Teacher Activist Seeks to Unseat Alderman Mell
By Jim Vail
Secondcityteachers education news blog sent a Question and Answer interview with Tim Meegan, a Chicago Public Schools teacher and activist, who is running to unseat Deb Mell as the alderman of the 33rd ward. Meegan has an excellent website - https://www.meegan4ward33.com in which he lays out his platform.
|Teacher Tim Meegan is running for alderman.|
Why did you decide to run for alderman?
For two reasons which stem from my 11 years experience teaching in a neighborhood school. Currently teachers and parents are blamed for all of society's problems, which is not only unfair but blatantly misleading and further complicates an already complex issue. The truth is a lot of factors go into student achievement, and the social baggage kids bring into the school impacts their success. For instance, last year I had a kid who slept in my class every day. When I asked him why, he told me his mom works two part time jobs and he stays up late just so he can see her once a day. That's a social issue that politicians can more effectively combat by passing a $15 minimum wage. I want to fight to address the root causes of problems that affect students the most, such as fully funding neighborhood schools, raising the minimum wage, creating more affordable housing, ending excessive testing, and creating an elected representative school board.
Secondly, I am running as a result of my experiences as an activist for educational justice in Chicago. The school closings, charter expansion, and budget cuts were universally unpopular and unnecessary. Parents, teachers, and students did everything in their power to prevent them. But in the end those voices fell on deaf ears. In my mind the reason is because the citizens of Chicago can't hold their elected officials accountable because the Democratic machine has a death grip on power in this town. The Republicans are not a threat so we really have a one party system here. Over time the Democrats have moved more and more toward corporate interests and away from representing the needs of working families. In doing so they have created a space to the left for an independent political movement to emerge.
For example, look at their willingness to borrow money and privatize public assets as a means of shoring up the budget—an extremely short-sighted budgeting tactic. Time and again our politicians are willing to sell out their constituents and the health of the city as a whole to appease corporations. Placing the pension debate against the parking meter debate is another great example. We have to ask ourselves: why is it that the city will talk openly about gutting our pensions (a constitutional right) and yet treat the parking meter contract, which is owned by the Morgan Stanley, as something that cannot be touched? Our politicians treat contracts differently. Contracts with the working class are up for debate while contracts of financiers and the 1% are sacrosanct. It became clear to me that if we wanted to see the change we needed, we would have to take power directly.
What is the biggest problem in the city?
The biggest problem is the inequitable distribution of resources. The schools are one example, but there are countless others. You have exorbitant wealth and deep poverty here, and that reinforces segregation by race and class. But we are all Chicagoans, and it is in everyone's best interest to work together to solve our problems. It is in everyone's best interest to ensure people's basic needs are met- food, water, clothing, housing, and education; these are human rights. In finding a way to meet these needs you make it easier to solve a host of social problems. Having a home enables you to gain employment. A living wage reduces gang influence and violence; housing and employment stabilize families, which leads to improved educational outcomes for kids, which in turn strengthens economic development, etc. But Mell and Colon address homelessness by building homeless barricades. How's that working out? We don't need any more shortsighted political decisions; we need long term planning and the political will to make that happen.
What has the current alderman neglected to do in the ward?
I get the sense she doesn't have a handle on what the community's wants and needs are. When the budget cuts came she signed on to a TIF surplus return to shore up our school budgets, but did nothing to push it in city council. She has never attended public school nor does she have family members in CPS neighborhood schools.
I benefit from understanding multiple perspectives. I'm a middle class white guy with two kids in neighborhood public schools. In my experience as a teacher and activist I work regularly with Latino families in the ward from a variety of socio-economic situations, so I think that gives me a richer understanding of what's going on. I have one foot in both worlds, so to speak. No one has a better grasp than I do on education issues. Mell votes consistently with Rahm, which is not in line with what the community thinks. And many residents have complained about the lack of helpful assistance from her office. I can do better than that.
Why did you not say anything during the Gov. Quinn debate on endorsement in the House of Delegates?
While I am unhappy with Quinn's stance on public pensions, and I particularly dislike his choice of a running mate, I don't see a real alternative to Quinn. Voting for Rauner is unthinkable. Personally I'm sick and tired of "the lesser of two evils" politics, but for the CTU breaking with the democrats is not a realistic move right now. It's like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Before we break with the democrats, we must build a viable political alternative to the left. I hope that in a small way this campaign contributes to that goal.
What do you think of our union's close ties to the democrat machine? Is that a big problem in your estimation, or not?
The job of the union is to take care of its members, and for practical and personal reasons our members care about social justice issues that affect our students and their families. I think that the relationship between our union and the Democratic machine has become more one sided, especially in the last 20 years, with a disproportionate benefit going to the machine. The task at hand is to create an independent political alternative that listens to regular people and derives its power from organizing them. What that looks like in 10 years is anybody's guess, but worst case it will force the Democrats to listen to us. Hopefully, in time we can build a real working class alternative to the two parties of the 1%