We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

16 Things to Look Forward to in 2016, Chicago

Vigil for Bettie Jones last weekend. Jones was a Chicago grandmother shot by police for answering the door during domestic dispute as cops were shooting through her to 21 year old with a bat.

  1. Rahm Emanuel’s resignation. And not just for the Laquann McDonald cover-up but for hosts of things, some of which will be covered here.
  2. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez getting booted from office. She was part of the cover-up as well and has been extremely pro-police and pro-incarceration in ways that rival Daley and Giulliani’s pre-mayoral runs as SA’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if she also was planning on running for mayor of Chicago. You can’t use the full weight of the state’s attorney office to cover you any longer, Anita!
  3. Fewer jails. Jail and jail time, with or without prison, lead to time away from work, from the community, from family. Thus they work against communities of color and lead to cycles of poverty and high-crime, particularly where
  4. More restorative justice hubs. The amount of money that Cook County spends on incarceration contrasted with restorative justice – where the person who made an infraction works within the community to make amends and learn how to deal with issues that caused the problem in the first place – is beyond absurd. It is a fraction of a percent, at around $0.5 million to the jail’s $360 million and we need to at least double it the next year.
  5. End cash bonds. These unfairly restrict poor people, primarily those who are charged with petty crimes. Cash bonds put undue pressure on poor people – usually black Chicagoans – and the justice system, including crowding jails and tagging innocent people with guilty pledges so that they can go home. They then have an adverse affect on poor communities of color.
  6. Restore community mental health centers.
  7. Abolish Broken Windows Policing.
  8. Disband the current, corrupt, ineffecient, police-caping Independent Police Review Authority and make it truly independent.
  9. Establish proper, completely independent (no police, no police connections) oversight of the IPRA.
  10. Disarm the police. No shots. No tasers. They must learn to deescalate using actual tactics of deescalation.
  11. National gun control laws that make it nearly impossible to sell large amounts of guns – which are then smuggled into urban areas like Chicago and make it likely to end up in a shooting of
  12. Drastically increase violence intervention and prevention programs such as CeaseFire.
  13. Reorganize the Chicago Public Schools Board. It is run by capitalists and for capitalists.
  14. Fully fund publicly-controlled schools.
  15. Remove Chicago police resource officers from schools.
  16. Insert violence prevention programs and training for all staff at all CPS schools in order to equip students with violence reduction & prevention tools and embodied practice.
Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Mr Mayor, This Is Our Town

Walking through my library and I notice a framed photo of our mayor towards the front, in the information table. It’s where we can find out about events and about what the community and the library are doing.

And it struck me that Rahm Emanuel, like many politicians, is in a position of power and works hard to cultivate this image of his position of power. Not just as a benevolent or wise leader (which is untrue and anybody paying attention to the city and how it is handling the non-business district/non-White Chicago portions of town will figure this out), but as a powerful person and from whom all blessings flow.

Follow him and we get our bike trails, we get our libraries, we get to keep our schools or get better schools (which is the trade-off lie he is selling now that nobody – again, nobody paying attention – is listening to).

But that’s not true. A mayor is a manager. We are in charge of what we desire, what we need, what we have, and who we give it to.

Emanuel is our puppet. Not for the 0.01%. Not for the neo-liberals. Not for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or DePaul University or Chicago Parking Meters LLC. But for ALL of Chicago.

It’s damned time we remind him of who is in charge.

How Sloof Lirpa Opened My Mind about Rahm Emanuel

I’ve been listening to podcasts on my commute to work. I mean, they’re really long commutes so I need to keep my ears occupied. And I stumbled upon this sensational, silver-voiced, superb citizen (who adores alliteration) by the name of Sloof Lipra. Have you heard of him? He speaks to the common man! He’s just all common sense!

And because of him, I’ve come to realize that maybe Rahm Emanuel is really just a great guy and wonderful politician. He is, come to think of it, just what Chicago needs!

I mean, check this out:

  • Privatization is ALWAYS good! Get the government out of money – they don’t know what to do with it. Business is in the business of people and can serve all of our interests better because of profit and free-market and stuff.
  • We need the police to be militarized! People suck and need to be kept in line by the strongest forces possible. And if you’re not doing anything wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about anyway. AMIRITE?
  • CREAM: Cash Rules Everything Around Me! Nothing else matters. He can be a complete bullying, clueless asshole. So what? He’s rich, b***ches! Sloof has taught me that’s all that matters.
  • Schools in poor neighborhoods need to be closed. Because, they’re poor. And what’s the freaking use, AMIRITE?

Wow. I’m glad I got my mind totes opened by Sloof! Aren’t you!