Goodbye, Chicago.

Two years ago today I started my WordPress account. I could not have ever written publicly under my name without having lived in Chicago for five years. 

Yes, I wept on this flight. Yes, I am human.

I write this on my flight back to New York City and my hometown after living in Chicago the past five years. When I got to Chicago I felt like that Britney Spears song- “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman. All I need is time, a moment that is mine, while I’m there you’ll see…” I had a lot to prove to myself and, in a large part, to my family. I wanted to show myself that I could make it on my own and that I could handle what came. I wanted to show that to my parents, too. I wanted adventures and to make my own life choices, What followed, I could not foresee. 

My life in Chicago has certainly been a whirlwind- many rough moments and many triumphant ones. I loved my students, but didn’t know how to teach them. I was forgiving and didn’t know where that barrier lied. I gave of myself and didn’t know my limits. I found myself and continue to find myself overly self-critical, which has served me in some cases but not in others. And, I was at multiple schools. I taught so many different students, and lived so many places in Chicago. I tried so many new things. I loved and was loved back many times. My heart has broken romantically, professionally, personally, and with family, multiple times, and my heart has burst to the seams in other occasions. “Love lost is better than never having loved at all.” I’m glad I have lived by that.

More so than anything, I found my voice in Chicago and, in many ways, I affirmed my life’s mission- to make children’s living as humane as possible. I’ve seen awful practices and systems that stem from our treatment of children as lesser than, especially black and brown kids, and I feel the internalized and overt racism that comes from that. I am a decent teacher now, although I have a ways to go. I’m in a point in my career where I can reject job offers when I don’t feel schools are doing developmentally appropriate things for children and where I am unsure my mental health will be okay. I love my students and know many ways to reach them now, academically and emotionally. I build relationships with folk not because I want anything out of them but because I want to know them. And I write- two years ago today I started my wordpress account and have written publicly under my name in multiple places. I plan to keep writing publicly.

As I spoke of with my therapist, I have healthy ways of coping now that I didn’t have before. I do humane things for myself, like singing- I need to sing and make art to be well. I create affinity groups with Asian folk, Asian women, teachers, teachers of color, Asian teachers, POC political folk, Asian political folk, Asian activists, Chinese folk, Chinese American folk, singers, artists, because they build me up and help me break down what is happening in my brain and in the world around me. I see my friends, my oldest friends and newest friends, and they give me perspective on where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going. I break things down, know what’s in my control and what’s not, and I move forward with everything I can change and what I can’t. 

And, hopefully now I can breathe a little bit. My parents have been a big part of checking my wellness in the past, and making sure I’m not doing too much, and I’m so looking forward to living at home again. I’m worried in ways about the adjustment to moving back home, but I’m also so excited to speak Cantonese again. I’m so excited to eat my own food, to have my mom’s cooking. To see people who look like me everywhere in my Chinatown. To feel like I don’t have to fight to be Chinese or justify my language or educate others around my food and culture and customs. No, I get to just BE Chinese. That’s something very unique not to just Chinatowns but New York City in particular. And, I’m glad I have a space to call home. I know many folks with different intersections of identity, including Hapa folk and queer folks of color, don’t often have that space to breathe. I get to breathe. 

I could not have done any of these things without having lived in Chicago. Living away from your home city is something I would recommend to everyone. It’s made me think bigger, larger, and in such new perspective. It’s made me broaden my vision and my dreams. I’ve completed all the dreams I had for myself right after graduating college five years ago- teach, and teach well. Get involved in teacher Union activism, and fight for a more equitable system for our students. Meet Karen Lewis. (I’m proud to call her my friend today alongside all my rank-and-file teachers in the Chicago a Teachers Union). Honor my uncle Vincent Chin’s legacy. Sing and sing well. And, make change happen. Now I have the distinct privilege to broaden those dreams and dream bigger. 

