At the time of the interview we didn’t know if we would be teaching with a new contract or striking yet the next day. My interview starts at about 1:30 of this segment.
Photo courtesy of depaulia.com Karen Lewis speaking at the April 1st 2016 Day of Action
Recently Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the statement that, “Teachers are striking out of choice, not necessity.” Mind you that this is the same tired language that he said during our last strike in 2012.
There is nothing more I would rather do than teach. But unfortunately we are left with no other options but to strike.
Unlike Rahm, we love the students of Chicago. We want them to have fully funded schools, that have counselors, librarians, nurses, working technology, classrooms that aren’t falling apart, sports, limits on class sizes and activities. We want our students to have every opportunity that Rahm’s kids get by sending them to the Lab School. Do our kids not deserve those things?
Legally teachers are only allowed to strike over pay and benefits, which allows Rahm to play the “greedy teacher” card and say things like we are “striking out of choice”. It allows some to state our salaries and imply that we already get paid enough, or to make matters worse, are overpaid.
I will be striking because I do not want my salary cut by 7%. I do not want my wife’s (also a CPS teacher) salary cut by 7%. But even though I am legally striking over salary and benefits here is a list of the many other reasons that all impact our students of why I will be striking:
- Rahm and the bad leaders in CPS do NOT send their kids to CPS. As a CPS teacher for the past ten years and also now a CPS parent, this is offensive. If CPS isn’t good enough for Rahm’s kids, then why are they okay for our kids?
- The appointed school board is made up of people scared to say “no” to Rahm. The “Handpicked-by-Rahm-School-Board” meets at 10am on a weekday, sits on their thrones and pretends to listen to people. They then go into closed meetings to talk freely and make their decisions. This is not Democracy and every one of them should be ashamed of the charade they play and the decisions they make that harm our students. Make this an elected school board, be a model of Democracy for our students.
- Student Based Budgeting has significantly reduced the amount of money that schools receive. This funding system conveniently allows Rahm and his cronies who run CPS to pass the “budget blame” and lack of funding onto the principals, who like us, are working hard to help the students.
- I’m striking for every student who has died in this city. We teachers are the ones who have to help our students and ourselves cope with the student death from violence, poverty, and the police.
- I’m striking because there are only 4 crises counselors for the nearly 400,000 students of Chicago Public Schools. When something tragic happens (which happens far too frequently) there are only 4 trained specialists to help schools deal with these tragedies.
- I’m striking because CPS keeps cutting counselors, social workers, and nurses. These people could aid and help our students deal with trauma, but many of these positions have been cut.
- I’m striking because the Mayor plans to hire 960 more police officers while firing teachers. You can’t arrest away the violence problem. Give people job and educational opportunities and invest in the neighborhoods and there will be no need to hire more police. Is it not enough that the Chicago Police Department costs taxpayers $4 million dollars a day? Or that CPD police brutality payouts have cost the taxpayers over $200 million dollars? Instead of giving our students and citizens opportunities we provide them with an increased and unwanted police presence.
- Instead of giving more educational opportunities Rahm closed 50 schools in the neighborhoods that need the most help.
- On top of closing schools Rahm closed mental health clinics. Now the largest provider of mental health services in the entire country is Cook Country Jail. Close schools, close the clinics, and watch the prison population grow…
- I’m striking because the police to continue to run a secret detention facility inHoman Square that has disappeared over 7,000 residents in Chicago. This has been going on for years, but the worst part of it is that it still operates and continues to traumatize residents and students on the West Side of our city.
- I’m striking because Rahm sat on the Laquan McDonald video for an entire year. I’m striking because of every other police involved murder of Chicago residents likeRekia Boyd, Cedric Chatman, Paul O’Neal, and every other victim of Chicago Police brutality.
- I’m striking because when residents of our city demanded a Civilian Police Accountability Council not only were they ignored, Rahm has essentially kept the same police review board that was not working before and just gave it a new name.
- Privatizing our custodial and engineering staffs, which has led to filthy, germ infested schools.
- Refusing to look for any other ideas to fund our schools and city, like the use of TIF funds that many Alderman support.
