- The Lout.
Well, here in Chicago we have a one-day strike tomorrow. People are nervous, edgy. It’s been four years since the last strike. I usually avoid writing about politics—there are many writers who do this well, including The Reader’s Ben Joravsky, who kicks Rahm’s ass every week—but I feel compelled to enter the fray. Let me say up front that the teachers’ union, of which I’m a part of, has no choice in the strike. We’ve been forced into it.
Here are the issues at play.
Our glorious mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has mishandled Chicago’s public schools. Mangled is a better word. I’ve outlined Rahm’s shortcomings before, in a letter I wrote to Senator Clinton, which changed her beliefs on money, power and Chicago’s mayor. That’s a joke. But I’ll highlight just a couple of things outside of public education, because by any standard, Rahm has been an absolute nightmare for Chicago.
- The murder rate is up, and belief in the police is down. Our mayor has a very peculiar approach to crime. Reduce police presence in high crime areas, and focus on moneyed neighborhoods and downtown. The result? An astonishing murder rate. I recognize that leadership requires at times a murky moral calculus, but Rahm seems to approach his office with no morality at all. He prances around like a minor potentate, seemingly unaware of how angry people are with him.
- Our credit rating is lower thanks to his policies. His ideas on raising tax revenue include giving land public away, depriving Chicago citizens of the land itself and any future tax revenues the land could have brought in.
Rahm isn’t a Democrat. Democrats don’t pummel union workers and farm out pieces of the public sector to private companies. Democrats believe in providing a social safety net, offering a helping hand to struggling people. And Democrats believe in public education, but I’m getting ahead of myself. They also don’t swill wine with millionaires then lie about it. Rahm isn’t a Republican either. Republicans, at least how I define them, believe in infrastructure spending, building projects.
So what is Rahm? He’s a mad-dog political operative. He believes in power and punishment. He’s a post-modern hybrid of mid-90s politics and a sinister misreading of Foucoult. He doesn’t believe in communities or neighborhoods or culture or, well, anything that isn’t related to political power. But he doesn’t even believe in political power, at least not in service to anything progressive or useful. (Rick Perlstein, one of the great historians, rocks him here.)
He believes in banks. He believes in money. He believes in tangible power. To Rahm, social ills are abstractions. He doesn’t care about poor people; they don’t bring in political donations. He doesn’t care about the mentally ill; they don’t make for strong headlines.
Rahm is not a futurist, either. He is ensconced in an early ’90s concept of the Democrats and of American politics. He is an intractable believer in the status quo. He’s a mean, close-minded lout. And if you’re still wanting for reasons to despise him, here’s another: it was Rahm, as President Obama’s chief of staff, who scuttled the environmental program Obama promised on the campaign trail. So no movement on climate change for almost eight years. Think on that.
We went on strike four years ago. Most of the demands swung the teachers way, but Rahm then closed a shocking 50 public schools. And 50 is a very telling number. Why not 48? Why not 52? Surely the math could have been nudged either way. But the number 50 is scary and strong. It sends a message. He was punishing us for defying him. The city netted very little money, if any.
In many areas of the city, the public school is the only functioning entity, as well as the only example of the city or state doing anything for the residents. Go drive around the toughest neighborhoods. You’ll find potholes, burned out lots, pistol casings and yards of broken glass. The schools, even struggling ones, provided structure, stability and jobs.
Now many of them are gone. Is the city better? Are the residents of those neighborhoods flourishing now that their community schools are closed?
2. The Dunce.
I haven’t even mentioned Rauner, that big-hearted hero of the people, humbly serving as our governor. (That’s a joke.) Rauner is the anti-Mr. Deeds, a Frank Capra villain reincarnated as an expectorating vulture capitalist. Rauner is a millionaire autocrat, choking everything in the state until he gets his way. His model is Scott Walker, the great dismantler. Scott Walker, if you haven’t heard, has strip-mined Wisconsin, costing it jobs and infrastructure projects while ruining the reputation of a great state. Rauner couldn’t have picked a more apt model.
For he is attempting to do the same thing right here. Nine months into his glorious reign, we still don’t have a state budget. Like a petulant child in a pique of anger, Rauner says no to everything that isn’t exactly what he wants. So he refuses to pass any budget that isn’t precisely to his liking. He insists on a “turn-around” agenda that includes a dilution of, you guessed it, unions and a slashing of all manner of city and state programs. He’s a vicious, one-note dunce, a broken record who, now in office, refuses to govern.
