Sunday, January 20, 2019

Safe Passage: The Chicago Teachers Strike Artistic Representation

Safe Passage
BAT Member Mark Nelson posted a news article of him posting with his latest painting in our group. So we asked him to write a piece to tell us about it. This is what he shared...
Essentially the painting is about the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012 and our unified efforts under the leadership of Karen Jennings Lewis. I had started this painting a few years ago after the strike but put it away until this month where I felt it was time complete it.
Many will argue about the losses and gains of that strike but what impressed me most was the turnout of the educators, staff, parents and citizens who helped support our cause. That school year I had just transferred to Schurz High School from running a twenty year art program at Stone Academy (K-8) where I was ready for new challenges. Little did I know that besides developing a whole new curriculum I would be experiencing the first strike of my teaching career. Of course, being in the arts helped me think of this strike as an opportunity rather than a curse on my new position at Schurz HS. The staff at Schurz was amazing and our CTU representative Victor Ochoa was a natural leader at guiding us through the process.
For ten days we marched, in front of our school in the morning and downtown till the sun set. Instead of carrying a sign like my peers, I dressed a skeleton in a blue cap and gown and mounted it to a makeshift pole made from 16 feet of frame molding bolted together for easy assembly. From “Charlie Bone’s” neck I hung a placard that read “Stop Killing Public Education,” and wired to its hands was the US flag. For ten days I carried Charlie on that pole as we marched. The weight and endurance I felt was a test. At first I was just going to carry it for a few days but then schools told me they were communicating with their colleagues to find each other by stating “meet us under the skeleton,” as I stated it was almost 16 foot in the air. After that I felt it added to the momentum and I was serving my peers as a point of reference for finding each other. So I was obligated now to be consistent until the strike ended.
At one point in the red sea of thousands I was marching with my former school and my new school, and meeting other teachers that I had collaborated with or attended training workshops over years. The commaradie and the determination of our CTU membership was both exhilarating and hopeful. I also planned to follow Karen Lewis into hell if necessary if just for assisting (along with Ted and Susan Oppenheimer) our friend and CPS teacher Francisco Mendoza (R.I.P) reclaim his employment status a few years prior after the board had mistakenly terminated his position while he was on sick leave fighting cancer.
Adios CPS
When the strike was over, we might have lost some pay but the bond we now had with each other as teachers and the fire in our gut reconfirmed our commitment to the new school year, the importance of Union and our dedication as professionals. Not only did teachers benefit but our youth and students witnessed the power of social justice and unity in the face of oppression.
After the strike I had five wonderful years at Carl Schurz High School. My decision to retire was with mixed emotions, however for the last thirty years I had been splitting my time with teaching and working as an artist in my home and studio. I knew it was time to pass the baton to new educators while continuing my research as an artist. So to all of you still in the trenches and those who’ve served, this painting is a grand celebration of your courage, wisdom and love for what you do each and every day!"

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