Conversation Week: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

I was interviewed by BTR Today about my experiences with spoken word poetry. To read the original article click here.

Conversation Week: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

by Brittany Tedesco | Theme Week | Jun 29, 2016

Controversy continues to surround the role that the arts play in school systems, with many who believe that such creative outlets are far less important than more concrete subjects like math and science. More specifically, poetry is regarded as less and less significant, even in literary studies.

However, poetry is an important subject for a diversity of students across the nation. The age-old craft is a useful medium for promoting literacy and creativity, all the while building a sense of community and strengthening emotional resilience.

While traditional poetry can feel archaic to contemporary audiences who find the dated subject matter dull or confusing, spoken word poetry can be powerful and relevant for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

BTRtoday speaks with Dave Stieber, a teacher and spoken word poetry coach in Chicago. He has coached this form of poetry for six years, taking only the past two years off due to a change in schools. He’s currently on hiatus to focus on attaining his National Board Certification for teaching, but plans on coaching again next school year.

Stieber admits that growing up he was entirely uninterested in poetry.

“It always seemed pretty dry to me in school,” he says. “I was never exposed to spoken word. I was always exposed to very traditional poetry in books. The content didn’t appeal to me, and the style didn’t appeal to me.”

It was not until Stieber’s wife invited him to attend Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB), an event in Chicago which happens to be the largest youth poetry festival in the world, that he realized the impact poetry can have on its audiences.

LTAB is a month-long competition featuring 120 Chicago high schools competing in Olympic-style poetry slams. Hosted by Young Chicago Authors, LTAB celebrates youth voices by providing a safe space for poets to come together and share their stories.

“It was amazing to hear students performing totally different types of poetry than I had ever heard, sharing their stories, and seeing other kids support them,” Stieber describes.

Spoken word poetry allows participants to express themselves, while simultaneously inspiring listeners. The arts in general–albeit writing, performing, painting, playing music, or any other artistic expression–allow artists to expose themselves on a deep and personal level, and encourage others to empathize with them.

Spoken word events also provide a comfortable space free of judgment, where poets are unafraid to reveal even the most hidden parts of themselves. Everyone there has a story to tell, and that is why they have gathered together to share their messages.

“The whole premise of Spoken Word poetry, in my opinion, is it allows them to share their stories and provides a space for other students who want to hear those stories. So it’s pretty powerful,” Stieber supports.

Furthermore, it forms a sense of community. It doesn’t matter where participants come from when they are in such a shared space. No matter the race, gender, class, or background, their voices matter and their stories will be heard.

Stieber explains, “You’ve got kids from different parts of the city, and Chicago, like most big cities, is super segregated by race and by class. So when you can bring kids together who have the same interest in poetry, and they share their stories… it opens a lot of doors for the kid who’s performing it, as well as the audience who’s listening.”

Feeling inspired after attending LTAB, Stieber began coaching spoken word poetry at the school he was teaching. On Fridays, he would host an open mic where students could read their own spoken word pieces. He eventually formed a spoken word poetry group consisting of six freshman to participate at LTAB.

“A couple kids performed [in class], and we were like, wow this is amazing– you guys are going be on our poetry team. And they were like, what does that mean? And we were like, we don’t really know either,” he admits. “From there we all learned together.”

While poetry is something that comes from the heart, as any artistic expression, written poetry skills can still use some refining. Working alongside a spoken word poetry coach or teacher allows students to receive feedback on their work and reflect on their pieces in a new light.

“Basically we just got them to express their stories, whatever they wanted to share,” says Stieber. “Then we kind of helped them write it in ways that maybe they didn’t know before, just refine their ideas a little bit.”

Through spoken word, poets can use their work as a form of release to escape from reality. It allows them to immerse themselves in their expression. However, it can also be used to cope with reality, as the writer is able to express their raw and honest emotions in a way they might not be comfortable with otherwise.

“Students have a lot of stuff that they need to say and need to express, and I don’t think schools do a very effective job at allowing them to express what they need to say, and care what they see and experience in the world,” Stieber says.

As a result, it is incredibly important for students to participate in arts programs. Even the Senate has acknowledged the importance of the arts as they recently passed an act that regards them as core subjects in school systems.

