As it becomes increasingly possible that Barack Obama may be our next president, some of his past associations have begun to crop up in a few media outlets. The major newspapers have shown an amazing lack of interest in his associations and a few “progressives” have attacked such inquiries as “racist.” There has been more talk about “The Chicago Way” and I suspect we will hear more about that in the future. Here is a primer on Obama and The Chicago Way.
One data point is the 1987 Chicago Teachers’ strike that led to attempts at reform.
A 1987 teachers’ strike brought those two sides together to push for a reform act passed by the Illinois legislature in 1988 that created “Local School Councils” (LSC) to be elected by residents in a particular school area. According to Shipps, the strike “enrag[ed] parents and provid[ed] the catalyst for a coalition between community groups and Chicago United [the business lobby] that was forged in the ensuing year.” (The full story of this complicated process is provided by Shipps in her book.)
This battle between parents and the teachers’ union led to legislation and a “local school council” movement that was captured by the political far left.
The LSC’s were to be made up by a majority of parents and have the power to hire and fire principals thus creating a new power center in the school system against what both reform groups viewed as the bureaucratic and expensive school board, on the one hand, and, on the other, the teachers union. In my view these types of councils are reminiscent of the manipulative “community” bodies set up in regimes like those of Hugo Chavez and the Sandinistas – used to control genuine democratic movements such as trade unions. Dorothy Shipps argues, as I will suggest below, that there is an alternative approach that is genuinely democratic and possibly more effective in improving outcomes for students.
Here is where Obama enters the picture.
Active in the local control from below, on the “community” side of this effort, was Bill Ayers who had returned to Chicago in 1987 as an assistant professor of education at the University of Illinois’ Chicago Circle campus, after surfacing from the underground and earning his Ph.D. at Columbia. Another ally in this battle at the same time was Barack Obama’s Developing Communities Project (DCP), as Obama notes briefly in his Dreams From My Father. (See also, “Meeting on School Reform Halted,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 19, 1988 at 3; and “Black Parents” A letter to the Chi. Trib. on Aug. 23, 1988 from a DCP member defending the 1988 local control reform bill) The DCP had its origins in the “radical” movement started by Saul Alinsky.
Obama, of course, was an Alinsky disciple. The Chicago Annenberg Challenge comes in here.
Bill raised money to start the Small Schools Workshop in the early 90s and eventually hired another former maoist from the 60s (and actually someone who was a bitter opponent of Ayers as SDS disintegrated) named Mike Klonsky first as research director and then to head it up. Klonsky was a PhD student at UIC studying under Ayers. Obama would approved grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Workshop from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. [Bill’s brother John later got in on the small schools approach also, raising money in part from the Annenberg Challenge program started by Bill and chaired by Obama
Klonsky was the Obama web site blogger who was suddenly fired when his Weather Underground connections were revealed. He was driving a taxi when Ayres steered a large grant to him to start the Small Schools Workshop. The Annenberg money seems to have been distributed among this network of old-time radicals.
In the fall of 1988, however, Obama left the city to go off to law school. My best guess, though, is that it was in that 86-88 time frame that Obama likely met up with the Ayers family. I will explain why I believe that in a minute. Interestingly, after his first year in law school Obama returned in the summer of 1989 to work as a summer associate at the prestigious Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. This in and of itself is a bit unusual. Very few top tier law students work for big law firms during their first summer. The big law firms discourage it because if you work for them in the first summer you are likely to work for a second firm the following year and then the firms have to compete to get you.
So, why or how did Obama – at that point not yet the prominent first black president of the Harvard Law Review (that would happen the following year) – end up at Sidley?
There is also quite a bit of interest in how Obama was admitted to Harvard Law School in the first place. He did not graduate with honors from Columbia. Rashid Khalidi may have played a role here. Obama also seems to have been close to Edward Said, former chief of the Middle East Studies department at Columbia that Khalidi now heads. There is even speculation that the Palestinians are more important in the Obama career than has been apparent thus far. Of course, the association is innocent. He says so.
His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel’s policy.”
Obama’s kids have some peculiar associations in school, I guess.
Anyway, we learn more about this, hopefully before the election. If not, eventually. Sigh.