'The buses just kept coming!'... Notes from the 'overflow' rally outside the Auditorium Theater and the largest teacher march in Chicago history through Chicago's Loop

The buses just kept coming, over 100 of them bringing teachers from all over Chicago to a solidarity rally at the Auditorium Theater on May 23, 2012. Every teacher, teacher assistant, and other school worker had already worked a full school day by the time they got downtown in late afternoon wearing their "CTU red" shits and bringing both pre-printed and homemake signs.

As the speeches were continuing inside the huge Auditorium Theater (inside the Roosevelt University building in the background, above), thousands additional teachers, parents, and their supporters continued arriving in Grant Park, Chicago, on May 23, 2012. The photograph above was taken at five p.m., at about the same time that Kristine Mayle, CTU financial secretary, was speaking to the crowd of more than 4,000 inside the building. Substance photo by John Kugler.At times buses were unloading two deep and were backed up in two directions on two different streets. And it was not all buses. Sawyer School carpooled to bring 20 teachers, CTU red shirts were everywhere, coming from every direction.

The message was clear — fair contract, good learning conditions for students, respect for teachers and solidarity. Many people, both parents and teachers, had been reading the Chicago Teachers Union book "The schools Chicago's students deserve" (the title of which was emblazoned above the speakers' platform in Grant Park beneath the famous "Spearman" sculpture"). Had there been any reporters from the corporate media, they could easily have found a dozen stories every five minutes. And a dozen men and women (and some children) to go over the details and provide every fact.

And it wasn't only teachers and hundreds of others who work in the schools every day.

Members of "Parents 4 teachers" were there offering support and praise for the teachers. Rhoda Gutierrez, Parents 4 Teachers told Substance, “I came today to support the teachers' current contract fight because I know as a parent of two CPS students that good working conditions for teachers means great learning condition for my children and all children of CPS. At this point, Emmanuel and Brizard do not find lower class size important as an issue in these contract negotiations, but I know as a parent lower class size is critical for student learning!"

The group "Parents 4 Teachers", which has spoken out and been rudely treated at Board of Education meetings, has its own website and was organized as part of the massive protest on May 23, 2012. Above, the parents began assembling on Congress Parkway outside the Auditorium Theater and then joined the outdoor rally a block east. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Erica Clark, also with "Parents 4 Teachers", stated “I think parents really need to come out and support teachers and CTU because the teachers and the union are fighting for what really matters to our kids. The way I see it, a union's job is to fight for better pay and benefits. That’s why teachers pay dues, but this Union does so much more than that — and as a parent I’m grateful for all the work they do which is why I think they deserve our support."

Ronald Jackson, the Local School Council (LSC) Chair, Tilden High School, was collecting signatures on a petition for an elected school board.

“This is a petition to put on the ballot November 6 to push for an elected school board because we feel the people on the Board do not answer to the people," he told Substance. "They answer to Emmanuel and the banks. This way Emmanuel couldn’t control an elected school board”.

Jenny Biggs, accompanied by her three children said: “We are here today to support our teachers. We love our teachers and we know how hard they work. They should be treated with respect and all of us should be standing up and saying that.”

She told Substance that she had attended the Chicago Board of Education meeting earlier in the day and talked about the manipulation and disrespect showed to anyone who tried to disagree with the Board members.

“I was #11 (in line to speak) and I didn’t get to speak til 1:15," she said. "I felt they pushed the public, comment into the end of the day as far as they possibly could. During the first 40 minutes it (the comments) was not regulated. Alderman and South Shore High School spoke during this time."

The never ending stream of red shirts started entering the theatre at 3:00 and the theatre was packed before the 4:30 start. Thousands of teachers packed the theatre, and more then than a thousand were at a rally in Grant Park east of Michigan Avenue because the theatre was filled to capacity.

Security had to turn away teachers trying to get into the inside event, but the organization outside was equally serious. A stage had been set up and speakers were able to talk to those outside about the same issues being repeated inside. In both places it was a sea of red shirts and signs, all promoting public schools and the union.

