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Thousands march, 127 arrested in massive March 27 Chicago Loop protests against school closings, Emanuel dictatorship

More than 3,000 teachers, parents, students and other citizens rallies and marched against school closings in Chicago on March 27, 2013, and 129 were arrested during civil disobedience to protest the largest number of public school closings in U.S. history, according to a number of Substance reporters and other sources who were present at the events. The rally, marches, and sit-ins, are a continuation of the protests that began when the current "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Barbara Byrd Bennett, announced in October 2012 that she had secured an extension of the deadline required by state law to announce the closing list for the 2013-2014 school year.

Protesters filled the block alongside Chicago's City Hall (right in the above photograph) and numbered in the thousands despite the attempt by Rahm Emanuel's out-of-town Chief of Police, Garry McCarthy, who ordered the police to downplay the size of the protest in a move reminiscent of the days when the Nixon administration was downsizing official estimates of anti-war protesters against the Vietnam War. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.On March 27, 2013, the protests, coordinated by the Chicago Teachers Union, others unions, and a broad range of community groups and faith-based entities, began the final assault against the mayor's drive to privatize and sabotage the public schools in the nation's third largest school system.

Press reports begin below here:

1. LINDA LUTTON RETURNS TO WBEZ RADIO AFTER WORKING ON THE STUNNING 'THIS AMERICAN LIFE' STORY ABOUT DEATH, MORE DEATH AND LIFE IN ONE CHICAGO HIGH SCHOOL...

Linda Lutton on the March 27 events:

WBEZ: Civil disobedience revs up against school closings

BY LINDA LUTTON - WBEZ | 03/28/2013

Click here to read the story at WBEZ.com (with audio).

More than 100 people were detained and ticketed yesterday afternoon at a protest against proposed school closings. It was the first major protest since the district announced last week it wants to shut down 54 schools. WBEZ was there.

About a thousand people packed Daley Plaza in 40 degree temperatures to denounce the massive closings, most planned for the South and West sides of the city. As they held signs deriding the mayor, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told them: these schools are not closed yet.

"There are many ways you can show that this is not over," Lewis said from the stage. "It’s not over, brothers and sisters, until you say it’s over. Our schools are under attack. What do we do?"

"Fight back!" the crowd yelled in unison.

"So lemme tell you what you’re gonna do. On the first day of school, you show up at your real school! You show up at your real school! Don’t let these people take your schools!"

The union has promised that if Chicago shuts down schools, protesters will shut down the city.

A few minutes later, in front of City Hall, janitors, lunch ladies, teachers, parents, clergy and union officials interlocked arms and sat down in neat rows in the northbound lanes of LaSalle Street.

"Save our schools," they chanted.

After a time, police approached each protester individually.

'Ma’am, you’re in violation of the law and you’re endangering yourself. This is your last opportunity to leave without being arrested. Will you leave? " a white-shirted officer asked one protester after the next. "You’re under arrest," he told them.

Police now say people were simply ticketed, not arrested.

Karen Lewis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson stood together on the sidewalk as protesters were led away.

Jackson said the protests follow in the tradition of Ghandi and Martin Luther King—with people using their bodies so their cause can be heard.

"We earnestly want our children to have an education and security and safeety. And their parents have a job and transportation, and housing—that’s a comprehensive plan for the urban crisis," Jackson said. "South Side and West Side must look like the North Side, and that must look like the suburbs."

Earlier in the day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the reason for closing schools was to give kids a better education. He cited graduation figures that have been climbing, but noted that for black boys in the city, the graduation rate is just 44.5 percent.

"The status quo is not working, and it’s falling woefully short for the children of the city of Chicago, regardless of where they live and regardless of their circumstances. Every one of the children—if they go to a better school—can achieve their potential."

Orquidia Ramos pushed a stroller through the march, with her older daughter walking alongside her. Ramos has four children at Peabody, slated to be closed. She lives on the same block as the school. She says her tax bill doubled—and now, with Peabody closing, she feels the message is clear: the city is trying to get rid of lower income Latino families like hers. She doesn’t believe the receiving school will be better for her kids.

"As parents we try to watch out for our kids," she said in Spanish, 'keep them away from gangs. Then the school system sends them right into the gangs."

Eighteen-year-old high school senior Lavell Short won’t be personally affected by the closings, but he was at the march after he heard his elementary school was on the list.

"A part of me got very angry, but it was a righteous anger--it wasn't just rage," said Lavell. "Mayo is a school that teaches me principles, Mayo is a school that taught me about leadership and who I am, not only my history but also who I can also be. So, to close down a school like Mayo…. And there’s so many schools on the list like Mayo."

You wouldn’t guess it by talking to Lavell, but Mayo is rated Level 3 by the district, the lowest performing. He now attends Bronzeville Military Academy High School.

Like a lot of people at the protest, Lavell isn’t fond of the mayor right now. Right after telling me he’s headed to Milliken University in Decatur, he said there was something else I should know….

"I’m considering running for mayor in the 2015 election, so… I’m considering it! Be on the lookout, you guys."

If he and other protesters get their way, Lavell might be handing out campaign flyers that brag, “I helped keep Mayo Elementary open

2. CHICAGO TRIBUNE PAGE ONE STORY BELOW HERE:

TRIBUNE FRONT PAGE ARTICLE BELOW HERE:

Loop rally, march targeting CPS closings lead to 127 detained

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Protesters marched and rallied in downtown Chicago today to voice their complaints against the planned closing of many Chicago public schools.

