I spent yesterday afternoon at a rally at Daley Plaza opposing school closings. The rally was the culmination of a three-day march across Chicago by students, educators, and community members. The video below offers a good report about the protests and the issues surrounding the proposed closures.
As I listened to several speeches and then marched along with friends, allies, and strangers, I caught myself smiling. Why should this be the case?
It seems unlikely, after all, that these major protests will prevent the majority of the proposed school closings. The Chicago Board of Education will almost certainly vote to close dozens of schools at its meeting this Wednesday. CPS seems to be preparing for this outcome. Rahm Emanuel thinks that black and brown folk in this city have short memories. In fact, he is counting on it. I personally think that he is wrong.
Yesterday the Chicago Sun Times published an editorial calling for 21 schools to be removed from the closure list. This would still leave 33 schools on the chopping block which is one too many.
Given these odds, why shouldn’t those of us who want education justice and vehemently oppose mass school closures succumb to despair and hopelessness?
At yesterday’s rally, I stood with people from every walk of life to resist the attempt to further decimate our communities. We raised our collective voices to say that we would continue to fight back no matter what “decision” the Board announces on Wednesday. THIS is cause for hope.
When I looked around, I noticed the joy and even more importantly the love that was reflected in the chants and in the protest. Yes, it was love that I could feel in the crowd but also hope. It’s important to be reminded that social justice movements are rooted in hope. This one for education justice in Chicago certainly is. To remain hopeful no matter our circumstance is to already be victorious. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who stands in a place of hope while organizing to change the world.
There is an essay by Howard Zinn that I always return to and last night the brilliant and committed scholar-activist Nancy Heitzeg reminded me of it. I’ll share the part that most resonates with me and that seems most relevant to the current struggle for education justice:
We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
Watch the individuals who were arrested yesterday as they staged a sit-in at City Hall after delivering over 10,000 petition signatures to Mayor Emanuel. Notice that they are singing throughout:
There is hope embodied in these acts of civil disobedience. Knowing that there are many who will put their bodies on the line to say “No, you will not destroy us without a fight” is a manifestation of radical love.
Listen to the impassioned words of 9 year old elementary school student Asean Johnson as he excoriates Mayor Emanuel for his plan to close 54 schools.
How can we lose hope when we have young people like Asean to fight for? We cannot. Instead we must ask if we’ve done our very best by Sean and if our answer is no then we must do better…
Once again, I am privileged to share Sarah Jane Rhee’s beautiful photographs documenting three-days of protest against school closures here in Chicago. I’ve decided to share photographs of children & youth in the spirit of hope and justice.
On Sunday, I awoke to the news that some parents of Walter Payton Prep High School students refused to allow their children to play a night game on the campus of Gwendolyn Brooks Prep High.
You have to live in Chicago to fully appreciate this drama. Payton and Brooks are both selective enrollment public high schools in the city. Both are considered “good” schools. Payton is on the Northside of Chicago while Brooks is located on the Southside. Rich white parents use their clout to get their children admitted to Payton but not to Brooks. In case you didn’t know, Chicago is still the most segregated city in the United States. This also extends to our schools, of course.
One can hardly blame the parents of Payton students who were afraid that their children might succumb to violence on the dreaded “Southside.” Over the past three to four years, media accounts have portrayed Chicago as the wild, wild, West. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another account of rampant “senseless” violence in the city.
It’s gotten so bad that the former police superintendent, Jody Weis, felt the need to proclaim during a news conference in 2010: “We are not Chi-raq. We are Chicago.”
This brings me to the main issue that I wanted to address today.
The following ad comes from a 1943 magazine (2 years before the end of World War II). It is an advertisement for the Van Dorn Iron Works Co. which was apparently “the largest jail builder in America.” Interestingly the ad links prisons with the military industrial complex:
“You never expected to find a solution to one of your postwar problems in a jail cell, did you? But there’s one here for you if you are looking for new ways of building endurance into your products of the future…Jail cell construction is only one phase of Van Dorn production. Today, we are 100% engaged in building armor plate for plans, tanks, and guns.”
