CPS TEACHER AND HIS STUDENTS WORK FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

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www.substancenews.net – Lamme at an IL Teachers Convention

Bill Lamme discovered his passion for social and economic justice through, among other factors, the conviction and aspirations of a Saul Alinksy-inspired minister at his church in Dayton, Ohio where he grew up. The chaos of economic convention and rise of revolutionary social movements was prevalent in conversations during his youth. Through frequent trips he took with his church to economically ravaged cities such as Buffalo, NY where the decline of the steel industry led to massive unemployment and deconstruction of community infrastructure he met other student organizations including a group from the Bronx. Lamme jokes about the sense of joy and shock he got meeting his “first Puerto Rican friends…not many in Dayton!”

Finding himself unsatisfied in a job as an industry electrician, Bill Lamme sought new horizons and settled into a teaching position at Kelly High School in Chicago’s Southwest side, only 3 miles from his home.

In 2003 a student approached Lamme and formed a student social justice club that would organize around the issue of military recruitment. Through the process of supporting the formation of the club he understood the importance of student-leadership and saw the potential for organizing and movement building among students. Over the course of several years Lamme and his students led counter recruitment projects such as movie screenings, scholarship info sessions and alternative career fairs. “This work was part of a city-wide and national campaign but the organizing done by students at Kelly in particular gave us joy because it resulted in Kelly High School having the highest number of students ‘opting out’ in the entire city of Chicago”, stated Jesus Palafox, researcher and organizer with American Friends Service Committee, which supported the project. “We committed ourselves to protecting students from the deceptive practices of military recruiters” Lamme proudly stated, “and we knew that providing alternatives to a military career was just as vital as providing information and one-on-one conversations.”

Since 2006 Lamme, along with teachers and students at Julian and Social Justice High School, has helped to organize delegations to New Orleans, Louisiana. The group (which goes through disaster relief training beforehand) participates in reconstruction efforts, basic rehab projects and even pairs students with New Orleans youth who ask for tutoring in different subjects. “Students have shared with me their emotional stories about how their paths in life had changed because of the experience in this delegation” Lamme stated while sharing that over 200 students have participated in the trip.

Kelly students began organizing around the issue of Fair Trade as an alternative to aid, and Fair Trade as a tool to end poverty and restore local economies in communities “left out in the cold during the race to the top” said Lamme. “We would have movie screenings where the students would see the sweatshops and plantations where our goods came from. They were disgusted and angry and they led projects to raise awareness about these injustice. Students worked to expose the harsh labor practices by World’s Finest Chocolate which was popular among youth” Lamme explained. In May of 2011 the Social Justice Club organized a Fair Trade Fashion show with clothes donated by Chicago-based Mata Traders. “We wanted to show our peers that we could still express ourselves and wear beautiful clothes without exploiting children and women who dominated the assembly lines at sweatshops in films like Made in L.A” said Maggie Fang, a former student at Kelly and member of the Social Justice Club. Roy Moran, also a member of the club, stated “we felt that it was important to help our families understand that they had rights, as consumers, to know where their products came from. That knowledge gives consumers the power to affect the conditions of workers producing our goods. Its personal. We are not separate from the producer and their families in China.”

Bill Lamme will receive the Changemaker Award at Globalfest: Latin America (the annual benefit for Chicago Fair Trade).

Full Disclosure: The author is also the education organizer for Chicago Fair Trade. An extended version of this piece will appear at www.extranews.net