AstroTurf or Hypocrisy? CTU Please Let Us Know

Photo credit: chicagotribune.com

The term “AstroTurf” comes to mind.  

You know, that’s what they call it when the financial resources behind a certain set of political activities are intentionally hidden in order to make it seem like the messages, ideas and activities originate from and are supported by the grassroots.  And it certainly came to mind when I read the Sun-Times article from Dan Mihalopoulos and Lauren Fitzpatrick about the funding that several local community organizations have received from the “newly wealthy” Chicago Teachers Union Foundation.

Let’s face it; when you see a coalition of community groups rally in Grant Park with the Chicago Teachers Union, you get the feeling that there’s a movement afoot.  When you hear those groups decry the evils of charter schools and school choice and insist that union demands in a contract negotiation be met regardless of the implications for the rest of the school system, the city or the state, you are made to believe that these community groups- and by extension the communities they represent- are deeply and passionately concerned about these issues and committed to seeing them resolved along the lines they suggest.

But, when it is revealed that these groups have received significant funding, not only from the Chicago Teachers Union, but also from the local union’s national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, one can only begin to question the true motives of the community organizations and the depth of the sincerity of their message.  One has to ask, “Is it real”?

Well, in my opinion…IT IS REAL.  It’s just unfortunate that some of the anti-school reform community can’t admit that the same realities exist inside the reform community.

Behind Saturday’s Chicago Sun-Times article, it’d be easy enough to begin an insulation campaign to suggest that groups like Action Now, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council are supporting the CTU for the money.  After all, that is the kind of conspiracy and corruption story that sells newspapers and brings readers to your blog.  But, it just isn’t reality.

There is no reason to believe that these groups don’t agree with the CTU ideologically.  And while neither the funder or the funded made any special efforts to broadcast the fact that these grants were made, they did follow traditional reporting practices making it easy enough for any interested party to connect the dots.

The unfortunate part about this story is not that the CTU had a successful sale of a property that yielded them millions of dollars or that they have used those multiplied millions to fund organizing work that supports their views.  The unfortunate part is that the CTU has chosen time and time again to insinuate that whenever anyone with money supports organizing work that opposes their view, the work must not be genuine advocacy; it’s just AstroTurf.  When wealthy people fund schools in low-income communities, it must be a “corporate agenda”, not the agenda of say…a high school teacher turned educational entrepreneur who really cares about children.  That kind of logic also makes no sense.

Here’s a time-tested truism for CTU leaders to consider: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

In our democracy, we form coalitions around ideological agreement and mutual interest.  Often when those coalitions form, resources are shared.  It makes sense when the Chicago Teachers Union does it.  It makes sense when school reformers do it.

I don’t see AstroTurf here.  But, maybe a little hypocrisy.  

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Chris Butler

Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate.

Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago.

Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.

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