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Hunger Strike Defends Public Education in Chicago

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The parents and community members who went on hunger strike August 17 in response to the last in a long series of disingenuous maneuvers by the unelected Chicago Public School (CPS) board, ended their strike on September 20th after 34 days without solid food. As striker and spokesperson Jitu Brown has said, having to go on hunger strike to defend a neighborhood school is an outrage that is visited only on communities of color.

The strikers won several central demands: that Dyett High School will be reopened, keeping its historic name; that it won’t be privatized, and that it will be an open enrollment school for students from the neighborhood, open until 7 in the evening. They won part of another, that the curriculum will include a technology component. This took a combination of tactics, including driving Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel out of Hizzonner’s City budget hearings when Dyett supporters refused to allow the meeting to proceed until he agreed to meet with the hunger strikers.

Attacks on public education can be both crude and subtle; in this case they were both. On the one hand, CPS is still trying to fob the community off with an “arts-focused” high school, perpetuating the racist attitude that points Black students towards the most brutally competitive fields – sports, the arts and entertainment – while the real growth areas in the economy, such as Green technology, are expected to be occupied by graduates from well-funded schools in predominantly White communities. On the other hand, Mayor Emanuel spent the 24th day of the Dyett hunger strike attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a $21 million annex at Lincoln Elementary, in one of the city’s most expensive and well-served neighborhoods. To their credit, some parents at Lincoln protested that the money should have gone to South Side schools.

The fight will continue, focusing next on the demand for an elected Local School Council and replacing the “arts” focus imposed by CPS with the community’s already well developed plan for a Green Technology and Global Leadership high school.

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