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Democracy in the Trenches of Chicago

July 29, 2016

You know what democracy is? Spending nearly 7 hours in meetings—on top of your day job and away from your family— with teachers, school administrators, parents, and concerned community members trying to account for a $355,341 hole in your neighborhood school’s $4,337,414 budget (a 6% cut).* The main topic was how to fill personnel needs in relation to two teaching positions and four necessary staff positions—none of which are dispensable in our highly diverse 650-student school with roughly 30 teachers. The discussions were intense. I’m exhausted this morning, and limping toward the weekend.

How did we get here? Not through irresponsibility at the school level. Our school has been on a tight budget for years. We’re here mainly because Chicago’s mayor and Illinois Republicans have been at war with the CTU, on top of spreading false narratives about failing schools and the quality of Chicago students.

This uncivil war of ideology has only hurt the people on the ground, not the scions of the local elite, who attend top-flight private schools or use their connections to maneuver their children into the best schools Chicago has to offer. It hurts middle and lower class parents and workers, not politicians or or their donors. The libertarian ideology of choice and competition has sacrificed the most vulnerable in Chicago, setting up false narratives about choices, failure, and losers. This manufactured war of ideas distracts from discussions of poverty and economic empowerment.

This is what “democracy” looks like down in the trenches. We waste massive amounts of time and energy fighting over scraps that fall from the tables of Chicago’s elites, while convention-goers in Cleveland and Philadelphia decide which of the “makers” will set a new table from which we will again fight for more scraps.

I hope the #ImwithHer folks are paying attention. This local and national uncivil warfare has put many people on the brink. The economic disruption caused by this war of ideology, for political power, prevents many who should be at the table discussing portions from even attending the meal. This was the case at my meeting last night, when two members of our twelve person council couldn’t attend due to work commitments.

Without some real improvements in relation to lessening economic equality, I fear for the future of our schools, my city, and this nation. In the meantime, I’ll keep using whatever meager privileges and gifts I possess to fight for my kids’ school, George B Swift Elementary, located about six blocks from that Edgewater neighborhood hospital where Hillary Clinton was born.

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*I’m an elected member of the Local School Council (LSC) at George B Swift Elementary in Chicago. I also serve as the chair of the LSC.

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