Ministers call paying protesters unusual

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Rev. Larry Roberts of Trinity All Nations Church was among parents and pastors chiding CPS for keeping parents out of school closing decisions. They talked to reporters in a hallway outside the Chicago Board of Education lobby at 125 S. Clark st. Tuesday, January 24, 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Reacting to allegations that “rent-a-protesters” packed recent school closing hearings, two ministers said Tuesday it is not common practice for Chicago clergy to pay people to attend hearings or “training.”

“We don’t pay people for training,” said the Rev. Alvin Love of Lilydale First Baptist Church. In fact, “Many people who go to training pay to go.”

But to pay people just to show up at a hearing – as two protesters alleged – “That’s kind of carpetbagging. We don’t do that kind of thing,” Love said.

Love and the Rev. Larry Roberts of Trinity All Nations Church reacted to a report Tuesday in the Chicago Sun-Times in which two men said they were duped into going to recent school closing hearings by the lure of money.

Both said they were offered $25 to attend school-related rallies while trying to get energy-bill assistance at the Englewood office of the HOPE Organization headed by the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins of Bethlehem Star M.B. Church. One of the protesters, Thaddeus Scott, said he was promised an extra $25 to speak and handed a script at the last minute.

Watkins has insisted that any protesters were supposed to be trained first and their “stipends” were meant to pay them for that training.

However, Watkins could not specify the date and location of training for the Jan. 6 protesters. He said he was not aware that people were given scripts.

Love has a deep roots in community organizing. He was one of the first ministers approached for help by now-President Barack Obama during Obama’s days as a South Side community organizer.

Love said that he has sent church members to community-organizing training before, but either the members paid for it or he paid for them to be trained. Such training, he said, is not a one-day event but rather 12 hours a day of training for five days.

“You can’t just walk in and hand someone a script. That’s not community organizing,” Love said. “He pulled together a crowd.”

Watkins, whose HOPE Organization has won nearly $1.47 million in Chicago Public School contracts since 2010, is among a coalition of pastors who have supported Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s call for a longer school day.

Rev. Roberts agreed that “it is not a common practice to pay stipends” and he does not pay stipends for community organizing.

Roberts and Love commented after a news conference calling on CPS to bring parents and the community into the school-closing process before target lists are announced, rather than after, so they can try to improve their schools and avoid closures or phase outs.

Right now, Roberts said, parents and communities are being “dictated to” about closings when they should be part of a “democracy” involved in the solution and “not a dictatorship.”

“The voices of the community should be heard before decisions are passed down by an ivory tower,” Love said.

At this point, the group said, CPS should to allow parents to vote on whether their schools should be closed. CPS is “losing the faith and support of parents” because they are turning to them too late in the process, said Wendy Katten, of the parent group Raise Your Hand.

Becky Carroll, a CPS spokeswoman, said the system has met with parents since the closure announcements and “every stakeholder in the system has an opportunity to voice their opinion before the Board takes any action.”

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