"This ain't no April Fool's joke!" Chicago Teachers Union ( CTU ) member Luis Tubens said to the thousands gathered in front of the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago April 1. The rally was followed by an extraordinary demonstration which spanned the length of entire streets as people wound through the Loop in solidarity with the Chicago Teacher's Union ( CTU ) at the end of a one-day strike.
Their accomplished goal was encapsulated in the cry "shut it down!" Their targets included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, Immigrations Customs Enforcement ( ICE ), the Chicago Police Department ( CPD ), the banking industry and fast-food giant McDonald's along with its peers.
Demonstrators formed a coalition built from across the city, nation and even countries such as Mexico and France. They not only included the CTU's membership but representatives from a roster of organizations including the Black Lives Matter Movement ( BLM ), the Black Youth Project 100 ( BYP 100 ), the Chicago Light Brigade, Communities United, the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, Project Nia, the Illinois Leadership Academy and unions representing everyone from electrical, bakery confections, tobacco and grain millers workers to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago State and Northeastern University faculties.
The issues raised were not limited to the glaring inadequacies in Chicago Public School ( CPS ) funding, but the below-poverty-rate wages paid to fast-food employees, the proliferation of ICE deportations in the city, racial and economic injustice and disparities.
The weather provided a fitting "rain or shine" backdrop to the resolve of the protestors to make their voices heard. No matter what the conditions which alternated between downpours and bright sunlight, those voices did not waver in their frustrated anger.
As far as they were concerned, enough was enough from Springfield lawmakers and Rauner whose squabbling is having severe ramifications on the actual kids under the teacher's charge. Enough was enough from a City Hall represented by Emanuel who, as a distributed leaflet entitled Broke on Purpose stated "closed 50 schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods and [is] trying to close the only historically Black university in Illinois to pay the banks and protect wealthy supporters."
No matter their separate parties, to the demonstrators Rauner and Emanuel were two villains cut from the same cloth of corruption and greed.
The results in textbook shortages, loss of arts, language education and libraries, educators trying to teach massively overcrowded classrooms, school counselors with lists of children in the hundreds, children forced to walk to school through gang-infested neighborhoods, the closure of mental health facilities, the loss of living wages, CPD profiling of Black and Latino people and the violence from some of its officers were detailed in cries for an end to "the death by a thousand cuts" suffered by the disenfranchised people of Chicago.
"The governor of this state has decided to hold everybody hostage," CTU President Karen Lewis said after taking the stage erected in front of the Thompson Center . "He's a terrorist."
Earlier in the day, Rauner had labelled the strike as "shameful" and accused the CTU action of victimizing children.
"Rauner can't stop us," Lewis stated. "He can say things like 'teachers can't hold the taxpayers accountable.' Does he not know we're taxpayers too? We are here not only for the children of Chicago but we're here for the young adults of Chicago and we're here for people who deserve and are entitled to a real future."
Much like he did during the Black Friday protests, Rev. Jesse Jackson appeared just before the march began in order to provide the demonstrators with statements of defiance to repeat.
"Fight, end war, end poverty, reinvest in schools not jails," he declared. "End racism now. End sexism now. We will win anywhere. We are not afraid. We will not give up. We will not get tired. We will not surrender."
The enormous column of people then set off up Clark Street, along Wacker towards Michigan Avenue where they turned South before heading toward Lakeshore Drive at the height of the rush hour.
The peaceful demonstration served as the grand finale of a full Day of Action which began at 6:30 in the morning as teachers picketed outside CPS schools across the city. Teach-ins and rallies were held at City Hall, Northeastern and Chicago State universities along with the University of Illinois at Chicago. Project Nia led a march demanding the closure of youth prisons.
Charges filed by CPS earlier in the day against the striking teachers were met with the same measure of opposition. "The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action," the CTU said in a statement. "We believe teachers have those rights."
LGBTQs were a visible part of the march, including those carrying rainbow flags.
"The reasons for our participation were simple: demanding funding for public education, stopping the cuts which disproportionately hit people of color and working class people, and basic solidarity," said gay activist Andy Thayer. "Back in the late 1970s, when Harvey Milk and the movement he was a spokesperson for defeated the anti-LGBT 'Briggs Amendment,' they could not have done it without their alliance with the teachers and their unions. Likewise today, the future of most LGBTQ people, since most of us are working class, is bound up with the movements of working people. Today in Chicago, that means supporting the teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union.
"We hoped to carry on in the best of the traditions of our movement, where LGBTQs support teachers, and vice versa, where LGBTQs speak out and organize against racism regardless of our skin color, where we articulate the connections between supposedly 'separate' issues, and where we show that solidarity across false lines is the way we can win better lives for all of us."