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Occupy Chicago Thu Feb 09 2012
By Joe Macaré
There are a lot of fascinating sights to be seen at Occupy Chicago's new indoor space at 500 W. Cermak Ave., but perhaps the most striking is the painting of "King Rahm" and the Aldermanic puppet figures who hang from his fingers.
Four members of the City Council have been singled out for this dubious honor: Carrie Austin (Ward 34), Walter Burnett, Jr. (27), Joe Moore (49), and Joe Moreno (1).
Moreno's relationship with Occupy Chicago is complicated. Always active on Twitter, he expressed support there early on and has retweeted calls to donate coffee to Occupiers at LaSalle and Jackson and in an email conversation, he told me he is still "absolutely sympathetic to Occupy."
Easy to say, but when I asked Moreno what the issues are on which he and the movement agree, he laid out a pretty spot-on diagnosis of the malaise to which Occupy is a response:
The priorities of our nation have been upside down for the last 30 years. Since Ronald Reagan, it seems we have somehow legitimized greed; somehow made this most negative of things seem patriotic.
Thankfully, since Occupy began, people have started to question these assumptions. The 2008 economic crisis was a much-needed slap in the face to our citizenry.
The people who caused this near-Depression are today back to doing the same things, which caused it. Occupy helps (and sometimes forces) people to recognize the economic injustice, which is now so metastasized within our system that no one seems to know how to kill it.
Moreno's proposed solution would be public financing of elections, "which is the only real way to stop what we have today." So far, so good.
But after voting for both Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2012 budget in November and the new parade and protest ordinance in January, Moreno has become a subject of bitter disappointment for many members of Occupy Chicago. Maybe it's because he and Joe Moore are seen as two of the most progressive members of the City Council. (Moreno has spoken in favor of marijuana legalizaton, was involved in the anti-death penalty movement, protested the Iraq War and was arrested as recently as February 2010 while protesting what he calls "our insane anti-immigrant laws.") Or maybe it's because he's written explicit defenses of both decisions for the Huffington Post.
Another Slap in the Face
Either way, Occupiers are furious. It's ironic that Moreno used the term "slap in the face," because that's what Occupy Chicago's Brit Schulte told me the new ordinance represents: "yet another slap in the face to working class and poor people looking to participate in the democratic process." Fellow Occupier Natalie Wahlberg agreed when I asked if that's how she'd term it and whether it stings more coming from self-identified progressives:
Absolutely a slap in the face of everyone, not just Occupy Chicago. For anyone, especially Moore and Moreno, to support Mayor 1%'s Sit Down and Shut Up ordinances is an attack against free speech. For them to support Rahm's budget is ridiculous and only demonstrates how removed they are from the 99%'s needs. They do not represent us, only themselves and the broken system.
It's not just Occupiers who've been vitriolic towards Moreno of late. Veteran Chicago watchdog reporter Ben Joravsky recently described him (and Burnett) as "generally voting however Mayor Emanuel instructs, even if that means jacking up water-sewer taxes, closing mental health clinics, setting aside tens of millions of dollars for the G-8/NATO summit spectacle or cutting hours, staff, and service at our public libraries." And Joravsky went even further in an interview with Chicago Now's Eye on Chi (no relation), skewering how well the Alderman's combination of music taste and affability plays with some of his constituents:
I think voters in the 1st Ward would vote for Joe Moreno forever, simply because he goes to Pitchfork.... You don't know anything about his stands on taxes, schools, charters, TIFs, the CME budget balance... He voted for the budget. He's voted for every single TIF that's ever come down the way. So if you're against TIFs, why would you be for him? If you think that the TIF is an inefficient, unfair, inequitable way to divvy up the pie, if you think that it leads to corruption and waste, why would you vote for an alderman who continually votes for TIF deals? Because he likes to go to Pitchfork!
