CHICAGO - Thousands of striking Chicago public school teachers and their allies packed a city park Saturday in a boisterous show of force as union leaders and the district tried to work out the details of an agreement that could end a week-long walkout.
Pushing strollers, toting signs and towing wagons of children, thousands of red-shirted teachers cheered and chanted as speaker after speaker urged them to stand firm until they have a deal in writing. They told the teachers that their strike was a symbol of hope for public teachers and other unions that have been losing ground around the nation.
"I'm pretty confident that something will come together that both sides will agree on," said Ramses James, a sixth-grade math teacher. "I believe this is a very strong turning point when you have so many people coming out to fight alongside (the teachers union). That means a lot."
Striking Chicago school teachers rally at Union Park Saturday, in Chicago. Union president Karen Lewis reminded the crowd that although there is a 'framework' for an end to their strike, they still are on strike.
Months of contract negotiations came down to two main issues: job security and union opposition to a new teacher evaluation process the union felt was too heavily weighted on student test scores.
Union leaders who announced a framework for a deal on Friday said they would not end the strike - the first in Chicago in 25 years - until they see a proposal in writing. Saturday's talks were aimed at settling on the exact language, and both sides were hopeful that the nearly 800-member House of Delegates could vote Sunday to suspend the strike so children could be back in class on Monday.
Addressing demonstrators Saturday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis cautioned that "we are on strike" and that classes won't resume until the delegates see an agreement they can support.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also addressed the crowd, saying the strike was a "struggle for working people everywhere" and that there was still a long road to ensuring all residents of the city have equal access to quality schools, especially in neighborhoods beset by gang violence and poverty.
"Our mission is very clear: we fight for equal, high-quality public education for all," Jackson said. "When school opens again there will be 160 schools without a public library. ... When school opens again, there will be schools yet without books. So we fight today for schools on the South and West Side to look like schools on the North Side."