Education protest planned for weekend White Sox game

As dusk fell last night, some 1,500 orange-clad protesters gathered outside Wrigley Field, their cries of "Save our schools now!" overshadowing cheers from the Cubs' playoff game.

The leader of the protest, state Sen. James Meeks, D-Calumet, says there will be a similar one Sunday when the White Sox take the home field against the Tampa Devil Rays.

"We want the world to know," he says, "that Illinois has a good baseball team and a terrible record at funding education. We're 49th out of 50th and we're not going to take it anymore."

Meeks is pushing for a complete retooling of the system funding public schools in Illinois, including a possible tax swap that would switch funding from local property taxes to state income taxes.

Meeks hopes to use the media surrounding the baseball playoffs to get out the message about unequal public schools funding.  However, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has expressed concern that the protest would detract from the games.

"The mayor had the nerve to say that he didn't want us protesting tonight because if we protest we would be ruining the Cubs' day," says the senator. "I have a question, mayor: What about ruining our kids lives?"

The mayor has criticized Meeks for pulling Chicago kids out of classes the first day of school to attend a Sept. 2 school funding protest at New Trier Township High School. New Trier students attended Tuesday’s event and have formed the Illinois Council of Students to study Illinois' school funding.

During the rally, the Rev. Cy Fields of the West Side's Landmark Missionary Baptist Church said he found the game, which the Cubs lost 2-7 to the L.A. Dodgers, ironic.

"Did you know that our governor (Rod Blagojevich) of this state is a dodger? Did you know that we have true dodger players in the state legislature? Let me say this, a dodger is someone who shucks their responsibility."

The governor has said he wants to sit down and talk to Meeks and others about school funding, but not while they are still using children to make their point.

Demonstrator Marvin Saunders says he'll definitely attend Sunday’s protest. He moved from Chicago to the suburbs so his children could get better public school education.

He calls the current system underfunded and inadequate.

"I will go to every one they have until it's over," he says.  "If we have the seventh wealthiest state in the country how can we have 49th in terms of funding for our schools?”

School advocates are also using the city's quest to host the 2016 Olympic to draw attention to the funding issue.

"I don't see how we can say we're a world class city who wants the Olympics in Chicago if we can't give a world class education to our children," says Rev. Alexander Sharp, director of Protestants for the Common Good.