Monday, March 18, 2013

There is a plan

So CPS is going to close 80 schools—some of which have been very recent “turn-arounds” or are still undergoing renovations, displacing thousands of children. Some of kids have special needs that will make adjustment very difficult; many are in high crime areas where simply walking to a different place will be dangerous. Nearly all the schools are on the South and West side, the majority serves black students. CPS insisted this can all be managed—they just hired an outside firm (of course) to “manage logistics”, even though they can’t get manage communication regarding banning a book  What CPS considers “community” outreach would be funny if the results were not so tragic. These “community” hearings were packed with parents—you know the ones that can’t teach their kids anything—demanding their schools stay open. So it was truly amazing to hear Barbara Byrd Bennett state that, regarding school closings “Everybody got it that we really needed to close schools.”

To be perfectly fair, Mickey Mouse could head CPS; it would be the same thing. Everybody knows who is controlling the process, and everybody knows who really wants to decimate CPS.  It’s worth taking a trip down memory lane to remind us how things work.

As detailed by Elizabeth Taylor and Adam Cohen in “American Pharaoh” in 1958 Mayor Daley detailed a redevelopment plan for Chicago, influenced significantly by the business community. It was explicitly designed to encourage “traffic flow” i.e. white people to support business interests—downtown—and conversely to keep neighborhoods as segregated as they had ever been. A key part of this plan was the development of the University of Illinois Chicago campus. Initially, the push was for the campus in the suburbs. When politically maneuvering closed that off the university trustees voted for Garfield Park when Meigs Fields was immediately dismissed.  Garfield Park would have been ideal, full of working-class people whose kids could go to UIC, and the campus would have been an economic anchor to the transitioning community.
But it was not to be, through extensive political moves —it wasn’t called the machine for nothing—Daley and his business allies forced the trustees to use land at Harrison and Halsted. Unlike Garfield Park, which would have welcomed the school, the Harrison-Halsted community was completely against it.  A working-class community as well Harrison-Halsted was thriving and was actually becoming somewhat integrated. The Harrison-Halsted community did their best to fight the campus—they organized themselves and attempted to enlist other politicians to fight with then but Senator Paul Douglas, Adlai Stevenson, and Bill Dawson (alderman) would not help. In the end they were left with direction action, protesting at the building sites and in Daley’s office. What was Daley’s response to them? It was the University’s decision that is the University that had been forced to move there—of course after the city and cut off any other alternative.
As told by Cohen and Taylor
The new University of Illinois campus had just the economic and racial impact on the Harrison-Halsted neighborhood that Loop business leaders had hoped for. Before the arrival of the campus, it was one of the few racially integrated neighborhoods in the city . . . The result of sitting the campus in Harrison-Halsted was that transformed into a far whiter “island of higher incomes and land values.”
The black population dropped from 3,500 to 2,900 but the key was that post-campus the black population was confined to the Jane Addams census tracts, separated from downtown by the a physical barrier. And the white people who lived there? A reporter quoted in “American Pharaoh” writes:
A lot of the people had lived in that neighborhood their whole lives, the old Italian people. A lot of them died—they just couldn’t make the move.
In the end two communities were destroyed, the Harrison-Halsted community that was and the Garfield Park community that could have been. But as always, the people with money, they came out ahead.
So when Barbara Byrd Bennett says they “get it” yes we get it. We get that there is a plan to assist in undermining already struggling communities, that this is not about saving money, that there is a history in this city of centralized control to make sure the business interests get what they want. The issue is how best we can organize ourselves to see this does not happen, we need to pressure elected leaders to stop the schools closure and to protest at 4:00 Wednesday March 27, in Daley, 50 W. Washington Street.

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