Art exhibit marks first anniversary of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012... CTU One-Year Strike Anniversary Exhibit at The URI-EICHEN Gallery in Pilsen continues through October 4

About 100 people wandered in and out of the art gallery located at 2101 S. Halstead Street on the evening of Friday September 13, 2013. They were there to view an exhibit commemorating the first anniversary of last year's strike, the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012.

One of thousands of photographs from the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012.Artifacts displayed included posters, photos, signs and other memorabilia. An ongoing outdoor slide show flashed images throughout the evening. Over 50 people sent in items to be displayed. Kathy Steichen, curator and URI-EICHEN owner told this reporter that, Ben Jorvasky, Political reporter for the Reader, was especially moved by the pictures of the children.

During the reception, David Moberg a senior editor at In These Times magazine moderated a panel discussion on public education and privatization. Panelists included Stephanie Farmer, Roosevelt University professor, Rick Perstein , author and historian, Erica Clark of Parents 4 Teachers and Norrine Gutenkast, head of Chicago Teachers Union organizing department.

Lourdes Guerrero, an art teacher who was fired by the Chicago Board of Education described how her father's influence encouraged her to remain in school. Her spark of interest came when a visiting artist brought in wire for the kids to make sculptures. Instead of the usual animals, Lourdes created a spring added some tissue paper and titled it "Spring Tree". She was certain she would be reprimanded for not following the norm; instead she was questioned as to why she did what she did and what it meant to her. Suddenly she knew what she wanted to be, an artist. When it came time to choose a high school she told her parents she didn't care which one as long as they had art. By 18 she defined herself as an artist and went on to become and art teacher to inspire kids like herself. She was fired by the Chicago Board of Education and successfully won a legal battle to regain her job.

The panel discussion included background information on the corporate takeover of public education, the organization leading up to and during the strike, gains of the strike and where to go next. Workers in other fields are starting to stand together and strike for fair wages and working conditions. Conversations included contract enforcement.

Veteran teacher Margo Murray at the exhibit. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.From the picket line to the local schools, the fight continues now that the teachers and other union members have their three-year contract. Reports of attempts by CPS officials to violate teachers' rights, undermine the union's power, and denigrate the work of teachers come in almost daily to Substance and union officials. One example is the Board of Education telling principals that teachers must give notice and get permission to take a personal benefit day. The amount of notice varies from three days to two weeks, depending on the school and this is documented in some teacher handbooks.

Another example cited was class size. One school has 46 kindergarteners in one class and 42 first graders in another. Hundreds of examples have already come in from across the city, making it clear that the attack on decent class sizes for children is a policy of Barbara Byrd Bennett and the current CPS administration.

It appeared from the conversations that the contract is going to have to be fought and protected article by article, school by school.

There was some talk of frustration after the huge movement last year and the tough reality of this year. Classrooms are over crowded, have no air conditioners, teacher positions that were cut but need to be reinstated because of the number of students was incorrectly projected. Clinicians work is being outsourced and privatized.

Parent and community involvement was mentioned as the components to the success of the strike. CTUs continuing focus on the children vs. Rahm's attacks on the teachers was a major turning point. The audience was a mix of teachers, clinicians, supporters, other union members and the general public.

Meanwhile, outside, by the slide presentation, a table was set up for people to write postcards to the Mayor. Each was hand screen printed with the writer's design of choice. These will be addressed and sent to the mayor. Messages included "one term mayor" and "elected school board".

Mark Dvorak and teachers Stacy Holzwarth, Meg Nally and Briann Valentini, of the Old Town School of Folk Music, provided music including a sing-a-long.

The show will run through Oct. 4 with hours by appointment only. Classrooms and small groups are welcome. Please contact Kathy Steichen at for more information or to make an appointment.

The gallery is located at 2101 S. Halsted St. in Chicago. Visit online at

Another artistic tribute to the anniversary continues on You Tube with the constant popularity of the Rap Chicago Teacher by Rebel Diaz. The group, which has been on international tour, played in Chicago on September 11 in honor of the anniversary of the CIA coup that destroyed democracy and socialism in Chile. The group played at Martyrs on Lincoln Ave. The URL for Chicago Teacher is:


To commemorate the first anniversary of the Chicago teachers' strike, Kathy Steichen's throwing a party at her art gallery at 2101 S. Halsted.

Part of the exhibit. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.An AFSCME union rep by day and proprietor (with her husband) of Uri-Eichen Gallery by night, Steichen's lined the walls of her space with photographs, drawings, paintings, and other artifacts of the strike that shut down Chicago Public Schools for seven days last year.

As Steichen sees it, the strike was the most formidable resistance by progressives, activists, working people—call them what you will—against the mayor's feed-the-rich-rob-the-poor policies, still very much on display with the so-called DePaul b-ball project in the South Loop.

"You have to view this in the wider context of speaking up to power," says Steichen. "The teachers' strike is an example of that."

Maybe so. I have mixed feelings about the strike. Not that I didn't back the teachers—I still bring out that red T-shirt from time to time.

It's just that I thought the wiser heads in the Democratic Party would have talked the mayor out of his full-scale assault on the teachers' union long before it got to a strike.

In fact, as I've confessed a few times before, I didn't think there was going to be a strike. I thought for certain that President Obama—on the eve of his reelection—would call his former White House chief of staff and say something like . . .

"Hey, knucklehead, call up Karen Lewis and make this go away—so it doesn't mess up my election."

I guess even the president's afraid of the mayor's wrath.

As a matter of fact, I bet a lot of teachers that there wouldn't be a strike. To this day, I sort of suspect they walked out just to get a free lunch out of me. I swear—I wound up feeding half the rank and file!

Just to show I have no hard feelings, I stopped by Ur-Eichen Gallery the other night and checked out the exhibit. Steichen's got some great stuff, including sensational photographs by Kati Gilson, Melissa Martens, Dave Vance, and other photographers of the strikers and their clever picket signs.

Including: "My teachers are more lovable than Rahm."

And: "The revolution will not be standardized."

And: "Silly rich guys, TIFs are for kids." Yeah, I wish.

And: "Rahm's first meeting with Karen Lewis, 'Fuck You.'"

Hold it! I must stop to point out an error.

Teachers, teachers, teachers, how many times do I have to tell you—it wasn't at the first meeting that Mayor Emanuel said, "Fuck you, Lewis." It was at their second meeting. At their first meeting, he allegedly told her that 25 percent of the kids wouldn't amount to anything so why waste money on them.

Let's get this straight—once and for all!

Unfortunately, my favorite moment of the strike is not represented in the exhibit. That came relatively late in the action, when Mayor Emanuel—desperately looking for any way to justify his policies—gathered a bunch of principals for a press conference.

Surrounded by a grim crowd of principals—let's face it, they didn't really have a choice but to show up—the mayor said he was taking a stand for principal autonomy. 'Cause principals have to run their schools as they see fit.

Several months later, he paid those principals back by mandating cuts in almost every school—except the charters—and making them break the news to teachers who got fired. Then he doled out a $20 million contract to a consulting outfit in Wilmette to run some mandatory seminars for principals this summer. Like they had nothing better to do with their time.

So much for principal autonomy.

Anyway, come on down to the gallery and relive the moment. The doors open at 6 PM. They'll have a discussion at 7:30 PM. And at 9 PM, folksinger Mark Dvorak will sing songs for at least an hour.



September 15, 2013 at 10:27 AM

By: john kugler


Thanks Kati we need to make sure the narrative of our struggle does not get twisted by corporate media hacks. Great job on covering this story.

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