This is not Washington!: An Open Letter to Rahm Emanuel

Dear Rahm Emanuel:

This is not Washington! This is Chicago!

Chicago is a union town and everyone in this town knows it. I understand that you came in with your goal of making a bold statement on education by lengthening the school day and school year. Congratulations! But Rahm, this is Chicago! This is not Washington.

As Obama’s Chief of Staff, you were on the front lines while our president made some of the toughest decision he made during his presidency. The administration faced horrible resistance from the Republican Party, but through parliamentary wrangling and backroom deals Obama can put in his win list successes like the Affordable Care Act. So I get it, you thought you could come in and manipulate the system the same way here. But Rahm, this is Chicago! This is not Washington.

Karen Lewis, CTU President & Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago

The relationship between the Board of Education and the Chicago Teacher’s Union has been a very rocky one even as far back as when Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education was at the helm. I wish you would have acknowledged that before you authorized your un-democratically picked board to unilaterally roll back the teacher’s 4% raises for the next school year. I wish you would have acknowledged that before you pit school against school by bribing some schools to accept a longer school day without union buy-in. Relationships are important Rahm. We live here! We work here! We want it to be successful here! Rahm, this is Chicago! This is not Washington.

The strike was the last ditch effort by the Union to fight for the soul of teaching and learning in Chicago. The Union and it members could not sit by idly and watch one person make decisions that affect the third largest school district in the country in a plutocratic power grab. The Union and its members could not sit by idly and be insulted for getting over on children (by your own words) while be tasked with the hard work and responsibility of a longer day, longer school year, and new rigorous standards. You were right Rahm, this was a strike of choice – YOURS! You tried to characterize us as lazy, inefficient, and greedy before we can defend ourselves. That is a wonderful tactic to use in Washington. But Rahm! This is Chicago! This is NOT Washington.

Your bully tactics were ingenious. You lobbied outside groups to run radio ads and television ads. You went on national television along with your allies spewing rhetoric of inefficiencies in the system like the graduation rate and test scores and attempted to put those squarely in the lap of teachers. You compared charter schools to district schools in an effort to characterize district teachers as doing something to hurt children. You used your smug attitude and clever political branding to dismiss the cries of the teachers on the eve of the first day of the strike. And to top it off, you filed an injunction to end the strike prematurely and without authorization by the Union’s House of Delegates. You wanted so badly to be able to change the discussion away from why this strike existed in the first place, but that never came to head. Poll numbers showed that the majority of parents (while frustrated) supported what the teachers were doing. The parents know what type of teachers their children have, they know what type of schools they go to, and they know the inadequacies that exist school to school. The feelings that the parents have were just as intimate as the teachers. We know this city. Your tactics, while ingenious, could not change that Rahm. This is Chicago! This NOT Washington.

As the strike ends, the Union and your Board have to come back and learn to work with each other for the benefit of our students. Personally, I am willing to put this behind me in the name of our students. However keep in mind:

This Union has proven the Chicago labor movement is neither dormant nor dead. Our members [were on] the line because we all believe there is an assault on our profession and public education in general. We will always do what is in the best interest of our students and our own children, many of whom attend these schools. We showed our solidarity and our strength, and with this new contract we have solidified our political power and captured the imagination of the nation. No one will ever look upon a teacher and think of him or her as a passive person, to be bullied and walked on, ever again.

-Karen Lewis


Martin Palamore
Chicago Public Schools Teacher

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