As armed conflicts proliferate, natural resources dwindle, and economies struggle to stay afloat, people across the globe have become used to enduring hardship, injustice, and the rough hand of the corporate state. But inevitably, there arrives a breaking point. When it comes to their children, the patience of parents ends and communities begin to rise up. In Chicago over the past several weeks a group of activists has taken the radical step of engaging in a hunger strike to protect a beloved school from closure by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The hunger strike, now in its 4th week, is approaching a very dangerous stage. Only recently, after the strikers had gone 23 days without solid food, did Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS take the strike seriously enough to engage face to face with the community and the activists.
I spoke to one of the activists, Jitu Brown, at the Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago last April. He told me this tragic story about the destruction of the two neighborhood schools, one a “school of distinction,” through a CPS rezoning that violated community wishes. Regarding parents’ subsequent flight from the schools, Brown took umbrage with how CPS framed the narrative. “[They said], ‘Parents are voting with their feet.’ No! Parents are leaving because YOU threw a grenade in the school.” That tale echoes in stories unfolding across the country, wherever parents and communities desperately struggle to protect their schools from the chaos and annihilation that comes from above. In so many cases community voices are silenced, the needs of children swept aside and money and politics take over.
Jitu Brown and the Chicago activists have taken the fight to a new level. They insist that Chicago Public Schools engage with the communities they are there to serve. If CPS undertakes any further uncollaborative action, it risks not only a symbolic, but an actual, devastating response.