Now that the Chicago school closings have been announced, parents have reacted with outrage. With the closings disproportionately affecting minority students, there’s been a lot of backlash. A lot of the coverage I’ve seen has talked about how this will impact Mayor Emanuel’s next election. To no one’s surprise, a bunch of pissed off teachers and parents is not going to help the Mayor get reelected. I wonder, however, will voter turnout be the only way their anger is expressed? I’m starting to think there might be a more drastic backlash coming. Hundreds of parents are talking about leaving the city once these schools close down. Rahm has promised that the schools that accept displaced students will all have a library and air conditioning. This is not enough for parents who fear for the safety of their children who now have to go through rival gang territories to get to school. Alison Burke, who has a 3 year old son said “There’s no doubt about it. I’ve talked to hundreds of parents who all say if their kids can’t get into neighborhood schools they can’t stay.” In a city that has already had dozens of shootings this year, parents have a right and a reason to be worried. Historically when big changes like this happen, violence gets worse. But I can’t help but wonder what these leaving families will mean for Chicago. Chicago has already lost upwards to 200,000 people since the early 2000s and each year the city continues to lose more people. What will Chicago look like once even more people leave? And perhaps more concerning, what will happen to the families who cannot afford to move?
The cynic in me hypothesizes that as more poor to blue collar blacks and latin@s leave, the city will “revitalize” these communities so that more well off, white families can move in. Eventually this will force the families that are staying in these communities out. Now I’m not saying this outcome of gentrification was planned -I’m not that much of a conspiracy theorist- but it’s interesting to think about.
In the meantime I worry about the families who will have to stay behind. What push will Rahm have to fix schools in impoverished areas of Chicago if people just up and leave? On the flip side, I’d imagine if I had a child that was going to be impacted by these closings, and I had the option of moving, I would. I’m sure Rahm isn’t expecting many families to leave, but this could be one hit to his record if they do. I’m sure it will be hard for him to win reelection if he is known as the Mayor everyone is running away from. And his opponent will only have to promise to repopulate the city to gain popularity. Rahm says he’s prepared to accept the political consequences of his action, but I’m not sure he realizes how drastic those consequences could be. But then again, he always has some trick up his sleeve.