Two protest leaders arrested at Grossinger Cadillac after peaceful protest... Chicago Teachers Union and allies launch campaign to return TIF money to schools

More than 250 people, from teachers and hotel workers to community activists and public school students, rallied and marched on March 19, 2011, protesting the fact that Chicago's TIF money has been going primarily to the city's wealthiest corporations, taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the public schools (and other millions from other public institutions).

The sign above reads "160 [Chicago public] schools without libraries! At the time Barack Obama appointed Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education in January 2009 to export the Chicago Plan for corporate education "reform" (and massive privatization) to the entire USA, Chicago had more than 160 public schools without libraries for the children. Duncan had been "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS from July 2001 through December 2008. His agenda was attacking the teachers' union, privatizing public schools through charter schools, and scapegoating African American teachers through the massive closing of inner city schools in high-poverty areas under "Renaissance 2010" and "Turnaround." During the seven years of Duncan's "Renaissance," Duncan eliminated more African American teachers and principals than had been eliminated during the final years of segregation in Mississippi during the early 1950s. Duncan did the racist elimination of veteran black educators in Chicago with the full support of Barack Obama and corporate Chicago. The cost of testing during one of the last years of Duncan's regime could have equipped every Chicago public school with a library — and expanded libraries in every existing school. While every privatization program and charter school got a top priority, public school children in Chicago's poor communities were left without the most basic tools for learning, such as enough class books and school libraries. Above, the sign listing CPS schools without libraries in 2011 couldn't hold the names of all the 160 libraryless schools. In the background in the above photo, Chicago Teachers Union leader Jen Johnson of CORE leads chants using the bullhorn while Al Ramirez of CORE takes a brief break from the videotaping of the event as it moves north on Clybourn Ave. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.For more than a quarter century, under two mayors, Chicago has generated hundreds of millions of dollars from "Tax Increment Financing" (TIF) programs that were supposed to benefit blighted communities — but most of the dollars went to some of the city's most powerful corporations, leaving the inner city communities further behind as the national and local economy weakened. The March 19 protests were aimed at bringing the truth about the TIFs to the corporate centers where the TIF dollars were directed, according to CTU sources.

In a surprise, near the end of the two-hour peaceful rally and march, Chicago police arrested two of the leaders of the march, disability rights activist Amber Smock of ADAPT and Chicago Teachers Union Staff Coordinator Jackson Potter. Both spent four hours in the 18th District police lockup two blocks from the Jenner school before they were released on their own recognizance late in the afternoon.

While other protesters stand in the background, Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) presents the group's demands to the Bank of America branch manager at the Bank of America branch at North Ave and Halsted in Chicago. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.The rally and march were coordinated by the Chicago Teachers Union, in conjunction with a number of other unions and community groups. Among those participating were the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), COFI, Unite HERE Local 1 (the Hotel and Restaurant workers union, which represents CPS lunchroom workers), the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, ADAPT (disability rights activists, who were instumental in planning the Grossinger action, according to CTU sources), Action Now (who brought a busload of supporters), and the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare workers. Additionally, the protests included parents, students and teachers, according to a CTU press release published before the event.

The issue, according to the teachers union, was that TIFs take $250 million per year out of Chicago's public education tax dollars, a special burden at a time when CPS is claiming unprecedented deficits and CPS recently admitted that it has 160 public schools, most of them in poor communities, without libraries. "During a time of fiscal uncertainty and CPS deficits," the CTU press release said, "supporters of public education demand that all TIF surplus funds be returned to schools and that the 53.3 percent of property taxes designated for public schools no longer be diverted to TIFs."

Cook County Clerk David Orr spoke to the rally about the facts of the TIF program. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.The rally began at noon across the street from Jenner. One of the main speakers was Cook County Clerk David Orr. “There is an enormous myth that Chicago is broke," Orr told the gathering crowd, "but there is currently 1 billion dollars in TIF funds, with $500 million added annually... we need to call for a moratorium on TIFs. The wealthy say we must all share the pain, but they need to share the wealth! ...We want businesses to do well, but they don’t have to take it all!”

Hotel worker Reena Buzly, a member of Unite HERE, told the rally of the struggles of her union and her fellow workers at the Hyatt hotels in Chicago. Hyatt is owned by Chicago's billionaire Pritzker family. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.Another speaker at the rally, Reena Buzly [sic, Substance did not get the spelling of the name and hope we will hear if we need to update this] was a member of UNITE HERE, the hotel workers union.