That may be less fair to Moreno than it is to some of the residents of the 1st Ward, which is something I feel I can say since I'm one of them. (Or at least, I will be until 2015: The remap has moved me into the much-derided 2nd Ward, the shape of which can not be described, only seen.)
That's partly why I felt invested enough to write a rebuttal of Moreno's own denunciation of an Occupy Chicago mic check on Joe Moore. Not many people would retweet an article as critical of them as the one I wrote, but Moreno did. Which seems proof that he means it when he says he thinks "debate is always good and especially interesting when it's lively," and that his commitment to engaging in dialogue is more than just good PR.
But if Moreno believes in debate, he also believes in diplomacy. In his blog post about voting for the NATO/G8 ordinance he wrote: "Almost everyone agrees that having these two summits in our city is a great opportunity to solidify our rightful place as a world city." That could have come from the Chicago G8 NATO Host Committee.
When I asked Moreno if he acknowledges that there are grounds for progressives to be critical of the two organization's military and economic policies, he replied "Absolutelythat's why I said 'almost.'" But he didn't volunteer specifics.
Equally, he declined to name names when I asked to whom he was referring when he wrote that the parade and protest ordinance "is not as extreme as many, with their own agendas, have made it seem." All he'll say is that "The newspapers want to make money. The politicians want to reassure everyone that everything 'is under control.' And the activists want to get attention and bring people to their cause... it made for an explosive mix of misinformation and was ultimately detrimental for the discussion of the actual specifics of the ordinance."
"Rahm Emanuel is no Scott Walker"
Occupy Chicago has forged strong alliances with labor organizations that feel as embattled as they do in their relationship with Mayor Emanuel. I asked Moreno whether the city's unions are right to feel attacked by the mayor, given his comments about teachers and librarians unions in recent press conferences and town halls. He replied:
I don't speak for the Mayor. I wouldn't do a lot of what he's done. But, I do believe that he believes that what he's done is for the good of our city.
Don't the groups you mention always feel embattled? I don't think conflict between such organizations and the political establishment has to be a negative... But, please let's remember that Rahm Emanuel is no John Kasich/Scott Walker.
This, then, may be the final point on which Moreno and the Occupy movementto say nothing of many others on the leftare never going to agree. It seems clear that it would be political suicide for an alderman to go beyond "I wouldn't do a lot of what he's done" when talking about Rahm Emanuel, who it seems clear will tolerate very little dissent. But to say Emanuel believes he's doing it for the good of Chicago isn't saying much: A lot of damage has been done in a great many places by leaders who believed the same thing.
And there's a case to be made that the biggest difference between Chicago's AFSCME and CTU-bashing mayor and the union-busting state governors Moreno invokes is their party: The difference that most Occupiers, especially in this one-party town, have been saying isn't much of a difference at all. After all, Emanuel may not be Scott Walker, but he's made time to sit down with at least one of Walker's donors. He's not Andrew Breitbart either, but he's willing to appear in a union-bashing video for an organization led by one of Breitbart's cronies.
Wahlberg's view seems symptomatic of the hostility with which Occupy Chicago will always view the mayor: "Rahm has never listened to us at Occupy or to his constituency. He only listens to money." And by extension, that hostility extends to the City Council too.
Moreno says that "without reservation... this council is much less deferential to our current Mayor" than they were to Mayor Daley. But that's not Occupy Chicago's perception of, at the very least, the 41 members who voted for the parade and protest ordinance, about whom Schulte is scathing:
"I want to thank them for giving us all a common enemy. By showing how absolutely committed they are to suppressing our voices, they have united the city of Chicago. I also think the aldermen who are hiding behind the 'revisions' of the ordinance as an answer to why they voted for it, are some of the finest examples of cowardice I've seen in a long while. They are so committed to the Chicago political machine that these pretend progressives sold us out, for cheap, to get deep into the pockets of Rahm Emanuel."
Joe Macaré is Development and Communications Associate at Truthout and a contributor to the Occupied Chicago Tribune. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss the Occupy Chicago movement.