The arts stimulate the imagination, improve cognitive and creative skills, and strengthen problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Therefore art courses are able to help children develop skills needed for other core subjects.

Stieber describes the impact he has seen spoken word have on his students.

“Just by being able to first get their story on paper and get that off their chest, then being able to perform it and have other people listen to it, and after they say it, they come off stage and people are like, wow that was really powerful, and talk about how they felt about the poem, and the interaction that comes with it, it’s a very powerful whole event… the writing, the performing, and the reaction to it.”

For anyone who has never experienced spoken word poetry before, do yourself a favor and find a nearby event. There are powerful messages just waiting to be heard, and at least one of them is bound to move even the most apathetic listener.

CPS is Harming Kids With the Most Need

Chicago Public Schools has provided further proof that they could care less about what is best for students; regardless of the rhetoric they proliferate. The most recent proof of this is their plans to cut the Pre-K Special Education program at Bret Harte Elementary on the South Side.

CPS is intentionally and knowingly harming the kids who need the most, by cutting a Special Education Pre-K program for 3 and 4 year olds with various types of physical and mental disabilities.

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I should not be shocked that CPS would attempt a move like this.  This is not new for Chicago Public Schools. In my 9 years of teaching in here I have witnessed CPS hold community meetings in which students and parents begged and pleaded for CPS to keep their schools open, only to have CPS ignore the community and close the most schools in the history of our country. CPS claimed the cuts were to save money and that the schools were under-enrolled, yet at the same time they were increasing funding for charters and opening new charter schools.

But I guess I still am actually shocked by their desire to cut a Special Ed. Pre-K program. Apparently CPS has now shifted their destruction from schools on the South and West sides to programs that serve the South Side and West Sides.

There are other Special Ed. Pre-K programs on the South Side, but they are either filled to capacity, much too far away, or staffed without certified Special Ed. teachers. As a high school teacher I know from experience that many special needs students depend on a school routine that is consistent and safe. Forcing these very young students to switch schools can be especially traumatic.

One of the parents of a child in the Special Ed. Pre-K program created a Change.org petition to be delivered to CPS demanding that this program be saved. In the petition she writes, “My daughter has made remarkable progress through the efforts of the amazing and dedicated teacher in the special education preschool program. The class at Harte is an effective, loving learning environment for my daughter and her classmates, for whom stability and consistency are crucial. In addition, the special education preschool class is an important part of the school. It is often integrated with other classes for recess, field trips, special events, and sometimes just stories and centers. “

You had better believe that as a parent I will do what is best for my kids, because the school district that I choose to work for and send my children too, does not care about our children.

Here’s how you can get involved and help save Harte’s Pre K Special Education Program:

  • Sign the petition
  • Contact the Alderman of Bret Harte School Leslie Hairston
  • Call CPS and leave a message for Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson 773-553-1000
  • Come to the “Play in” at Harte!

Finally, the parents of Bret Harte are organizing a “Play-In to Save Pre-K Special Education at Harte” on Tuesday the 21st from 3:30-4:30pm (1556 E. 56th St.) on the playground. Please bring your child and/or come out and support us as we fight to keep open an amazing program that serves amazing kids.

 

Sample Script for Leslie Hairston, Forest Claypool and Janice Jackson:

“My name is ____________ I am calling to ask you to save the Special Ed. Pre-K program at Bret Harte Elementary School. This a very successful and positive program at the school. Cutting a program that helps special needs children is wrong. I am asking you to keep this program open. Thank you”

 

They Call it Memorial Day, The Chicago Veterans for Peace See it Differently

This piece is written by my father, Arnold Stieber. He was Army, Infantry, in the U.S. war against the people of Viet Nam. He is the current Coordinator for the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace.

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When you look up Memorial Day, you’ll get something like this:  “Memorial Day, an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, honors men and women who died while in the U.S. military.”

In actuality Memorial Day is more about summer, hot dogs, sales, and in Chicago, about indoctrinating youth into the military model.

In 2013 I attended the Chicago Memorial Day parade with several Veterans For Peace members.  We expected the parade, which is billed as the largest Memorial Day parade in the nation, to be a somber tribute to all those killed in war.  What we saw was over six thousand youth dressed in military uniforms, marching in formation.   They easily made up 80% of the parade.   We were shocked.

