Farewell to Karen Lewis: The Trailblazer Who Transformed Teacher Organizing in Chicago

In a world of education organizing, Karen Lewis was the ultimate game-changer. At the wheel of the Chicago Teachers Union from 2010 to 2018, she rocked the boat and left her mark before she passed away at the age of 67. The union confirmed her departure, and it was a sad Monday morning indeed.

But don’t let the tears keep you down, because Karen Lewis left behind a legacy that will live on forever. She wasn’t just any union president; she was the mastermind behind the “sea of red” – the powerful movement that swept the nation. No, we’re not talking about a new fashion trend; we’re talking about the massive teacher strikes that shook the educational landscape across the country.

You see, Karen Lewis was not one to back down from a challenge. She led the charge for social issues in the education sector, and her “common good” approach to union organizing was revolutionary. With her chemistry teacher background, she knew how to mix things up and put teachers’ voices front and center in shaping public education policy.

It wasn’t just a job for Karen; it was a passion. Decades of experience as a teacher and an activist against school closings and other controversial education reforms in Chicago fueled her drive. She was a force to be reckoned with, and her leadership inspired educators far and wide.

Karen Lewis made history in 2012 when she led the Chicago Teachers Union in a strike that lasted a full week. Rahm Emanuel, the then-mayor of Chicago, couldn’t ignore her powerful presence and the wave of teacher activism she unleashed.

And boy, did Karen have some spunk! She even kept a Halloween mask of Rahm Emanuel on her desk – a bold move that spoke volumes about her spirit and determination.

But Karen’s story didn’t start in the union halls. Back in the late 1960s, as a high school student in Chicago, she was already making waves. She stood up for more Black teachers and administrators, pushed for Black history in the curriculum, and demanded better facilities for predominantly Black schools.

Through the years, Karen’s activism only grew stronger, and she became a leading voice in labor politics nationwide. She knew how to bring people together and build powerful coalitions to fight against corporate education reform agendas that threatened the future of public education.

Karen Lewis may have left us, but her legacy lives on. She taught us to stand up, fight for what we believe in, and most importantly, to love – love for our students, our families, and our communities. So, let’s keep the sea of red rolling and continue the fight for education justice in Karen’s honor. Rest in power, Karen Lewis – the fearless leader we’ll never forget. 🌹

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