VIDEO: 'Whose schools!? Our schools!' Angry public 'Mic Checks' Chicago Board of Education meeting. First You Tube video of the most momentous event to challenge corporate school board power in Chicago in 35 years

With a chant of "Whose schools? Our schools!" hundreds of protesters forced the six members of the Chicago Board of Education, including billionaire Penny Pritzker, to beat a hasty retreat from the Board's monthly meeting on the morning of December 14, 2011. A You Tube video, which promises to be the first of many to come out of the current struggle against Chicago's corporate Board of Education, became available on the Web within a few hours after the event began.

Following some holiday songs, the Chicago Board of Education meeting of December 14, 2011, was called to order by President David Vitale. Vitale stated that Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley would present the Board's facilities plan, when the crowd erupted in a "Mic Check" led by long time community activist Adourthus McDowell (standing in yellow coat, above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The URL for the video can also be found, for those who cannot access a Hot Link, at

The video clearly shows the arrogance of the five members of the Board of Education who were present at the time, roughly 11:00 a.m. on December 14, 2011. Once the first Mic Check has been articulated by Adourthus McDowell, a long-tme South Side community activist, Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale, one of the millionaires on the school board appointed in May by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, can be heard saying, "Now that they've gotten it out of their system, I hope we can resume..."

As soon as the 'Mic Check' began, several Board security men stood at east protecting CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (in background, third from right) and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley (far background, second from right), who had taken the podium to present the "Facilities Plan" that was one of the reasons for the public opposition. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Vitale was ready to hear a report from Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley on the so-called "Facilities Plan" that the Brizard administration had come up with. But Brizard, Cawley, and the "Facilities Plan" itself were among the reasons for the public outrage. Like the seven members of the Board of Education (all of whom were appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011), Brizard and Cawley had nothing to do with Chicago's real public schools prior to their appointment by corporate Chicago. One year ago, Brizard, whose main corporate sponsor has been the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, was the controversial superintendent of the Rochester Public Schools (which he left abruptly to take the Chicago job; facing three federal lawsuits in his previous location). Cawley, who has no Chicago teaching experience, was working for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which is about to receive six lucrative CPS "turnaround" contracts if this year's "Hit List" is ultimately approved by the Board.

One of those continuing the Mic Check until she was pushed out of the chambers by Board security was retired Gage Park High School teacher Debby Pope (above, speaking). The Mic Check continued for several minutes after the Board members fled the Board chambers. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.As Brizard and Cawley tried to begin again, the Mic Check erupted again. This time the words echoed from the other side of the Board chambers, form retired Gage Park High School teacher Debby Pope. Pope continued her work for several minutes, despite efforts of CPS security, all of whom were much larger than Pope, to push her out of the chambers.

Instead of being able to restore what he called "order," Vitale saw the Mic check resume, over and over. Finally, the Board of Education can be seen, briefly, exiting the chambers following a hastily read motion to go into executive session from Mahalia Hines, a former principal who has been loyal to the policies of Rahm Emanuel since he appointed her. Within two minutes, all of the Board members and the dozens of highly paid bureaucrats sitting around them were gone, and the public (and Board security) were left in a chamber where the meeting, at least the official part, had departed. The Board has the right to go into "Executive Session" during its public meetings, but is required to vote on all agenda items in front of the public under the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

At the time the Board exited, only five of the seven Board members were present. Former Northwestern University President Henry Beinen was not there, and there was no explanation for the absence of Roddrigo Sierra. The video also shows, in somewhat dramatic fashion, the attempt by CPS security to block and stop reporters covering the exploding event.

