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Highlights From The 'Day of Action' That Drew Thousands Of Protesters Around Chicago

By aaroncynic in News on Apr 2, 2016 7:27PM

Thousands hit the streets of Chicago on Friday to support the Chicago Teachers Union in a day-long action to protest budget cuts and demand revenue solutions to solve the fiscally beleaguered Chicago Public Schools.

Teachers and their supporters—made up of a broad-based coalition of activists, unions and community groups—began pickets, teach-ins and rallies in the early morning at dozens of locations throughout the city. The union and its allies have been demanding increased funding and resources for schools and social services, funded by progressive revenue solutions like a graduated state income tax, a tax on financial transactions made on the stock market and the closure of tax loopholes for corporations. In addition, some groups called for an end to youth incarceration and the “school to prison pipeline,” as well as divestment of resources from the Chicago Police Department. Groups also slammed Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner for austerity budget proposals which they say prefer the wealthy over average citizens.

“It’s not just us, it’s not just our pensions,” CTU President Karen Lewis stold hundreds of supporters at a Friday morning rally at Chicago State University, which faces closure due to the state's unflagging budget impasse. “We have a responsibility to educate the children and young adults of the City of Chicago. We would be remiss in our responsibility if we allow someone who has held the budget hostage for their own personal agenda.”

The Teachers Union has been at odds with both Emanuel and Rauner over its contract since it expired in June. But a good portion of the groups involved with Friday’s “day of action” have arguably been at odds with the pair for much longer, and over a wider ranger of issues. Since the union’s historic strike in 2012, Emanuel presided over the largest closure of public schools in history, and he has faced harsh criticism for using money garnered from Tax Increment Financing to fund projects by big business and some of his campaign donors, rather than struggling neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods of color on the city’s South and West Sides. In addition, his handling of the Laquan McDonald scandal—in which a young African-American man was shot 16 times by a white police officer—caused national outrage.

Meanwhile critics say Rauner has been holding the state hostage by blocking a budget until lawmakers pass a package of “reforms” that weaken labor. Since the impasse began, many state social service agencies have had to either make deep budget cuts of their own or close their doors altogether.

“He wants his way, he doesn’t want to fund public services,” AFSCME Local 2528 Vice President Elijah Edwards said Friday outside of an office for the state’s Department of Human Services. Demonstrators had gathered there during a sunny break in what was mostly an overcast and rainy day to call out the governor for what they called an austerity agenda.

“He wants to privatize public services because he believes they should be the tools of profits for his friends like Ken Griffin,” Edwards said. (Griffin is the state’s wealthiest man, with an estimated net worth of $7 billion, and one of Rauner’s largest campaign donors.) “They want to take away the human out of human services.”

Racial justice was also an integral part of the day’s agenda, with rallies and marches taking place outside of Cook County Jail and a juvenile detention center. At the front of the main march, which took place in the late afternoon, demonstrators held banners that read “community control elected school and police boards now, and “fund black futures.”

“Black Lives Matter is not a slogan; it is a demand,” said Page May, a member of the group Assata’s Daughters, which helped defeat Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in primary elections last month. "I'm angry there will be more young black people buried and turned into hashtags.”

While the sentiment in the streets was overwhelmingly positive, with drivers of cars frequently honking their horns and some raising their fists in solidarity with marchers, the CTU took some hits. Emanuel, who was the target of frequent chants of “he’s got to go” throughout the day, told the Tribune “I don't think the kids should pay a price for a political message.”

The Chicago Public Schools took the first steps in legal action against the CTU for the day, filing a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board for unspecified damages and a pre-emptive injunction that would hinder future strikes.

Thousands of supporters pack the streets in the Chicago Loop for the CTU's "day of action" to protest budget cuts. Photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist

A spokesperson for the union called the complaint “bogus.” The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action, and we believe teachers have those rights,” said Stephanie Gadlin. “This was a one-day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something we have no intention of doing again.”

The rally lasted for some well into the early evening, when a smaller group of protesters took over part of Lake Shore Drive. In one of the most poignant moments of the day, a small child was handed a bullhorn at a student led rally downtown. “If you want the children to go get money and save Chicago, we have to fight back,” she spoke into the bullhorn.