The rally had quite a different feel than the NATO protest which this reporter had covered a few days earlier. Police officers were waving, wearing CTU stickers and buttons given to them by teachers, and flashing peace signs. All around, people were verbalizing their support of CTU’s contract battle. (The Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, has been facing the same union-busting attacks from Rahm Emanuel as the teachers).

Inside the theatre the tone was one of solidarity. Cheers and standing ovations for Karen Lewis, CTU President and the numerous speakers.

The crowd’s opinions were definitely clear; cheers for the likes, and loud boos for the dislikes. The loudest boos were saved for Rahm Emanuel, Jean-Claude Brizard and Arne Duncan.

This was a crowd that is tired of being bullied, disrespected, inundated with paperwork and seeing their students denied resources including music, art and libraries, and teaching to the test.

CPS contract offers were explained by Kristine Mayle, CTU financial secretary. The “boos”, made it very clear the teachers were not going to settle for a contract that is not beneficial to students.

While the rally continued in the Auditorium Theater, there was another rally going on in the park on Michigan Avenue. CTU Vice President, Jesse Sharkey gave an inspiring speech to the crowd of at least 1,200. Jesse talked about fair compensation, the new "Common Core standards", new evaluation (with teacher evaluation tied to student test scores) and the other issues he has been working on at the bargaining table with Karen Lewis and the union's negotiating team. He went on: 15 percent longer day; 20 percent more instructional time, yet CPS has on table a two percent one-time raise — and merit pay.

“CPS says it’s not merit pay — it’s 'differentiated compensation'" the union vice president explained to the outside crowd, which continued to grow. "The basis for differentiated compensation is teacher performance measured by standardized test. We’re for smaller classes, a better day, decent compensation and job security for veteran educators. They want us to be one more part for a privatized school system where teachers work for a few years and go. Where PSRPS and clinicians work for private agencies and come and go.”

And many in the crowd shouted "No!"

Jesse Sharkey talked about the veteran displaced teachers.

“Something terrible has happened to us," he said. "We went to sleep and we thought we had a profession that was valued and respected and in our dream we see that is no longer the case. We are collateral damage in a political system that has gone awry. When we wake up we are going to remember the words of my principal “There is an attack but if we stick together the members of this union will be safe. We are sticking together and the people who were our friends yesterday are still our friends today. Together we are going to show the mayor, the powerful administration, that you cannot run the schools without us! Are we going to do it?"


“Will you fight?”


“Will you stand together?”

“Yes!” Cheers of “CTU”, songs of solidarity were shouted and sung by a crowd ready to march and fight for their rights and the rights of their students.

At this point the crowd waited for the members in the Auditorium theatre and began slowly to march north on Michigan Avenue. Huge cheers rang out as the inside CTU crowd joined the march. The march was loud and boisterous but peaceful as teachers chanted “Save Our Schools” “This is what democracy looks like” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Mayor Emmanuel’s go to go.”

The crowed marched turned west on Adams St. and the teachers continued to march towards the Board of Education building at Clark and Adams, where earlier in the day the Board members had again mocked those who were critical of the tyrannical policies of the Emanuel administration.

South of the CPS offices, the marchers were met by Action Now, SEIU, and other union members and supporters in front of the Chicago Board of Trade.

More than 10,000 of the marchers, according to some of the press reports and Substance head counts, participated in the march that went up Michigan Ave., west past the Board of Education on Adams St., and then south on LaSalle St. to the heart of Chicago's plutocracy, the Chicago Board of Trade. Above, teachers, parents, Occupy activists and hundreds of others ended their day with a sit-in at the Board of Trade at Jackson and LaSalle. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.A moment of silence was held as everyone sat down to symbolize the death of public schools.

One teacher I talked to at the beginning of the march said “We’re going to show the Black Block how to properly do a protest” and that’s exactly what the teachers did.

At least 5,000 teachers and supporters made their message loud and clear. We’ll see if the mayor, CPS administrators and Board of Ed are listening. 


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