Democracy in Chicago.


What democracy looks like.

In a city with a not so distant history of massive election cheating, where those long dead would still cast a vote, where I myself have witnessed back in the day local Machine precinct captains slipping a twenty along with a palm card (and, yes, I reported it) to a voter who had just emerged from the local tavern and entered the polling place, it may be hard to recognize democracy when we see it.

There have been two watershed moments for political democracy in my lifetime in my city.

One was the election of Harold Washington as Mayor.

The other was the election of a chemistry teacher, Ms Karen Jennings Lewis, and the CORE slate to lead the Chicago Teachers Union.

Both were the result of movements from below. Both sparked more street level motion.

I received a phone call early yesterday morning that Karen and the CORE slate had been re-elected by acclamation the night before at the House of Delegates meeting. There was no opposition and so no need to spend the $300,000 an election would cost the members.

This was not a sign of any lack of democracy within the CTU. It was an endorsement of CORE and Lewis’ unwavering leadership in the face of union-bashing Rahm and Rauner and bad educational polices coming from the Fifth Floor, Springfield and Washington.

They have laid new ground in pursuing a vision of the CTU as a social justice union with Black and Latino voices at the top.

I have been battling undemocratic union leadership my entire adult life, from the United Steelworkers national leadership in the 70s, to the Illinois Education Association now. Trust me.

I know undemocratic leadership well.

You can smell it.

There are few as democratic as the CTU.

“Elections cancelled,” ran the headlines in the Sun-Times, Tribune and even Catalyst as if something sneaky had happened, or that there had been a coup.

And Peter Cunningham, who runs Eli Broad’s $12 million dollar Education Post, compared the CTU with Putin’s Russia.

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Crain’s Chicago Business joined Cunningham in the Red-baiting, referring to the re-election of Ms Lewis, who is Chicago’s most visible African American woman leader, in the most sneering terms: Chicago teachers follow their maximum leader.


3 Replies to “Democracy in Chicago.”

  1. McCarthyism spot on on this. My wife is a HOD member…not of CTU….but this is common and very democratic…….fact is its hard to fjnd good leaders who have to fight nonsense from professional paid distorters like this guy day in and day out. I would vote for Karen Lewis as gov or president by affirmation. Its more democratic than plutocrat control we have now!

  2. Facts don’t matter to those who escalated lucrative careers under Arne Duncan and with millions of dollars in corporate lucre, but under CTU rules (and I’ve been long a member of the union’s Rules Elections Committee) Karen, Jesse and the team were re-elected. Poor Peter Cunningham. A master of rehearsing callow newbies (like Arne was after Daley dumped Vallas in 2001) on simple minded talking points. Peter never did get it, and now he’s growing old… There must be a song about that…

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