Rauner’s obscene intransigence isn’t just (bad) political theatre or posturing brinksmanship. He’s hurting people. Layoffs, unpaid furlough days, reduced services for the mentally ill. And it’s all out of dedication to an extreme anti-government ideology, a hodge-podge of trickledown economics and Ayn Rand-influenced libertarianism. Rauner wants to undo a century of progress in a civil liberties and legal protections, as well as collective employee bargaining.
Doesn’t the state have the responsibility to pay its people? Doesn’t the state have a responsibility to honor its contracts? Doesn’t the state have the responsibility to keep its citizens alive?
Rauner has pushed the state’s higher education into the toilet, too. His “vision” is to starve higher education by removing state funding. College students with resources can, in theory, go to private universities. But students who rely on grants, state scholarships, and the lower tuition cost of state schools? They’re screwed.
And there it is again, that pattern. Rich, you’re good. Poor, go suck an apple.
He’s one person, but due to the flaw of democracy, he is single-handedly wrecking Illinois. Even other state Republican lawmakers are backing away from his stance. But here’s the open secret: Rauner wants the state to suffocate. He is relishing his power over the process. He is happy mental clinics are reducing hours and city colleges are closing. He’s rejected every stop-gap bill or measure, including a last-minute attempt to save the state grants to college students that were already awarded.
That’s dirty pool. And it’s in service to a handful of (from where I’m sitting) undemocratic reforms. He wants to disenfranchise unions, cut city and state services, gut pensions, disembowel public education, defund all the programs that actually help people, and then smile while surveying the heap of ashes.
3. Lout + Dunce = Strike.
So. Circling back to our one-day strike.
We have a filthy rich asshole for a mayor, and a stinking rich shithead for a governor. (If ye judge my language too harsh, remember Rahm’s words for Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union: “Fuck you!”) Let’s not forget that Rahm hasn’t fared too well in the appointee department. Barbara Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to kickback charges. Her predecessor, Brizzard? Fired after a year. And his police superintendent, McCarthy? Gone. Some mornings I’m sure he looks around and wonders, “Am I the last shithead standing?” (The answer, dear mayor, is no, you are not.)
All the public services can’t seem to find two pennies to rub together, yet Rahm and his appointees want to dictate terms to us. We agreed to a seven perfect pay cut, but asked for other (minor) concessions. Rahm, through his cronies, said no. In fact, the only contract CPS put forward was contingent on over 1500 current CPS teachers retiring. (If the number wasn’t met, the contract would be invalidated.)
So, no contract, and we’ve worked without one all school year. But CPS has reneged on contracts before. We were contractually guaranteed a four percent raise a few years ago and CPS declined to pay it. We’re expected to be long-suffering martyrs to some higher cause. But our bosses operate with a different set of ethics. They lie. We don’t.
Unequal funding? Yes. CPS schools are wildly unequal. Some schools have multiple computer labs, dance classes, futuristic playgrounds and sports teams. Others have abandoned parking lots, textbooks with broken binding, and obsolete computer labs with no computer teacher.
An entrenched opposition and inflammatory rhetoric? You betcha. Listen to people opposed to the Union’s (meager) demands. They will either begin with the insults (“You are overpaid to work six hours a day and have summers off,” an actual quote), or misrepresent the issues (“Tenured teachers can’t get fired,” and yes, they can, and it actually doesn’t take that much to do so). And Rauner? He maintains that non-union charter schools are the answer, that CPS should declare bankruptcy so he can lord it over the stupid teachers and lower their pay, etcetera. He has declared himself our enemy.
So we’re left with few options, and removing our labor to show the ruling class how valuable it really is, this is the only remaining course. I say this all the time, that the values of the teachers’ union—reasonable class sizes, reasonable job security, decent middle class wages, a curriculum that is rich in the arts and so on, and equal funding for every school—these are good for the students, too. In fact, I can’t think of anything that benefits teachers that doesn’t also benefit the students.
Remember, unlike our humble governor and friendly mayor, we chose to work with Chicago’s children. We want the jobs we have.
I’m paraphrasing, but no one just gives power away. And, in a democracy, you’re either fighting for something or losing everything. Come join us. Let’s fight for something before we lose it all.