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Chicago Teachers Union President says members have ‘shown the world we can speak with one voice’ in State of the Union address

ILLUSTRATION: CTU President Karen LewisCHICAGO— With the city of Chicago at the forefront of education around the globe in 2012, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Karen GJ Lewis reflected on a year of tremendous growth and transformation in her State of the Union speech on Wednesday night before the House of Delegates. Lewis expressed heartfelt pride in the work of union members and exhorted them to continue their efforts against imminent attacks on Chicago neighborhood schools and the privatization of public education in 2013.

“We remain undivided, and we remain unapologetic for demanding the respect we deserve,” Lewis said.  “Our team is one that believes in justice, and we believe in confronting those who seek to put thousands of us out of work, shut down our schools and destabilize our students and communities.” 

No other profession but teaching has a responsibility as great as those whose primary job is to teach, inspire and motivate young people—especially those mired in systemic institutional poverty, said Lewis, who took office in June 2010. “When we see a kid not paying attention, we know there’s something else going on,” she said. “It’s not that we’ve bored them—it’s that they are consumed by their own lives,”

In the fight to save public education and public assets, the CTU has made the distinct connection between teachers unions and real education social justice through the work of various sectors of research, organizing and communications, Lewis said. Following a successful strike and contract campaign in 2012, the union continued to oppose Chicago Board of Education efforts to impart divisive and abusive policies on the public, such as disputing a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) claims of 145,000 “lost” school-age children since 2000—a figure that, according to CPS’s own data, was really between 25,000 and 30,000. 

As the March 31st deadline for the announcement of up to 100 school closings approaches, Lewis called for continued solidarity in the name of democracy, and said the united voices of teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians must remain unafraid to speak for themselves and for their students.

“We have to show all of them that if you threaten the livelihood of a few, you threaten the livelihood of us all,” she said.

Chicago Teachers Union