- For having the most militarized school district in the entire country at a cost to Chicago taxpayers of $17 million per year. Our students do not need JROTC programs indoctrinating them on the military model, because eventually the military model leads to humans being taught how to kill other humans.
- For Rahm saying, “25% of CPS students won’t amount to anything.”
- For firing massive amounts of teachers.
- For having 15 months to try to negotiate a contract and CPS refuses to negotiate in good faith. CPS and the Mayor have refused any of the ideas presented by the CTU to create additional funding for our schools and city.
- For having to have parents and community members go on hunger strikes to get what should be standard educational opportunities in all neighborhoods.
There are some days that I think yes, it sure would be easier to just pack up and leave. I have watched as respected colleagues and friends have lost their jobs due to CPS budget cuts.
But through all this mess, we teachers know that what we do is right for the students. Because we spend hours on end teaching, counseling, listening, and learning to and from our students. We send our own children to CPS. We know that the teachers are doing amazing things in our schools. We know what schools should look like for all our students.
So yes, legally I will be striking to save 7% of my hard earned salary, but know that morally I am striking so that enough people realize that the change we educators seek is possible. We are only a few steps away from getting an elected school board, getting rid of this mayor, being more creative with how our schools are funded, and truly working to help the kids that we dedicate our professional lives to.
Of course I would rather teach than strike. But there comes a time when to make change you must be willing to sacrifice. You had better believe that the teachers of Chicago Public Schools are willing to stand up and sacrifice in our latest attempt to make our city better.
For more things that Chicago Teachers are fighting for in this contract please click here.
To view this piece on Huffington Post please click here.
I discussed the term emotional trigger with my students today before having a discussion on police brutality. I shared with them that every autumn, especially when leaves are falling it triggers the day that my wife and I found out that we lost what would’ve been our second child.
I told them how every time I hear of someone getting killed by violence it makes me think of Trevell and Lawrence, two former students I taught, both lives cut short by violence.
I chose to discuss these very personal things with my students because news of, or actual experiences with police brutality combined with all the violence in our society is triggering emotions in my students that they might not even be aware of.
How can you feel safe in a society when you are afraid of the police?
How can you feel safe when white people criticize you for speaking up, protesting peacefully, and/or becoming upset?
It seems as if many white people only care when property is damaged, a knee is taken, a fist is raised or if someone happens to mention white privilege, but don’t give a damn if a Black person is killed.
We white people deflect accusations of police brutality with, “what about ‘black on black’ crime”?
We actually don’t care about “black on black crime”, it just sounds scary to us. No matter that white on white crime is a thing. No matter that every race due to governmental segregation policies lives primarily by people who look like them, so violence is almost always against people who like them.
We deflect accusations of police brutality with, “Colin Kaepernick’s actions are unAmerican and offensive.”
Even though protests are part of Democracy, we don’t care. Women vote because of protests, many people have a 40 hour work week because of protests, that doesn’t matter. Just don’t protest while Black.
We deflect anything having to do with race with, “Martin Luther King wouldn’t support the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Our history classes sucked in high school in terms of teaching about Black and Brown people. We spent some time in February learning the mess out of the white washed de-radicalized version of King and we can quote “I Have a Dream” all day.
As a white person who is trying to be anti-racist I have a responsibility to speak up. I promised myself if someone responds to me on Facebook or Twitter I will respond to them no matter what.
I don’t know if it’s worth it.
Racism exists because me and every other white person allows it to.
And that pisses me off.
I refuse to raise my sons to be racist.
But it’s hard.
Racist ideology envelopes us.
This country was founded on racist ideology. It has passed from generation to generation because white people are so fragile we can’t handle mentioning racism. When racism is mentioned, we immediately get so uncomfortable that we get tired of hearing about it and then try to silence the people talking about it because speaking about racism seems so divisive to us: just let things be, everything is good, we are white.
We don’t worry about the police, they won’t kill our children, friends, relatives, neighbors or people who look like us out of fear. So why should we believe that they would do that to another race.
Don’t talk about whiteness.
Don’t talk about privilege.
Don’t talk about race.
Just be white.
Err, just be Italian (insert other European ancestry) American.
Even better, just be American.
Just be white but don’t refer to ourselves as white.
