CHICAGO – The Republican proposal for $100 billion cuts to the federal budget, which would gut $72.9 million for education from this state’s budget, served as the backdrop for a recent labor and community rally and march sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union.
Anticipating growing pressure on the state legislature from the federal level, as well as from incoming Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, to cut public education and to weaken the teachers’ union, the call was for transferring Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) funds to the public schools.
David Orr, Cook County Clerk, spoke to the crowd of 200 people. “Chicago has put $2 billion in tax dollars that the public doesn’t know about into these TIF’s,” he said. “They were supposed to go to blighted areas.” (Originally intended to stimulate business in low-income communities, they 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 in Cabrini Green high-rise public housing, which were torn down, forcing out residents. Among the hundreds of students attending the Jenner 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 the Kenwood/Oakland community organization and ADAPT, an organization for the physically challenged. Everyone wore buttons that said, “Chicago Teachers Union Stands with Wisconsin.”
The protesters marched to the Bank of America, which received millions in TIF money despite making profits last year. The demonstrators stopped in front of the bank and chanted, “Bank 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, which got $8.5 million in TIF funds. Almost all 200 marchers piled into their huge showroom.
The manager of the Auto-Plex called police, who came and told the crowd to leave. As they were exiting, the manager said he wanted the demonstrators 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 Potter, they face court on April 15. He is encouraging everyone to join him there.
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 her school needs a library. Other teachers complained about unsafe, unsanitary conditions in their schools.
Potter, speaking for the 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.”