Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Here we go again

Hizzoner has shown once again how much he cares about the black community by proposing that Chicago's Olympic Stadium be built in "downtrodden" (Chicago Tribune) and "frayed" (Sun-Times) Washington Park on the South Side.

Here we go again. Washington Park is NOT a frayed, downtrodden park. It is not Douglas Park or Humbodlt Park, the large parks most yuppie decision and opinion makers are familiar with. It is not a breeder of crime and drug sales and is heavily used by members of surrounding communities and is an important meeting space and asset for the Mid-South Side. Yet again, Daley is showing his uncanny ability to exploit the structures of race and exclusion to push through his pet projects. I'm positive that opponents of the stadium (which has been described as collapsible... !) will be painted as pie-in-the sky hippe greenies who are blocking economic development for the South Side.

And again, the Mayor and his bootlackers will be wrong. Stadiums do not necessarily provide immediate or even long or short term benefit to surrounding neighborhoods (US Cellular anybody?) . The beautiful Great Meadow of Washington Park is a community asset that would be destroyed by the collapsible stadium (are we talking about pick-up stick construction?). I'm neither solidly pro nor anti stadium. What I would like to see, and what the racial reality and political machinations of the Mayor prevent, is an honest debate that takes into account the real costs and benefits of such a project.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Three Gritos for La Villita

Last night was the “Grito” a party in celebration of Mexican Independence Day. Mike Rodriquez took myself and two other SSAers down to 26th Street to participate in the annual cantina crawl put on by members of the community. I’m not sure where I would rank it on experiences I’ll save on my mental hard drive for eternity, but halfway through the night, I found myself shaking my head in wonder at my good fortune.

Crammed into a corner bar on 26th and Lawndale was the entire progressive Mexican leadership of Little Village. Chewy Garcia of LVCDC and a veteran independent politician in Chicago was greeting people at the door. Jamie De Leon, the NCP organizer for Little Village was smiling more than I’ve ever seen him before. The last great hope of the Little Village Violence Prevention Collaborative was telling me he loved me. Young, 1st and 2nd generation, college educated, progressive activists were getting down to some of the best live Latin jazz I’ve heard in a long time.

And Alderman Munoz, perhaps the most progressive and independent alderman in Chicago was buying me a beer.

26th Street has always been for me the grown up and responsible older brother of 18th Street in Pilsen. It doesn’t have the trendy art galleries, bars, book stores and night life. It’s the place you go to buy groceries, clothes for your kids and have tacos. 26th Street last night was alive with the pride and strength of the Mexican immigrant community in Chicago. Cars and pick-ups filled with people waved the Mexican flag shouting and honking at each other and pedestrians. The less fortunate rode by on their bikes and rang bells or clown horns. Gang bangers donned non-color coordinated clothes and mixed into the crowd.

And in Jacaranda, the best and the brightest, the strongest hope for an end to the violence tearing the community apart and an independent small-d democratic politics in the City of Chicago were all getting down to Oye Como Va and My Cheri Amor latin style.

When you step out of your comfort zone and the fixed paths given to you by society because of your privilege, skin color or class, life is beautiful.

Viva Mexico! Viva La Villita! Viva la gente luchadora!

Dancing with the Devil

For me, the most interesting theme that came out of the big box wage debate was the question of who represents the black community in the city of Chicago and how Mayor Daley has co-opted a certain sector of the black leadership in the City of Chicago. The Chicago Reporter, a publication of the Community Renewal Society, reported on this issue back in 2000. Read the article here.

The article was extremely controversial and initiated a storm of protest and debate, with many detractors playing the “white outside liberal agitator” card against the Reporter and the Community Renewal Society. It’s pretty obvious to me (and to my African-American co-workers: yes I am playing the “I have a black friend card”) that the pastors are dancing with the devil for crumbs of charity instead of working for the cake of justice. It is quite disingenuous for the pastors to uniformly claim that there are “no strings attached” to the assistance. Presumably, the most political of mayors just helps certain black pastors who turn out voters and press conferences for him out of the goodness of his own heart. Right.

