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.