Lewis supports national teachers strike

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Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and Diane Ravitch, president of the Network for Public Education. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said Sunday that she would support a national teachers strike.

“I do. But I don’t want to organize it,” she said with a laugh while addressing an annual conference of the Network for Public Education, an anti-school privatization group.

“We need to spend so much time organizing each other because there’s so many people that are nowhere near ready for that. And it’s too serious a move to do and to undertake without tons and tons of preparation, so, you know, 2020 maybe.”

Lewis, who led a Chicago teachers strike in 2012, said a strike has repercussions.

“We got spanked for it,” she said, noting the closure of 50 public schools.

“So I want people to walk into this not romanticizing what we did, because I think that’s something I run into,” said Lewis, who added she “gets freaked out” when people recognize her on the street.

“We shouldn’t have any delusions about it,” said Lewis, who deflected praise for her role in the strike. “That strike was so not lead by me. It was lead by rank-and-file members saying they’d had enough, and they wanted some respect.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which includes the Chicago Teachers Union, also spoke at the event at The Drake Hotel.

Weingarten, while speaking with a reporter, said she questioned the timing of when news broke about the investigation into the awarding of a $20 million no-bid contract to Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s former employer. The revelation made headline shortly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel won re-election.

“It just raised some eyebrows,” she said. “You wonder why.”

Lewis was joined on stage at the event by Diane Ravitch, who is president of the Network for Public Education, a blogger and research professor at New York University. Ravitch, who described herself as “the leader of the resistance” of privatization of public schools, wondered how the news would have affected voters.

“It doesn’t look good. . . . It might not have changed the outcome, it might have made some difference but maybe not enough to overcome that gap. But I think the best thing for voters is to have all the facts on the table, but they didn’t.”

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