Thousands March on Day of Action

Video by Hailey Boyle and Robin Bridges

Thousands of protesters gathered downtown to support public education.
Thousands of protesters gathered downtown to support public education.

NEIU and CSU, in conjunction with many schools around the city and state, joined in a one-day rally to shut down Chicago or #ShutDownChi in protest of cuts to public education.

April 1 marked the tenth consecutive month Illinois has gone without a state budget. Without a budget the state has withheld its usual payouts to all that receive money appropriated from the state except a few city ordered child care and family court service providers.

As a result, over the last few months many nonprofits, public schools and universities and social services have moved from money saving measures to full-on closure proceedings. Most notably, Chicago State University (CSU) not only sent out layoff notices to its 900 employees but has also requested that staff turn in their keys by April 4 in order to be completely shut down by April 30.

Without its state appropriation, NEIU is not far behind CSU, though not as immediately.

“I’ve never seen this commons look so good! And that’s because we’re all here and we’re united to get this mission done so we can be about those jobs that we want to do,” said rally co-organizer Linda Loew, who has taken a 20 percent pay cut among the rest of NEIU’s employees to keep students in their classes.

She continued, “People have asked me, ‘What do Chicago teachers have to do with the rest of us?’ They have everything to do with us! Our crisis is one crisis! Our struggle for funding and racial and economic justice are inextricably bound. Many of the graduates of Chicago Public Schools come to school at our university, NEIU.

“And we turn out the future teachers from the College of Education. Our public universities are a beacon of a dream that many gave their lives to establish in the first place. So, we can not let the governor or anyone take that away from our students and all of us who serve them.”

The NEIU Day of Action rally began with a New Orleans style funeral march to symbolize the death of higher public education. When the protesters came back from a four block walk to Bryn Mawr and Kimball and back they were greeted with a symbolic phoenix.

“We are here to mourn the death of public education and much like the pheonix here behind me, we, too will rise from the ashes that have been burned from Bruce Rauner,” said Jessica Alaniz, #BruceBetterHaveOurMoney organizer and the president of NEIU’s sociology club.

A host of speakers motivated a vocal crowd of about 1,000 gathered teachers, parents and children of all ages. They listened, cheered and booed for over an hour in the chilly rain displaying homemade signs and CTU provided strike signs.

After the outdoor rally, participants were invited to a teach-in session in the Ronald Williams Library followed by boarding busses headed for the James R.Thompson Center state building downtown. Those busses arrived to a large waiting state and local police presence and a small group of protesters already on site.

Not long after the first bus of NEIU protesters arrived, groups of protesters from all sides of the city converged from all directions. The crowd went from a few hundred people to several thousand within 30 minutes. The Thompson Center plaza could not contain the crowd as it spilled onto the surrounding streets blocking traffic in all directions.

As the rally began, McDonald’s worker and FightFor15 representative, Adriana Alvarez, said,“In Illinois 51 percent of fast food workers are on public assistance. That costs us, all of Illinois’s taxpayers, 368 million dollars a year.”

She represented one of the many union groups showing support for CTU that day. The estimated 15,000 in attendance marched with coordinators who lead the rally as it turned into a march. The march headed down Lasalle Street toward Wacker Street and then east to Michigan Avenue.

Soon after the protesters went from blocking traffic in a single direction to blocking traffic entirely as it snaked toward Monroe Avenue. The group was escorted by local and state law enforcement. The group stretched back for more than three blocks.

The group made its way southeast toward Lake Shore Drive and blocked traffic in both directions. Police herded protesters from Lake Shore Drive on to the sidewalks and west bound on Monroe Avenue. Mounted police, police on bicycles, in cars and on foot from various districts were out to block protesters from Lake Shore Drive.

Shortly after 5 p.m. a group broke off and walked ahead of its police escort. According to  WGNtv.com, three arrests were made.

Theodore Roosevelt High School teacher, Tim Meegan said, “They call our strike illegal. They said we would have no support but look at us … CTU is the one organization that stands in the way of mass privatization of our schools … At Roosevelt we’ve lost so much.They can’t step on our necks when we stand up!”