Just wave the flag, don’t question, be proud, be American.
View this piece on Huffington Post
CITY-DATA.COM Chelsea, MI the town I grew up in.
When I was a senior in high school I was at a party and the police showed up to break it up. Instead of waiting around to get in trouble, a group of friends and I took off running. We heard the police yell, “Stop”, but there was no way that we were going to allow ourselves to get caught by the police. We ran and a few police officers chased us, but being athletic 17-18 year olds, we got away from the police after an extended foot chase. We were not caught and our identities were never found out.
Were my friends and I making poor choices at that party? Of course. Were we immature and full of cockiness? Most definitely.
But not for one second did we think that running from the cops would ever end in our physical harm, let alone our death, by the hands of the police.
Many white people who grew up in white America at some point in their lives have made similar poor judgments.
In another instance of extremely poor choices when I was a teenager, a group of friends and I decided that it would be a good idea to go into a building that we knew had alcohol stored in it and take it. We broke in, took what we wanted, and proceeded to have a great night. We all woke up the next morning to the terrible realization of what we had done. We made a pact to not say anything to anyone about what had happened, hoping that we would not get caught.
The police quickly figured out what had happened, the party we had been at was near to where the burglary took place. The police then started talking to every person at the party.
When the police called my house to say they were coming to talk to me, I told my parents about the police being on their way and that I had nothing to do with the break-in the officer was talking about on the phone. When the cop arrived and started asking me questions, I looked at that cop straight in the eye and lied. I told him I knew nothing and had no idea what burglary he was talking about. The officer did know that I was there since someone had already told him the actual story. The cop said to me calmly, “Tell me the truth of what happened because if you tell me another lie again, I am taking you to the police station.” So I told him what had happened.
My parents cried because of what I had done and that I had lied to them. The gossip train got rolling pretty quickly and the news of what we had done was somewhat of a big deal, for the town of about 10,000 people that I grew up in. We were high school athletes and many of us had parents who were respected in the community.
But you know what sentences we received for theft and breaking and entering? Nothing. No charges were pressed. No criminal records ever got attached to our names. We were able to apologize to the owners of the building that we had robbed. The owners agreed to not press charges in exchange that we serve community service to them for a set period of time. Our high school suspended us from athletic competition for 1 month.
We were not arrested, we never feared for our lives.
We were white in white America.
We made poor choices.
I am fortunate enough based on my various privileges that my life has not been significantly more difficult.
People who are not white do not get the privileges that I received.
People who are not white would’ve been killed for running from the police and then many in the general public would’ve tried to justify their death, saying things like, “well if they wouldn’t have run they would still be alive.”
That statement, besides being sick, is also not true since there arecountless examples of Black people just going about their day-to-day lives who were killed by the police.
But let’s imagine that my friends or I were killed for running from the police.
That’s the thing, you actually can’t imagine it, because it nearly never happens.
White people do not regularly get killed for doing stupid crimes or for just being, this is a privilege we have.
Dylann Roof murders 9 black people in a church and comes out unhurt, wearing a bullet proof vest, and is bought fast food all by thepolice. Dylann Roof is a famous example of how the police treat white people accused of crimes, but his treatment is not an anomaly. Here are ten other examples of police disarming and not killing violent white people. White privilege protects white people from the police, here are twenty examples of how it works.
Korryn Gaines is killed for an outstanding warrant for disorderly conduct, John Crawford for shopping at Walmart while talking on the phone, Tamir Rice for playing, Rekia Boyd for standing in a group,Betty Jones for being in her house, Alton Sterling and Eric Garner for selling things, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and Corey Jones for driving. I selected just a few of the names of black people who have been killed recently by the police. The list grows. Meanwhile, unarmed Black men are seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.
Imagine if my friends and I had been black when we broke in and stole that alcohol. We would now all have criminal records, which would’ve made every aspect of our lives immensely more difficult if not nearly impossible. Instead of having a criminal record, I went to college, found apartments to live in, became a teacher, got married, got my Masters degree, have good credit, can financially support my children, and am working to become a National Board certified teacher.
All of these things would not have happened if charges were pressed against my friends and I.