By Ellen Jean Hirst and Bridget Doyle

Tribune reporters

10:42 p.m. CDT, March 27, 2013

On a day when Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the time for negotiations on school closings was over, the Chicago Teachers Union led hundreds of supporters in a highly orchestrated downtown rally and march as part of its continuing efforts to derail the district's plan to shut 53 elementary schools.

CTU President Karen Lewis was cheered when she took the microphone at Daley Plaza late Wednesday afternoon and repeated her argument that the Chicago Public Schools' decision to close schools with predominantly African-American enrollments is racist.

"Let's not pretend that when you close schools on the South and West sides, the children affected aren't black," Lewis said. "Let's not pretend that's not racist."

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In an event rife with political symbolism, the size of the crowd was anybody's guess. The official police estimate was 700 to 900 people, according to the department's news affairs office. A CTU spokeswoman said the union was "appalled" by the department's number, saying between 5,000 and 6,500 were on hand.

Those at the protest were loud but disciplined, sticking to a script the CTU provided earlier in the day in a news release. Most of the vitriol was aimed at Emanuel, with protesters carrying signs that included "Rahm's brain is underutilized" and "School Closings = One Term Mayor."

David Kaplan, a ninth-grade biology teacher at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center on the Northwest Side, said many teachers at the rally came even though their schools, like Von Steuben, are not on the closings list.

"I'm a lifelong Chicagoan, so I have friends who've gone to schools that are going to be closed," Kaplan said. "When you take out a school from a neighborhood, you're taking out the heart and soul of that community."

After gathering at Daley Plaza, protesters started a march that included a sit-in by about 150 people in the southbound lanes of LaSalle Street outside City Hall. Many were led away by police peacefully, their hands behind their backs but not handcuffed. CTU had earlier written in its news release that the protesters would "risk arrest," but police made a point of noting that 127 people were issued tickets on site, not arrested.

The school closing issue has been controversial for months. After hearings that the district said were attended by more than 20,000 people, CPS last week unveiled a plan to shut down 53 elementary schools and one high school program.

The district said it needs to close underenrolled schools to deal with a looming $1 billion budget deficit.

The long-awaited announcement of how many schools the district wants to close fueled a fresh round of opposition from aldermen and community leaders. The CTU, which wants a moratorium on closings, has been preparing parents and community groups for civil disobedience acts like the sit-in on LaSalle.

Earlier Wednesday, in comments to reporters during an unrelated news conference, Emanuel said he's moving forward on the closings plan and negotiations were over.

Emanuel said he and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett "met yesterday, and we'll be meeting also as we do regularly, and go through now the implementation process that's necessary to make sure that the 54 schools are ready and we are living up to the pledges we've made."

Byrd-Bennett said in a statement Wednesday that she supports the community's right to express its opinion — but she said the school district's decision was "putting children first."

"Consolidating underutilized schools will allow us to safely move these children to a higher-performing welcoming school near their home with all investments they need to thrive in the classroom," she said.

CPS still has to hold three meetings for each school it plans to close before the Board of Education votes on the plan in late May.

A group of a dozen African-American ministers came to Emanuel's office Wednesday morning with a letter urging him to put a moratorium on closings. They asked about the point of additional hearings if Emanuel has already made up his mind.

"If nobody is going to be heard at the hearings, what's the use of having the hearings?" said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Church in West Garfield Park. "If it's a done deal, then stop wasting everybody's time."

At the rally, Lewis chided the mayor and CPS officials for not communicating more effectively with the affected communities. "This is a mayor that refuses to have a conversation with the people who really do the work," Lewis said.

Lewis said she heard the decision on closing the schools was a done deal and questioned the "sham" of hearings at the schools.

"It's not over, brothers and sisters, until you say it's over," Lewis said.

During its seven-day strike in September, the union virtually shut down the Loop during rush-hour protests that drew thousands of red-shirted teachers and supporters.

Wednesday's event was no match for those massive demonstrations. Police on foot, bikes, horseback and in cars blocked off streets along the march and were able to keep traffic moving at a relatively normal pace during the protest.

In addition to teachers and members of other unions, many parents came with their children. Shelley Barnard, 44, attended the rally with her two daughters, Sandy, 17, and Sarah, 10.

Barnard said her son attended Raymond Elementary when it closed in 2004 for "underutilization."

"School closings have been handled so poorly in the past by CPS," Barnard said. "I don't think CPS is ready for 54 schools to close."

Rochelle Ingram, a 28-year CPS veteran, is a second-grade teacher at Delano Elementary, one of the schools slated to be closed. It would be taken over by Melody Elementary, which is slated move into Delano's building on the West Side. She repeated one of the key fears of school closing opponents, that the plan will jeopardize student safety.

"Melody's in another gang territory and they're going to make our kids intermix," Ingram said. "It's cruel."

Among those who were sitting on LaSalle Street in front of City Hall hoping to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience was Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1. He said he was demonstrating to show that massive school closings are "not the right direction. This is not the way to really solve the problem in education."

Balanoff said he had been arrested in acts of civil disobedience "many times over the years."

"It's as American as apple pie," he said.

Tribune reporters Hal Dardick and John Byrne contributed.

ehirst@tribune.com

bdoyle@tribune.com

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC



Comments:

March 28, 2013 at 11:18 PM

By: Hugo Gonzalez

Solidarity

The protest was amazing!!! Soo much solidarity and support. Though my school was not on the closing list I still went. I risked alot going, I had the fact that I could get arrested and the fact that my mom would find out I sneaked out of the house. I went alone but met some people to be with at dayley plaza. For a 14 year old im very passionate about ctu and school closings. And you can bet im going to every single Ctu event possible!!!

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