She told the crowd that she works as a housekeeper at Hyatt Hotels (which has four sites in Chicago,). The majority shareholders in the Hyatt Corporation are members of the Pritzker family, eleven of whose members were listed earlier this month on the Forbes 1,000 list of the world's billionaires. “...Pritzkers are organizing to attack you teachers..." she told the crowd. "if we fight together, we’ll win. This is a message to Penny Pritzker: — ‘Yes, we can!’”

The reference was to billionaire Penny Pritzker, who has been organizing anti-union activities since long before she served as Barack Obama's chief fundraiser during the 2008 presidential election. Penny Pritzker serves on the Board of Hyatt and personally owns more than a million shares of Hyatt stock, currently valued at around $45 per share, according to union researchers. Other members of the Pritzker family own stock that currently controls roughly 70 percent of the Hyatt Corporation, and Penny Prtizker also serves as a Hyatt director. (Until recently, Hyatt tried to claim that she was an "outside" — and therefore independent — director, but that was changed in early 2011 after it drew attention in the business press).

According to numerous reports, it was the Pritzkers who influenced President Obama to break his promise to the AFL-CIO about changing union organizing laws. During the 2008 campaign, Obama repeatedly told the unions that he would support the "card check" method for organizing unions in the private sector. After his election, Obama dropped his support for card check. The action followed a communication from the Pritzkers and other wealthy hospitality (mostly, hotel and resort) owners claiming that card check would hurt their businesses.

After the rally at Jenner Elementary School in what was once the Cabrini-Green public housing project, the protesters marched north on Clybourn Ave. towards two corporate targets that had been receiving TIF money at the expense of the public schools — Bank of America and Grossinger Cadillac. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.All of the marchers understood the basic outlines of the complex TIF reality by the time the noon rally had ended and the march began.

The protest had begun with the rally and speakers across from the Jenner Elementary School at 1119 N. Cleveland. The site is inside what used to be the notorious Cabrini Green public housing project (but what is now a gentrified extension of the city's wealthiest community, the "Gold Coast").

The 'blighted' neighborhood east of the Grossinger Cadillac dealership, less than a mile northeast of Grossinger, includes the 1800 block of N. Orchard St. in Chicago, which contains the mansions of some of the wealthiest people on earth. Above, the home of Hyatt Hotel director and billionaire Penny Pritzker, two blocks south of Chicago's Lincoln Park High School and seven blocks from Grossinger. Pritzker's Chicago mansion, above, is valued at between $5 million and $10 million, even in today's real estate market, but is not the most expensive or ostentatious home in its block. That designation goes to the Crown home across the street from the Pritzkers. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Following a march up Clybourn Ave, the second phase of the protests began a mile west of one of the properties owned by the Pritzkers (the Park Hyatt on Michigan Ave) and ended six blocks from the $10 million mansion owned by Penny Pritzker on N. Orchard St., two blocks south of Lincoln Park High School.

The march up Clybourn Ave. took the marchers past one Chicago public schools (Near North Career Magnet High School) which the Board of Education has kept closed while it manipulates the schools in the area to further the gentrification policies of local developers and the billionaire families who live north of North Ave. (While CPS has kept Near North closed, the Board has attacked the Carpenter Elementary School a mile to the west, forcing Carpenter to accept the "Ogden International High School", which is currently pushing out the elementary school, while the high school building on Clybourn goes unused and CPS officials pretend it doesn't exist.)

The line of march at the protest made its way along the one mile route from Jenner school to Bank of America and Grossinger Cadillac. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber. Speakers at the rally, which began at noon, included Cook County Clerk David Orr, 25th Ward Aldermanic candidate Témoc Morfin, representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union and Unite HERE (the hotel and restaurant workers union), and a large number of community organizations, including the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and the Grassroots Cooperative.

Chicago police (above, background with wagon) arriving at Grossinger Cadillac were told they would be making arrests, but the crowd left the building's lobby when ordered to by police officials. Amber Smock and Jackson Potter were talking with a Grossinger official about meeting the protest's demands regarding the TIF funds when police arrested them. Most of the marchers didn't even know about the arrests until they arrived back at Jenner school. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.Following a march up Clybourn St., the group walked into the Bank of America offices at North Ave and Halsted, where they presented their TIF problems to the local branch manager.

