In the latest back and forth between two fierce political rivals, Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed outrage Thursday over a tweet by the Chicago Teachers Union that she called “clearly racist” and an example of a “right-wing” tactic.
There’s no love lost between the mayor and the ultra-progressive CTU, which gave Lightfoot her first major political test with an 11-day teachers strike last fall, just months after her election.
After months of accusations by the CTU that Lightfoot’s school policies are racist, the tables turned as the mayor accused the union of tweeting the offensive meme.
The CTU tweet, posted Wednesday evening, is a play on the ending of many episodes of the mystery cartoon “Scooby-Doo,” when the characters on the show capture and unmask the villain. In this case, the meme reveals the villain is Lightfoot in a Chicago police officer’s uniform. She is tied up with a rope around her torso and surrounded by the show’s characters, who are all white.
The tweet was captioned with calls to defund police and remove officers from Chicago Public Schools, two policy demands that the mayor has so far adamantly rejected.
Lightfoot said Thursday she hadn’t actually seen the offensive tweet, “but it has been described to me.” She branded it “clearly racist,” “deeply offensive” and “borrowing a playbook from the right-wing.”
“If that kind of tweet, which is clearly racist, had been put forward by a right-wing group, we would rightly be denouncing them. And I think our scorn should be no less because it was put out by the CTU,” the mayor said during an unrelated news conference along the south lakefront.
“It’s certainly disappointing when a group that professes to be educators — people who are in our classrooms teaching our young people — would engage in these kinds of really deeply offensive and disappointing tactics. It’s concerning to me because our young people are always watching. They’re always watching our leaders.”
David Goldenberg, the Midwest Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights against anti-Semitism, also condemned the meme.
“Deeply concerned about this tweet and image,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that the CTU “needs to do better than this” and owes Lightfoot an apology.
Union: ‘Talk about the real issue’
But Stacy Davis Gates, one of the mayor’s harshest critics and herself a Black woman, took to Twitter Wednesday after initial criticism of the meme to redirect the conversation to issues activists have decried for years.
“Miss me with the ‘racist meme.’ Talk about the real issue,” Davis Gates wrote. “The manufacturing of outrage? There’s real real outage [about] real racism & injustice.”
“[T]he meme is racist. Not the murder. Not the coerced confessions. Not the unjust decades long prison sentences. Not the abuse. Not the brutality. Not the murder. The meme. Got it,” she continued.
CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said in a statement: “It’s striking that so many of those outraged over a meme have little to nothing to say about the nullification of those most responsible for this moment.”
“In this time of deep emotional anguish over visceral images of racial hatred, we empathize with our Black brothers and sisters who are triggered by any image that reminds us of the violence perpetrated against us in this land over 400 years and counting,” Geovanis said. “Our intent was, as it always has been, to stir the powerful from their slumber and stand steadfast behind those Black people — and especially young Black leaders — in their struggle for a new Chicago built on real justice, not broken promises and failed policies.
“To every demand this mayor and this administration has offered a resounding ‘no.’”
The CTU was one of vanquished mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle’s staunchest supporters and campaign donors against Lightfoot. That’s why the 11-day strike by Chicago teachers that disrupted the school year long before the pandemic seemed almost pre-ordained.
The mayor has said repeatedly she expects the CTU to field a candidate against her in 2023. On Thursday, the mayor used the tweet to try and undermine the union’s credibility.
“The more the CTU engages in this kind of thing, the less and less relevant they are to important narratives in our city,” Lightfoot said. “It is borrowing a playbook from the right-wing. And it’s disappointing.”
Back and forth barbs between Lightfoot and the union have dominated their relationship since she took office.
Back in November, on the last day of the historic teachers strike, Stacy Davis Gates said she was stopped by the mayor’s security team at City Hall and barred from attending the final meeting that ended the work stoppage. That followed weeks of attacks by both sides and led to continued bitterness between the mayor and Davis Gates.
Last month, in response to the mayor accusing the CTU of trying to “reopen the bargaining agreement” by negotiating policies surrounding remote learning during COVID-19 school closures, Davis Gates said: “She’s still sore about that contract, bless her heart. But we’ve moved on. This moment requires us all to be adults and get over ourselves.”