If you read this blog yesterday, you know there is a day-long strike today in Chicago, an action organized by the Chicago Teachers Union to protest the draconian budgetary policies of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school policies. In Illinois, the governor and legislature are still fighting about last year’s state budget, and the stalemate is crippling the Chicago Public Schools, institutions of higher learning like Chicago State University, and a host of social and medical services. For a profound and locally informed analysis, I urge you to read Rauner, Racism, and Budget Roulette by Rev. John H. Thomas, the former general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, and now at Chicago Theological Seminary.
Here is Rev. Thomas’s summary of the facts in Illinois: “The legislature and the Governor have failed to agree on a budget for months, leaving the state without an authorized spending plan. Few would argue with the fact that state finances, and in particular public employee pensions, are in dangerous straits. In a sane world the two sides would sit down and negotiate a financial plan that, while undoubtedly painful for both, might set the state on a road toward health and, in the meantime, protect services to the most vulnerable. But in Illinois we don’t live in a sane or just world. The governor arrived in Springfield determined to use the budget crisis as a way to gut the strength of organized labor. He refuses to honestly negotiate over the budget itself without placing demands for measures that would degrade the protections and rights that have enabled public employees to be lifted into the middle class. Whatever you might think of Rauner’s political enemy, state house leader and Chicago ward boss Mike Madigan, he’s at least using his legislative majority to block Rauner’s anti-union crusade.”
Rev. Thomas describes the situation, “at Chicago State University on the far south side of Chicago, where students didn’t have a spring break and have now received notice, along with their professors and the rest of the staff to register their CSU keys for an inventory in anticipation of the school potentially running out of operating cash by the end of April. The cancelling of spring break was an attempt to accelerate the semester in order to enable students to get credit for their work before the likelihood of the school suspending activities. Now it appears that this truncated semester could be the last one for a while.”
This has, according to Rev. Thomas, a lot to do with race. “The student body at Chicago State is over 80% Black and Hispanic… The students at Chicago State come from many of the impoverished neighborhoods of the city where median household incomes are about 15% of those in the toney north shore suburbs where Rauner spent part of his high school years and where Blacks and Hispanics make up less than 5% of the population. In other words, if you are Black, Hispanic, poor and from the city, you are far more likely to be punished by the ideological crusade of a white governor who has lived in privilege all his life. Regardless of anyone’s intent, the impact of this is clear. Ironically, many of the Chicago Public School teachers who now face retirement uncertainty call Chicago State their alma mater.”
Rev. Thomas’s post is short, accessible, and profound. I urge you to read it as background for the stories you’ll surely read in the press over the weekend about today’s Chicago Teachers Union day-long strike. Rev. Thomas shares the story from a local perspective—its facts, and its heart and soul.