Part of that dream, really, is to have my parents and family by my side as I fight this fight the rest of my life. When family, a core part of me, doesn’t understand who I am and what my vision is for life, I know I have to fix that. I know I have to fill that gaping hole in my heart.
Now I get to broaden those dreams and do exactly what I did in Chicago in NYC. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep live-tweeting in an attempt to get real news out there. I’ll keep finding new allies. I’ll keep making change. I’ll keep building our movement. I’ll keep learning and growing the rest of my life. I’ll continue to fight in solidarity with others, listen, step up and step back, and fight this larger fight. And, deeply, I will continue to believe people can change, because if I truly believe I can change the world with little ole us, then I have to believe we can all change for the better. We will do this, together.

Thank you, Chicago. I will miss the food, the great street grid that is so easy to understand. I will miss the progressive spirit and activism that you have- I don’t know if any other city has that same spirit, but I could be wrong. And, most of all, I will miss the people. I wept on this flight because I’m so proud of everything we did together, and, while I know that work is not done, I’m so sad I won’t be there with you all in person doing the work on the ground. Thank you, thank you. I love you all.

Life updates.

This is the end of my Chicago chapter. Friday I finished packing all of my things, and I shipped six boxes to the East Coast. Yesterday I had breakfast with my housemates, kissed and hugged folks goodbye, and sobbed into many used and unused Kleenexes.

Yesterday I flew away from Chicago for good. I’ll be back to visit my second home, the Second City, Chicago. But my first home, New York City, has been calling me back. After five years of being in Chicago, it’s time to go home.

Oftentimes in Chicago I miss being Chinese- speaking my language, eating my food, seeing my family. Here, I fight to be Chinese and to do all the things that make me feel Chinese. I fight hard to teach in Chicago, as I will in NYC. But most of all,  I miss my family. I want to build something larger for myself, and I know I can only do that when family is closer by. I’m so looking forward to building a relationship with my parents and family that I can only do as an adult.

Yesterday, when I flew from Chicago, I didn’t fly into NYC. Yesterday I flew to Minnesota. I flew in a day early to see my college friends. Today I represent the Chicago Teachers Union for the first and last time as a delegate at the American Federation of Teachers Convention. Currently I sit poolside in my hotel room, applying for elementary special education teaching positions in NYC, and reflecting on the past few weeks, months, years.

This is the end of my Chicago chapter. This is my last duty as a Chicago Teachers Union Local 1 member. Thursday, I return to NYC, my first home. I’m so sad. And, and, I’m so excited.

Peter Liang Was Justly Convicted- He’s Not A Victim, Says This Niece of Vincent Chin

I wrote about Peter Liang and Akai Gurley a few weeks ago, and was pushed to write further because of a certain NYPost article trying to conflate Peter Liang with Vincent Chin, who, as I write here, is my uncle. Lily Chin is my great-aunt and the sister of my maternal grandmother. Over many long hours, I wrote an article on Medium yesterday night. It’s gotten a lot of hits so far, so you may have read it already. Hope you enjoy.


When I first heard about Akai Gurley’s killing, that a Chinese American police officer, Peter Liang, had shot Gurley to his death, I knew to be prepared for tough conversations around police brutality, Black lives, and the Asian American community. I knew there would be strong emotions surrounding Officer Liang, especially after Officer Liang received a resounding “guilty” verdict on the count of second degree manslaughter of Akai Gurley.

Still, I did not expect more than 10,000 people, predominantly Chinese Americans, rallying in Brooklyn and around the nation on Saturday in defense of Officer Liang. I was more surprised that some of my cousins attended the rally in Brooklyn.

I understand people’s instinct to stand by others in their community, but the anger and protests in support of Officer Peter Liang are misplaced.

The only time I‘d ever seen such a large rally of Asian Americans was in footage of the Vincent Chin case. At the height of Detroit’s auto-industry crisis in 1982, Vincent, a Chinese American man, was having his bachelor party, when a group of white laid-off autoworkers called Vincent a “motherfucker,” mistaking Vincent as Japanese, and blaming Vincent for taking their jobs. Two auto-workers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, chased Vincent down and beat him to death with a baseball bat.

Unlike Peter Liang, the two men, Ebens and Nitz, walked away from the case.

Eben and Nitz never served time for killing my uncle Vincent.

When those two assailants never served a day in jail, different Asian American groups coalesced nationwide by the thousands to protest Vincent’s death, its surrounding injustices, and for rights for Asian Americans.