Upon investigation we learned that the Chicago Public School system has over 10,000 youth in some form of military training.   No other school system comes close.  We were told that this military training teaches “leadership”, and “discipline” and is a “way out” for many impoverished youth.

Sounds good, but there’s a flaw.  You don’t need to militarize youth to educate them.   Leadership and discipline can be taught in a variety of ways, including in the regular classroom.

By simply providing the public education system with the resources they need the youth will have a “way out”.

To address the myths of the need for militarization the Chicago Chapter of Veterans For Peace started an initiative called Education Not Militarization.  It presents youth with the other side of the story on the military and develops their critical thinking skills.   We have a dedicated web site, a Facebook and Twitter page.   We developed a speakers bureau that is focused on youth.

One of our main speakers is ex-Army Ranger Rory Fanning.  “I signed up to prevent another 9/11, but my two tours in Afghanistan made me realize that I was making the world less safe. We know now that a majority of the million or so people who have been killed since 9/11 have been innocent civilians, people with no stake in the game and no reason to fight until, often enough, the US military baited them into it by killing or injuring a family member who more often than not was an innocent bystander.”  His experiences in Afghanistan woke him up to the realities of the military.  “The Taliban had surrendered a few months before I arrived in Afghanistan in late 2002, but that wasn’t good enough for our politicians back home and the generals giving the orders. Our job was to draw people back into the fight.”

When he left Afghanistan he walked across the United States with 50 pounds on his back for the Pat Tillman Foundation in an obsessive attempt to rid himself of war.   He says, “I began speaking to high school students heavily propagandized by the US military on the charms, delights, and positives of war, American-style, about my own experiences and that, in turn, has been changing my life.“  Rory says, “JROTC’s school-to-military pipeline is a lifeline for Washington’s permanent war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Its unending conflicts are only possible because kids like those I’ve talked to in the classrooms continue to volunteer.“

Another speaker is ex-Navy aircraft carrier flight captain Sabrina Waller.  She joined the military after high school as a “way out” of the cycle of poverty and violence around her home.  She helped maintain Navy planes on the flight deck of aircraft carriers.  She witnessed the jets carrying 500-pound bombs in their bellies before taking flight. Without exception, they came back empty. “You can’t return to the ship with a bomb,” Waller explains. “It’s too dangerous to land.” The bombs had to be dispatched even without an enemy target to drop them on.” When she began to question these tactics and worried that innocent lives were unjustly being destroyed, her senior shipmates ignored her pleas. “I was told to shut up and not question things and just do my job,”   Sabrina Waller now dedicates her life to sharing her experience with students in the hope that she might prevent them from making the same mistake she did. “I feel like I’ve walked in the shoes that many in the JROTC program will walk in,” Waller says. “They think the military is the only way out of poverty, of not being educated, of not really having a purpose in life, and the only way out of living in depressing communities.”  That doesn’t have to be the case, she tells any young person who will listen.

The Chicago Chapter of Veterans For Peace recently met with the heads of Chicago JROTC.  We both agreed that youth need critical thinking skills.  We suggested that they invite us to speak at the eight military schools and at all of the JROTC and Cadet classes.  They’re thinking about it.   We also asked the Chicago Public School Board to join us in a roundtable discussion of the militarization of youth.  They haven’t responded.

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Veterans For Peace will be at this year’s Memorial Day parade to encourage critical thinking.  We’ll pass out stickers to the six thousand militarized youth in the parade.  The stickers are miniatures of the billboards that we’ve placed around Chicago.  They read “No military in Chicago Public Schools.  Education Not Militarization.  NoMilitary.org”.    Hopefully the youth will take the initiative, make good use of the Memorial Day holiday and seek out the other side of the military story.
Now as a Veteran, that’s what I call a real Memorial Day.

To learn more about our campaign to de-militarize Chicago Public Schools visit our website, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.

