Jaisal Noor, TRNN Producer: In Chicago, hundreds of teachers, parents, and students have launched three days of marches to mark a final protest against plans to shutter 54 public schools. The march route includes the targeted schools, which are almost all in low-income black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago's south and west sides. The protests will culminate with a mass demonstration and civil disobedience in downtown Chicago Monday, and direct action is also expected to escalate for Wednesday's scheduled final Board of Education vote over the fate of the schools.
Brandon Johnson is an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, which led the protests.
Brandon Johnson, Organizer, Chicago Teachers Union: People are tired of their communities being disinvested in. People are frustrated with the mayor and CPS ignoring parental and community teacher voice. You know. So we want our voices to be heard loud and clear. We want to raise the consciousness of the communities that are most impacted by these failed policies so that there can be some real conversation about what our students deserve and what education should look like moving forward.
Noor: This final week of protests are the culmination of months of marches, demonstrations, and civil disobedience organized by unions, parents, and community organizations. They aim to pressure Chicago's board of education to reject the closures. A recent poll found that six out of ten voters oppose the plans. But the board is handpicked by Rahm Emanuel, who says although the closures may be painful, they will help bridge the school system's billion dollar budget deficit.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO, Chicago Public Schools: These proposals have caused community anguish, and I understand that. Change is really hard. Change is frightening. And we all get really uncomfortable when the status quo, even part of the status quo, is changed. But when the status quo is not working, change is inevitable.
Noor: But opponents of the closures got a boost last week when the city's hearing officers--retired state and federal judges--came out against 13 of the closures, arguing they would force parents and children to cross gang lines and endanger their lives. One of the schools cited was Manierre, located in the Near North Side, where the Cabrini Green projects once stood. The city wants to close Manierre and send its students to Jenner. Retired Cook County judge Paddy McNamara recommended the school not be closed, saying, quote, "There is a history going back over 40 years of rivalry between the two schools."
Two Chicago police officers on patrol in the area also told The Real News that the closure of Manierre would likely cause fights, but they said, hopefully, not result in gun violence.
Unidentified Police Officer: I mean, there's going to be fights. There's going to be fights. You'd hope there wouldn't be any gun violence at that age.
Noor: Rondell Dennis is also concerned about increased violence--a former gang member who was just released after serving 20 years in prison for shooting and killing a nine-year-old two blocks from Jenner. He's dedicated his life to stopping gun violence in the neighborhood where he grew up.
Rondell Dennis, Ex-Gang Member: Jenna school is basically ran by the GDs; the Gangster Disciples run Jenna school. And to have the kids from Manierre, which are, like I say, on the north side of division, come over here and connect with the kids in Jenna, it's going to be mayhem, man. I talked to a lot of the kids from down here. I've even talked to a few of them down there. It's like the ones from down here are waiting for Manierre to close so those kids can come down here and they can actually have this fight and, you know, do little gang-banging things that they want to do.
Do not close Manierre. Do not close Manierre. Come up with some kind of alternative solution. Whatever it takes, do not close Manierre, because by closing Manierre, you're placing these kids' lives in jeopardy.
Noor: The city has promised to provide increased security to prevent an outbreak of violence after schools are closed, but when parents inquired about the plans, the city said they had not written them yet.
Danielle Pate-Hortan, LSC Chair, Marconi Elementary: CPS has not shown me any evidence or anything about the safety passage that they're supposed to be doing, and I think it's not going to work, because they said they're going to hire parents and volunteers and different people. But children come late. We have children in Marconi come, like, to school from 10:30, 11:00, 12:00. I asked [bObi'b3'gd@n] and I asked Safety and Security what they was going to do about that, so they said they were working on it. But I don't believe nothing CPS tell me, because when Safety and Security came to me, then they couldn't show me no plan.
Noor: Lawyers for parents and the Chicago Teachers Union filed two federal class-action lawsuits this past week, arguing the closing will disproportionately affect African-American and disabled students. And the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, was reelected to another three years in office by a four-to-one margin. Again, Brandon Johnson:
Johnson: If you look at all the major accomplishments that we've had in this country for poor people, for working-class families, for folks that actually get a chance to move towards the middle class, that all of that has been gained through organizing and challenging the status quo, the political structure, the economic structure that is dead set on crushing and marginalizing people.
And so if we're going to have a real movement across this country for working families, we have to once again find that place where labor and civil rights meet each other. And remember it was Dr. King that said that if labor and civil rights were to ever collide and to join forces, it would have enormous potential, to say the least, to actually move working families and poor people to a better economic place.
Noor: Reporting for The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Chicago.