What we're seeing in Chicago is the fallout from Jonah Edelman's hedge fund backed campaign to elect Illinois state legislators who supported an anti-collective bargaining, testing based education proposal giving Edelman the "clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down [the teachers unions'] throats," political capability he used as leverage to jam an only slightly less awful proposal down their throats. It's a political deal that explicitly targeted Chicago teachers, while trying to make it impossible that they would strike by requiring a 75 percent vote of all teachers, not just those voting, for a strike to be legal. But more than 90 percent of Chicago teachers voted to strike.
It's not just Jonah Edelman, though. Rahm Emanuel worked with a tea party group to promote Chicago charter schools and denigrate traditional public school teachers and their unions. Emanuel's political allies have been caught paid protesters to show up at hearings on school closures. Every story you read about the greedy teachers (greedy? does that description fit the teachers you know?) has years of big money anti-teacher campaigning behind it, pushing us to believe that teachers, who bring work home every night and routinely spend their own money on school supplies and even food for their students, are overpaid, selfish, lazy. Now, all those narratives that the right wing has built up—anti-union narratives coming together with pro-privatization narratives—are being used against Chicago's teachers.
Mitt Romney is diving in, with a statement accusing the Chicago Teachers Union of "turning its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education." But it was the teachers pushing the city to guarantee that students would have textbooks on day one instead of in week six, pushing for more social workers and school nurses.
The money and the megaphones are stacked against Chicago teachers as they fight for the working conditions they need to effectively educate Chicago students. They need fair evaluation systems, not to risk firing based on standardized tests that were not designed to evaluate teacher performance. They need enough job security to be able to go to bat for their students without fear. They need to be teaching in classrooms that aren't overflowing with 30 or more students. Those are things they're negotiating for, striking for, walking picket lines for. But they need our help getting the word out about what this fight is really about. And they need to know we're with them. If you're in Chicago, you can rally or wear red in solidarity.
Wherever you are, talk to your friends and family in Chicago and let them know what's really going on. Help counter the anti-teacher onslaught. And tell Chicago teachers you're standing with them as they fight for better schools and educational justice.