ currently the existing Marine Academy is under-enrolled (hmmmm!). The effort to re-place that school into our neighborhood is an effort to recruit more Latinos into a program that requires four years of military indoctrination. It's frightening that the military and the city and federal government are abusing our public school system as one tool in recruiting for a volunteer army. Public education is under attack.

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