Saturday, August 29, 2015

Trib Writer Tries To Spank Dyett Hunger Strike

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.


  1. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE is on a roll.

    Just last week, you had columnist Kristen McQueary metaphorically orgasming at the fantasy of a natural disaster destroying Chicago---as, along with the carnage will come thes privatatization of Chicago's schools... her column complete with Freudian imagery like "water gushing through manhole covers".

    Now, you have this nutjob Eric Zorn..

    Here's Fred Klonsky weighing in on Zorn:

    The Chicago Tribune has the most amazing stable of screwed-up journalists around.

    This is not a newspaper.

    This is group therapy that we all can listen in on.

    Two weeks ago it was Kristen McQueary and her dreams of a major disaster like Hurricane Katrina hitting Chicago so we could get a New Orleans style school reform.

    Her op-ed piece included what some thought were some very Freudian images of water gushing through manhole covers.

    So, Kristen. How did that make you feel?

    Columnist Eric Zorn was obviously feeling jealous. Up until the Trib hired McQueary, Zorn was the weirdest Trib writer in their stable of head cases.

    "Hunger striking is a form of hostage taking, albeit one in which the captors and the hostages are the same people.

    "Should we negotiate with hostage takers? Only when it’s literally a matter of life and death."

    The captors and the hostages are the same people!

    Should we negotiate with hostage takers, Zorn ponders.

    But they are the captors! Or the hostages? Or the captors?

    Negotiate about what, Eric?

    The hunger strikers are asking for a neighborhood high school in an African American neighborhood where there is none.

    Eric thinks we should wait until someone dies first?

    His column is titled, “When to pay attention to hunger strikers.”

    Not yet, Eric. Nobody has died.

    and this comment:

    Bob Scharba
    August 29, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Nothing from the right surprises me these days. Trump is the truest, darkest heart of modern conservatism. Republican politicos are embarrassed by that, because they know it’s all too true. People like Zorn or McQueary don’t even have the decency to be embarrassed by their barbaric assholery.

    1. Jack - you should have included my response to Bob Scharba on Fred's blog as well. We cannot dismiss this as in issue of "the right". Eric Zorn is the *liberal* columnist for the Tribune.

      Peter - excellent analysis. Much more polite than the scathing comment I left on his blog, but basically saying the same thing.

  2. Great job. You're right... even in PA you know more than Zorn. We English teachers do know how to research! Fred and Glen have schooled Zorn so many times, but I fear he is a very slow learner. (I'm not sure Zorn understands much of Glen's vocabulary.) I know...Fred, please draw one of your wonderful pictures so Zorn can finally get it.

  3. Great job. You're right... even in PA you know more than Zorn. We English teachers do know how to research! Fred and Glen have schooled Zorn so many times, but I fear he is a very slow learner. (I'm not sure Zorn understands much of Glen's vocabulary.) I know...Fred, please draw one of your wonderful pictures so Zorn can finally get it.

  4. Zorn doesn't like the protesters' "tactics" - when he has no context upon which to judge them, since he has no idea of their actions up to this point. He dismisses and belittles them, when he has made no effort to find out what their motivations are. Well, I think the tone and attitude of his superficial article are insulting and offensive, and show his lack of character and humanity.

    1. The funny thing is, if Zorn knew history (he doesn't), he would know that hunger strikes are an honored way of protesting, including Gandhi and others. No one takes on a hunger strike this long without a real cause and some major courage. Zorn should be praising these strikers and working to help them get what they're asking for, NOT scorning them. Who does that?

    2. People who believe those "Others" don't deserve respect.

  5. Thanks for spanking the Trib writer right back... may I also suggest grounding and going to bed without supper as long as the hunger strikers do?

  6. In and effort to educate Zorn and Zorn-like folks, was going to write a short history of prominent hunger strikes, but the Huffington Post has done it for me:

    DAVE STEIBER: (parent and teacher, explaining to his son)

    Me- Buddy (referring to my son), we are going to the store to buy juice to bring to Dyett High School for parents who are there protesting.

    My son- Daddy, why do they need juice?

    Me- Because they aren't eating and need juice to drink.

    My Son- Why are they not eating?

    Me- Because they are protesting the closure of Dyett High School.

    My Son- Why someone close a school?

    Me- The city wants to close it.

    My son- Why?

    At this point, what I want to tell my son is that the way that Chicago Public Schools are run is not a democracy. That CPS and the Mayor do not care what the people actually want. That the fact that people feel forced to go on a Hunger Strike is ridiculous for a developed country, in this day and age.

