Dear sisters and brothers:
50 years after Dr. King died defending human rights for Black workers and youth, we are still battling separate and unequal public schools for Black and Brown students, and separate and unequal neighborhoods for Chicago’s Black and Latinx families.
Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis defending the rights of striking workers – and working to expand his Poor People’s Campaign. At the heart of his work was the demand for economic and social justice for Blacks and other oppressed people in this nation. He would be horrified by the treatment of Chicago’s Black and Brown students and their families today – segregated into under-resourced public schools, embedded in neighborhoods neglected by generations of disinvestment and economic starvation.
We saw a glimpse of the consequences of that negligence and dispossession just this weekend, when CPS quietly disclosed that nearly a thousand schoolchildren will be denied entry into the high schools they ‘chose’, in a school district that the mayor and his CPS bureaucrats claim offers ‘choice’. What they really offer is strangled opportunities, limited options and separate and unequal schools in a system of educational hunger games that leaves working class and low income families – particularly Black and Latinx families – in the lurch.
Yet Dr. King’s mission lives on, in every Chicago student, parent, educator, neighborhood resident and community activist who continues to fight to affirm Dr. King’s demands for equity, dignity and respect for working class families – particularly Black and Latinx families who have been abandoned by the elites who run this city. You are the leading edge of this battle, in your classroom, your school community, your union and your city.
“True peace is not the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice,” wrote Dr. King in 1955, when he was accused of ‘disturbing the peace’ during his organizing around the Montgomery bus boycott. And Chicagoans continue to ‘disturb the peace’ in our struggles for justice in education, housing, living wage work and neighborhood safety. Our work in the CTU has exposed the hypocrisy of a mayoral-controlled school district, and set the stage for contract fights for more equity and dignity for our students.
Dr. King embraced and lifted up the power of the picket line, the boycott and the organizing that built a mass movement for racial and economic equity. The Chicago Teachers Union has embraced Dr. King’s strategy, which is as vital today as it was decades ago. His strategy is embedded in our civic movement for educational justice in Chicago, and has swept the nation in grassroots struggles for police accountability, educational equity, affordable housing and living wage work. Now, more than ever, people understand the forces that are arrayed against real justice for working class families. Our residents stand with our struggle as we take aim at the very infrastructure of institutional racism and inequity in Chicago.
Today, we renew our commitment to organize, mobilize and agitate for real justice – the movement for justice that Dr. King led, and the movement that will shatter the discrimination and disenfranchisement that continues to plague our neighborhoods.
President, Chicago Teachers Union