Chicagoans packed a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to launch a new social and economic justice agenda for the city. Progress Illinois was there to learn more about "Take Back Chicago."
Chicagoans packed a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to launch a new social and economic justice agenda for the city.
The movement is called "Take Back Chicago," and 35 local community organizations and labor unions are involved with the multi-issue, multi-racial effort. The town hall meeting garnered between 1,000 and 2,000 attendees.
"For too long, we have seen our safety net auctioned off piece by piece to greedy corporations," Brandon Johnson with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) said at the town hall, held at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Forum. "We need to have a say in the decision-making processes that affect our schools, our neighborhoods and our communities."
Before the town hall meeting, activists staged a rally outside the Forum toting large photos of closed school buildings and mental health facilities. Others carried signs with the names of different Chicago neighborhoods.
There was also an eight-foot-tall puppet of Patricia Woertz, CEO and president of the Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland Company. The figure of Woertz read, "Ask me how I'm fighting for $24 million of your tax dollars," referring to the state tax incentives the corporation wants in order to keep its global headquarters in Illinois. Another puppet was of Ty Fahner, head of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which said, "Ask me how I'm trying to cut your pension." According to activists, the puppets symbolize the corporate interests that dictate public policy in Chicago.
Here's more from those who attended the rally and scenes from the meeting:
(Click through to view the entire meeting courtesy of CAN-TV.)
The Take Back Chicago town hall comes just before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to unveil his 2014 budget proposal on October 23. Those at Tuesday's gathering said they want to see a budget that works for everyday people and one that keeps vital services intact. They vowed to keep the heat on aldermen to reject the mayor's budget plan "if all it's going to give us is cuts, cuts and more cuts to our social services," said Jairo Nunez with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
In addition to protecting social services, the Take Back Chicago coalition is calling for a progressive state income tax for individuals and corporations, an elected Chicago school board, a city tax increment financing (TIF) surplus ordinance, increased affordable housing and a $15 minimum wage for Chicago workers employed at businesses that make more than $50 million dollars a year.
Francine Rico, a Chicago nursing home worker and member of SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Indiana, said it's time for the wealthy and large corporations in the state to pay their fair share of taxes.
"Why should a banker or corporate executive making over a million dollars each year pay the same flat income tax rate as a single mom making $15,000 a year," she asked. "The banker should pay a higher rate, and the single mom should pay a lower rate."
Chicago Democratic State Reps. Maria Antonia "Toni" Berrios, Ken Dunkin, Christian Mitchell and Derrick Smith attended the meeting. They all agreed that they would request a meeting with House Speaker Michael Madigan to advocate for the progressive income tax proposal, HJRCA33, to be put on the 2014 ballot for voters to consider. The representatives also said they would support and help advance a bill, HB 2793, calling for an elected Chicago Board of Education during the fall veto session, which starts October 22. The Chicago Board of Education is the only non-elected school board in Illinois, and it's ultimately up to the state legislature to change the current appointment system.
"I fought for over 10 years on some of these basic issues," Dunkin told the crowd later in the meeting. "These are basic human rights issues. Housing, a living wage, respect, access to jobs. That’s who I am. That’s who you are. That's who we are."
Alds. Joe Moreno (1st), Bob Fioretti (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Will Burns (4th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Walter Burnett (27th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th) were also at the town hall. All the aldermen promised to support the various policies endorsed by the coalition.
"I stand for what you stand for, and it's accountability," Fioretti said. "Everybody up here better be voting for what we said, because if they don’t, we turn everyone out."
Waguespack said an elected Chicago school board is his top priority.
"There’s one set of policies in this city that hurt us, and there’s another set that’s going to help us," the alderman added. "You got to make the choice. We got an election coming up pretty quick. We're going to choose the policies that help all of us here tonight and all the people out there who are suffering."
Foulkes, who has ties to the organization Action Now, told the crowd that before she was first elected to the Chicago City Council in 2007, "I was out there with you, and my mindset is still the same."
"What you talk about is what I talk about. What pisses you off pisses me off ... They are this close to unleashing the bitch in me," Foulkes said, causing the crowd to roar with cheers. "I got your back ... thank you for having my back."
Organizers plan to kick off a door-to-door canvassing effort this weekend to build support for the various policy solutions meant to help Chicago's working families.
"When we leave here tonight, we're going to bring it back into our neighborhoods," Johnson said. "We're going to go door-to-door, and pick up the phone, and talk to our neighbors, and we're going to take back Chicago one block at a time."
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.