Shutting down 49 schools in predominantly minority & low income communities in 2013. “Hey Rahm, let’s face it. Your policies are racist!”
Forcing parents & students to plead with the school board to not shut down their schools. (Fun fact: the Walton Family Foundation funded these “community meetings” as a PR move to make it seem like the communities actually had some say in the matter. They didn’t.).
Manufacturing a budget crisis to justify school closures — and funneling hundreds of millions of dollars a year ($422 MILLION in 2013 alone) away from public schools & other municipal programs, and into a secretive slush fund he controls via “Tax Increment Financing.”
And don’t forget his buddies like Juan Rangel, campaign manager of his first mayoral run. Despite millions of dollars in state funds, Rangel managed to run the UNO Charter Network into huge amounts of debt (though his cronies in construction and maintenance did alright). He was forced to resign amidst the scandal, and later the SEC charged him with defrauding investors. (In this country, investors occasionally see justice. School children, not so much).
Yesterday Jacobin Magazine published “The School Closure Playbook,” a film essay I directed about Chicago’s decision to shut down forty-nine public schools in 2013:
This piece is adapted from two essays from Jacobin’s “Class Action” handbook, Kenzo Shibata’s “Disaster Capitalism, Chicago Style” and Joanne Barkan’s “How Mega-Foundations Threaten Public Education.” It features original cinematography by Katrina Ohstrom; music by Rob Warmowski of the San Andreas Fault; and video journalism by Kai-Duc Luong, Heather Stone, and John Sheehan. This project also owes a tremendous debt to BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis, in ways which will be obvious to anyone familiar with his work (and that saying about imitation and flattery).
As I write this, Chicago is about an hour away from deciding whether to re-elect mayor Rahm Emanuel. If he receives less than 50% of the vote in today’s election, there will be a run-off in April. Responsible for appointing both the CEO and school board, Emanuel exercises enormous control over the city’s public schools. His policies of school closures and privatization have had devastating effects on Chicago’s children, yet are being replicated in districts around the country.
This is perhaps the most depressing film I have ever worked on, but also the most hopeful. The soul-crushing hours spent listening to people like Eli Broad and Milton Friedman were more than matched by the inspiration of watching speeches by people like Karen Lewis, Asean Johnson (seriously, watch this!), and Jitu Brown. They represent just a few of the many parents, teachers, students and community members who are working tirelessly around the country, at the genuine grassroots, to bring democracy and justice to public education.
This project showed me that there are real heroes in America today. You may not often hear about them in the media, but you could find them outside in the cold today, knocking on doors in Chicago to get out the vote for an #ElectedBoardNow. And last week you could find them occupying absentee, Christie-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson’s offices in Newark, NJ to demand local control of their schools.
If you are interested in learning more, joining forces, or perhaps sharing some of that green stuff that gets posters printed, GOTV vans filled with gas, and films made, here are some resources:
- I was able to make this film in part because two teachers, Jackson Potter and Albert Ramirez, documented the early consequences of school closures and turnarounds in their film Renaissance 2010 On the Frontlines. These teacher-filmmakers were also founding members of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which transformed the teachers union and joined forced with parents and community members to organize against corporate school reform and hold a successful strike in 2012;
- Parents United for Responsible Education, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the Raise Your Hand Coalition and the Journey for Justice Alliance are examples of some of the important organizing being done by parents and communities;
- The Chicago Students Union, Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, The Newark Students Union, and the Philly Student Union proves the kids are not only alright, but total bad-asses;
- The TIF Illumination Project has done an amazing job of exposing the corruption in Tax Increment Financing and teaching citizens how to investigate what happens to their tax dollars;
- Finally, Jacobin has done excellent work reporting on education issues and with your support maybe I can keep making videos for them.