By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Jesse Jackson Sr. was host to elected officials and clergy and community leaders from across the state Tuesday evening at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters. The group is organizing a conference in Springfield to work toward creating a unified agenda to take to Illinois legislators.
The group, which included U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1) and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, held a press conference in the television studio at Rainbow/PUSH, 930 E. 50th St., to announce the purpose and plans for a conference on Saturday, Dec. 28, in Springfield. The time and location for the conference will be announced at a later date.
Jackson said the group is inviting community members, organizations, youth and clergy to attend the conference to participate in setting what the group is calling an Illinois Marshall Plan, a statewide agenda that will state the needs of communities and charge legislators to address the needs.
Jackson said the group has committed itself to choosing policy over personality.
“This is not about the election. It’s about the issues,” Jackson said. “Don’t presumably vote, don’t choose who over what.”
Rush said African American voter turnout is essential to the democratic process but many of the concerns of the African American community aren’t addressed because there is no agenda. He used the large number of school closings in Chicago as an example.
“Everyone is outraged by the mass amount of school closures in one fell swoop,” Rush said. “That outrage can become action.”
Rush said, “The Black middle class has suffered because of the firing of [so many] Black teachers.”
According to the Chicago Teachers Union, 43 percent of teachers laid off by the mass school closings of the 2011-2012 school year are African American, although the group represents just 29 percent of all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers. Thirty-six percent of the teachers laid off by the closures were white, although the group represents 47 percent of CPS teachers.
Rush said if Chicago would have had an elected school board things might have gone differently.
Lewis, who since being elected as president of CTU has not backed down in voicing the concerns of teachers, has had quite a few run-ins with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of the school board. Conflicts about layoffs, pay and class size led up to her leading the teachers in a strike in 2012.
Although schools are her greatest concern, Lewis said she’s willing to help the group create a strategy and draft an effective agenda for all community concerns.
She said presenting legislators with an agenda, a plan and a policy is more important than having a lot of people rallying.
“We need a progressive structure, we need a fair tax that will continue to provide what the city needs,” Lewis said. “We’ve seen cuts across the city we have to address healthcare, student debt, incarceration. We need a political organization that is proud to stand across the state to say enough is enough.”
For more information about the Dec. 28 conference, call RainbowPUSH at 773-373-3366 or visit rainbowpush.org.