The finale speech by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to the more than 4,000 teachers and other Chicago Teachers Union members inside the Auditorium Theater brought the crowd to its feet again, with chants of "Strike! Strike!" and "Fight! Fight!" resounding through the cavernous structure and spilling out into the streets of the city.
By the time Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis rose and took the microphone in front of more than 4,000 of her union's 30,000 members at Chicago's iconic Auditorium Theater on May 23, 2012, the teachers from all over the schools of the third largest public school system in the USA had been meeting, cheering, and chanting for two hours. Most wearing red tee shirts emblazoned with "Chicago Teachers Union," the teachers and other school workers had come from across the city after working all day with the children of Chicago.
While the huge crowd waring red shirts listed to speeches and histories inside the Auditorium Theater, another crowd of thousands took part in a companion rally across the street. When the rally inside the Roosevelt University building (background above) ended, the teachers and other union workers from inside the auditorium poured into the streets, linked up with those waiting outside (above) and began a long march through the downtown streets of the third largest city in the USA. Substance photo by John Kugler.
And as Lewis wrapped up her speech, the chants of "Strike! Strike!" and "Fight! Fight!" may have been heard as far away as Sox Park, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police chief were attending a baseball game in order to try and get some additional adulation and cheap publicity following a year of the most intense teacher bashing in Chicago history.
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All of which had been outlined in the speeches of Karen Lewis and the more than 20 speakers who had led into her wrap up speech. The union president's brief remarks summed up one year of life for public school teachers union the city's new mayor, who had before returning to Chicago served as Chief of Staff at the White House to President Barack Obama. Emanuel, who had just completed a star turn for supposedly saving the city during the NATO summit, had announced earlier in the day that he and his police chief would be watching a White Sox game, a move that many observers believed was an attempt to continue drawing plaudits from crowds and to head off some of the coverage in the city's media of what the teachers were doing and what the teachers' union was planning.
The main content of the speech by the CTU president was a brief summary of the insults heaped on the teachers by the city's mayor and his appointed school board and school chief during the 12 months since Emanuel's inauguration in May 2012. "In June, he stole the contractual raises from all of us," Lewis began in her summary. She went on to list, month by month, how the supposedly "Democratic" party mayor had engaged in union busting, teacher bashing, and an unprecedented attack on public schools throughout the year. Emanuel's actions had slowly brought the city's largest group of unionized public servants to the boiling point, despite every cheap publicity stunt the mayor and his huge public relations crews could conjure.
"Strike! Strike!" the thousands chanted as they poured out of the Auditorium Theater on to Congress Parkway, which had been closed by the police to traffic. A block away, the crowd from inside the theater joined with a group that had been as large as 2,000 people which had been forced to wait outside for more than two hours because there had been no room in the structure. Dozens of yellow school buses that had brought the teachers and other school workers from hundreds of schools across the vast city lined up along Wabash Ave. waiting to take those who had worked a full day with some of the most impoverished and challenged children in the Western World home. And all knew that they would be back in their classrooms and at their other duties by morning the next day, to read, as usual, the biased reports and attempted spin from the mayor who has declared war on his largest group of public workers as much as the despised Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, had been doing during the same time and working from the same scripts.
Earlier in the day, Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked puppets at the Chicago Board of Education had held their monthly meeting. A petulant Board President David Vitale yawned and told people speaking against the Board's policies that he was getting tired of people repeating themselves. Vitale, who has restructured the Board meetings to prevent the public participation from even beginning before noon, has been complaining about democracy in Chicago since he was appointed by Emanuel in May 2011 and took office in June 2011. Vitale's first act as Board President was to vote in favor of the lie that the new administration had just reported, the claim that in June 2011 the Board had a "fiscal emergency" and therefore didn't have the $100 million to pay the promised (and contractual) four percent raises owed to the more than 34,000 unionized workers in the city's vast public school system.
But by the time the marchers reached the location of the Board's headquarters at nearly 7:00 p.m. on May 23, Vitale and his people had gotten out of downtown.