Three Chicago teachers and a union organizer used a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a trip to Venezuela. The teachers, all members of the Chicago Teachers Union, wrote public blogs and social media posts casting the socialist government of the country in a favorable light.
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that the educators have been criticized for their trip and praise of Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro. The Chicago Teachers Union also distanced itself from those who went on the trip, putting out a statement that it was not an official union trip and was not funded by the union.
“Members go all kinds of places in the summer. This was neither an official trip nor something that was funded by the union,” CTU president Jesse Sharkey told WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.” “This is a group of people who are members of the CTU who decided to go to Venezuela.”
Another union member, Karen Moody, told the Tribune that she was “appalled” by the delegation.
“I am appalled a delegation representing themselves as CTU went to Venezuela, not to support striking teachers, not to object to human rights violations, but to go on what appears to be a state-chaperoned propaganda tour,” she told the outlet.
The CTU retweeted some of the group’s tweets regarding their trip, including one from teacher Sarah Chambers who praised the lack of homeless people she saw while traveling in the struggling country.
“While staying in #Venezuela, we didn’t see a single homeless person. USA is the richest country in the world; yet, there are homeless people everywhere. Over 17k CPS students are homeless … This is why @CTULocal1 is fighting for fair housing #CTUAgainstVezIntervention.”
Though the CTU distanced itself from the travelers, they clearly used the CTU to solicit donations. Their GoFundMe campaign was called “Sent CTU Strikers to Venezuela,” and they wore CTU hats in the photo they used to accompany the fundraiser.
In one blog post, the group also called itself the “CTU Delegation to Venezuela” and described the blog as representing “the members delegation of the Chicago Teacher’s Union that are currently in Venezuela to learn from educators and activists on the ground.” The blog also explained: “We are three rank and file charter school teachers and one CTU organizer. We organized this delegation ourselves and fundraised for the trip independent of the CTU.”
Chambers also compared Maduro to former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The comparison was meant as a compliment.
“Through major economic hardships, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro never closed a single public school or a single health clinic. This stands in stark contrast to our experience in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools and several mental health clinics in a single year,” Chambers told Fight Back! News.
The Tribune described some of the group’s trip:
In the latest post, one member of the group wrote that she’d wanted to observe a method for teaching reading that combines numeracy and literacy skills. She was also curious about if and how educators incorporated the country’s social movements into their curriculum, she wrote.
They visited a commune and talked to educators involved with Misión Robinson, a social welfare program to improve literacy started under former President Hugo Chavez.
The group’s blog was named “Radical Educator Collective.”