This is a difference between the passive be and the active being….
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
When he composed his gritty paean to the “City of the Big Shoulders,” Carl Sandburg may have been idealizing the complicated working-class American Dream he witnessed in the city of Chicago, but then, that dream may have seemed possible—a decade before F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unmasking in the wake of WWI.
But Sandburg was also prescient:
After the 2015 mayoral election in Chicago, “wicked,” “crooked,” and “brutal” ring harshly in the ears of advocates for equity and public education, leave a bad taste in our mouths—those of us who were on the ground and virtually watching on social media only to rise today to this: Rahm Emanuel wins second term as Chicago mayor.
I have dear friends (real and virtual) who are from and currently work and teach in Chicago so this mayoral race has been painful to witness.
And there is a coincidence here I must highlight.
Months before Hurricane Katrina crushed New Orleans, I was attending an education convention there with a friend. One afternoon as we we preparing to head out, I was watching George Carlin on a TV interview with Charlie Rose (I think).
I recall vividly Carlin explaining that he was tired of people assuming him to be a Democrat, adding that Carlin was a dedicated non-voter.
And that is me. I am a Carlin-inspired non-voter. It pains me to watch wonderful and good people participate in U.S. partisan politics, but the Chicago mayoral race is yet another bitter lesson that Carlin was right.
Partisan politics in the U.S. is the “master’s tools.”
Many people—especially those living in privilege—do not see what we see, do not seek what we seek. Advocates for public education and social equity must confront that we are a serious minority:
Pretending that Candidate X is better than Candidate Y for reasons related to education or equity is an idealism that we cannot afford.
Shouting “neoliberalism!” and “corporate education reform!” does not resonate in the U.S. the way it does among our own—just as we should recognize when a major mainstream media outlet presents both sides of a situation that has only one side—the callous mistreating of black and poor children—the public likely cannot see the abuse.
Groups in the U.S. marginalized because of race, class, gender, or sexuality have been told they do not matter, told with deadly force that their voices cannot count. The current political system is, like the rest of the country, a plaything of the wealthy.
Political action that is “bad” impacts mostly the poor and disenfranchised; political action that is “good” serves the wealthy and privileged. Elections—as in the Chicago mayoral race—are a reflection of privilege and disenfranchisement, not of the quality of any candidates.
Activism in the name of equity cannot afford idealism, cannot change anything if we remain trapped inside the “master’s tools” and a refusal to admit we see a different world than those in power and those who serve the ruling elite.
Sandburg’s Chicago as the promise of hard work has certainly been replaced today as another lesson in what the U.S. has become despite political rhetoric to the contrary: We are not a country built by workers or a country that treasures it workers, but a country that allows a few to feed off the blood, sweat, and tears of its replaceable workers—including teachers—and a country that casts aside many of its children (especially those that are black, brown, and poor).
Chicago joins New Orleans, then, as a very ugly lesson that a few see but most do not.
Chicago today reinforces my refrain, beware the roadbuilders because they will always win the game they invented.