Explaining A Hunger Strike to My 3 Year Old: Dyett High School – Hunger Strikes

Today my son and I took juice to the 12 parents and community members who are performing a hunger strike. They are protesting Chicago Public Schools’ decision to close one of the last public schools in their neighborhood. Frustrations are intense towards CPS who has not been listening to their proposal to open a new public school, one created with real community input.

Now for those of you with children, especially 3 year olds, anytime you do something that is out of their “normal” realm of being, you know you’re about to get the 3rd degree. After explaining what they are going to do one must be prepared to answer a bevy of questions from them, most often the ever present, “Why?”

Let me demonstrate:

Me- Buddy (referring to my son), we are going to the store to buy juice to bring to Dyett High School for parents who are there protesting.

My son- Daddy, why do they need juice?

Me- Because they aren’t eating and need juice to drink.

My Son- Why are they not eating?

Me- Because they are protesting the closure of Dyett High School.

My Son- Why someone close a school?

Me- The city wants to close it.

My son- Why?

At this point, what I want to tell my son is that the way that Chicago Public Schools are run is not a democracy. That CPS and the Mayor do not care what the people actually want. That the fact that people feel forced to go on a Hunger Strike is ridiculous for a developed country, in this day and age.

A Hunger Strike is a measure of last resort in terms of a protest, because if things do not work out it can ultimately lead to death.

When Gandhi was trying to help the people of India get rid of the British colonizers, who refused to leave India, he would use the Hunger Strike as a means of protest to force the British to negotiate with him, when they would refuse to meet.

In California, in the 1960’s, Mexican Americans were being forced to work on grape farms for very little pay, were sprayed with dangerous chemicals, and were provided inhumane work conditions. They decided to organize and form a union. The grape farm owners did not want the workers to organize. The owners would harass and intimidate the organizers. The workers tried many different tactics, such as pickets, strikes, marches, and boycotts. Eventually Caesar Chavez, who was one of the leaders, decided insufficient progress was being made. He decided to go on a hunger strike.

In both of these historical examples of hunger strikes, making the public aware of the hunger strike was the most important goal.

In India, when Gandhi would go on a hunger strike the Indian workers would often refuse to work until negotiations began again. Gandhi had such a following and the entire basis for British control relied on the Indian workers. In the case of Chavez and the grape workers, he and his fellow organizers were able to gain powerful allies in California, like Bobby Kennedy and others, who helped bring their struggle to more national stage.

The media was one of the biggest things that helped Gandhi and Chavez. The newspapers and reporters covered both of these events. The general public became more aware.

Parent led Hunger Strikes are not new to Chicago. In 2001, parents on the South West Side demanded a new high school. CPS ignored them even though they had built 3 new high schools on the North side. So parents staged a 19-day Hunger Strike that eventually led to the opening of Little Village High School.

Here in Chicago, as I write this, the 12 Dyett Hunger Strikers are approaching their 5th day without eating.

What are their demands?
-They want Dyett to be re-opened as a public high school with a plan developed by the actual community.

-They want meetings with Alderman Will Burns of the 4th Ward, who represents Dyett High School. Burns often ignores the community and is closely linked to Rahm. In the past, people have had to camp out on his lawn to just get a meeting with him.

-They want to meet with the new CEO of CPS Forrest Claypool. A meeting is unlikely, since CEO’s are at the beck and call of the Mayor. The key is to get the media covering this event. Once the Hunger Strike is pervasive and repeated on every news channel in the city, the people in “power” will be forced to begin talking with the Dyett 12.

But what happens if Rahm, Forrest, and Will continue to ignore the hunger strikers? Are these politicians just hoping the hunger strikers get sick and too weak from not eating that they end up in the hospital? Do these politicians just want the hunger strikers to die?

Since my son is only 3 years old, I don’t say all of these things. I simply answer his last “Why?” with: “There are a few not nice people in this world. Most people who run this city are not nice people. Your mom and I want you to always be nice to people. We want you to listen to people. We want you to ask questions and be curious. We want you to be brave and do what feels right.”

I tried to explain to him that, “Sometimes we are faced with things that make you feel a pull or a feeling in your heart or stomach. It is easy to walk away and close your eyes. It is not always easy to make a choice to be brave. Being brave means sacrificing your comfort to do the right thing. The parents at Dyett high school are doing just that; they are brave. “

He may not really understand what is going on, but it made him really excited to pick out what kind of juice that we were going to buy to give to the Dyett parents.

