The April 21st March on Springfield

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It was a common refrain of rally organizers that they had
trouble sleeping the morning of April 21, 2010 before a Save
Our Schools rally was to take place in Springfield. Most of us
were up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m., anxious about the day, most
worried about something going wrong. At that point organizers
began going over the checklist: 28 dozen doughnuts,
enough caffeine to caffeinate the county, instructions to bus
captains, instructions to bus drivers, fact sheets, water, signup
sheets, bullhorns, video cameras, plastic water bottle
drums, banners, signs, and 1,000 Jobs With Justice whistles.
All this was made possible by intensive staff organizational
work and planning. These efforts, combined with
extensive and persistent organizer outreach and coalitionbuilding,
created a significant base for the event. It became
clear that anger was widespread and very deep. Public
education was being starved for funds. The legislature had
already failed us by cutting pensions. Tuitions were being
raised. A popular slogan was “Our class can’t go to class.”
A cautious confidence was growing over the two-week
period prior to the march. The Illinois Education Association
(IEA) had the responsibility of ordering the buses. We
started off by ordering three buses, but more sign-up
sheets came in, and we eventually commissioned seven
buses in all, just from the Champaign-Urbana area alone.
Similar reports were coming in from around the state.
It was time to go to the bus boarding sites. People frantically
moved from site to site, making sure that food, provisions,
and materials were properly allocated, making
sure that the bus captains were in place. Then we waited to
see who would show.
8:15 a.m. and here they came: Pre-K and elementary
kids with their parents, middle school students, high
school students, undergrads, grads, student IEA, Champaign
Federation of Teachers, Central Illinois Jobs With
Justice, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal
Workers, Graduate Employees Organization, Service
Employees International Union, Campus Labor Coalition,
Campus Faculty Association, Illinois Education Association
of Academic Professionals, PreK-12 teachers, social
workers, psychologists, certified occupational therapists
and assistants, support staff, including custodians, teacher
aides, clericals, bus drivers, and monitors. There were
some 350 people in all. We were witnessing the broadest
unity of public sector constituencies in recent memory.
We had been shouting at planning events for months,
“Get on the bus!” Well, we’re actually on the bus! As the
buses moved out of Champaign-Urbana, local organizers
felt exhilarated. We got the first part of our job done!
As we rode down I-72, rally participants engaged in
spirited discussions. You might say at this point that the
sugar and caffeine had kicked in. For many folks, it was
their first event ever, the first time they ever lobbied, the
first time they ever met so many people from so many
allied groups. Common ground was quickly found. As the
buses came closer to our destination, bus captains were
instructed to read the basic orders of the day. “Our message
to legislators and to the public must be focused. We’re
here to advocate for fair and full funding through progressive
taxes to save our schools and save our state. We’re
here to advocate for tuition freezes. We’re here to tell legislators
that they will be held accountable for the votes
they’ve taken on pensions, and they’ll be further held
accountable for the votes they take on fair funding.”
Six of our seven buses lined up and parked on Cook
Street, two blocks away from the Capitol building. Signs and
hats were distributed and marshals were selected. Champaign
folks coalesced around whistles and thumping water bottle
drums. Parade marshals for the IEA state-wide group asked
members of the Champaign contingent to help carry the lead
banner, which was immediately behind IEA state officers. The
GEO drum and Jobs With Justice whistle corps lead this part
of the parade. As we marched to the rally site, we were greeted
with cheers and chants, “SOS, SOS!” Three blocks later we
joined the rest of the march participants, 15,000 strong. This
was now the largest march in the history of Springfield! We
smiled and looked around with pride and awe.
A series of speakers representing citizen groups,
unions, and other constituent leaders spoke about the
issues which united us that day. We emphasized the need
for legislators to have the courage to pass a fair and progressive
tax. We are opposed to tuition hikes, a form of
regressive taxation. Speeches were given and people joined
The crowd of 15,000 would turn toward the Capitol
building and chant in unison, “Shame on you!”
From there the march commenced and, needless to say,
Champaign bullhorn captains were exquisite in directing
chants, with drums and whistles providing rhythm and
music. As thousands were marching, others headed into the
capitol building. Significant numbers of people made
attempts to occupy different parts of the capitol, many exercising
traditional, yet contentious lobbying with targeted
legislators. AFSCME retirees sneaked into the visitor’s balcony
in the house, pulled out hidden placards, and began
chanting. Security police promptly escorted them out. In
another instance SEIU members tried to rush the door of
the General Assembly Chambers, but were pushed back.
As the march wound down, people went to various
constituency and union tents around the capitol building
to be fed and to share experiences. It soon became time to
get back on the bus. We knew we had left a message, but it
was also time to figure out who was left behind. One of
our buses discovered that Jim McGuire, an AFSCME
leader, missed the bus, but House Representative Chapin
Rose drove him home! For most of us, we thought a lobby
day does not get better than that!
As much as this day felt to us like a high water mark, it was
most certainly a culmination of increasing resistance to the
attacks on public education. In the course of this last academic
year, we saw the incredibly successful graduate employees
strike. We saw the fight against furloughs. We saw the fight
against RIFs (lay-offs) in Pre-K through 12. We saw the campus
faculty teach-in. We saw the April 1st undergrad theater wherein
students in business suits held tin cans and asked for donations
to help the starving administrators. This year we also saw
the rise of student insurgencies across the country protesting
tuition hikes and the cuts in state scholarships, and even more
recently, high school students from California to Chicago to
New Jersey demonstrating against cuts in public education.
It is clear we now have a movement that is willing to
commit to a long term struggle to preserve our public
schools. We are absolutely sure we will be given another
opportunity to “get on the bus!”

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