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The Education of Tribune Editorial Board Member Kristen McQueary

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Member, Kristen McQueary is back at again. Remember this past August, when she wrote a piece titled “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina”? She didn’t realize how terribly offensive and racist her piece was. (The Tribune apparently realized that, as they went back and changed her piece, including the title, which is why I provided an original PDF of the article.) Many people throughout the city expressed their outrage and actually tried to educate Ms. McQueary, as to why her piece was offensive. I wrote a piece titled why “Why Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina is the Equivalent of Putting on a Klan Hood” to help her understand. Now 7 months later, it seems the education the residents of Chicago tried to provide is not sinking in. Because she is back at it again with her piece, “Anti-Police Screed Goes Unchecked by CTU, Karen Lewis”. I tried to contact her, but Ms. McQueary, @StateHouseChick has blocked me on Twitter, and apparently does not like to be taught about her privilege and offensive comments.

So let us begin again, in the education of Tribune Editorial Board Member Kristen McQueary.

I pulled a few of her many quotes (I could’ve pulled many more) in her new piece, which most shows her need for an education. I will now direct the rest of this piece directly to you Kristen McQueary.

“Instead of focusing on improving education for Chicago kids, the union is the city’s latest command post for angst.”

Did you really just say that? You are saying Chicago’s teachers need to focus on improving education for the kids? Um, hello? Why do you think we were out in the streets on April 1st? We were trying to bring attention to the deplorable budget cuts that impact every student, parent, and person who works in schools in this city. Teachers are on the front lines daily. While you are downtown in your ivory tower. Many of us educators work and live in the communities that you hoped a hurricane would wipe out. When someone is shot in this city, who do you think is forced to counsel students and discuss their fears? Educators. Far too many counselors, social workers, and psychologists have been cut from the never ending budget cuts. So we educators have to help our students express their fears and pain. When Rahm closed 50 schools in 2013, we had to teach our students that they are not failures, just because CPS called their grammar schools failing and closed them. Every bad thing that happens in this city, we have to talk to our students about. So to state plainly or even imply for a second that teachers need to focus on improving education for our students, is one of the most offensive not to mention uneducated things you can say to or about educators.

“Chicago cops have been the target of some of that angst since November when the release of a video showing a white cop shooting a black teenager ignited protests over lack of accountability within the Chicago Police Department.”

Yes, as CPD should be. Chicago police killed Laquan McDonald by shooting him 16 times and then you know what happened to Officer Jason Van Dyke who shot Laquan? Jail? Nope, he got a job with the Fraternal Order of Police.  CPD operated a secret detention site in Homan Square where they would illegally detain and interrogate primarily Black citizens for years. The Guardian did a huge expose on it, in case you missed it. Dante Servin shot and killed unarmed Rekia Boyd in 2012, he was found not guilty and still has a job with CPD. Police officers instead of speaking up and out about the terrible things that have happened are staying quiet and covering up the abuses and murders by police. There is a lot of research out right now, as to the racist past and present of the Chicago Police. Read this report that just came out that says, “Chicago Police have no regards for the lives of minorities”.

Now Ms. McQueary, ask yourself this? Who do you think works with the people who are targeted by the police on a daily basis? That’s right, it is us, educators. We hear stories daily in our classrooms of police abuses against our students. As one of my favorite Chicago teacher’s Xian Barrett said to me, “There’s no way to create a safe, sharing classroom in CPS and NOT hear students’ fear and/or awful experiences with Chicago Police.”

Kristen, I honestly understand your struggle of not believing that police do terrible things to Black youth. Kristen like you I, I am white, and like you, because we are white we have the privilege of not having many negative interactions with the police. But all you need to do is listen to Black youth about their grievances with the police (well first you might want to try to not be racist, because otherwise no one will feel comfortable enough to even want to talk to you).

Kristen, I wrote a piece last week that explained how Black Lives Matter is educating Chicago’s teachers. Many teachers at first did not feel like the timing was right for Page’s comments, but then many of us, I know I did, really had to reflect on her comments.

As a Social Studies teacher I had to remember that even Dr. King was told that he was moving too fast, his ideas were not timed right, and to just wait. When he was locked in a Birmingham jail, a group of white religious leaders wrote a newspaper op-ed about asking him and the Civil Rights Movement to slow down. King’s response turned out to be one of the most important documents during the Civil Rights Movement, “Letters from a Birmingham Jail”.  Kristen you know how we white people love to quote King, but the idea of a movement like Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights or any other movement is to push thinking and force change. That is what Page’s comments at the rally are doing.

