Day two of the strike and we mic check an alderman.

13 Sep


Beth takes Simone and Pearl and Jack to a nearby school. They’re a big hit. Simone pumps her fist. People give her cake and candy. She’s wearing her only red shirt; it has a giraffe and geese and fluffy white clouds. Pearl is wearing pink, but people get the idea.

We’re a union family now.

(Here’s a good summary of how Rahm Emanuel created this crisis.)


I breakfast in darkness, pedal beneath a blue indigo sky.

I arrive around 6:20 and we’re back at school. The regular early comers are there. Daryl holds a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. Soon there are breakfast bars and boxes of coffee.

We’re still jazzed. We decide to walk to Gale School, five blocks away. Gale is a student center, meaning it’s open for people to drop off their students. We walk down Howard. We’ve learned our lesson from the day before. We don’t chant, not yet.

I stop and head back. I get caught in some self-perpetuating loop of indecision. I keep returning to my bag, dropping my keys off, picking up my wallet; going back for my sunglasses and leaving my wallet; going back for my wallet and changing shoes; and finally getting back into my original shoes. It’s uncharacteristic and embarrassing. I’ve dropped two blocks behind everyone and have to job to catch up.

The early morning is chilly. A giant dumptruck moves gravel on Howard. Two construction workers hold up their fists and smile. “You gotta fight for it!” one of them says.

We set up our picket march along the west side of the school. We march over two driveways, where the central office people will have to park. We chat. Janet has brought a little drum. Things start off nice and slow. We wonder how aggressive we should be. A few central office people try to park in the lot, but we’re blocking the driveways. The first two cars give up and park across the street. A miniscule victory.

A Gale science teacher with a booming baritone voice informs us of a little side event. We’re going to deliver an oral petition to the area alderman.

Ten of us break off. We head down Ashland to the Morse redline stop. It’s a nice walk. A few passersby give us the thumbs up. A few cars honk.

We meet up with Occupy Rogers Park people. We shake hands, nod heads, get ready. They’ve set up a great mini-media event. The alderman for the area, Joe Moore, has set up a little table with free donuts and coffee for his constituents.

We split into two groups. We creep along the El tracks, converge on the other side. Moore’s face turns ashy. His shoulders sag. He straightens as we near. He recognizes the Occupy people. They bedevil him constantly, as they should. He rubberstamps every thing the mayor proposes. He is a flunky, a ward boy. He stands with big money and charter schools. He’s a smiler, a backslapper, the kind of Chicago insider who does what he is told.

“How many of you are teachers?”

Most of us raise our hands. Moore doesn’t know what to do. He is profoundly uncomfortable. “Do you guys want some donuts?” he asks.

An occupy dude begins the practiced speech. “Mic check!”

“Mic check!” we yell.

“Mic check!”

We repeat. The script is lean and terse. We ask Moore to picket with us. He doesn’t say anything. We ask him to renounce charter schools. He doesn’t say anything. We finish our spiel, there’s a moment of awkwardness, and then Leah runs over and puts a teachers’ union sticker the front of his blue-grey suit. It’s poison, he wants to take it off but can’t. A few people pass through us to get to the El.

“Do you have anything to say alderman?” from the Gale baritone.

“I hope, for the sake of the children, an agreement can be reached,” or some other equivocation.

The baritone doesn’t like it. “That’s it? That’s it? You won’t even say you’re in a tight spot but you sympathize? Okay, alderman. Okay. Well, now we know. And we vote. If we can educate one we can educate ten. Let’s go teachers. We’ve heard enough here.”

Another occupier—these people are fierce—runs over. “You won’t say anything to them? The teachers are right here?”

“We could have a dialogue. We could meet in our office sometimes. We could—”

“We need an elected school board!” Kris yells. The chant catches on.

A CTA worker watches nearby. “We’re next,” she says to me.

“Not if we can change things,” I say.

“Show me what Democracy looks like! This is what Democracy looks like!” we chant as we walk away. A police looks on as we leave the stunned Moore.

It is nothing less than exhilarating. We thank the occupy people, they thank us, there’s plenty of good cheer, and then we leave.

The photo doesn’t capture the extreme discomfort that covered Moore’s entire face.