I was young, arrogant, bored, and stupid. The vast majority of the teenagers I teach or have taught are smarter than I was at their age. Yet, if they ever make a much simpler mistake than I made, they pay for their mistakes with their actual lives and people try to justify their death. Or they become so caught up in the criminal justice system that no matter the offense, their life trajectory is now nowhere near where it was before their mistake.
If you are a parent you can look at my poor choices and say to yourself, “my kid will never make any mistakes like you made”. I hope you are right, but I also know in white America kids do stupid stuff all the time. The difference is when white kids do it people say, “its just kids being kids” or “they will learn from their mistakes”.
But when kids of color make those same poor teenage filled choices they are labeled as thugs and are given harsh penalties (i.e. jail) to “alter” their lifestyle.
The extremely lenient penalty that I received still scared the mess out of me and taught me a lesson that has forever altered my life. Leniency and educating kids on their mistakes will work with the vast majority of kids who make poor choices.
The only reason I was afforded those privileges is because I grew up white, in white America.
To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.
The Black Lives Matter Movement started after the acquittal of George Zimmerman who murdered Trayvon Martin. The Civil Rights Movementgained momentum after the acquittal of the two men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who murdered Emmett Till.
In both instances the evidence was clear, the murderers should’ve been found guilty but in both cases (and hundreds of other cases) killing a Black kid whether for walking at night with a hood, while eating skittles or supposedly whistling at a white woman, the law has and continues to make sure that Black death is always justified.
When a Black person is killed. White people first try to look for any and every possible reason to justify Black death. From the simple blame, “if only he/she would’ve…” to the deflect and change subject which sounds like, “But what about ‘Black on Black’ crime” to the “All this talk about race just causes more tensions” finally to the “I’ll just pray that it stops”.
All of these tactics are an attempt for white people to ignore racism and avoid having to talk about race in order to go back to our own lives.
I mean white people will spend hours trying to find one Black person sitting in their car or some other random location recording themselves saying something to the effect of “racism is a thing of the past” so we can feel good about doing nothing about racism. Only to keep on living our lives afraid of Black people (even though we claim not to be) or blaming Black people who may be struggling by saying things like, “I (or my family) was poor once and look at me now”, ignoring the institutionalized privileges whites receive.
It was Dr. King who said that , “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is…the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
How many of us white people would rather have “order”? Having “order” sounds like; “The courts will show if he/she is guilty or not” or , “I’ve never had issues with the police those Black people must be guilty of something” or “If they would just work harder”. Ultimately, “order” comes down to “Stop messing up my happy privileged life”.
White people as a whole do not feel comfortable talking about race so we will do anything to avoid it. We have this thing called White Fragility, where when we are confronted with issues about race we feel guilty, think all other races hate us and then instead of trying to educate ourselves we just resort to the ol’ “deflect the issue to go about my life” mentality. Especially recently, following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterlng white people are sick of hearing about race. Instead of imaging how tired people of color are living with the threat of racism daily, we simply choose to ignore them and devalue their claims.
We white northerners think that just because our families have lived in the north that we can’t be racist. We think that if we quote King we can’t be racist (even though in the north is where King saw a whole new level of racism). We think that an act of racism is limited to using a derogatory slur. We are living in the 1950’s (or earlier) with this definition.
Let’s create a new definition of white racism. First let’s define Blatant White Racism in 2016- Every time you become aware of an injustice against Black people whether it be (police brutality, lead in water, governments cutting budgets to city schools, etc.) you search the Internet for anything to prove why that death, sickness, or cut was necessary, valid or reasonable. An anti-racist approach would be finding ways to understand the real issue, once successful at this you would then educate other white people and take action. Now we need to define Camouflaged White Racism in 2016- Every time you become aware of an injustice against Black people you find any excuse to ignore the issue (I don’t get it, I’m too busy to do anything about it, I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like politics, I don’t see color, I don’t live there, I love everyone, I have Black friends). It can also look like acknowledging or validating the issue then simply saying you will pray for everything to be okay and then go back to life as normal.
I know these definitions will not sit well with many white people. But what’s more important is that our own discomfort and embarrassment at trying to decide what level of racism we use will not take away from your lifestyle, but it will change you. Admitting there is a problem and working to solve the problem will create less racial tension, not more.
