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Photo from a protest outside of Chicago Public Schools HQ. A woman in a hazmat suit, holds a bull horn in front of a sign that reads: Let's do the math.

Summer interns organized an amazing action at the July 22 CPS Board meeting. Photo: CTU

Global pandemic, racial justice uprising inform Summer Organizing Institute work as program celebrates 10th year

This year’s Summer Organizing Institute (SOI), celebrating its 10th year, saw 32 members from 28 different schools come together during one of the most trying times for our Union, our city and the world.

The program kicked off in July, in the midst of an historic global Black Lives Matter uprising and a world-wide pandemic that has devastated Chicago’s Black and Brown communities. Those challenges informed our members’ work and also the organizing strategies used during the four-week program.

The SOI’s goal each year is to train and develop the leadership and organizing skills of rank and file members in order to build unity and power in our buildings. The program also seeks to increase members’ political analysis and involvement in the Union’s program and committee work and build long-lasting friendships and solidarity among members.

Firsthand experience

“Usually our interns hit the streets for door knocking to talk to members about the important issues of the day,” CTU Organizer Rebecca Marinez said. “Of course, because of COVID-19, we couldn’t do that this year so we conducted the institute online. But interns still gained firsthand experience in planning actions, phone banking, doing online and offline organizing and outreach.”

Each day, interns met for trainings in the morning and then spent the afternoons engaged in outreach. This year’s trainings covered aggressive grievance handling, engaging PPCs and PPLCs, online to offline organizing, restorative justice, and organizing in our school buildings.

Interns also heard from some of CTU’s strongest community allies like the Grassroots Collaborative, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, STOP/Southside Together Organizing for Power, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and others. In addition, political education sessions covered the privatization of public education, affordable housing, alternatives to policing in schools, the importance of Union and community partnerships, and the campaign for a Fair Tax in Illinois.

A brave new world

Throughout the month, interns held school and community meetings, with hundreds in attendance, on important Union issues like special ed, charter organizing, and supports for STLS students. And they organized a hundreds-car-long caravan that culminated in a protest outside CPS headquarters for the July 22 CPS Board meeting.

Outside the board’s offices, interns taped poster boards to empty chairs to illustrate educators’ worries about their classrooms in the fall, while “inside” the virtual board meeting, members and CTU leaders challenged the mayor’s plan for in-person learning in the fall. Masks are disposable, interns said —and our rank and file members, students and families are not.

It certainly was a brave new world this summer, doing our meetings and organizing on ZOOM. But the program was as engaging, informative and productive as it always is and, given the big challenges we’re facing this fall, just as important.

This year’s interns will help lead our Union into the new school year stronger than ever. Keep an eye out for your chance to be part of this transformational program next year and reach out to Rebecca Martinez (rebeccamartinez@ctulocal1.org) for more information.

Intern Experiences

What some of our interns said about the Summer Organizing Institute:

Rebecca Coven

The SOI helped me learn the power of networks and community building. Teaching can easily become a very isolating profession if you let it be. It’s easy to feel alone in your classroom or isolated at your school. But the SOI reminded me that I am never doing this work alone and that I have to seek out other educators who are in the same fights. As someone who is new to Chicago, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with other union members across the district who are both like-minded and who challenge me.

The training I received this summer has helped me begin to organize at my own school. We spent the summer organizing to remove SROs from our school and we are going to continue to organize around racial justice.

Darla Wynn

I have been passionate about social justice all my life, which absolutely led me to teaching. When I learned about the SOI, it was a no-brainer for me to apply. I wanted to develop my organizing skills to more effectively contribute to causes important to me and also to be able to relay to my third grade students the skills and techniques to organize for change. The Summer Organizing Institute was an answered prayer to develop these skills and be better for the students I’ll receive in the fall.

The training will certainly help me organize in and outside of my school. I’ll be able to more effectively communicate with teachers on why issues that affect our larger communities need to be treated as their own, and I’ll be able to lead on problem solving and demands for change.

Ariam Abraham

The injustice my students face in our schools is what motivated me to join the SOI. I wanted to learn what it means to be an organizer so I could learn how to enact change. More than that, though, I want to go beyond teaching my kids their history and into teaching them how to create a future reality they deserve.

I learned so much, but my favorite was seeing how organizing is rooted in love. I have already used the training from SOI in a few ways: I’ve helped a friend from another state plan organizing conversations, I’ve used it with my colleagues in organizing to remove SROs from our school, and I’ve worked with an organizer and two co-interns to create a coalition of teachers across the district committed to supporting each other as we support students’ cops out of CPS campaign.

Rebecca Martinez is a CTU organizer.