Amber Smock and Jackson Potter stood outside Chicago's 18th district police station following their late afternoon release from custody. Left to right above: Michael Brunson (CTU recording secretary), Liz Brown (CTU director of communications), attorn ey Robin Potter, Jackson Potter (CTU Staff Coordinator), Jesse Sharkey (CTU vice president), Amber Smock (ADAPT), Matt Luskin (CTU organizer), John Kugler (CTU field rep) and Michael Harrington (CTU Chief of Staff). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After Bank of America, the group went to the nearby Grossinger Cadillac dealership, which CTU research had shown received $8 million in TIF money to develop its five story dealership building at Dayton and North Ave in one of Chicago's most expensive communities. (The $10 million mansion of Penny Pritzker is less than a mile to the northeast of Grossinger, in a community that has been "gentrified" in a way that has happened in few places in the entire country over the past quarter century). The blocks that now host Chicago's "Billionaires Row" were once working class homes on small Chicago lots. During the gentrification period, which began during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and accelerated during the 1990s, Chicago's wealthiest families would buy three, four or five lots and then tear down all the homes on the lots and use the expanded land to build the 21st Century mansions that now occupy the area. The irony of putting TIF money into that community was one of the reasons why the twin corporate targets of the march were selected, according to organizers.

Challenging the city's claim that TIF money was being used to help development in "blighted areas," the protesters pointed out the paradox of more than $8 million in TIF money going to Grossinger, half of which would have gone to the city's public schools.

The outline of Jackson Potter can be barely seen in the photo above, taken shortly after he was placed in the police wagon following the surprising arrest of Jackson Potter and Amber Smock. Substance photo by Amber Smock.The arrest of Jackson Potter and Amber Smock inside the Grossinger Cadillac dealership came as a surprise to most of the protesters, but not to some who had been observing the police gather.

"Waiting outside Grossinger's luxury auto store, I saw the store manager spring red faced to the nearest police officer. He screamed in the face of the officer, 'I want them all out, and I want them all arrested,'" teacher Katie Hogan told Substance. "His face was contorted and spit flew out of his mouth while he screamed. I asked him if he really thought it necessary to arrest a bunch of teachers and cafeteria workers peacefully rallying at his dealership. He turned and snapped at me, 'Yes, I don't care, I want you all out, now.' I asked him if his children go to school with a library. He wouldn't reply but went running to the next police officer he saw."

A union activist and CORE member, Katie Hogan teaches at Chicago's Social Justice High School, where Jackson Potter served as union delegate before becoming staff coordinator at CTU following the CORE victory in the May and June 2010 CTU election and runoff.

By the time the march arrived at Grossinger Cadillac at North Ave and Dayton on Chicago's north side, there were enough people in the group to fill the lobby. Above, Jitu Brown, Amber Smock, and Jackson Potter discuss the demands of the coalition on the TIFs, which asked Grossinger to give $4 million of the $8 million in TIF money it had received from Chicago back to the public schools. A few minutes after this photograph was taken, Chicago police arrests Amber Smock and Jackson Potter. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.While most of the protesters left following the return of the march to the Jenner school, comments kept coming in from an inspiring day.

"Spring's Best [Cadillac Sales] Event" wasn't what Grossinger had in mind on March 19, 2011, when TIF protesters filled the lobby of the showroom. Not only did General Motors get a bailout when it went bankrupt (and reduced the values of outstanding General Motors stocks to near zero, including those owned by thousands of former GM workers), but GM dealers like Grossinger were getting local taxpayer bailouts like Chicago TIF dollars. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."It was inspiring seeing the CTU march with such a diverse body of induviduals and organizations. It was a prime example of Social Justice Unionism," Adam Heenan, a Chicago high school teacher and CORE member, told Substance. Like many of the leaders of CORE, Heenan works full time teaching and is doing regular work on CTU committees, where he also serves as a convention delegate to the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.


March 20, 2011 at 11:19 AM

By: kugler

Direct Action!

I am proud to be a member of the Chicago Teachers Union that is on the front lines of the struggle against privatization of public assets and government corruption. It is our duty to protect and advocate for the children of Chicago.

John Kugler

Displaced Carpentry Teacher

CTU Staff Member

Non-violence does not mean acceptance, but resistance; not waiting, but acting. It is not at all passive. It involves strikes, boycotts, non-cooperation, mass demonstrations and sabotage, as well as appeals to the conscience of the world, even to individuals in the oppressing group who might brake away from their past. - Direct action does not deride using the political rights, the civil liberties, even the voting mechanisms in those societies where they are available, but it recognizes the limitations of those controlled rights and goes beyond.