Lily Chin, Vincent’s heartbroken mother, fought for years to get justice. My maternal grandmother and my great-aunt, Lily’s sisters, flew across the Pacific to support Lily, eventually bringing my parents to the United States. Lily mourned until she passed in 2002.

I bring Vincent up because a freelance writer, Shirley Ng, referenced Vincent today in a NY Post op-ed comparing Officer Liang to Vincent and Private Danny Chen, a Chinese American who committed suicide after constant racial harassment from fellow soldiers. Ng claimed Asian Americans have never had justice, citing Vincent and Danny’s cases as why we should support Officer Liang. She further stated Asian Americans were “united” behind Officer Liang.

Her article was insulting and wrong. Vincent Chin has far more in common with Akai Gurley than with Peter Liang.

Like Akai Gurley, my uncle Vincent was killed because he was a person of color.

Like Akai Gurley’s family, my family continues to mourn the death of a son.

Ng does not speak for me, nor does she speak for the entire Asian American community.

Injustice is injustice. We should all agree that 1. People should not be killed, and 2. People who kill other people should be held accountable and face the consequences of their actions.

That night, Officer Liang pulled his gun from his holster. Unlike what Ng stated, the gun didn’t just go off- Officer Liang pulled the trigger. Officer Liang didn’t provide medical attention or call for an ambulance- instead, he bickered with his partner over who would call this in. Officer Liang may have not intentionally killed Akai, but he did, with his reckless actions.

Akai Gurley died because of Peter Liang’s actions, accidental or not. That’s second degree manslaughter.

The signs “One tragedy, two victims” held up by protesters do not apply here.Officer Liang may have been shortchanged by a police institution that did not train him properly and then abandoned him, but he is not a victim. His actions directly and unjustifiably caused the death of another.

The situation Officer Liang created is vastly different from the situations of Asian Americans who are harassed, trafficked, robbed, deported, or killed for being Asian or Asian American. Jessica Klyzek, a woman who was handcuffed, struck by police, and threatened with deportation at her place of work, is just one recent example of many.

Vincent Chin and Danny Chen never killed anyone. They are victims, and can no longer speak up for themselves.

When those defending Officer Liang argue “he never meant to kill anyone,” they spout the same reasoning Eben and Nitz used to avoid prison for my uncle Vincent’s murder. That’s unacceptable.

It’s hard to put ourselves, Asian Americans, in Akai Gurley’s shoes. Truly, I cannot imagine police officers conducting vertical patrols or pulling guns out in the stairwells of Chinatown apartment buildings without reasonable suspicion. I feel no danger in being shot in my own apartment complex as an Asian American.

What we can do is try to empathize with Akai’s family after the death of their son.

Ng proclaims herself a Manhattan Chinatown native, and I am as well. I grew up near Danny Chen in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and attended his middle school a few years before him. Danny could have been any of my friends. Vincent is my family. Our families and our communities, mourned and fought for them.

While I understand the knee-jerk reaction that the Chinese American community has to protect a Chinese American officer, we, as a community among others, must hold Officer Liang accountable for his actions.

Do these protesters want Officer Liang exonerated? To get a more lenient sentence? Or is the support a distorted way of saying, “Why do we treat Chinese cops like this and not white cops?” I share Twitter user@bomani_jones’s confusion: “it’s hard to tell if the peter liang (sic) supporters are upset he got convicted, or upset that other cops don’t get convicted *but* he did.”

I do believe Officer Liang received different treatment than other non-Asian police officers who have committed similar, or worse, acts of violence. Butinstead of arguing Officer Liang deserved an acquittal or a lenient sentence, I believe police officers, regardless of race, who kill anyone under similar circumstances, should be convicted of unlawful homicide and go to prisontoo, alongside Officer Liang. Officer Liang is awaiting sentencing, but, as with any defendant convicted of manslaughter by a firearm, Officer Liang should serve prison time.

The New York Police Department employed Peter Liang to protect the public trust. Officer Liang failed that night. He may have been unaware he was complicit in a system of injustice that preys on Black lives, yet he voluntarily operated in that system. Let’s analyze the facts, prosecute those who commit crimes, and continue to fight for victims and their families.

