LA CASITA! Whittier Elementary School, June 24, 2011… People Power holds back Rahm’s raiders

The morning after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his newly handpicked public schools “Chief Executive Officer” staged their latest carefully scripted publicity stunt at an anti-union charter school run by the lavishly funded UNO organization, people power in the same community blocked the latest attempt by Chicago public school officials to undermine the work of parents, teachers, children and community supporters at the Whittier Elementary School.

Union members and other supporters of La Casita formed a picket line in front of the entrances to Whittier Elementary School on the morning of June 24, 2011, and union construction workers refused to cross it to begin the demolition of a special education classroom inside the building while the community continued to demand that the building called "La Casita" be used for the library at the overcrowded school. Substance photo by Joseph Guzman.Following a standoff the previous afternoon, supporters of “La Casita,” the “Little House” which Whittier Moms occupied for 43 days last September, October and November, risking arrest, dozens of people, many of them union members, arrived before dawn at the school on Chicago’s southwest side to picket against the entry into the building by construction workers.

The latest standoff took place because Chicago school officials are trying to avoid saving the Whittier Field House, now “La Casita,” so that it can be demolished and the land converted into a soccer field for use by a nearby parochial school (Cristo Rey), a plan that has been in the works for more than a year but has been blocked by activism on the part of the parents and community.

hat began as a simple request for a library has, like similar protests in other parts of the USA and across the planet, become a major confrontation between democracy and corporate power. In the course of the original sit-in, Chicago learned that after 15 years of mayoral control of its public schools that 160 Chicago elementary schools do not have libraries for the children to get access to real books.

The simple demand for a library escalated, under repeated threats of arrest and other sanctions, into a popular movement that dramatically demonstrates the failure and hypocrisy of corporate school reform, which was begun in Chicago in 1995 when the Illinois General Assembly gave then Mayor Richard M. Daley dictatorial control over the city’s public schools. A massive privatization drive, carried out under the name “Renaissance 2010,” drained the resources from the public schools but was hyped by the city’s corporate media during the years (2001 – 2008) that Arne Duncan served as “Chief Executive Officer” of Chicago’s public schools. Following his appointment as U.S. Secretary of Education, Duncan has tried to export all of the ugliest aspects of the Chicago Plan — massive testing, massive privatization, charter school encroachment, and the brutal repression of teacher and parent dissent — to the rest of the USA under the Obama administration’s “Race To The Top” program.

By early on June 24, 2011 (above) the "Whittier Moms" had resumed the occupation of La Casita, following the betrayal of their proposal by the latest Chicago public schools "Chief Executive Officer," Jean-Claude Brizard. Since the Whittier confrontation began in September 2010, CPS has had three "CEOs" under its current chaotic and expensive corporate model. In September 2010 the CEO was former cop Ron Huberman. By January 2011, the "Interim CEO" was a master of corporate control via philanthropy, Terry Mazany, who headed the Chicago Community Trust and was responsible for "defunding" any community group that refused to toe the Daley administration's party line on corporate school reform. The latest is Brizard, brought in after failing as superintendent of the Rochester New York schools by the Broad Foundation and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Meanwhile, back in Chicago, a growing democracy movement led by teachers, parents, students, and a coalition of community activists, was continuing to give the lie to each of the corporate polices that had been exported to Washington for implementation across the USA.

And the center of the exposure of the Big Lie was a little building — dubbed “La Casita” by locals — located a half block west of the century-old John Greenleaf Whittier Elementary school in the Pilsen community of Chicago’s Southwest Side. By holding out for a library for their children, the “Whittier Moms” forced the proof, for those who were paying attention of the hypocrisy of the Duncan years, of corporate school reform, and of the policies to reform education along corporate models being promoted by the most powerful man on earth, Chicago’s Barack Obama.

While the resistance to the corporate policies has been going on for nearly two decades, the arrival of a new generation, in some ways less afraid than its predecessors, has enabled Chicago to warn the USA about what’s coming. Arne Duncan’s University of Chicago (and elsewhere) “Chicago Boys” are bringing the same policies to public education across the USA in the 2000s that their predecessors, the zealots of the Chilean “Chicago Boys” brought to Chile during the 1970s and 1980s behind the bayonets and murders of the Pinochet dictatorship.

One of the ironies of the moment in Chicago is that while the federal government is forcing states to spend what will eventually amount to billions of dollars on more useless corporate testing programs, back home where he was in charge of the public schools for the better part of the first decade of the 21st Century Arne Duncan failed to provide every public school in Chicago with a library so that poor children could read books. Test prep, rather than the exploration of the world through books and other media, was the Duncanian order of the day.

But the lack of libraries (one of dozens of the dirty little secrets of Chicago’s corporate “school reform” and mayoral control) would have remained a secret from the world had not the parents at Whittier, in alliance with a new leadership at the 28,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, supported a new direct action approach to solving the real problems of real children in the real public schools of the most segregated city in the USA.

By mid-afternoon on June 24, 2011, La Casita had again been occupied by parents and children. In that morning dozens of teachers, parents, children and others had blocked the attempt to enter the building to demolish the building’s special education classroom and spend a half million dollars converting it into a “library.”

“We already have a library,” Whittier leader Gema Gaete told Substance. “It’s inside La Casita.”

Whether Chicago’s latest round of “This is what democracy looks like” will reach the rest of the world and expose the anti-democratic and hypocritical roots of Arne Duncan’s education policies remains to be seen. All the facts are in Chicago for the world to see, just as they were in Tunis, Cairo, or Damascus when the “Arab Spring” began. The question seems to be whether the corporate media that still controls most of the narrative about reality inside the USA (and very heavily in Chicago) will continue to spin narrative according to the scripts fed to it by the former White House Chief of Staff on behalf of the current White House Secretary of Education behind the failed racist and classist policies of the current President of the United States. 


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