As you end your piece Kristen, you say, “The double standard is palpable”. I couldn’t agree with that last sentence more, for you, the double standard is palpable. You sit up in your Tribune ivory tower and write about things that you know nothing about, like education and how tragic events like a Hurricane would be good for Chicago.

But even worse, you write about things that you apparently have no desire to even learn about. That is the issue. You are just too comfortable. You refuse to challenge yourself and learn about your privilege. That is why people call you racist.

You have two choices, continue to be the fragile white person that is shocked when someone categorizes you as racist OR (this is the better option) you can really try to educate yourself. As I mentioned in my response to your Wishing for a Katrina piece in August, I suggested a starting point for you would be the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, which details and explains white privilege and how it benefits all white people all the time.  Read books by Lisa Delpit, Theresa Perry, Beverly Daniel-Tatum, Howard Zinn, Bell Hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and many more authors. Even better, actually listen and hear the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement — or in your case, any black person who would take the time to try to educate you.

As a white person to another white person, your whiteness is holding your writing back. You need to not ask why the CTU didn’t rebuke the “F*ck the Police” comment, instead you need to ask why that comment was said. Interview Page, or someone from the Black Youth Project 100. Educate yourself Kristen. Because your current lack of education is damaging your career as well as this city.

I Just Saved Rahm and CPS Millions During My Lunch Period

Dear Rahm,

You live in a fantasy world. Don’t you realize that by cancelling school and making teachers take an unpaid furlough day on March 25th that you short change the learning of our students? Yet now you want to criticize us for having no options left but to strike.

We teachers have tried darn near everything to get you to realize that there are many ways to get additional funding for our schools and you refuse to do them.  So we are left with no choice but to strike.

We do not want to strike. We wanted to negotiate with you, which is why there are 50 teachers representing us on the big bargaining team (that is called Democracy) when we negotiate.

We teachers work with students every day. We communicate with parents constantly.

Unlike you, we are parents of children in CPS. We work in the neighborhoods that you only visit when it is time for an election photo op.

So Rahm, we will shut down Chicago on April 1st in attempt to force you and your buddy Bruce down in Springfield to hear us.

Make no doubt we would rather be teaching our students. Make no doubt that we do not want to strike, but we will do it because we know that seems to be the only option left to get you to hear us.

There are ways to fix this and avoid future strikes.

Start with finding funding for our schools.

Here are some options on how to do this.

1. Ask your buddy Rauner to stop with his austerity budget.

2. Man up and ask your bank buddies to renegotiate the toxic bank deals that have and continue to steal money from our schools, our neighborhoods, and cities. This has cost CPS over $500 million dollars.

3. Use TIF surpluses to help our neighborhoods and schools instead of just siphoning the money downtown in an attempt to beautify an already beautiful downtown.  There is $350 million in unused TIF money.

4. Cancel Aramark’s contract. Clearly our schools are dirty and privatizing our custodial services cost the district money and does not keep our schools clean. This would save $260 million. Yes, we would need to hire back many custodians, but they would be hired back by the schools and it would still be less expensive.

5. Relinquish your power of Chicago Public Schools. Your last CEO cost our district $20 million and the CEO’s (I hate that title, no one in charge of schools should be called that)  you appointed before as well as your current appointment continue to harm, not help our city.

6. It is time for an elected school board. The voters who have been allowed to have a say overwhelmingly demand an elected board. 90% of voters who were allowed to vote on this issue want an elected school board.

7. Stop paying the military $17 million a year to be in our schools. Our streets are violent enough, we do not need the military model of solving conflicts taught to our students.

8. Require that the Mercantile Exchange pay a transaction tax.  This would create $2 billion in revenue annually.

9. Take the Chicago Police out of schools and instead train teachers on Restorative Justice practices so we can teach our students how to de-escalate situations more effectively. This would also reduce some of the violence across our city as well as save money.

10. Don’t fund DePaul (a private university) to build a basketball stadium.  This would save $173 million.

11. Stop building the new Obama High School. Savings of $60 million.

12. Get Teach for America out of CPS. The majority of them are only here for two years anyway. This is not the way to build relationships with parents and students. This would save $1.5 million.