If we are to move forward from this, we all need to stand against the systems that brought Peter Liang into the stairwell where Akai Gurley stood. It was no accident that Officer Liang was in a public housing stairwell and not one in a private housing complex. Decades of “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing, housing and income segregation, prison-industrial complex, and flat-out anti-Black racism led Officer Liang’s superiors to place him there. We must re-imagine what policing looks like in our communities so that such tragedies are avoided in the first place.

When the Asian American community fought for Vincent Chin, and then for Danny Chen, we built power from within. More importantly, we built power across and coalitions between many communities. We fought for accountability, federal hate crime legislation and protections of military personnel. While the Saturday rally might have united some in the Chinese American community, it certainly has divided us from others who have been harmed and continue to be harmed by this system of injustice. I urge my Chinese American and Asian American communities to think long and hard about which side of history we are on and what it means to support Officer Liang. We must fight for the justice Akai Gurley and his family deserve, just as we fight for the justice Vincent Chin and Danny Chen deserve.

This post was originally posted on Medium. Thanks to all my friends and family who provided so many thoughts on this complex and nuanced issue for justice. My good friend Belle Yan contributed to writing this piece.

Pushing our candidates.

Another Facebook post from last Saturday, January 30th, as I considered how we make change in our dysfunctional Chicago systems.

“Just talked to Alderman John Arena at the opening of Pinocchio at Filament Theatre. Talked through the layoffs and teachers contract, and how I thought CPS only cared about money (He claimed that every day of operation costs CPS $10 million so a 8-day teachers strike could “save” CPS $80 million, even with make-up school days), our political climate, and the sad state that #HomanSquare was glossed over and it took the storm of#BlackLivesMatter and many, many protests shutting down the city, execution, and cover-up of #LaquanMcDonald getting shot by police to get coverage on the outrageous criminal justice system. Talked through with him and his wife about how amazing Susan Sadlowski Garza is, and how the on-the-ground work of canvassing and getting to know the political process is exciting. Also about how ridiculously complacent people were under Daley that led to this in the first place. Talked about how electioneering went on everywhere, including when Dianne Daleiden was running against Pat O’Connor, and O’Connor’s guys were running around electioneering.

I’ve been very disillusioned by this process and this government as of late, but I’m glad to have people like Arena, Scott Waguespack, Sue Garza, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Will Guzzardi, who represent us now, and the countless others who’ve run and who are running, like Timothy Meegan, Zerlina Smith, Tammie Vinson, Dianne Daleiden, Theresa Mah, Anne Shaw, Byron Sigcho, and Pete DeMay, amongst others. And, of course, those who help them get elected like Brian Cerullo, Melissa Rubio, Thomas Pietrzyk, Liz Brown, others.

“Maybe you’ll run for political office one of these days,” Arena told me near the end of our conversation. My boyfriend agreed completely and said he would back me if I ever decide to run- “Ten years from now, Annie, you’ll be ready and perfect for political office. You stand up for what you believe in.” While I don’t think I’d want to or be good at political office, I’m glad I have people who believe in me. And regardless of what happens in the future, I’m glad for what Chicago has taught me- push for the best people who actually put boots and ears to the ground, understand the issues, and will rep everyone. My friends teach me everyday that, if you can’t find anyone to run, do it yourself.”

I stand with #AkaiGurley. #APIs4BlackLives

Yesterday, a jury began deliberating about whether Peter Liang should be found guilty for manslaughter and official misconduct for Akai Gurley’s death.  If you don’t recall the case, a little over a year ago Peter Liang, a young cop with the NYPD, was patrolling a stairwell of a housing project when he heard a noise, shot off one bullet from his gun, and killed resident Akai Gurley. According to more articles, Liang and his partner didn’t call for assistance for four minutes, while Gurley’s girlfriend rushed to Akai and attempted CPR.

What complicated this for me and people I know is that Liang is Chinese American- some Chinese folk say Liang is being used as a scapegoat in this larger movement for police accountability. It’s easier to pin police accountability coverage on an Asian person, the community pushes, than to hold white people accountable. Other orgs, like CAAAV in NYC (disclosure- I used to volunteer with CAAAV back in my college years), are standing with Gurley’s family, using the hashtag #APIs4BlackLives to call for broader racial justice and police accountability measures toward black lives.