If you’re white and you’ve made it this far you are likely angry. Acknowledge the anger, figure out why you’re angry and then try to move past it so you can listen and grow.
When my two sons are grown, I do not want people trying to make the same ridiculous arguments to try to discredit the next movement for Black equality. I don’t want there to be a reason to even have a “next movement”.
I want us white people to realize that Black people are not scary and do not hate us. I want us to realize that many Black people have been simply waiting for us to actually give enough of a damn to do something.
To view this piece on the Huffington Post click here.
Since the Black Lives Matter Movement started it has been labeled as being too radical, using offensive language and being racist. Critics claim that the Civil Rights Movement, specifically Martin Luther King Jr., would not even support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Has our white culture attempted to whiten MLK’s legacy so much that many no longer consider King controversial?
Lets be clear, if you are white and do not support the Black Lives Matter Movement today, then the overwhelming odds are that no matter if you would have lived in the North or South in the 50s and 60s you would not have supported the Civil Rights Movement then.
The same criticisms of Black Lives Matter today were issued about King and the countless others involved in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s and 1960’s. King was blamed for riots, for hatred between the races, and for being racist against white people.
Many of us know about the actions the Civil Rights Movement had in the South such as sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and Freedom Rides. These events only had limited support from white people and even worse is that the majority of white Americans actually believed actions such as these were hurting the chances of racial integration.
In 1966 King came to Chicago to try to end poverty and “…to help eradicate a viscous system which seeks to further colonize thousands of negroes within a slum environment.” After spending time in Chicago and leading actions around the city King said, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the south, but I can say that I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’ve seen here in Chicago.”
Based on King’s own observations, white people in the North were just as racist as white people in the South during this time period. Except, because the majority of the movement happened in the South the north was able to hide it’s racism.
Not only was King criticized by regular white Americans he was also criticized by white religious leaders for his actions being “unwise and untimely”. As a reverend this criticism lead him to write his eloquent response, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In the letter he includes “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice […] who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”
So to be clear, MLK said, it was not the KKK who was the greatest roadblock to freedom, it was the typical white American.
Even after King was murdered, just getting MLK Day to be a national holiday was a struggle for those involved. It took 9 years for DC politicians to approve it. Once it was approved it still took an additional 17 years to get all 50 states to celebrate the day.
Further proof of how radical King was emerged when his family took the U.S. Government to trial because of evidence they believed that they had obtained that showed that King was not killed by James Earl Ray, but instead he was killed by the U.S. Government.
During nearly the entire Civil Rights Movement the U.S. Government, specifically the FBI, monitored, harassed, murdered, and/or tried to stop the movement by any means necessary. The FBI went so far with King to stop the Movement specifically that they threatened they would make public his extra marital affairs and also sent him letters suggesting he commit suicide.
I get it, we white people do not want to be considered racist. But we have come to the point where we took a radical figure like King, ignored nearly every radical speech, action, and statement made by him and now just use him to try to quiet Black people anytime that they are upset. White people will post quotes from King on MLK day, but are only quoting the King that they want him to be not the radical King that he was. We ignore his quotes against the military, against moderate whites, and his promotion of black pride.
Black Lives Matter is inclusive like King, is pro-Black like King, and is controversial like King…
So before another person like the Atlanta Mayor says MLK would not have shut down a highway, which we know he did, or someone like Bill O’Reilly says that, “Dr. King would not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest”. King not only would have participated, but it is in part because of his leadership that Black Lives Matter operates.
So anytime anyone says King was not a radical or says King would not support Black Lives Matter ask for proof and then ask for which King they are talking about.
The real King or the lightened un-radicalized King that they can put up on their wall by their white Jesus.
View this piece on the Huffington Post by clicking here.
Black Lives Matter. This statement should not be controversial or scary. It should just be truth. It should not require addendums and edits to make people feel more at ease. When one group of people has continually been and continues to be targeted/killed we should just accept this simple statement and actively work to make sure that Black life does matter, everyday, all the time.
Published in the Chicago Tribune on Monday July 18, 2006 to view it click here.