Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


"When the volcano blows..."

That's a phrase that, now that I think about it, I've heard fairly often. Usually when talking about campaigns here in Illinois. But they weren't talking about election day, it was always a reference to some day, in the not too distant future, when the machine politics (not "the Machine") in Chicago, now barely held together, rusted and creaking towards death, finally failed and a painful realignment took place. "When the volcano blows we'll be working for them," I heard a poll worker say, never indicating who "them" was but all of us knowing.

And another term got thrown around sometimes, too — "king of the volcano." That changed, though. Depending on allegiances and sub-organizations, the king of the volcano was sometimes Mayor Daley, sometimes Dick Mell or Ed Burke, sometimes House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"When the volcano blows..." was usually said in a foreboding tone, predicting some dreadful time of sorrow.

Others see this inexorable volcano-blowing as the promised land — they can't wait for it. When the ossified machine-style politics of Chicago finally tears apart from within, there will come the great peaceful time, the halcyon period when reformers call the shots and all the Ivy League idealists and liberal arts college transplants set the policies and hold the offices.

Yeah, great.

As the accusations against the governor's administration and its hiring practices fly, as the alleged patronage system of the Mayor's administration gets dismantled, as the traditional small business/community networks are displaced by large corporate concerns and planned developments, people need to adjust their expectations. The volcano isn't going to blow, but stagnate, grow brittle and be blown away, like ash in the wind.

And when the current structure goes, what will replace it is not some goo-goo utopia, but a sterilized polity relying on big money and juris doctorates. There's been a trend that direction already, this creation of a self-contained professional political class. The word "slick" comes to mind, and not even in the sense of charming and wily; no, slick as in magazine covers. You know, boring slick.

When things get that way, things get choked out; there is no room to maneuver. You can either organize people or you can organize capital. One thing about the current Chicago system is that it represents, more or less, the organization of people.

A political system that does not rely at least in part on spoils and rewards for people allows for a vacuum where organized capital moves in; organized people can be swayed by one group or another, if only after a real fight — organized capital is a completely obedient master, and once entrenched it is nearly impossible to move.

At some point, there has to be an agreement that the completely cynical approach to politics — the machine style politics across many organizations that dominates Illinois — is not healthy for taxpayers, for children, for working people, or for business. At the same time, there are many out there who need to understand that there is a real world out there, full of people who don't give a whit about politics or progressive or conservative values, but rather just want to get theirs the best they can without having to put up with too much nut all the damn time.

There's the organizing principle. When we can all dance on the head of a pin, la-la-la-ing our way to a perfect progressive society, I'll be in front yelling, "Damn the machines!" Until then, let's keep our party, our city, our state controlled by organizations of people, not cash.

When that volcano blows, I'll be happy to se another one take its place — as long as it's ours.

GB store


John Powers / June 13, 2006 11:01 AM

And who exactly is "ours"? A small group of tyrants that all went to high school together? What if my "ours" is not your "ours"?



About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15