Let me backtrack for a sec, because my thinking on #APIs4BlackLives has shifted over time. Let me share how I initially responded to Michael Brown’s death and Darren Wilson’s acquittal in November 2014-

Why does this hit me so hard? So I heard that Michael Brown’s mother was marching with protestors tonight. That she was upset and protesters alongside her were also upset. I thought about all of the places that Michael’s mom must’ve seen and gone to in order to find justice for her son. I thought about all the sleepless nights, all the legal stuff, all the national and local press coming to her for questions. In seeing her public statements, in not condoning violence, in trying to push positive change, I wondered how much strength was needed to even say those things. Such class, grace, in such an indecent time. (Facebook post, Nov. 24, 2014)

I thought of Michael Brown’s mother and how she must have been feeling. How much she must be suffering. How much she’s being asked all the time to be this strong figure as she mourns her son’s death, how she continually seeks justice.

And then, the empathetic, sympathetic, but crucial mistake- I tried to relate, in my very honest but tunnel-visioned way, as a person who’s gone through some loss but who’s not black

Many know that I am the niece of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man who was mistaken as Japanese and was killed as such by two laid-off autoworkers in 1982 Detroit. His death led to a nationwide Asian American movement calling for racial justice. As I comb through my family history, I find out more and more about how my revolutionary great-aunt Lily Chin dealt with the death of Vincent. She was a fighter. And her experiences fighting for Vincent mirrored some of what Michael Brown’s mother must be going through:

And I thought about my 2nd great aunt Lily Chin.[…] Lily would be asked to go around the country to give statements, to stand in front of the camera, before, during, after the multiple trials where our family finally lost. […] According to my 8th great aunt, Lily just wanted to move on from Vincent’s death. But she couldn’t escape it. She moved to China to forget, and then even in China Chinese reporters would go to find her […] She never got peace […] And that’s probably part of the reason why my family doesn’t talk about Vincent very often. Because they’ve been asked to death by strangers.

I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a son, but I further can’t imagine having to push so hard for justice, talk to hundreds of strangers, while not getting that justice, all while trying to stand on your own 2 feet. I’m so tired of this. And I’m thinking of Michael’s mother right now. (Facebook post, Nov. 24, 2014)

I tell these stories often because who I am as a person is so tied to Vincent’s death- my political sense, my sense of justice, my tie to the Asian American community. And, even though I never met my uncle, I still mourn Vincent Chin, as many who are unrelated to him do.

My friends understood the empathetic impetus behind my response. But they, geniuses as they are, rightly, rightly pointed out that

this was not about me. This was not about Vincent, either.

This was about the systemic injustice toward black people in the United States that allowed for the killings of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Natasha McKenna, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, all the others on basically a daily basis.

I was telling a friend of mine Monday that I could go to a police officer today to ask for directions, knowing full well they’re not going to stop and frisk me. I don’t look dangerous, and no one ever thinks I’m a threat, because I’m an Asian woman. I might get the “me love you long time” crap, the “exotic” or “dainty” looks and comments, but I’ve never been physically threatened (except as a teen at school) for my looks or for my race. No one flinches when I walk past (I think). The model minority myth tells people Asians are timid, so no need to worry there. I walk alone on Chicago (and when I’m home, NYC) streets with my pepper spray, but I’ve never had to use it. I don’t worry about getting arrested, and I don’t worry about someone shooting me in the stairwell of my apartment building.

I’m not worried about the economic, social, and mental effects that simply being black in America creates. I’m not.

As a person of color who’s not black, I am under systematic oppressions, sometimes different oppressions, but definitely, definitely not the same kinds, the most persistent kinds, that black folk are. Because, everyone, we live in a world that is fundamentally, economically, historically anti-black, and we need to recognize this, own this in all its parts and ways, and change it.

