For better or for worse (I think better) the Chicago City Council has passed the Big-Box Living Wage ordinance. Whether it survives the various court challenges, mayoral veto or time lag between now and its full implementation in 2010 is an open question. It was a veto-proof majority vote in the City Council, which I was quite surprised at. There had been significant organizing by the anti-ordinance campaign leading up to the vote. At the 63rd and Cottage Grove Green Line station on the days leading up to the vote, a woman was handing out fliers encouraging folks to talk to their alderperson to have them "put the community before the unions/outsiders." There were also young black men in anti-ordinance t-shirts at the Clark and Lake stop. A number of South and West Side aldermen voted against the ordinance, as expected. Both major daily newspapers were against it (although I'm not sure what the Daily Southtown or the Chicago Defender said).
What was most unexpected for me (besides the lopside vote) was the large number of West Side and South Side aldermen who voted for the ordinance, as well as near unanimity among the aldermen of the Latino caucus. Of the aldermen representing the four wards that make up the most disadvantaged part of Chicago's West Side African-American community, two voted for the ordinance and two did not. It's hard to know how to parse that data, especially in contrast with the Latino caucus's votes on the measure. I would hypothesize that the strength of community organizations in different wards might make the difference: in Emma Mitts 37th ward on the West Side there are no really strong community organizations. In Walter Burnett's 27th ward, there are.
The local media (and our friend Mike Doyle at chicagocarless.com) consistently spun this as an issue that pitted poor South and West side blacks who just looking for jobs against somewhat misguided liberals. I'm not so sure. I'm not sure that Mitts' opposition was due to her concern for jobs in her ward or the $6,000 she's received in campaign contributions from Wal-Mart in the last year. I'm very suspicious of why my alderman (Arenda Troutman) was finally able to get the street lines painted on local streets in our neighborhood 2 hours after she voted against the ordinance. Very suspicious. Grateful, but suspicious.
Some lessons from this debate:
1. El Potentate, Wal-Mart and the so-called liberal media are not strong enough to defeat a movement that does its homework by working from the grassroots up to create momentum for change.
2. Not every black leader speaks for every black person. Ald. Burnett, Ald. Smith and others believed that they were representing their mainly black constituents well when they voted for the ordinance. Others believed differently. Some pastors were for it. Some were not. Here's a tip: BLACK PEOPLE DO NOT ALL THINK ALIKE.
3. Somehow we've got to get people to realize that the black parts of Chicago are not endless blocks of misery, poverty, crime, divestment and sadness waiting for just the smallest crumb of anything to make it through another day. There are middle class people, businesses both local and chain, people living the American dream and living in good homes, not in spite of their neighborhood, but because and with it.
Let me close with some bitter satire:
1865: In related news, a group of freed black pastors wrote a letter to the Republican leaders in Congress asking them not to vote for the 13th Amendment. Slavery provides a good job for so many of our people said one. You get 3 square meals a day, living quarters and some clothes. Our people need that. Only the cotton industry is willing to invest in black areas and take on black employees.