One of several reporters who faced brief interference from CPS security at the beginning of the "Mic Check", Chicago Union Teacher editor Kenzo Shibata (above left, holding camera phone) was jostled by security when he moved out of what reporters call the "holding" pen on the side of the Board chambers. CPS tries to require reporters and camera crews to remain in one of two holding pens no matter where the stories of the Board are unfolding. Once the December 14 "Mic Check" began, the stories were not under the Great Seal of the Board or with the Board members (except the expressions of their faces), but across the room, as dozens of protesters continued the now famous "Mic Check." Some of the corporate media photographers immediately got away from the holding pen, as well as others. Above, Substance reporter George Schmidt (in background right) is photographing Adourthus McDowell, the first to do the Mic Check, while security tries to restrain the CTU's Kenzo Shibata. On the screen is David Vitale, President of the Board. The most dramatic attempt to suppress press photographers came during the second year of the administration of Arne Duncan, when then CPS communications chief Peter Cunningham ordered that all press had to be "credentialed" by Chicago police and would not be allowed outside of the pens under andy circumstances. At that time, George Schmidt left the holding pen and was surrounded by six CPS security guards, until then Board President Michael Scott ordered them to stand down, and the attempted restraints on press photographer receded — for a time. Substance photo by David Vance. At one point, a security aide can be heard threatening the maker of the video, and the camera is briefly jostled. Another interesting aspect of the video can be seen as several corporate media people sit in their seats waiting to take notes from the Board of Education while public protest echoes across the room. Kate Grossman, who writes editorials for the Chicago Sun-Times attacking the Chicago Teachers Union and praising each new policy of the administration of CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, tries desperately to take notes throughout the entire video. Grossman, who has participated in some of the more infamous "editorial board meetings" aimed against the city's unions, acts as if her job is to take dictation from CPS, which indeed it has been for several years.

Throughout the two hour confrontation, I was asked a number of times by CPS people and others whether "this has ever happened before."

The answer was "Yes... The last time a Pritzker was dictating policy for Chicago's public schools. And the person who organized it later had a school named after her — following her death."

After some patronizing words following McDowell's Mic Check, Board President David Vitale thought he could resume the meeting. Instead, the Mic Check echoed from the other side of the room and began again. Finally, Vitale signaled Board member Mahalia Hines, who read a prepared motion taking the Board into "Executive Session." Above, Board members Jesse Ruiz, David Vitale, and Penny Pritzker hastily gather their materials prior to their abrupt exit from the chambers. The move took place so quickly that the Board members almost left their "student board member" behind. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The years were 1979 to 1982, and the events were the last "Chicago school financial crisis." Behind closed doors, some of Chicago's most powerful people, including Jay Pritzker, then operations dean of the billionaire family, helped other members of Chicago's corporate ruling class orchestrate the "financial crisis" of 1979 which led, within a few short months, to a declaration that CPS was "bankrupt" by the (then) two rating agencies (Standard and Poors and Moody's Investors Services), a $500 million "bailout" (that proved enormously profitable to Salomon Brothers (read "Liar's Poker", Michael Lewis's first book for more about them at that time) tens of millions of dollars, forced payless paydays on Chicago teachers and others school workers (including the infamous Christmas 1979 payless payday), and eventually led to a 1980s version of ruling class imposed austerity that forced CPS to fire 8,000 teachers and other school workers between early 1980 and late 1982, when the carnage ended. Pritzker's role also involved dictating the establishment of the "Chicago School Finance Authority" (whose first chief, Jerome Van Gorkon, because a Pritzker employee a short time after the deal was cut) and maintaining the secrecy of most of the meetings that led to the drafting of the legislation creating the framework for the "bailout" that throttled the city's public schools with debt for most of the next 30 years.

But the "Mic Check" of 1979 - 1980 came when Nancy B. Jefferson, then a living community activist, led a group of Chicago parents, teachers, and students across the railing at the old Chicago Board of Education headquarters at 228 N. LaSalle St., where she declared a "People's Board of Education" and became, briefly, its president. The protests against the dictatorship of finance capital during the late 1970s and early 1980s involved five major general schools strikes, led by the Chicago Teachers Union, and, in 1983, the election of Harold Washington Mayor of Chicago (with the assistance of most of the community activists who had been at the Board with Nancy B. Jefferson. Most of those protesting on December 14, 2011, against another generation of billionaire rule (this time personified by Penny Pritzker, who was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011) had not been born or were very young when some Substance staff took part in, witnessed, and recorded the events of the late 1970s and early 1980s.


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