Liang and the Chinese community supporting him don’t see the larger picture- that we’re all under this guilty anti-black system. I didn’t understand it for a long time, either. The institutions that allegedly don’t provide CPR training probably, probably should do more training on how to use guns. The institutions that target black and brown folk disproportionately can’t change based on a few anti-bias trainings. Meanwhile, people are killed and continue to be killed. And those people getting killed? On the whole, they’re not Asian American like me. Not that Asian Americans don’t get killed in hate crimes, but that’s not the focus here.

As I’ll continue to chant at marches, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” I’ll continue to fight against this anti-black system. and I’ll continue to stand as one of many #APIs4BlackLives.

Back to writing.

My principal emailed our staff tonight and informed us that there wouldn’t be any teaching positions lost in this latest round of budget cuts announced today. For now, I’m safe from a layoff.

I took a long, self-imposed hiatus for writing for self-preservation’s sake, and felt like a part of my soul was not able to breathe. Emotionally I could not handle the dysfunction and chaos surrounding me. Thank goodness for friends and family who helped get me though.

Time to breathe free and write, fam.

Chinese New Year with my students.

So I’m going to start back writing again on this blog. It’s been hard to write as so much has been happening, but I think I’ll start a bit at a time, including with this entry I put on Facebook:

On being a Chinese teacher-

I teach in a mostly Latino school, and we’re doing some lessons on colonial culture, which the kids are very disconnected from. So we decided to teach about a culture the kids don’t know so kids can practice looking at a culture they don’t know well- Chinese culture, through the lens of Chinese New Year. I read a book, showed them pictures of my CNY celebrations, and they wrote about the holiday, then about their own holidays, customs, and traditions. They had so many questions and were so excited that we didn’t finish the lesson in any of the fourth-grade rooms! “We have to go!” “No, but can we stay and finish?” This bulletin board took some loving.

Chinese New Year Bulletin Board

Now, all over the school, I’m a mini-celebrity. Kids in all grades are telling me I’m a snake, asking me about my family, my language, how to say certain words in Chinese (I speak Cantonese), the kinds of Chinese foods I eat, what they eat, and where they can see the Chinese New Year parade in Chicago.

I love being Chinese American. I love being a part of many cultures. I love that I can take parts of each and make a unique me. And, I love that I am aware of this so I can help my students do the same.

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone.


Saving CPS from CPS: Real Shared Sacrifice, by Troy LaRaviere.

Troy LaRaviere is principal at Blaine Elementary, and speaks truth in the following post. (Although I have my issues with Paul Vallas, and lots can be said about his administration)

Source: Saving CPS from CPS: Real Shared Sacrifice

During my career as a Chicago Public School principal, I have often been at odds with the Chicago Teachers Union. I have been the target of multiple grievances filed by CTU against me when I have disciplined or dismissed a teacher. All were signed by Karen Lewis, and I fought most of them vigorously. Given that history, you might think it odd that I support several CTU stances.  However, I believe in a simple truth: When you’re wrong, you’re wrong; and when you’re right, you’re right. Unfortunately, our mayor and his appointed board of education have been so irresponsible and so reckless, that I find myself squarely in agreement with the CTU on several school issues.

When they’re right, they’re right.

Furthermore, during the latest contract negotiations, I have come to the conclusion that CTU’s refusal to accept the Board’s last contract offer gives the residents of Chicago the best chance we have to fix the causes of CPS’ financial crises. The continuation of the negotiations gives the CTU an opportunity to clearly and repeatedly articulate the real causes of CPS’ financial problems to Chicagoans, and to challenge us to hold our officials accountable and ensure they do not repeat their failures.

Those failures were described by Paul Vallas.  I’m not an admirer of his education policy, but Vallas was the last Chicago Public Schools CEO to leave the district with a structurally balanced long-term budget. He also left CPS with a fully funded pension system, and over $1 billion in reserves.  When Vallas returned to Chicago this past August, I was fortunate enough to have an hour-long conversation with him a few days before we both participated in a panel at the City Club of Chicago. During our conversation—and during the panel—Vallas outlined the financial rules that kept CPS budgets balanced during his tenure.  Those practices included the following:

  • He did not add programs without identifying additional revenue to pay for them.
  • He did not borrow for operational expenses.
  • He did not spend on new schools when there was declining enrollment. Building new schools should be based on demographics, not school reform ideology.
  • He did not redirect funding for pension payments toward other spending projects.

