In These Times Executive Director Alex Han argues that what just happened in Chicago—and what happens next in Philadelphia—sets the table for what’s possible for our country in 2024.

by Alex Han, In These Times

As Chicago’s 25,000 teachers walked out on strike in September 2012, I was looking for the right person to come speak about the historic action to a rag-tag group of downtown restaurant and retail workers who were hatching their own ambitious campaign.

I immediately thought of a middle school teacher I knew who’d helped organize the teachers’ strike. As a newly hired organizer at the Chicago Teachers Union, he’d stood out for many reasons. Always dressed in tattered hoodies and torn jeans, he had a willingness to take on ridiculous tasks, like planning a big rally on day three of the strike with just a few hours’ notice. And he could always be counted on by his comrades — once showing up on his bike at 11 p.m., having pedaled nine miles from the West Side of Chicago after putting his kids to bed, to join an encampment of parents and education activists outside of the Board of Education building downtown.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at the Safe Streets 4 All Mayoral Forum

All through summer 2012, those restaurant and retail workers had been meeting weekly at a church just off of Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile to plan a citywide campaign for higher wages, dignity and respect. When that middle school teacher came and spoke, the workers listened. ​You’re the ones who really hold the power,” he told them. He was passionate about the need to fight for workers in all communities. They furiously took notes. They were filled with anticipation — and hope.

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