May 28, 2013 4:02 pm

In Chicago: The Every School Solidarity Picnic

Published by

chicago2By Michelle Strater Gunderson

In Chicago we have food deserts, large patches of our city where there is not a grocery store in sight. We also have transportation deserts, outstretches of our town where you cannot get anywhere without a car. Now, with the closing of 50 schools we have education deserts. What does a community do when it has been systematically devastated?

This was our overarching question when we met with parents, students, educators and activists. Our conclusion – we need to plant gardens, an act of hopefulness and awareness. That was the thinking behind our Every School Solidarity Picnic held on Memorial Day in the heart of our city, Millennium Park.

The flower garden installation was the brainchild of activist and art educator, Ellen Gradman. She explained its significance. “Our schools need to be guarded from the reformers that are destroying education. I want observers to stop and think about the community that nurtured and cared for their school. I want to acknowledge the families that will be uprooted – like a flower pulled from the earth and discarded.”

During the action families shared a picnic meal together, sang freedom songs, played with bubbles, and wrote with sidewalk chalk. The cornerstones of the action were the letters and flowers created by participants that will be sent to Illinois legislators and Governor Quinn asking them to support the passage of the School Closing Moratorium Bills. There were also deputized voter registrars on hand to register new voters.

Despite the objections of more than 30,000 people who spoke against school closings at public meetings and hearings held throughout the city since December last year, the unelected CPS Board of Education on Wednesday voted nearly unanimously to close 50 schools. This action affects more than 40,000 students – nearly one out of four African American children in our city.

Our actions today are in response to this scorched earth education policy. We refuse to sit by and watch our neighborhoods crumble and public education become inaccessible to large segments of our city. This action is built on hope, on solidarity, and the overwhelming commitment of our community to continue to demand support for our public schools.