Day three of the strike and I feel less tired, more alive.

13 Sep


I wake up feeling impossibly sore. I take two Motrin with a big glass of water and stretch in near total darkness. I eat a big bowl of peaches and almonds and cherries and boil yesterday’s coffee on the stove. I feel strong as I pedal to school.

By 6:45, everyone is there. Our talk has evolved. Everything is political. We’re all moving leftward. There’s something in this process. It propels you.

We head to Gale. The Gale teachers wave. We shake some hands, make small talk, move along. We set up our picket on Sheridan and Howard. Cars pass. Some honk. Two bikers say, “Fuck you,” to our teachers. A running joke about white men in fancy cars not honking appears. We chant. We move signs. We discuss the relevant issues. Stu says the Rahm isn’t a bad man, that he believes in what he is doing. I say that every person on the planet thinks he/she is a good person. I say that good intentions don’t undo the damage of immoral policies. He agrees. We’re arguing but we’re not.

A woman carrying a small child asks me why we’re striking. I do my best to answer. (I should have pointed her here.)

Other teachers join us. Some schmo gives us the middle finger. Hundreds of cars honk. Every police officer waves, holds up little union stickers. Every garbage truck blares the born. Every ambulance wails the siren. Every cab driver beeps the horn. The working people of the city are with us.

A Tribune reporter asks me some questions. How are you coping? What is your plan for your home? I answer as much as possible. I say I have two children. I say my wife is a teacher, too. I say we are living on no income at all. She asks me how long we can last? I say as long as it takes. She says she’s going to write it up. I ask her not to make me look like a greedy pig. We’ll see. I have my doubts.

Cook County Clerk David Orr shows up in a bright red shirt and shakes some hands.

An Occupy Rogers Park person asks if we want to chalk-upy. I say sure. I write down a message about an unelected billionaire school board and rip the knee on my pants.

I’m out of energy, we all are. We stay the course. It’s almost ten. We head back to school. Today’s plan is to visit schools in impoverished neighborhoods in the city. I bike home to pick up Beth and the kids.


They’re ready, I’m not. I eat a quick tomato salad and we’re off. This time I remember the coffee and I feel better during the drive.

It’s far. Traffic is light. We’re on the south-west side. We turn onto Madison. It’s another world. Garbage strewn about empty lots. A lone liquor store, and some busted out old men smoking in a geriatric bunch. They recline, look out onto the road. I drive on.

Two more blocks and red shirts everywhere. We cannot find parking. I drop Beth off. Simone wails. I circle. I manage to find the dodgiest street in Chicago. The curbs are teeming with discarded trash. Across the street, shirtless dudes sit and lean with nothing to do. I pick up Simone. A woman balls out her son, screaming into his face not two inches away.

We find Beth and the crowd is immense. Same scene, different locale. Drummers keep the beat while teachers chant and sing. The music evolves. Now we’re singing “We’re not going to take it,” and chanting, “Aw, shucks, you riled the teachers up.” The mood is ebullient.

The sun blasts away at our skin. I realize I left our water in the car. I want to kick my own ass. “I could go back,” I say. It’s a disingenuous offer. “And, I literally parked in the worst street in the city.”

We walk. The man in front of us suddenly turns. “Brizzard just resigned! Pass it back!” I do. The crowd goes wild. I text Bill. He passes it along, hits me back with this: “Don’t know if it’s true or not, but 3,000 people just went wild with Aretha.” (We learn later it’s not.)

We turn left on S. Kedzie. Simone gets into it. She chants, too. Her favorite is “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go.” We follow the crowd. Beth takes some photos. So do I. We’re hot but happy. Pearl is getting too much sun. We’re not going to last long.

Some women take a picture of Beth and Pearl. Pearl has a little striped red hat. It’s adorable.

The cheering screaming chanting singing marching clapping dancing throng of protest.

The neighborhood responds. People wave from their windows. The apartment buildings are set back by a lawn and corrugated metal fencing. Three children unfurl a single red streamer, and dance with it. It’s an astonishing sight. An enormous cheer greets them.

We move on. We turn left onto Madison. Police are everywhere. The air crackles. I feel rejuvenated. Simone does not. “It’s too loud,” she says. “I want some water,” she says. The game is over. Beth and I go to the sidewalk. Simone is tired. She sees a little playground and starts to agitate for a visit.

We move against the crowd. I see my friends and colleagues. We step back into the march for a brief greeting. The march turns left onto Homan as we move north on Kedzie.

We see a parked white truck in dirt parking lot. A group of men huddle together by the truck. They look like rough dudes. Behind them is desolation, and then the magnificent Chicago skyline. “Looks like ‘The Wire,’” I say. “Looks like Baltimore.”

We return to the car. The street looks worse than before, some urban gothic horrorland. The issues we’re striking over come into full focus—the immense inequality of the city, the country, the world. The sounds of the marchers are faint.

No one bothers us. We strap the kids in, head home. The strike has become the new normal. I hardly notice I’ve honked the horn for two teachers walking home.


Simone is exhausted but won’t go to bed. She keeps chanting, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go.” She sings an old union tune. She pronounces it “unious.”

Day three is over. The worries over money and the future and the national election sparkle like background radiation.

I feel less tired, more alive.


2 Responses to “Day three of the strike and I feel less tired, more alive.”

  1. Joe Sutton (@joesutton) September 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Hi! I’m an editor at Occupied Stories (, a platform for first-person stories from the Occcupy movement; could we re-publish your Chicago teacher strike posts with links back to the originals? You can email us at if you have any questions/to respond. Thanks!

  2. keith September 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    hey ben, nice protest day narrative. good luck.

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