● Karen Lewis, the legend-in-our-time former president of the Chicago Teachers Union, died Feb. 7. Following the electrifying teachers strike she led in 2012, Lewis had been planning to run for mayor of Chicago against Rahm Emanuel in 2015 when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Lewis was an inspirational leader, but also the leader of a truly democratic movement that has stayed strong in the wake of her being forced to step back.
Here are some remembrances of Lewis, beginning with one from her union:
Karen had three questions that guided her leadership: ‘Does it unite us, does it build our power and does it make us stronger?’ Before her, there was no sea of red — a sea that now stretches across our nation. She was the voice of the teacher, the paraprofessional, the clinician, the counselor, the librarian and every rank-and-file educator who worked tirelessly to provide care and nurture for students; the single parent who fought tremendous odds to raise a family; and the laborer whose rights commanded honor and respect. She was a rose that grew out of South Side Chicago concrete — filled with love for her Kenwood Broncos alumni — to not only reach great heights, but to elevate everyone she led to those same heights.
But Karen did not just lead our movement. Karen was our movement. In 2013, she said that in order to change public education in Chicago, we had to change Chicago, and change the political landscape of our city. Chicago has changed because of her. We have more fighters for justice and equity because of Karen, and because she was a champion — the people’s champion.
The energy that Karen Lewis brought to the teacher union labor movement vibrates through unions across the country. When you see fire in educators who are standing with students and community to demand justice, look in those flames for her unwavering determination—and her wide smile.
[CTU Vice President Stacy] Davis Gates said it was Lewis that gave union leaders and teachers in Chicago the conviction to take on the fight.
“You see all of the threads and the fruits of her labor manifesting in a way where you don’t have just the one, you have the mightier, you have the more stable, you have a chorus of voices shaking their hand and demanding the justice she embodied as the leader of this union,” she said.
● Relatedly, Chicago teachers again came to the brink of a strike as Mayor Lori Lightfoot sought to force them back into schools without adequate safety measures, but ultimately agreed to an improved school reopening plan.
● Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to unionize.