Eric Zorn decided to just wade on into the Dyett High Hunger Strike yesterday with a piece that is as stunning as it is ill-informed. But it underlines the problem of effectively organizing for a cause.
Zorn apparently didn't do any more reading on the hunger strike except to learn that there is one, and that it has something to do with a high school. Apparently some folks have tried to convince Zorn that the strike "requires coverage of their cause, which is the establishment of a particular type of new school in the Dyett High School building in Washington Park."
But Zorn says he's turned off by the tactics, and goes on to equate a hunger strike with holding hostages and/or slow-motion suicide. But we don't negotiate with hostage takers, and suicide is, I guess, rude. And what Zorn is really saying is that he doesn't believe that it's that big a deal, not even to the hunger strikers:
Would today's protesters rather die than live in a world without the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, the academy they want CPS to establish?
The piece is spectacular in its lack of nuance or understanding. He talks about the proposed high school as if they want it established from scratch, and not as if they are proposing a way for the community to hold onto its last open-enrollment, community-based school. A school that they already had. A school that CPS is threatening to either hand over to outside interests or to simply close entirely, which sets the stage for the kind of gentrification that is already an issue for Chicago.
But beyond Zorn's unwillingness to do even cursory homework because, I guess, he doesn't care for protestors' tone, is the same old question I always have for these types of folks-- what does he think the protestors should do instead?
Should they peacefully and professionally develop a positive alternative for the CPS to show how the community school could be maintained and improved? They've done that. Should they partner with respectable community organizations to show just how serious and solid the plan is? They've done that. Should they repeatedly approach the authorities through the appropriate channels with the appropriate paperwork? They've done that.
What else would he like them to do?
If this were a violent protest, we know that everyone would be tsk-tsking the Dyett supporters for not doing things The Right Way. Don't be so violent. Don't take such a tone. When you are so confrontational, you just hurt your own cause.
I can't say this hard enough: Dyett supporters have done everything right, everything that could be asked of people who have been trying to get their voices heard for years and years-- unless what critics like Zorn are really suggesting that Dyett supporters should voice their opinions in such a way that they can be more easily ignored, and that anything they do that makes any kind of noise at all, attracts any sort of attention is just not okay. They should be not seen, not heard, and happy with whatever CPS decides to do to them, their school, their community.
What the hell kind of choice is that??
Zorn has established himself as a fan of staying in place and not bucking the system in the past. Back in July, he wrote a piece in response to Sandra Bland's arrest and death, and while the piece is bluntly critical of the police officer and minces no words about how wrong he was every step of the way, he still somehow lands on this conclusion:
The lesson here is that you must always defer meekly to the police. Even
when they're acting like bullies, goading you or issuing you
preposterous orders like to put out your cigarette as you sit in your
own car, don't challenge their authority. As I reminded my kids in the
wake of this story, things will never go better for you if you argue
with police officers. Comply. And if you feel your rights are being
violated, take it up later with a judge.
So perhaps the message of Zorn and others is that the Dyett Twelve should defer meekly to bullies. That's lousy advice, particularly given how relatively meek and non-confrontational the Dyett protesters have actually been. And people in not-wealthy neighborhoods with not-white skins have been called upon to defer meekly far too many times.
Zorn and those who agree with him are just plain wrong, and out of line, and lazy. Mr. Zorn, I'm an English teacher in Pennsylvania-- how is it that I know more about the situation at Dyett than a journalist in Chicago? Shame on you, sir. Here's a quick link to sources with which you can begin to educate yourself and then do a proper job writing about the issues involved.