13. Stop the incessant amount of standardized testing that wastes instructional time and costs the district millions.

14. Listen to the people, if you would’ve done that you wouldn’t have closed 50 schools. This contrary to your lies actually cost and still costs the district money. Still costing CPS $3 million per year.

I am sure there are many more ways to save money. I just wrote, researched, and brainstormed this list during my lunch period. This list not only saves money by cutting costs, but it also creates revenue options. Now you don’t need to threaten to cut our paychecks by 7%. Schools can hire back all the staff that has been cut. We can fully fund our schools with teachers, counselors, security, and librarians. We can have programs and opportunities for our students.

Surely your “experts” can come up with your own or figure out ways to make these ideas work. Or better yet you can listen to the experts, us teachers, who through the Chicago Teachers Union’s research have come up with solutions.

Teachers are problem solvers and we are working to solve the issues that your policies have created. But until you listen to us we will have to Shut Down Chicago on April 1st to fight for funding.

Read this piece on Huffington Post

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/i-just-saved-rahm-and-cps_b_9540596.html

CPS- A Petulant Child That Feigns Never Hearing “No” Before

When two sides enter into a negotiation, it is expected for the two sides to go back and forth on various points and details. One side will submit a proposal and the other side will reflect on the offer and then come back to the table to discuss what they like or do not like about the proposal.

Our teacher’s contract expired July 1st 2015 and it took until January 28th 2016 for CPS to make their 1st “serious offer” regarding our contract. The teachers that make up the bargaining team of the Chicago Teachers Union had been making proposals for months about how to help our schools, our students, and our teachers, while CPS had been unreceptive and/or unwilling to negotiate in good faith. But now almost 6 months after our contract has expired CPS submits one proposal and we are all of a sudden expected to take it, like it was the greatest gift ever presented to teachers?!

After the teachers of the big bargaining team went through each line of the proposal, they determined that it was not in the best interest of the students and teachers of Chicago to accept this offer. CEO Forest Claypool sent a threatening letter to Karen Lewis saying he now has no choice but to cut millions of dollars from schools.

Wait, hold up. It is not like the big bargaining team declared they will refuse all offers from CPS. They just refused parts of this offer. So the logical next step would be to come back to the table and figure out how make a contract for all parties to agree on. Just because CPS claimed it was a “good offer” and leaked parts of the proposal to the press making CPS look ‘oh so generous’ and teachers look ‘oh so greedy’, once again, does not mean it is a good contract.

So instead of continuing discussions, CPS has essentially given the middle finger to thousands of educators in this city. This is a big middle finger to the hundreds of thousands of students and parents who will be damaged by these draconian cuts to schools across the city.

All of this CPS madness comes from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls the schools. The same Mayor who is liked by only 18% of the people of Chicago. The same mayor that appointed CEO Forest Claypool (who has no educational experience) after his other appointed CEO got arrested. Both Rahm and Claypool control an appointed puppet school board that meets behind closed doors and ignores all public input to make their real decisions.

So once again I come back to the “serious offer” that CPS made. In the midst of all this corruption, we educators are just supposed to trust CPS and just accept their offer?

Teachers, unlike the Mayor, CEO, and Appointed School Board work with students and parents everyday.

We teachers send our kids to CPS.

We live in the city.

We will do what is best for the kids.

Yes, making sure a teacher is reasonably protected from the craziness that is CPS and paid fairly is still doing what is best for kids. A fair contract helps keep outstanding teachers from leaving this jacked up mayorally controlled undemocratic school system.

So CPS, grow up, realize that in a negotiation there will be times when you hear “No”.

We teachers are the experts in knowing what our schools, students, and profession need.

The contract negotiating process the Chicago Teachers Unions goes through with the big bargaining team and House of Delegates is Democratic. Just because the politics of this city are run by a “Yes, Rahm” mentality does not mean we will follow suit.

We are educated in what Democracy looks like and like it or not, CPS, we are educating you, just like we educate hundreds of thousands of students across our city daily.

This article on HuffingtonPost Chicago

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/cps-a-petulant-child-that_b_9145606.html?utm_hp_ref=chicago&ir=Chicago

 

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
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/explaining-a-hunger-strik_b_8018724.html

This piece on Gapers Block
http://gapersblock.com/mechanics/2015/08/25/explaining-a-hunger-strike-to-my-3-year-old/