In case it’s illegible on the map, they seem to have built cells in the following jails/prisons across the U.S.:
1. Maine State Prison (280 cells)
2. Auburn State Prison (1514 cells)
3. Maryland Penitentiary (820 cells)
4. West Virginia Penitentiary (608 cells)
5. Bibb County Jail, Georgia (131 cells)
6. Nebraska State Prison (301 cells)
7. King County Jail, Seattle (100 cells)
8. Salt Lake City Jail (35 cells)
9. San Quentin State Prison, Calif (800 cells)
The Gregory Brothers strike again with this very good music video documenting the fact that the war on drugs is a failure.
This August, it will be 18 years since I moved to Chicago from my hometown of New York City. I can hardly believe that I’ve been here this long. I moved here for graduate school and never expected to stay. But Chicago is a city that grows on you. I’ve come to love this place. Not as much as I love New York where I was born and where much of my family still lives. But it’s a close second in my heart now.
When Rahm Emanuel announced that he would run for Mayor of Chicago. I had a viscerally negative reaction. I ranted to anyone and everyone that he was a corporatist who would seek to further privatize the commons. I supported his opponent Miguel Del Valle in the primary. I believe that the city would be in much better shape had Del Valle won but the truth is that I would have voted for almost anyone besides Emanuel.
Now we find ourselves under constant and coordinated assault by Emanuel and his allies in the business community. He closed down six mental health clinics last year with a promise to target more. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) decided to increase its fares and Emanuel responded that riders who were unhappy should consider driving instead. In just a few weeks, the CTA will close all red line stops from Cermak to 95th street for 5 months effectively cutting off much of the Southside from the rest of the city. Emanuel is pushing a new mandatory minimum gun bill (HB2265/SB1003) designed to spike the prison population by nearly 4,000 in the next decade and costing us nearly $1 billion more in state prison funding. And the coup de grace is his recently announced decision to close 54 Chicago Public schools on the West and South sides of the city. He has been called the “Murder Mayor.” The title is earned and well-deserved.
Read Angela Caputo’s excellent article about Illinois’s stupid, destructive, racist and failed drug war.
2. We spend a lot of money to incarcerate young people.
3. “The youth incarceration rate in the nation dropped 37 percent from 1995 to 2010. In 1995, 107,637 young people were held in correctional facilities on a single reference day, while in 2010, this number had dropped to 70,792, the lowest in 35 years. The rate of youth in confinement dropped from 381 per 100,000 to 225 per 100,000 over the same period. But the United States still incarcerates a higher percentage of its young people than any other industrialized country — in 2002 the nation’s youth incarceration rate was almost five times that of South Africa, the nation with the next highest rate. Most of the young people incarcerated do not pose a clear public safety threat: almost 40 percent are incarcerated for nonviolent reasons such as status offenses, public order offenses, low-level property offenses, drug possession, or technical probation violations, while only about one quarter are incarcerated for a Violent Crime Index offense (homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, sexual assault). (Source).”
4. According to the ACLU, “In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities across the country, and currently maintains a daily capacity of 33,400 beds—even though, in the overwhelming majority of cases, detention is not necessary to effect deportations and does not make us any safer.”
7. The PIC is very costly. Preliminary data from the Census Bureau’s annual State Government Finance Census indicate states spent $48.5 billion on corrections in 2010, about 6% less than in 2009. Between 1982 and 2001, total state corrections expenditures increased each year, rising from $15.0 billion to $53.5 billion in real dollars.
Stop and Frisk is a policing tactic that is used across the U.S. but particularly in New York City. The practice criminalizes mostly young Black and Latino people.
Bringing Down the New Jim Crow is a radio series produced by Chris Moore-Backman. Below is a description:
Inspired by Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS, this series of radio documentaries explores the intersection of the drug war, mass incarceration, and race in the contemporary U.S.