After Vallas’ departure, the mayor’s appointees to CPS lost all fiscal discipline and consistently violated every one of these sound budgeting practices. As a result of their mismanagement, CPS now claims they need “shared sacrifice” from teachers.  Teachers union officials don’t seem to have the kind of consistent and concise messaging the Mayor’s office has, so the average news consumer may not notice that within CTU’s response are the keys to solving CPS’ fiscal crisis.  I will take the liberty of fine-tuning CTU’s message and speaking as the Chicago public school teacher and union member I once was, before becoming an administrator nearly a decade ago.

*  *  *  *

The board asks us for shared sacrifice. This is our response to that ask:

First: The taxpayers of Chicago must know we have sacrificed.  CPS effectively cut teacher salaries for four years in a row when we allowed them to default on pay raises that were in the CTU contract.  If costs go up, and your salary stays the same, then your pay has effectively gone down.  Teachers accepted that pay freeze and they saved the district more than half a billion dollars by making that sacrifice.

Second: Not only have we made sacrifices in the past, but we completely agree with the district’s call for more shared sacrifice.  The key is that it must be shared—shared with the parties responsible for this fiscal crisis. CPS was knowingly, and illegally, lured into loan agreements that cost them hundreds of millions in fees, penalties and interest.  Teachers did not do this.

We will accept the mayor’s call for us to sacrifice when he calls for Bank of America to sacrifice.

We will accept his call for teachers to sacrifice, when he calls for the Royal Bank of Canada to sacrifice.

Mayor Emanuel could sue these institutions to get taxpayers’ money back.  Thus far, he has refused.  These are just two examples.  There are others. The larger point is that Emanuel’s call for hard working teachers to endure more sacrifice cannot be respected or taken seriously until he forces those who caused and profited from this fiscal crises to sacrifice as well.  In short, we will accept shared sacrifice, when it’s actually shared.

Third, and finally: We would be happy to sign a contract with CPS that ensures we will not end up in this same crisis in the future.  Accordingly, the contract must include provisions that force CPS officials to exercise discipline with taxpayer money; provisions that emphasize intelligent new school construction policies, revenue generation, sound borrowing practices, responsible payment of legitimate debts, and recoupment efforts for illegitimate losses.  Part of the solution will involve raising additional revenue, but we cannot allow them to raise taxes without eliminating their ability to waste those tax dollars.

In summary, (1) Past teacher sacrifices have already saved the district more than half a billion dollars, (2) We are willing to engage in additional shared sacrifice, so long as it is shared, and (3) We will protect students and taxpayers by using these negotiations to ensure future fiscal discipline by officials in CPS and City Hall.

That is what we–the teachers of Chicago–are standing for, and we are asking all Chicagoans to stand with us.

*   *   *   *

For too long we have allowed CPS and City Hall officials to distract our attention away from their incompetent management of CPS finances. They channel public anger toward our children’s teachers when our attention should be focused squarely on those whose recklessness created this crisis: CPS & City Hall officials, along with their allies in the banking and finance industry. We must support our teachers in their call for true shared sacrifice and sound financial practices by our elected and appointed officials, and we must acknowledge the sacrifices these teachers have already made. Please join our teachers by challenging CPS’ false and incomplete narrative at every opportunity and demanding fiscal discipline and accountability.

Twitter: @troylaraviere


Sign CTU’s petition against Bank of America and withdraw any money you have in a BoA account.

Call and Email Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and tell each of them to do the following:

  1. Please focus your attention on bringing the appropriate parties to the table to share the sacrifice with our teachers. You can start with Bank of America, the Royal Bank of Canada, the Pritzker Group, Goldman Sachs, Northern Trust, and any number of the top Emanuel campaign contributors who have profited from our tax dollars.
  2. Be responsible financial stewards of our school district by adopting–in writing–the sound fiscal practices described above, and stop scapegoating our teachers for the financial recklessness of the mayor’s appointees.
  3. Click one of the share buttons below to share this article with your circles.


