Day eight of the strike and there’s still no contract.

18 Sep

1.

I drive to work after three cups of strong coffee. The staff is there. The mood is troubling. Some people aren’t happy. We thought the strike was over. There’s a sense that the public has turned against us. The bright glassy sky offers no solace.

There is no contract. The language has not been finalized. The Board of Education (and Rahm Dass) has a history of reneging on their promises. The fight is not over. We cannot go back to work without the contract in writing. Even then, our lawyers have to go through the 150 plus pages and make sure there aren’t any bombshells like the “management rights” clause that was in an earlier draft. (It’s exactly what it sounds like.)

Let me say it again. There is no contract. We cannot vote for or against something that does not yet exist.

Occupy Rogers Park brings us donuts. They’re good people.

We stand, munch, mill, chat and ponder. The messy tangled complicated final stages of the contract negotiations. Issues abound. Pay, retirement, the new health clause, school closings—there’s bullet points but no actual contractual language.

Rahm has filed an injunction, which is no surprise, to force us back to work. His claim is that we are striking over issues we aren’t legally allowed to strike over. Of course, he and his proxies down state changed the laws to restrict the strikeable issues in the first place. (For instance, we are the only teachers’ union in the state that cannot strike over class size.) He’s the fox assigned to guard the henhouse.

He also said, laughably, that our strike posed a “clear and present danger” to the Chicago youth. The biggest danger to this city’s youth is Rahm and his privatizing policies. Under his leadership, crime rates are up 30 percent.

He and his like-minded posse, including Arne Duncan, are the reason public schools are failing.  They’ve decreased funding and forced schools to compete with other schools for resources. Using test scores as a battering ram, the RahmDuncanator has stripped out money that struggling schools desperately need. They do this in the name of school “reform.” Like King Leopold of Belgium swooping in to destroy the Congo while claiming humanitarian goals, Rahm claims to be saving the very system he is actively destroying. And he wields a tidy if vicious tautology: poor schools are struggling, therefore they should receive less money.

Ah, little Rahmel Reagan. You don’t understand the needs of your city.

2.

A teacher from a closed school who’s been picketing with us speaks up. “They told everyone before the semester break that the school was going to close. Then—click—all the kids were gone and so were some of the staff. Attendance was down. And then they said, ‘Well, now you got to close. You’re under-enrolled.’”

The mayor wants to close, as a part of his stated policy, 80 to 120 neighborhood schools. There’s no stated criteria as to which schools will be chosen for closure. There’s no complete list of endangered schools. These are essential pieces of information being withheld by the Board. Closed schools means fired teachers. Closed schools means less resources in troubled neighborhoods. In some areas, the public school is the only public institution that residents have access to.

As the staff beings to speak of the weekend’s events, I stand apart. I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. Joining up has never quite been natural for me. I often live in my own head. I exhale. I’m tired. I’m burned out. I’ve done nothing but strike and march and chant and write letters and write this blog. I calculate I’ve written close to 20,000 words on the strike in just over one week. I cannot sustain the attention to minute to minute detail; I have to let my senses rest.

We spent forty minutes going through the proposals. My eyes are tired. I can’t muster the will to read the thing. With thousands of people perusing it, including our lawyers, and the contract not even completed, what are the odds that my aching eyes will catch a thing?

We vote not to picket, but to canvas and pick up trash. Do a little community service. Tone down the street presence.  Get our hands dirty. Literally.

A few of us walk to Dominick’s for plastic gloves. The others root around in the store. I read a miserly article in Newsweek, written by a screenwriter for God’s sake who is also a contributing editor to the National Review. WTF Newsweek!

I start drafting a response in my notebook. My first line is strong: “Rob Long has it exactly wrong.” I write half a dozen paragraphs. Hannah can’t find any gloves so we walk to Walgreens. I’m stewing over Long’s lies. Another enemy. I imagine a conversation with him, where I dress him down, denigrate his career, show him his true face, and then rebuild him into a decent human being. He thanks me, offers me a million dollars for my sartorial services.

I am amazed by my own weirdness.

We get the gloves. Lisa buys a card.

We’re walking slow, slow, slow. No one honks.

3.

We break into groups. We talk. We pick up cigarette butts and plastic coke bottles and flattened blackish paper. We’re working, but our hearts aren’t in it. We feel deflated. We feel disheartened. We feel dispirited.

The media continues to say terrible things about us. The real issues of the strike have been misrepresented.

We meet up again in front of the school. Liz gives us the rundown.

I write some more of my letter to Newsweek, with a sinking feeling that I won’t send it, and even if I did, they wouldn’t publish it. The last line is incomplete: “Paul Ryan is not—“ I don’t know how I planned to end the sentence and I don’t care.

A thousand ways to squander our internal resources. That’s five hundred words I won’t ever get back.

4.

Later, I watch Simone run around with a seven year old during a Rash Hashanah party. We’re in the suburbs. The backyard is pristine. Simone and her new friend crouch in front of a stone doghouse. They peer inside. Simone wears a pink tutu beneath a black polka dotted dress. Her new friend wears a similar outfit. They look like characters in some fairy tale, two little princesses about to brave the cave of the scary bears.

They run. They toss a blue ball back and forth. They yell at a tiny gray dog. They fight over toothpick umbrellas. I try to live in the moment, block the injunction and politics and strike from my mind. Pack it down in ice.

It doesn’t work.

I eat too much, drive home in a glucose daze. The only thing that keeps me awake behind the wheel is my reflux. Simone is tired, Pearl cries the whole way home. At one point Simone says, “She’s making me mad.”

Beth cracks some jokes. She’s in good cheer. We arrive home, slide both daughters into their respective beds and get ready for sleep.

Day eight of the strike is over. The delegates meet tomorrow to vote on the contract.

Fingers crossed.

 

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