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James Meeks's latest school funding protest was hastily conceived and started an hour behind schedule, but it turned out that the timing was right, or at least close enough—the Cubs had fallen behind for good and the fans inside Wrigley Field had gone quiet when he began blasting Governor Rod Blagojevich, Mayor Richard Daley, and the voters of Chicago for being more worried about a 100-year title drought than the state’s broken system of school funding.
“The mayor had the nerve to say he didn’t want us protesting tonight, because if we protest we would be ruining the Cubs’ day. I have a question, Mr. Mayor: What about our kids’ lives?” Meeks, a megachurch pastor and state senator, said to around 2,000 demonstrators in a cordoned-off section of Clark Street across from the ballpark.
“We’re tired of waiting until next year!” he said. “So we have decided that if the General Assembly cannot figure out how to fix this problem, then we will just show up at every public event in Chicago until somebody figures out how to fix something.”
Next up: U.S. Cellular Field, perhaps this weekend. “We are equal opportunity protesters,” Meeks declared.
That’s sure to get the headlines Meeks wants, and at some point he’s going to get a meaningful response. He may be a wild card, prone to questionable strategic decisions and shifting political alliances, but other politicians are as afraid of his ability to organize thousands of voters as they are wary of his inconsistencies. And few people in or out of government disagree with his assessment of the state’s complicated and antiquated funding formula.
The Wrigley Field rally originally sounded like it would be an in-your-face protest against stereotypical Cubs fans—Meeks and the other demonstrators, mostly members of his church and several other south and west side congregations, would form a human ring around the ballpark. He was quickly convinced that this was a bad idea and agreed to the blocked-off space on Clark Street. But the rally there wasn't even underway in time to demand the attention of hurrying into the park or nearby bars, since the demonstrators' buses were still rolling up well into the third inning.
But the protesters did show up—city officials estimated a crowd of 1,500 before everyone had arrived—and they repeatedly pointed out that they weren’t protesting baseball or Cubs fans themselves, just the comparative lack of energy devoted to fixing broken schools. There’s little doubt they were heard.
“I see the Goodyear Blimp has stopped covering the game and started covering our rally!” Meeks proclaimed. It was hardly clear that he was right on that point, but plenty of other people were paying attention—the cameras were rolling, city officials were observing nearby, and fans even watched from within the Friendly Confines.
“How can you be so concerned, Chicago, at a batting average, and you’re not concerned about a grade point average?” Meeks said. “We don’t mind sports, but we’ve lost our cotton-picking minds if we think that sports are more important than the lives of our children!”
Andrew Baasen, biking home to Lincoln Park from a nearby bar, stopped to watch and listen. He has twin 7-month-old boys who are going to be in school in a few years, and his wife teaches on the north shore. He was convinced. “I completely agree with them,” he said, nodding toward the demonstrators. “I’m all for this.”