Forrest Claypool
Phone: 773.553.1500

Rahm Emanuel
Phone: 311 or 312.744.5000




Gillers, Heather & Grotto, Jason (November 10, 2014). Banks Kept CPS in Shaky Bond Market. Chicago Tribune.


Vallas, Paul (August 25, 2015).  Remarks at the City Club (Video). [Relevant section begins at 36:10 point of the video.  Also contains remarks by Jesse Ruiz, Troy LaRaviere and Chuck Burbridge].


CTU Communications (February 1, 2016).  CTU Rejects Latest Contract Offer.



Andrzejewski, Adam (March 25, 2015).  The Moral Bankruptcy of Chicago’s Elites: As the City Approaches Bankruptcy Chicago’s Elites Line their Pockets with Taxpayer Money.  Forbes Magazine.


Chase, John; Coen, Jeff & Ruthhart, Bill (January 30, 2015). Rahm Emanuel Counts on Big Donors, with Many getting City Hall BenefitsChicago Tribune.


Chicago Tribune Editorial Board (July 2, 2015).  CPS: Stop Blaming Springfield.


FitzPatrick, Lauren (March 25, 2014).  CPS Wants to Spend $10 Million on Office FurnitureChicago Sun-Times.


Joravsky, Ben (December 3, 2014). How Investment Bankers are Set to Profit from Rahm’s Preschool PlanChicago Reader.


Grotto, Jason & Gillers, Heather (November 7, 2014). Risky Bonds Prove Costly for Chicago Public Schools.  Chicago Tribune.


CTU members, put on your red shirts.

Reposted from the Chicago Tribune:


Some were surprised when the Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team voted “no” on Chicago Public Schools’ proposed contract. As a CPS teacher and parent of three CPS students, I was very excited the possibility of a contract was near without necessitating a strike.

The CPS offer basically froze compensation for most teachers for four years. I was OK with that, even though CPS has taken back about $2 billion from teachers in the past five years in concessions. I like the idea of getting rid of the pension pick-up, but I don’t want teachers to suffer what amounts to 7-percent pay cuts to achieve it. Some teachers would have come out with a tiny pay increase over four years, but other teachers — longer serving teachers — would have had to take a significant pay cut.

The CPS offer also included a requirement — added at the last minute — that more than 2,200 CTU members take early retirement with the provision that if they didn’t, the contract would be reopened. In other words: The whole contract would be scrapped. To me, this seems like a poison pill. How could the CTU agree to a contract that forced a 10-percent reduction in teachers and school staff? How could CTU agree to a contract that had a self-destruct clause in it?

There were good things in the contract proposal, things for which our bargaining team has been fighting for over a year. There was some movement on issues such as standardized testing, teacher paperwork, evaluation and other nonmonetary concessions by CPS. This is good. These things are not small. These matter to our students and to our ability to do our jobs.

The CPS tentative agreement’s “charter freeze” sounded like a great win, until folks realized it was completely unenforceable because the Illinois State Charter School Commission can override school boards on charter application denials. The promise to avoid “economic layoffs” seems too good to be true; in the past, CPS has gotten very creative in finding ways to lay off teachers.

This week, Emanuel’s fuzzy sweater came off. We’re seeing the CPS that was always under the surface, the CPS that is headed by Emanuel’s Downsizer-in-Chief, Forrest Claypool. CPS said that, because we did not accept its proposal, it would unilaterally force principals to lay off $50 million worth of teachers and support staff while forcing us to take a 7-percent pay cut by ending the contractually defined pension pick-up. This isn’t a negotiating position, it’s a direct threat that is supposed to go into effect in the next 30 days.

The union’s response is to organize and oppose Emanuel and Rauner. We will be rallying downtown. We will be putting the financial sector in the spotlight. CPS soon may be spending more on financing debt than it will be spending on pensions. The real culprit here? The lack of political will to raise revenues in a fair and transparent way; the diversion of TIF money from schools, libraries and parks to what amounts to a real estate developer subsidy; and decades of pension theft via “pension holidays.”

Sure, Emanuel has taken his sweater off. So 20,000 teachers and supporters are putting their red shirts on.

— Phillip Cantor, Chicago