Commemorating the teachers' strike—one year later | Bleader

Commemorating the teachers' strike—one year later



Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • A year ago today, this happened: Teachers and their supports marched on Michigan Avenue.
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images

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

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.