--Howard Zinn

March 20, 2011 at 12:29 PM

By: john whitfield

Have you been to jail for justice?

Have you been to jail for justice?

Then you're a friend of mine !

Was it Cesar Chavez or Rosa Parks that day?

Some say Dr. King or Ghandi

Set them on their way

No matter who your mentors are

It's pretty plain to see

That if you've been to jail for justice

You're in good company

Have you been to jail for justice?

I want to shake your hand

'Cause sitting in and laying down

Are ways to take a stand

Have you sung a song for freedom

Or marched that picket line?

Have you been to jail for justice?

Then you're a friend of mine

You law abiding citizens

Come listen to this song

Laws are made by people

And people can be wrong

Once unions were against the law

But slavery was fine

Women were denied the vote

While children worked the mine

The more you study history

The less you can deny it

A rotten law stays on the books

'til folks with guts defy it!

Have you been to jail for justice?

I want to shake your hand

'Cause sitting in and laying down

Are ways to take a stand

Have you sung a song for freedom

Or marched that picket line?

Have you been to jail for justice?

Then you're a friend of mine

Well the law is supposed to serve us

And so are the police

When the system fails

It's up to us to speak our piece

We must be ever vigilant

For justice to prevail

So get courage from your convictions

Let 'em haul you off to jail!

Have you been to jail for justice?

I want to shake your hand

'Cause sitting in and laying down

Are ways to take a stand

Have you sung a song for freedom

Or marched that picket line?

Have you been to jail for justice?

Then you're a friend of mine

Have you been to jail for justice

Have you been to jail for justice

Have you been to jail for justice

Then you're a friend of mine

March 20, 2011 at 12:35 PM

By: J. Whitfield

written by Ann Feeney

"Have you been to jail for Justice" is a song by Ann Feeney, sung by also sung by Peter Paul, and Mary, and others of you.

March 20, 2011 at 12:58 PM

By: Deborah Rudnicki

Jackson Potter for justice

I'm proud to be a Chicago Teachers Union member and to have people like Jackson Potter protecting our children's interests.

March 21, 2011 at 9:01 AM

By: The Retired Principal (RP)

Bowen High School

CPS is going to consolidate 10 Chicago Public Schools. One of the schools will be Bowen High School!

March 22, 2011 at 10:24 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

"Have you been to Jail for Justice"

I believe that the mark of an activist is being willing to go to jail or risk going to jail to stand up for what you believe in. The police have used that tactic in all the great movements--The Vietnam War Protests, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Rights Movement, etc. When they begin to make arrests, it's because we are making a difference and they are getting scared!!

March 23, 2011 at 4:23 PM

By: The Retired Principal (RP)

CPS Consolidates Schools Today!

Today, the Chicago Board of Education consolidated 8 CPS schools into 6 other CPS schools! Well, I told you so!

March 24, 2011 at 8:15 AM

By: Rodney L. Pruitt

Newly Announced Meeting

A mandatory meeting will be held for reassigned teachers on Monday March 28th at 12:20 at TAMS. Once again the "push out" process since the court appeal is about to begin. Ultimately the teachers will be laid off as soon as a legally acceptable loophole is discovered. This coincides with CEO Mazany's consolidation announcement from March 23rd. Will CTU cave in feed us to the wolves? We will see. I've seen enough schools staffed only with teachers aged in their 20's

March 24, 2011 at 11:52 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Consolidated schools

Back when Spalding was first supposed to be closed for repairs and the teachers and students moved and then minds were changed and it was closed, few believed it would happen to more and more schools. Friends would tell me, it's OK Spalding needed to be closed because we shouldn't isolate students. Now it is becoming harder and harder to stop them from doing it everywhere.

March 24, 2011 at 12:54 PM

By: Tom Tresser

TIF Abuse

I was one of the organizers of No Games Chicago and one of the areas we investigated was city financing. We became very informed on TIFs. Last year I ran for county wide office and one of my platforms was the abolition of the TIF program. Now I'm looking to start an online investigation of TIFs across the city and county. It's at YOu can get TIF Tips via Twitter @ If you would like to help investigate and expose TIF abuse, please contact us.

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