We return to Gale. Teachers walk in an elliptical around the front of the school. The Jordan people are gone. The head of our area is there. (I learn later that he called the police on teachers, saying they were breaking a thirty-yard ordinance; the police appeared and promptly informed him that there was no such thing.)

Rumors, and some of them turn out to be true. Paul Ryan did say he was standing with Rahm. Unbelievable. A Democratic mayor in the most union of cities and he’s backed by a union-busting Republican. Shameful. My local politics now in conflict with my national beliefs.

I end up alone. I walk to Clark. The staff are there, waving and chanting. I stay engaged for most of it, but I’m feel bedraggled. The hard concrete and my thin shoes and we all have hoarse voices and the honking cars are nice and growing in frequency but I’m ready to do something else. Daryl and his son and I try to re-brand Beatles songs for the strike, but the best we can do is two lines from “Hey Jude.” We change it to “Hey Rahm.” We sing it anyway.

We have a quick skull session in front of the school. Liz gives a great speech. Stu gives a great speech. Kellie gives a great speech. I slink off to my bike, feeling a punishing ache in my ankles and knees.

At home and Beth and I are both frustrated. I nap. Simone doesn’t. Pearl doesn’t, either. Our planned trip to downtown as a family is faltering. Beth and I argue. It doesn’t matter what about; it’s part of the emotional and psychic unrest in our lives.

I don’t drink any coffee. I douse myself with sunscreen. I leave feeling enervated. The train ride is uneventful. I try to sleep but can’t. The sun is my enemy.

Downtown is electric once again. Red shirts and red bandanas and drums and horns and great signs. Rahm as a Grinch. Liars and cheats spelled out on the periodic table. A giant inflatable rat with Rahm’s face on it.  A couple dressed as Wonder Woman and Captain America. A drummer has an American flag draped over his shoulders. Children dance and sing. A mother dressed in impeccable white walks through the crowd with a sign: “Evaluating teachers and students by their test scores is racist!” Her son trails behind her.

The head of the American Federation of Teachers is there. She gives a speech. I can’t see her. She’s good. She draws parallels with the firefighters that rushed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. She speaks of the inequality, the dangers of privatization. The head of the Chicago firefighers gets up. He wears red, too. He says two or three things, he’s clearly uncomfortable, but he lets us know firefighters are with us.

I’m alone in a crowd, don’t recognize anyone. Karen Lewis gives a speech. She’s good. She’s abrasive. She’s funny. She highlights many of the issues. I can’t tell where the stage is and then I move over a few feet and see that I’m only forty feet away.

Tens of thousands and we march. The feel is festive and a little more mischievous. My back throbs. My knees are filled with cement. My toes are blistered. My eyes unfocus. I shuffle along. People are dancing and chanting. I try my best.

I meet up with Kwasniak, our gym teacher. We shake hands. We talk. I fall out of the march. I head away from the crowd. Soon I am the only red-shirted person on a street of well-dressed downtowners. I sense hostility but no one says anything. I run through an imaginary confrontation with the mayor. There’s a mic, a big rally. I set him straight with my witty, learned lines. He imbibes my wisdom. I realize I’m day-dreaming the hero-dreams of my youth.

I drop by Beth’s dad’s office, we chat. He was in strikes when he was a teacher. “Rahm’s a dog,” he says. He gives me a bag of tomatoes. I move along.

The train back and it’s a blur. A woman with a hearing problem shrieks into her cell phone. It’s hilarious. “Mom? Mom? Mom? Can you hear me? Mom? Can you hear? Mom! I’m just going to meet a friend. Mom! I’m just going to meet a friend. Now I missed my stop. Mom!” And so on.

I exit the train. My legs are shaky. The bag of tomatoes breaks open. One splits onto the ground. I can see the discolored red innards beneath the outer flesh. It’s hard not to see some symbolic import. I swoop up the tomatoes and make it home.

Beth is outside with Pearl on her chest. She waves and smile. We hold hands, go to meet Simone in the plaza.

Day two ends. I try to write up the events of the day, I try and fail. I spend the latter part of the evening nodding off through Roman Holiday.

For the first time in weeks, I sleep well.


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