Joe Hill and the Chicago Strike: First, Slay the Gorgon, Next Build the Heavenly City … We’re Just Beginning!

Listen to Joan Baez sing “Joe Hill,” and get a little choked up and shed a tear or two.

“The copper bosses killed you,   Joe,
They shot you, Joe,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Says Joe, “What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize.”

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
“Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working men are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.”

For me, the lesson of the   Chicago strike and the resistance in New York City and increasingly across   the nation is embodied in the mournful, exhilarating labor classic,

“What they forget to   kill went on to organize.”

I was standing on 45th   Street in a torrential rainstorm waiting for the teachers to join the Labor   Day parade. The marshal, a young kid with plenty of tattoos and an iron   worker was on his walkie …,” Just ten more minutes,” he told us.   “You teachers do a great job … I see you all over the place..,”   and followed up with a derisive gesture and unkind comments directed at our mayor.

This past May-June scores   of parents gathered at UFT headquarters,

Parents need a place to be educated   about what’s going on in the school system,” said Lynette Bradshaw, whose son   attends STAR Early College Middle School Academy in Brooklyn.

She received that information at the   UFT-supported Parent Academy, a five-week training program for parents that   was held on Saturdays from May 5 through June 2 at UFT headquarters.

In October hundreds of parents will gather   on a Saturday and attend numerous workshop, anti-bullying, gangs, the special   education reforms, topics selected by a parent committee. Similar workshops   will take place across the city, not organized by the Department of   Education, organized by the United federation of Teachers.

Have a question about your homework? – call   “Dial a Teacher,” once again, run by the teachers union.

Attend a school board meeting, a public   hearing, your school’s parent meeting, and, yes, you’ll find union members   handing out flyers and testifying.

Changing opinions and building support in a   community or across a city is hard work and happens one person at a time.

TV infomercials are useful and hugely   expensive, it’s those thousands upon thousands of man-women hours spent at   hundreds of meeting over months and years that build support, that builds a   movement

The Chicago teachers spent a year doing the   hard work – meeting with parents and community members in their own   neighborhoods … organizing…

Mayor Emanuel may have the bully pulpit of   the mayoralty, he may have the editorial support of the print media, and he   lost the struggle in the streets.

The strike is over, over the next days and   weeks and months the realities will set in. We gained respect, we fought off   a vengeful mayor, have we righted the ship?

We are for a better school system, we are   for reducing poverty, and we are for a more meaningful voice for teachers.

How do we get there?

When Weingarten talks about solution-driven   unionism she is talking about specific programs – concrete, feet on the   ground programs with measurable outcomes.

across the country, in places big   and small, America’s teachers are leading a movement away from   finger-pointing and polarization and toward advancing solutions that help our   students and our public schools succeed and our communities thrive.

From overcoming the effects of poverty   on children’s education to helping teachers master the instructional shifts   required by ambitious new academic standards, some of the country’s most   pressing challenges are being met with what I call “solution-driven unionism.”

Reconnecting McDowell  is a broad-based coalition to resuscitate one of   the poorest counties in the nation.

In New York City the UFT in collaboration   with a number of community organizations has created a community schools   project.

Under the plan, Lutheran HealthCare,   the Children’s Aid Society and other current and new providers will work with   six schools to help make the schools into community “hubs” where children and   their families have access to health and dental clinics, youth development   activities, tutoring, counseling programs, health education programs and   social services.

The next step, in New York and Chicago and   other urban centers is unions sitting at the table and planning with schools   boards and city administrations: programs to address the deficiencies in high   poverty schools.

I hear teachers whisper, “There’s   nothing you can do … it’s the homes, it’s the gangs, it’s the neighborhoods   … until we solve poverty you can’t expect progress in schools.”

It drives me nuts.

In the poorest districts there are   successful schools – they are successful because the parents, teachers and   school leaders have created programs and policies that are working for the   kids in their building.

In many areas across the nation teacher   organizing efforts have turned parents away from administrations with narrow   testing-charter schools agendas.

They look to teachers and their unions.

We must accept the challenge, we must   search out the best and brightest and most innovative within our ranks – we   must create solutions – side by side with parents and communities and the   elected officials who chose to join us.


3 responses to “Joe Hill and the Chicago Strike: First, Slay the Gorgon, Next Build the Heavenly City … We’re Just Beginning!

  1. Children can learn if we believe in them!


  2. And they are successful when they have great teachers who are prepared to do everything necessary to ensure their students don’t fail to succeed.


    • I eould say leaders at the school and network/district level who can unleash the “greatness” that is within many teachers. The right leaders can create a synergy in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.


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