A group of parents, students, teachers and activists occupied an elementary school in Chicago over the weekend to protest what the city calls a “turnaround,” which would shake up the staff and put the school under the authority of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a private organization opponents say fails to produce results. Parents of students at Piccolo Elementary School in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood voted overwhelmingly against the proposed turnaround measures and developed a counter proposal, but their voices were ignored by City and Chicago Public Schools officials.
About 15 people stayed inside the school, while more than 100 helped to set up tents out front to show solidarity. Despite the cold, a few dozen stayed in shifts throughout the night, and well more than 100 supporters came back the next day to show their solidarity. Despite being denied food and in one person’s case, much needed blood pressure medication, the parents and activists inside remained until Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz met with them to listen to their demands. The action managed to secure the parents a meeting with board members of Chicago Public Schools, where they will be able to present their counter proposal which Ruiz said he hadn’t even heard of, though they had developed it more than a month prior.
After the occupants emerged from the school, Cecile Carroll, a spokeswoman for the group, said on the steps to a crowd of cheering supporters and media “This engagement was satisfying, but it illustrated the community engagement process though, is flawed. It should not have to take drastic measures like an occupation for real engagement…parents and community members need to be communicating with decision makers before things like this happen.”
Carroll’s words and the actions of the parents and their supporters, including members of Occupy Chicago, illustrate the exact reason why peaceful direct action is so necessary to reinvent our democratic system. The power imbalance in American politics has become so wide that signed petitions, marches in the streets, or even voting officials out of office can be completely ignored by the political elite. Campaign promises became little more that public relations bargaining chips during an election season long ago. While not all public officials are corrupt, the idea that a majority of them can be corrupt and ignore the will of their constituents shows that our democratic process has become corrupt. When the Congressional approval rating barely reaches 10%, it’s a glaring statement that the will of the American public has been almost completely ignored.
Occupy movements across the country have engaged in a multitude of peaceful direct actions, from shutting down traffic during protest marches, to fighting home foreclosure, aiding community organizing groups, and here in Chicago, assisting a struggling school in finding a better way to succeed than giving in to privatization. Such peaceful, non-violent direct actions have become necessary because merely stepping into a ballot box once every few years or flooding the phone lines have produced negligible results in stopping the downward spiral our society has been in.
On February 15th, members of Occupy Chicago packed a courthouse to show support for more than 90 people fighting to dismiss the charges leveled against them by the city for attempting to build an encampment last October. At an evening rally outside, one activist summed up the necessity of continued direct action, saying “When you have corruption, the only thing you can do is stand against it…we conduct direct action, because you’re acting as though you’re already free.”
The American political system has become so broken and corrupt, the feeling of powerlessness and apathy amongst the people has been palpable for decades. Occupy movements the world over, when engaged in community building and peaceful non-violent direct action, combat that powerlessness by creating empowerment. Like growing a garden, people see the results of their actions daily, The whole world is doing more than just watching, they’re actively attempting to weed out the roots of social and economic inequality, and plant new ones which will hopefully result in a better world and future for all people.