    A Hunger Strike is a measure of last resort in terms of a protest, because if things do not work out it can ultimately lead to death.

    When Gandhi was trying to help the people of India get rid of the British colonizers, who refused to leave India, he would use the Hunger Strike as a means of protest to force the British to negotiate with him, when they would refuse to meet.

    In California, in the 1960's, Mexican Americans were being forced to work on grape farms for very little pay, were sprayed with dangerous chemicals, and were provided inhumane work conditions. They decided to organize and form a union. The grape farm owners did not want the workers to organize. The owners would harass and intimidate the organizers. The workers tried many different tactics, such as pickets, strikes, marches, and boycotts. Eventually Caesar Chavez, who was one of the leaders, decided insufficient progress was being made. He decided to go on a hunger strike.

    In both of these historical examples of hunger strikes, making the public aware of the hunger strike was the most important goal.

    In India, when Gandhi would go on a hunger strike the Indian workers would often refuse to work until negotiations began again. Gandhi had such a following and the entire basis for British control relied on the Indian workers. In the case of Chavez and the grape workers, he and his fellow organizers were able to gain powerful allies in California, like Bobby Kennedy and others, who helped bring their struggle to more national stage.

    The media was one of the biggest things that helped Gandhi and Chavez. The newspapers and reporters covered both of these events. The general public became more aware.

  7. Here's a good article from Bob Simpson, from his "Bobbosphere" blog:

    The group has submitted a 53 page detailed proposal that outlines the philosophy, curriculum and governance for the school. I’ve read it. If I weren’t 68 years old and retired I would apply to work there in a heartbeat. Here’s why:

    “Our philosophy of education is to prepare young people to deeply study and understand their social and physical reality so that they can enter the global stage of history as actors transforming their world. In the process they learn the academic and artistic disciplines necessary for their own development and future life plans and for making a contribution to better our planet, which sorely needs both environmental sustainability and leadership for peace and justice—the two foci of our school”—— excerpt from the proposal

    This is education for liberation, a freedom school in the tradition of the ones set up during Reconstruction and the civil rights era. The proposal outlines a rich curriculum in the humanities, the sciences, mathematics, music, art, world languages and more. It reminds me of the private Chicago Lab School where Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan send their children, only better because the Dyett proposal envisions deep involvement with the local community as part of its avowedly social justice mission.

    The hunger strikers have received widespread solidarity in Chicago, across the USA and around the world.

    The historically African American community of Bronzeville is a logical place for such an institution. An important destination for Black people during the Great Migration from the South, Bronzeville was home to Ida B. Wells, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, John H. Johnson and Louis Armstrong. Dyett High School was named for Walter Dyett, a Chicago Public Schools music teacher whose students included Nat King Cole, Bo Diddley and Dinah Washington.

    CONTINUED on next post:

  8. CONTINUES from last post:

    BOB SIMPSON: (continued)

    Bronzeville has also been a center of resistance to segregation, racism and poverty. In the 1919 race riot, Bronzeville residents, some recently returned from service in WWI, were forced to defend the community against armed white racist mobs. Bronzeville is the location of the historic Quinn Chapel where human rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony and W.E.B. DuBois have spoken. It is home to the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) one of the oldest African American community organizations in Chicago. KOCO has been one of the leaders of the campaign to transform Dyett High School.

    Jitu Brown of KOCO is one of the hunger strikers and said this at an August 17th press conference when the strike began:

    JITU BROWN: “I’m here today because we have been pushed to the point of putting our bodies on the line. To say enough is enough. That we are tired of the destabilizing of our schools. We are tired of schools that have been sabotaged from the beginning and labeled as failing and our children being shipped around from school to school as if they don’t matter while on the other side of town children have Mandarin Chinese. They have Spanish. They have world languages.

    "They have all the opportunities they need while our children have to go to schools where they have to take art and physical education as online classes. We are tired of Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education refusing to support a community driven proposal for a Walter Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.”

    A revitalized Dyett High School would be more than a great school for Bronzeville. It could be a model for progressive education around the USA. It would also be Bronzeville’s gift to the world. The school would educate young people to help meet the environmental challenges that threaten the biosphere and the survival of humanity. The hunger strikers are risking their health and their lives to make all this happen.

    And Rahm Emanuel and his corporate sponsors would rather close schools, privatize education and gentrify neighborhoods.

    This is naked in-your-face environmental racism. To quote a well known popular movie, some of which was filmed right here in Chicago,”Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

    Rahm Emanuel is one of them.