DOWNTOWN — The Chicago Teachers Union is forming an independent political organization.
Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the union, said the still unnamed group will focus on popular political issues, not candidates, but at the same time he rattled swords Friday over next year's municipal election.
"I think we're just going to promote very important popular issues," Potter said. "But 2015 is on. It's definitely gonna be an election season we're interested in working with others around."
The union's House of Delegates voted unanimously earlier this month to approve a resolution to create the political organization, Potter said.
"There was not even a question, really," he added.
Yet the goals of the organization were wide-ranging and ambitious, he said, not just targeting individual politicians.
"It's gonna be bigger and broader" than just union issues, he added, and the group will be made up of like-minded community groups and neighborhood agencies.
"The point of this is that playing politics in the traditional way isn't working," Potter said. "That the popular outrage people feel over school closings and cuts on top of the charter expansion, the growing inequality in our city, the loss of good-paying jobs ... is really damaging working families in profound ways."
He said the aim was to apply persistent political pressure in "something that engages the people in their democracy ... not just when election season comes and goes.
"I don't think, electorally, we're gonna see us getting involved," he added. "Our primary function is going to be around big issues that are popular that politicians on both sides of the aisle refuse to embrace."
Potter mentioned the minimum wage, charter schools and an elected school board as primary issues.
"Those things are wildly popular," he said. "And yet they are stranded.
"Far too often, the interest of the majority is being betrayed," Potter said. "The people with lots of money in our society are pulling the strings — the Bruce Rauners of the world, the Rahm Emanuels. They want to cut public-sector employment.
"At some point, where's the little guy?" Potter added. "Where are the people struggling in their neighborhoods?"
Yet name-dropping Rauner, the Republican gubernatorial candidate known for his support of charter schools, and the mayor raises election issues.
Potter said it would likely take the group months to organize, meaning involvement in the March primary is out of the question, even as they put together phone banks and canvassing organizations. He said it was possible the organization would play a part in the November general election, and again in next year's municipal races.
Emanuel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Union President Karen Lewis said during last year's protests over school closings, "No matter what happens ... it is not over," and she promised to enroll 250,000 new voters. Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey has also called out Ald. Joe Moore (49th) over his support for charters, criticism Moore called unfounded.
Potter didn't directly challenge anyone, but said the organization would definitely conduct business on a ward-by-ward basis, especially looking ahead to next year.
"There's a lot of constituents in probably a majority of wards who in some way, shape or form feel like their interests aren't being carried or represented," Potter said. "There will be folks who have betrayed the interests of their communities, and everything is on the table."
Potter said the organization would also deal in candidate recruitment and development.
"People have had enough," he added, "and we've got to create organizations and structures that can help represent those who have been silenced and left out of the political system."