If you are interested in helping or getting involved here is more info.

View this piece on Huffington Post Chicago

This piece on Gapers Block

Why Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina in Chicago is Racist

Tonight I just read an article in the Chicago Tribune in which the author “metaphorically” wishes a Hurricane Katrina would wipe out Chicago. I wish I were making this up, please read this piece. But after intense public pressure the Tribune did decide to “soften” their piece so here is the original piece as it was written. Even while I and many others were tweeting her about how offensive her piece is, she sent out the following tweet:

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What Hurricane Katrina did was kill nearly 2,000 people and displace and relocate 1 million people on the Gulf Coast. In New Orleans the population of the city fell by half due to loss of homes and displacement. 50% of the city’s residents homes lost and forced to move.

Historical and proudly black communities were wiped out.

Now some people like this author will likely say, but New Orleans is back! Who is New Orleans back for? For people that look like me (i.e. white people). NOT the people who lived in those predominantly black precincts.

By the author wishing for a Katrina here in Chicago she is basically saying to get to rid of the black people and let the whites move in wherever they want. It would be like white flight in reverse, coming back from the ‘burbs to the city. We (white people) could proudly colonize, I mean move into Englewood and then joke on our porches while sipping tea about what life used to be like on the corner of 63rd and Racine, while we watch that new yoga studio go in. We would colonize Woodlawn, Roseland, and Austin too and the best part is we (white people) would get that land for cheap thanks to Katrina part II and Disaster Capitalism.

Arne Duncan (one of our fellow white brethren) said it best when he said, “Hurricane Katrina was the best thing for New Orleans Schools”.

I mean to actually fix the schools for the kids who live there, that is preposterous and besides that would be too much work. What is great is getting to have new (wealthier and/or whiter) kids move in, then rebuild the schools and boom schools are “great” now.

The author of this piece needs an education in white privilege. I suggest a starting point for her (and anyone who agrees with her) would be the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh which details and explains White Privilege and how it benefits all white people all the time. She then could read books by Lisa Delpit, Theresa Perry, Beverly Daniel-Tatum, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and many more authors. Even better she could actually listen and hear the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement or in that case any black person who would take the time to try to educate her.

The key as a white person is to listen to black people and not try to put our white privilege on what they are saying or for heaven’s sake say something like All Lives Matter.

Chicago Tribune author, here is the secret all lives do matter but our (white) lives aren’t being killed for all of America to see (just in case you needed to learn that too).

This country is going through a movement to bring to the forefront and hopefully make real changes to the way policing is done, so we can stop having black men and women murdered by the people who are supposed to be protecting them. There are many ways in which white people (like myself) can help. The first one is to listen to the real stories that people of color share about racism, the second is to call out racism when you see or hear it (like this Tribune article), and the third one (this is the hardest) is to educate our own (white) people. As a teacher in predominantly black schools in Chicago Public Schools I love teaching, learning and talking about race with my students, but talking about race with white people is hard. I’m no expert but I am willing to read, learn, and listen. I am working on always speaking up when I hear any type of racist comment. I am a work in progress, but I am taking the second and third piece of advice I gave by calling out this Katrina piece for what it is, racist and by attempting to teach (other white people) why it is racist.

I will end with a quote from scholar Beverly Daniel-Tatum with the key being white people must be “actively anti-racist”.

Her quote says, “I visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of our White supremacist system and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt – unless they are actively anti-racist – they will find themselves carried along with the others.”

This piece on Gapers Block

I am a Dictator: A Chicago Public Schools Teacher Responds to Rauner and Claypool

Recently Governor Rauner said, “…the Chicago Teachers Union shouldn’t have dictatorial powers, in effect and causing the financial duress that Chicago Public Schools are facing right now.”

This statement from Rauner comes just a few days after Forrest Claypool our newest CEO says that teachers need to have “shared sacrifice” by taking a 7% pay cut.

The shared sacrifice Claypool speaks of means that my wife (also a CPS teacher) and I would lose about $11,000 in combined income for this year alone.

I could go on and on about how Claypool is just another puppet of Rahm, in a long line of puppets appointed by the mayor or how Chicagoans demand en elected school board (remember Chicago is the only district in the entire state without an elected school board). But since Rauner thinks that the teachers union run by 40,000 teachers is a dictatorship and Claypool says teachers need to sacrifice I will share my stories, so maybe, just maybe, they both (along with Rahm) will realize what it means to really sacrifice.

Two weeks ago I found out that a student who attended and graduated from my high school was shot and killed. I did not know this student well as I had never taught him, but what I have found is that his death has triggered many other emotions and memories that I have suppressed.

There is a study that says that people who live in violent areas (like many parts of Chicago) show sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) similar to soldiers returning from combat. My father was in combat in Vietnam and for the first 23 years of my life he never once talked to me about Vietnam. It was one night that he decided to watch a fictional movie about Vietnam that it all came back to him. I can see how he has days where his mind is consumed by traumatic experiences that he had. He has been able to cope and now is working to prevent people, students especially from going into the military.

I have worked in CPS for 9 years now and have had students share tragic stories of losing their friends and loved ones to violence. I have seen how certain events can trigger their traumatic memories.

I never thought that a teacher (myself) could have this happen too.

When I found out that the student from my school who had just graduated was killed I was deeply saddened for his family, for everyone who knew him, and that our city continues to let young people die.

However I have found that now nearly two weeks after his death I have been thinking nearly every day of the first student that I ever knew who was killed.

Nearly 5 years ago a young man named Trevell was shot and killed. I taught Trevell as a freshman in high school. He was an outgoing, intelligent, and confident young man, but it was clear that he had some difficulties outside of school. As he continued through high school into his senior year he had made many positive decisions to steer his life in the right direction and had got himself into college. I received a phone call on a cold January Saturday morning from my assistant principal saying that Trevell had been shot and killed. I still remember that day that I found out about his death and also what it was like to go into school that Monday and cry with students and staff and share stories of Trevell.

The following school year I was teaching my senior Urban Studies class. I had taught many of the students in this class when they were freshman. There was one student Deonte who as a freshman I never thought would still be at our school, let alone close to graduating, for how involved he seemed to be as a freshman with life on the streets. Deonte as a freshman in my class would typically be focused on anything and everything as long as it was not academic. But amazingly Deonte had turned it around and now, as a senior had become one of the most liked students by staff and students. He had dramatically improved his grades and got himself accepted into many colleges. This one day in late May just a few weeks before graduation he was not in class. When I asked where he was, another student whispered to me that he had been arrested. I didn’t believe it, because he had put that part of his life way behind him. It wasn’t until I saw a mug shot of him wearing his school shirt and read his charge that I finally accepted it. He was one of my favorite students. I still think of him often.

Then about two years ago my wife and I experienced a miscarriage 17 weeks into our second pregnancy. My students all knew my wife was pregnant and while I was out of school grieving the loss I dreaded having to come back to school to see 150 students who knew that my wife was no longer pregnant. My students were amazing and helped me grieve. My students were actually much better than even some of the adults who knew we had experienced that loss.

I share these stories because my “shared sacrifice” is that every time a student dies I think of these things. I don’t even realize that I am thinking of these things at first, because I usually just get angry or frustrated and don’t know why.

There are days that I wonder like many teachers in Chicago, why do I still stay here? Why do I stay in a system that is run by the mayor with an appointed school board that clearly has no clue what is doing. Why do I stay in a system that has a new CEO every one to two years? Why do I stay in a system that allows its schools to be funded often times $10,000 less per student than schools in the suburbs?

Every answer to all of those questions is because of the students. The students are the reason why 40,000 teachers in Chicago don’t just pack up and move out of the city. We love our students. We love to guide, mentor, coach, counsel, teach, listen, and laugh with and at them.

So Mr. Claypool we teachers have “skin in the game”. My personal stories are sadly not unique; we teachers have and continue to make sacrifices every day by being a teacher in Chicago.

Mr. Rauner you want to blame us, teachers, for the fiscal crises of our city? How about thanking us for doing what we do every day. Thank us today, thank us tomorrow, and continue thanking us for your entire four years as governor, because you will never know what we do for the students of this city.

And after you thank us, give us power over our schools. Give us an elected school board. Give us counselors and therapists. Give our students the schools that they deserve.

Yes, giving more to the schools costs money, but let’s be clear, there are money and revenue options out there. You are just choosing to use bogus rhetoric instead of hearing and acting on the revenue options available.

The stress that I and the rest of Chicago’s teachers go through every day of the year to educate the children of this city that we love is not easy, but we do it because we know that our students matter. It is time for the politicians to do the same.

This piece on Gapers Block


This piece on Huffington Post