A High School Student-Activist on her Fight to Save Chicago's Public Schools

Devon Douglas-Bowers I Education I Interview I June 28th, 2013

The following is a transcript of a recent interview conducted by Devon Douglas-Bowers with Angelique Roberts concerning the recent school closings in Chicago and how people have fought back against it. Ms. Roberts states that she is a "17 year old public high school student from the South Side of Chicago" and that she has "been vegan for 3 years" and does her "best to live in a way that extends compassion to all earthlings." She hopes that her activism "will inspire others to be the change they wish to see in the world." She is on Twitter at Zinc323.

DDB (Devon Douglas-Bowers) : Tell us about yourself and how you became involved in activism.

AR (Angelique Roberts) : At the age of 12 I fell in love with (political) punk music. Bands like Subhumans, Anti-Flag, Rise Against, and Propagandhi - they helped shape my worldview and caused me to see myself less as a person who is aimlessly walking through the world, but a person with a duty to change it. Through music I found out about veganism, anarchism, and a host of other issues. The syndicated podcast, Citizen Radio, gave me the final push I needed to go out into the streets! The first movement I participated in was "US uncut," which led to my involvement in Occupy Chicago; and now I'm the confounder of Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS ).

DDB : Why exactly are so many public schools being closed down and what are the criteria for closing those schools?

AR : The mayor and members of the unelected school board have wrongly labeled schools as being "underutilized." This poorly-defined term is what has been used to justify over 40,000 students, 90% of whom are black, to have to switch schools as a result of these closures.

DDB : What are the racial aspects at play in regards to the school shut downs?

AR : The 50 schools that are set to be closed are in low-income areas on the South and West Sides of Chicago. 90% of those affected by the closings are African American. Chicago is one of the most segregated and violent cities in the country. The distance elementary kids will have to travel to get to school will increase and cause many of them to cross gang lines. A major fear of the community is that this will cause an increase in violence.

DDB : What role did you play in organizing your school for the walk-outs against school closings?

AR : I kept the students at my school in the loop about upcoming actions and encouraged them to participate. Many teachers at my school were kind enough to allow time in the beginning of class to host mini teach-ins and have discussions with my classmates about school closings. I also served as 1 of 3 ambassadors for my high school at CSOSOS meetings.

DDB : How has the general public reacted to the closing of these schools and how has the activist community played a role?

AR : One of the most inspiring aspects of the fight for a more equitable education system is that it's not just a movement that consists of union members and run-of-the-mill activists, but it also includes students, teachers, parents, and a deafening outcry from the larger community.

DDB : How did the mainstream media respond to the walkouts? How did the city government respond?

AR : The local media responded well to our students group. Our actions have been covered by over a dozen reputable news sources such as the Huffington Post, CBS, NBC, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Occupied Chicago Tribune, ABC, DNA Info, and many more.

DDB : Have there been any successes in fighting against the school closings?

AR : Even though the closing of 50 schools is devastating, I still consider this to be a win. The initial list that the mayor released had 120+ schools slated for closure. Without such a large push from the community, it is very likely that the board would have closed many more schools. The fight for educational justice is far from over!

DDB : What is the state of the fight currently?

AR : Last week, we occupied Lafayette Elementary, which is slated for closure next September. One can expect more marches, more disruption of board meetings, and more sit-ins.

DDB : How can people support the fight to save Chicago's public schools?

AR : One of the best ways to support our fight is by supporting other movements that are similar to it. Massive austerity cuts are not something that is only home to Chicago, but is a worldwide issue. Fight against oppression, fight against injustice, fight against austerity, whenever possible.