This quote summed up the “representative nature.” of these pastors and their churches:
“Reid, who is currently a presiding elder with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, endorsed Daley over Rush in 1999. Now Thomas wants to earn the mayor’s attention and respect, he said. He wants community members to be able to own, rather than rent, their homes, and he believes church members should have the option to move back to the area.” (emphasis added)

You mean they don’t? So.... who are you really working for?


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Big Box Living Wage Requiem

Predictably, El Potentate was able to wrangle enough votes to make his veto of the big-box wage ordinance stand. Opponents, such as Mike Doyle at chicagocarless are happy about the decision. As I’ve said all along, I am a supporter of the ordinance because there is enough economic evidence and theory to make the possibility that it could work as advertised and would not have the nightmare scenario of having to travel to Bolingbrook for jobs and cheap designer clothes. What is most interesting to me is how it reveals the desperate machinations of a threatened powerful mayor and how cynical and low he is willing to go to prevent the emergence of an independent political movement in the city of Chicago.

I had little hope that the veto proof majority would hold. Daley and the big box stores, while not sitting atop a vast and omnipotent political machine like his father did, still have formidable tools of persuasion at their disposal. Two of the defectors, quoted in the New York Times, represent the power of those tools. Geogre Cardenas, who represents the eastern portion of Little Village, said he had to consider all the good the mayor had done in his ward. In plainspeak, the mayor reminded Cardenas that he was put into power by the Daley controlled HDO (Hired Truck anyone?) and that if wanted to continue as alderman, let alone run for higher office, he’d better play ball. Shirley Coleman, a South Side African-American said she changed her vote because one of the retailers offered a store in her ward. I’m willing to wager the triple digit figures left in my checking account that campaign donations were involved, at least implicitly. As previously reported here, Emma Mitts, the West Side Alderwoman who led the opposition, received $6,000 in 6 months from Wal-Mart after a store was opened in her ward. That may not seem like a lot of money in the million dollar Senate race cycle, but for an alderman representing a cash-strapped district, it’s pirate’s booty.

But what is most detestable is Daley’s “playing of the race card.” I need to bullet point or number my points because his claim that the unions didn’t start complaining until big box stores opened in black and poor neighborhoods is ludicrous on multiple levels.

First, Daley’s got his movement history wrong. The ordinance was the culmination of months and years of hard organizing by UNITE-HERE and SEIU local chapters. Like any bill, you don’t introduce it until it has a good chance of passing. That couldn’t happen until serious organizing and advocacy efforts accomplished their mission. The move towards living wage laws on the local level is a recent strategy that was developed independently of the co-incidence of the geographical locations of Wal-Marts in the city of Chicago.

Second, Daley is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black here. UNITE-HERE and SEIU locals in Chicago are some of the most diverse and inclusive unions in the country, if not the world (in terms of members of color). The racist, exclusionary unions are the ones that have been in the Daley family’s corner since the 50s: the craft and trade unions.

Third, if this is true, then why was the black caucus spilt on the bill? Why were grassroots black leaders for the ordinance? I know for a fact that many of the black pastors who Daley trots out like a Greek chorus when it’s convenient are pastors of absentee churches: their parishioners do not actually live in the neighborhoods the churches are in. Meaning: they don’t have a whole lot of credibility when it comes to representing poor blacks on the South and West sides. Regardless of that inconvenient fact, the fact that there is debate across the spectrum of black Chicago makes his race-baiting laugable.

Fourth, Daley (and unfortunately other supporters as well) sounded like Bull Connor in his blaming of “outside agitators.” Yes national attention was drawn to this debate. No, Ald. Moore does not live on the South or West Side. Yes, ACORN bused in people from out of state, but it does that for many campaigns (which is why ACORN is as controversial among community activist as it is among right-wing big city mayors). But Alderman Ed Smith is from the West Side. Alderman Burnett is too. Give up the canard of outside agitators, please.

Mr. Daley also knows this is not about economic development in black neighborhoods. It’s about power, plain and simple. Mr. Daley does not want to cede any to an activist city council. Wal-Mart and Target do not want to cede any to workers. Using poor blacks as pawns in their political games is execrable.