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Chicago Students Protest Drastic Cuts; Ask "Where's Our Bailout?"

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CHICAGO "The Beautiful Struggle" was the name of Talib Kweli's second solo album and that's what it looked like when hundreds of high school students rallied here May 5, protesting devastating teacher layoffs and program cuts to public schools.

Students of all hues and neighborhoods peacefully marched, ran and skipped to the State of Illinois Thompson Center to protest the massive cuts caused by state lawmakers' inability to solve a huge budget crisis.

"You cut, we cut" one handmade sign read.

Some 800 students, mainly from the city's Whitney Young High School, walked out of their classrooms, at 10:20 a.m. for the downtown rally. Chanting "Save our schools," the 14- to 18-year-olds took to the streets.

"We are speaking out for a unified Chicago student body," said one student speaker.

The state budget cuts mean:

├ éČ 20,000 teachers and staff laid-off statewide,

├ éČ 37 students per classroom,

├ éČ no sophomore sports,

├ éČ cuts to programs including after-school, summer, full-day kindergarten, magnet, Montessori, charters and International Baccalaureate.

First Lady Michelle Obama graduated from Whitney Young, a magnet school considered to be one of the best public schools Chicago has to offer. Two weeks ago, one-fifth of its teaching staff received pink slips.

Freshman Mia Espivo said, "With 37 [in a class], it'll be loud, crowded and hot. And the less we will want to learn."

Students were also outraged by the 51 percent dropout rate in Chicago Public Schools. "Where's our bailout?" they chanted.

Outside the state office building, they turned the plaza's benches into a makeshift platform and spoke from a bullhorn.

"I wrote this last night," said Whitney Young's Hilario, pulling a folded up piece of notebook paper from his pocket. Shaking it out, he began, "Nelson Mandela once said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.'"

That power surged through the crowd. Students said their collective and unified voice made them strong.

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Terrie Albano is co-editor of People's World, www.peoplesworld.org.
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