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Good Government/Reform Mon Oct 14 2013

Chicago Organizers Launch Movement to Take Back Chicago

This Tuesday, October 15, thousands of activists, residents and state and local officials will converge on UIC Forum for Take Back Chicago rally and town hall meeting.

Take Back Chicago is convened by Grassroots Collaborative, an alliance of 11 neighborhood and community organizations with the common goal of advancing the interests of working and middle class people in Chicago.

This meeting represents the "launch of a long-term, cross-movement progressive organizing campaign in Chicago," Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative, said in an interview.

A number of organizations and action campaigns that previously worked separately are coming together as a unified front. Together, these groups are unveiling a comprehensive people-oriented, economic-justice-based political platform, Patel said.

Take Back Chicago's platform includes five core points: raising the minimum wage, closing corporate loopholes, ensuring tax dollars go towards public neighborhood schools (not privately owned charters), passing budgets that prioritize public services, and creating affordable housing.

Groups partnering for Take Back Chicago include Action Now, Anti-War Committee: Chicago, AFSCME Council 31, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Center of Change, Chicago ACTS, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Jobs with Justice, Chicago Teachers Union, Community Assistance Program, Community Organizing and Family Issues, Community Renewal Society, Developing Communities Project, Enlace Chicago, Fight for 15, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Kids Off the Block, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, National Nurses United, Northside Action for Justice, Northside DFA, Northside Power, ONE Northside, Parents for Teachers, Pilsen Alliance, Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois Indiana, South Austin Community Coalition, Southside Together Organized for Power, Southsiders Organized For Unity and Liberation, Southwest Organizing Project, Stand Up! Chicago, and Workers Center for Racial Justice.

State and local officials attending Take Back Chicago include Gov. Pat Quinn, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, State Representatives Andre Thapedi, Christian Mitchell, Mary Flowers, Kenneth Dunkin, and Monique Davis, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, and Aldermen Scott Waguespack, Nicholas Sposato, Roderick Sawyer, Joe Moreno, Toni Foulkes, Pat Dowell, William Burns, Bob Fioretti, and Ricardo Munoz.

"We are still waiting to hear back from Mayor Emanuel," Patel said.

Kelly Viselman is a tenant organizer with Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, a Grassroots Collaborative member-organization that works on affordable housing, economic development, education, and other community issues in Chicago. She explained in an interview that a big part of Take Back Chicago is that it's an ongoing campaign, not an isolated event.

"It's not just a meeting that we go home afterwards and are like 'great, we got 3,000 people together'," she said. The platform points are all campaigns that have already been put into place. The idea is to have this meeting as a kickoff event and then continue working and organizing to make each of those points a reality, Viselman said.

Rousemary Vega is a tenant organizer with Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation. She joined the movement last spring when Chicago Public Schools put her neighborhood school, Lafayette Elementary, on the chopping block.

Her community fought hard to save this school, Vega said, but Chicago Public Schools went ahead and closed Lafayette along with 49 other public schools this past spring. Two of Vega's children attended Lafayette and were forced to enroll at a new school this fall.

"We've been in stabbed in the back in the worst possible way," Vega said.

Take Back Chicago is uniting organizations across movements, Patel said. In doing so, they're building a political base that is broad and deep enough to fight the corporate interests actively working against their constituencies, she said.

"We are being attacked in different departments, in different issues, but it's all personal to us," said Vega. "Whether it's education.....whether it's healthcare....It's all one fight."

These issues are deeply interconnected and Take Back Chicago is about connecting the dots, Vega said.

"We are organizing folks in a new way... to put pressure in ways that we haven't really been able to on our elected officials and our mayor on a citywide basis," Patel said.

The movement is taking aim at a number of specific policies that benefit corporations at the expense of working and middle class Chicagoans, Patel said. The city's tax increment financing (tif's) and toxic interest rate swaps are two major items on this reform agenda, she said.

The city says it has to close schools and cut social services because it has no money, but it actually does have money, Patel said. The city is just not pushing Wall Street to sacrifice. It is only pushing that sacrifice onto children and parents on Chicago's south and west sides, she said.

Take Back Chicago aims to educate the voting public about these policies, so people understand where their money really goes. Patel said. "Because sometimes people don't even know that this is happening," she said.

Our votes effect this city and we want people to understand that we have to be careful who we're voting in, Vega said. "Just because a Democrat is a Democrat, doesn't mean he's for the people," she said.

"There's really good ordinances that would make a difference to taxpayers in this city that never get to see the light of day because the mayor doesn't want them to," Patel said.

It's not enough for aldermen to sign ordinances. We need them to make sure these ordinances actually get to come up for a vote, she said.

Aldermen are supposed to take the punches for the community, Vega said, but instead, they just stood back and watched while CPS closed these schools. "We want these aldermen to understand that we need them on our side," she said.

Take Back Chicago plans to educate these city officials and push them towards political change that reflects the will of the people, not just the will of Mayor Emanuel, Patel said.

"Mayor Emanuel isn't the king of Chicago. That's not how we make policy," she said. "We're pushing for real democracy."

Full details about Tuesday's Take Back Chicago rally and town hall meeting can be found at Grassroots Collaborative

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ROBERTL QUETZALCOATL / October 16, 2013 5:03 PM


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