Our hearts today are with the family, friends, and union siblings of former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis as we mourn the loss of a giant of the 21st century labor and social justice movements. In tribute, we should all pause to reflect on the lessons she taught us and resolve to keep fighting for the future of public education.
Karen exemplified so many of the ideals our union and our movement should aspire to: leadership comes from the rank and file, democracy is the foundation of union power, solidarity shows us the way forward, the fate of labor is bound together with struggles for racial and social justice. She centered love and justice in our shared fight for a better world.
Our movements are always bigger than one individual, but there’s no underestimating the importance of a leader like Karen. She had the courage to help set a new direction for the Chicago Teachers Union in the face of an offensive by forces, public and private, that want to diminish the power and talents educators bring to our students and our society. Under her presidency, the CTU in turn became a model for all of our unions to follow. It is no exaggeration to say that Rutgers AAUP-AFT’s commitment to social justice unionism is merely a page torn from a playbook written by Karen and her bold siblings in the CTU. As we continue our struggles, we will remind ourselves of Karen’s guiding questions: “Does it unite us, does it build our power, and does it make us stronger?”
We have lost a giant, but we will never lose the example she set. Her legacy challenges us to rededicate ourselves to the struggles she did so much to advance. In doing so, we honor her memory.
¡Karen Lewis, Presente!
Todd Wolfson, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Rebecca Givan, Vice President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT