By Lance Cohn
In the spirit of Wisconsin the “We Are One” class war spread to Illinois. The Republican proposed $100 billion cuts in the Federal budget, which would include cutting $72.9 million in cuts to education in IL, served as the back drop for a Labor/Community coalition rally and march sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union held on Saturday, March the 18th.
Anticipating growing pressure on the State legislature as well as from the in coming Chicago Mayor elect, Rahm Emanuel to cut Public Education and to weaken the CTU the call was for transferring Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) funds to the Public Schools. David Orr, Cook County Clerk, spoke to the fired up crowd of 200 people. “Chicago has put $2 billion in tax dollars that the public doesn’t know about into these TIF’s. They were supposed to go to blighted areas.” - I would add, the TIF’s that were originally intended to stimulate business in low income communities instead went to Banks and Corporations. -
The march began at the Jenner School in a newly gentrified neighborhood that was originally home to thousands of African American people who resided at the Cabrini Greens high rise homes, owned by the Chicago Housing Authority. They were recently torn down forcing the residents to find other housing. Among the hundreds of students attending this elementary school around 150 are classified as homeless.
The marchers were joined by other Unions including SEIU, Unite Here and the Teamsters as well as community organizations such as KOCO (Kenwood/Oakland community organization) and ADAPT (organization for the physically challenged.) All of us wore buttons that said, “Chicago Teachers Union Stand with Wisconsin.”
We marched to Bank of America, who received millions in TIF money despite the fact that they made profits last year. We stopped in front of the Bank and chanted, “Banks of America we’re no fools, you harm our city and rob our schools.”
The next and final stop was Grossinger Auto-Plex, one of the largest car dealers in the Country who got $8.5 million in TIF funds. Almost all 200 marchers piled into their huge showroom chanting, “Grossinger Auto we’re no fools, give us back the money save our schools.”
The manager of the Auto-Plex called police and the police came and told us to leave. As we were exiting the manager said he wanted us arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. Two people were arrested, Jackson Potter, chief of staff for the CTU and Amber Smock, a leader of ADAPT. According to Jackson Potter they face a court date on April 15th. He is encouraging everyone to join him in court.
Many of the participants had plenty to say about how their schools could use the TIF monies. Meredith Bowden, a High School teacher in a low-income African American community said, ‘Our school needs money for after-school programs now more than ever.” Jessica Marshall, a High School Teacher, said that “her school needs a library.” Other teachers complained about the unsafe, unsanitary condition of their school.
Jackson Potter, speaking for the Chicago Teacher’s Union summed up the purpose of this demonstration: “We’ve seen the growth of a vibrant Labor/Community coalition that’s focused on economic justice in the City of Chicago. The issue of the TIF funds is a vehicle for bringing up this concern.”