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Campout at Chicago Board of Education 2/24

Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) activists campout in front of the Chicago Board of Education headquarters to guarantee a chance to speak out the following day against pending vote to close sixteen public schools...
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Lillie Gonzalez of Peabody School, LSC member, volunteer and mother of a Peabody alumnus speaks to Channel Two.
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Maria Hernandez, who has two children at Carpenter School. The next morning, she said,” If we were taken off the list now, we would probably be back on the list a year or two from now. Like Abbott (School)... CPS has not done it’s research.”
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GEM activists begin to set up tents in front of the Chicago Board of Education’s 125 South Clark entrance.
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Sergeant Easterdag of the Chicago Police Department confers with Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court Dorothy Brown about the event.
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Children from Peabody have a good time together keeping warm during the vigil and press conference. They did not participate in the overnight camping.
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“Save Our Children. Save Our Schools.” Seven tents were set up for the night, with about twelve activists spending the night. This campout was done symbolically several years ago when Chicago Public Schools was implementing the Mid South Plan of school closings. Community members would arrive at the board meeting to find that the sign-in table had opened early. In front of them were large numbers of people from charter schools who’d apparently been alerted to arrive as early as 6:00 am. This dishonest deterrant by CPS kept many of the opponents of the Mid South Plan from speaking. At the following board meeting, they camped out in order to be first. For this board meeting, the table did not open until 8:00 am. The month prior it opened about a half hour earlier.
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Wednesday, February 24th vigil, press conference and campout by GEM (Grassroots Education Movement) at Chicago Board of Education’s 125 South Clark Headquarters on the eve of the vote to close/consolidate/phase out or “Turn Around” 16 Chicago public schools as part of the Renaissance 2010 privatization/union busting plan. Six schools had been removed from the list the night before, unexpectedly. The official CPS press release claimed that “compelling testimony” presented by students, teachers and community members at the hearings revealed “new evidence.” That the other schools which remained on the list presented equally valid testament reveals the inconsistency and illegitimacy of this claim. Furthermore, one school, Global Foundations, had only two people speak at it’s hearing. Global Visions was one of the six schools removed from the list of schools to be closed.

The vigil started at 7pm and at 7:30 a press conference with six of Chicago’s major television networks. At 9:00 pm members of GEM began to set up their tents when the two beat cops told them it wasn’t allowable. After some talking, the area seargant came on the scene. Sgt. Easterdag immediately told GEM members Gitu of KoKo (Kenwood Oakland Community Organization), Jackson Potter of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), and others that this was against city statutes. When asked to which statute he was referring, he could not say. Regardless, he claimed that this act fell under that of a protest, which would require a permit. Pauline Lippman, Professor at UIC, then asked Sgt. Easterdag to conferr with Attorney Melinda Powers, who was on Lippman’s cell phone. Easterdag refused, saying, “I don’t know who that is- it could be some psycho.” Lippman responded that our lawyer wanted to know to which statute Easterdag was referring. Easterdag could not reply specifically, brushing it off. At one point he tried to draw an anology. “Look,” he said,”how would you like it if some homeless person suddenly pitched their tent on your front yard? How would you feel?” (This was an odd question to ask social justice activists who would likely feel compelled to reach out to this fellow human being in need.) Lippman then responded that Powers conferred that there was no such statute.

Sgt. Easterdag went on to focus on the permit issue. Very patient insistence by Gitu resulted in Easterdag agreeing to call his superior. In the meantime, Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court Dorothy Brown arrived as a show of support for GEM activists. It should be noted that Dorothy Brown has run against Richard Daley in the last mayoral election three years prior. Upon her arrival, it was also interesting to note that Sergeant Easterdag’s temperament changed from one of contempt to that of cooperation. He was soon on his phone again and afterwhich it was agreed that six tents could be set up. They would have to leave the center of the large sidwalk clear and be removed by 5:00 am the next morning.

There were about 25-40 participants and supporters present at various times. Indeed, the event took on a festive atmosphere after about ten o’clock, with much discussion of issues at hand, events for the next day and life in general. This photographer reporter chose to “embed” himself at about midnight. He was promptly awoken at 4:00 am by the arrival of the Channel 7 NBC/Telemundo news van. By five am a press conference was in full swing with five cameras, including Fox and Channel Two.



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