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Chicago mobilizes against mass school closings

Thousands rallied and marched on March 27 in opposition to a Chicago Public Schools and mayor's office plan for mass school closings. Organized by the Chicago Teachers Union, UNITE HERE Local 1, SEIU Local 1 and the Grassroots Education Movement, Chicagoans called on the city and the board of education to stop all school closings and slow the expansion of charter schools to focus on investment in public schools, working-class families and the city's struggling neighborhoods.

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A crowd gathered in Daley Plaza and swelled to 7,000 as they marched through the streets of downtown Chicago. Throughout the march, CTU president and AFT vice president Karen Lewis was flanked by two longtime civil rights activists, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

Lewis urged the students, teachers and families in the crowd to stay strong in the face of school closings and pledged union support. She also sent a message to the thousands of students that CPS is attempting to displace: "On the first day of school, you show up at your real school," Lewis said. "Don't let these people take your school!"

In an act of civil disobedience, more than 100 members of the organizing unions were arrested during a sit-in in the southbound lane of LaSalle Street outside of City Hall. Among the arrestees were CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey and CTU recording secretary Michael Brunson.

"It is an obscene travesty for them to refer to what they've been doing as a civil rights movement," said Brunson of the school board. "So now, we are going to show them what a real civil rights movement looks like, and what a real civil rights movement feels like."

As the demonstration unfolded, AFT president Randi Weingarten released a statement in support of the teachers, parents and students in the streets.

"The AFT stands with teachers, parents, students and other Chicagoans fighting to guarantee every child in Chicago the high-quality neighborhood public school he or she deserves," Weingarten said. "Chicago's reckless mass school closure agenda will destabilize neighborhoods, threaten our children's safety, fail to improve learning or save money, and create a domino effect of destabilization in schools across the city. It is part of a disturbing trend in cities across the country by the powers that be to ignore what parents, students and teachers demand and what our children need in favor of failed policies." [CTU, AFT public affairs/video by Matthew Jones and Brett Sherman]

March 28, 2013