Photos By Armando Silva
A rally lead by teachers and parents took over downtown Chicago on Wednesday, March 27. Washington St. was blocked, and Wells and La Salle Streets were full of rallying protesters. Most held signs, others yelled, but the common denominator was the demand to keep Chicago Public Schools open.
“Closing our schools, not listening to the people in the schools, that’s unjust and quite frankly illegal,” said Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president. “Let’s not pretend that when you close schools primarily on the south and west side that the children who will be affected are black. Let’s not pretend that that’s not racist,” she added.
The current plan calls to close a total of 54 schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CPS school board say this will save 100 million dollars a year. There are still more public hearings and the school board has to give final approval on the closings.
“If the children go to a better school they can achieve their potential and doing it in the elementary [schools] here is essential so they [can] graduate,” said Mayor Emmanuel, standing firm with his decision. He stated that the negotiation is over.
Pilsen’s two schools (Joseph Jungman Elementary School and Pilsen Elementary Community Academy) in danger of closure were taken off the CPS school closings list last week, a major victory for parents and neighborhood residents who endured months of anguish and mobilization to avoid a major assault on their community, stated the Pilsen Alliance.
Many Pilsen residents joined the movement and gathered at the Pilsen Academy where the Pilsen Alliance organization provided free transportation to the rally. “We are happy for Pilsen, but sad about what this administration is doing to Chicago,” said Rosalie Mancera, Pilsen Alliance board member. “We won in Pilsen, but lost in a lot of other places; we will continue helping to make sure other schools also stay open.”
While Pilsen schools were able to survive the largest school closing action in U.S. history, 54 other schools in 61 buildings were not, said the Pilsen Alliance. “We are here today because the City of Chicago is closing all those schools and they are going to take the children out of their communities,” said Rita Sackey, a supporter of the rally.
“This is unjust that only Latino schools, black schools, and schools of low-income [are closing]; it’s not fair,” said Miriam Santiago who participated in the rally.
Lewis said that the fight is not over. She also told everyone if it gets to that point, she wants everyone to go to their school, the school that can possibly be closed this upcoming fall, on the first day of class. “They are closing down schools that have names of African-American icons. But he’ll open up schools to put the name of a living billionaire in front,” said Lewis.
Many of the protesters organized a sit in the middle of the street, on South Bound La Salle, right in front of City Hall. Slowly but surely they were removed one-by-one by police officers. No one was arrested but over 130 people were cited. The tickets read, “Pedestrians failing to exercise due caution by blocking the street.”
Many held signs demanding: “Save our Children.” Others held signs that stated: “School Closings = One Term Mayor.” Another sign read: “School Closings = More Violence.”
The two hour rally ended at the Chicago Public School headquarters.
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