When the Chicago Transit Authority began the Ventra card roll out last August, the agency gave riders using the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus until Oct. 7 to transfer their accounts to the new system. However, widespread registration problems and card reader glitches forced the CTA to postpone this deadline for "several weeks" -- initially to Dec. 15, before getting pushed back again "indefinitely."
Last week, the agency announced that Ventra finally met the performance benchmarks necessary for its private vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems, to receive payments on their $454 million contract. The CTA is now claiming that they will fully transition to Ventra -- and away from Chicago Cards -- in (at least) a month.
At this point, it's worth asking why riders need to switch to Ventra to begin with. Halfway across the country, D.C.-area transit riders will soon get a Ventra-style open fare payment system...but will still be using a card based on a version of the Chicago Card technology.
Since I last wrote about Ventra back in February, a lot has happened...mostly at the local commuter's expense.
During the past several months, CTA riders have dealt with a botched transition from city-issued magnetic strip passes and Chicago Cards (and ticket packs and cards for Pace riders), to an outsourced fare collection system based around a hybrid transit/prepaid debit card. This has been overseen by Cubic Transportation Systems, a subsidiary of a defense contractor and wireless data technology firm.
In the face of public scrutiny, Cubic has ensured that these problems will be solved (though its boss "can't guess" when). However, what Cubic isn't telling Chicagoans is that the company has experienced all of Ventra's problems before... in the other smart card systems it has built for cities across the world.
In the Fox Lake area of Illinois where he grew up, "drinking was huge," Linn said in an interview. From a young age, he could see the effects alcohol had on people. Then he saw the effects marijuana had on people and "it was like a night and day difference," he said.
Last week, the Chicago Board of Education closed 50 schools, including 10% of the city's elementary schools. More than 80% of the students impacted are black. About 42% of CPS students are black.
A lot of emotions and outrage get ginned up. The CEO of the Chicago Public Schools was outraged, because she had supposedly been called a racist in pushing a policy of mass closure of public schools. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett was outraged that "as a woman of color," she could be accused of racism. Also, how could the Chicago Teachers Union and its allies in the parent and student community call the school closure plan "racist" when its purpose is purportedly to get kids out of failing schools? (As one of several rationales.)
There are two parts to the answer here, and they're very important, and each deserves its own, focused article, so let's do one at a time. The one of interest right now is the nature of a discriminatory policy; one for another day, is the conditions that result in discrimination.
Racist can be a tough word to hear or to understand. The school closure plan is absolutely not racist in the way we think of Archie Bunker (that's old-timey Eric Cartman for you youths) as being racist — that is, fueled by conscious hatred for a group, or subconscious fear of that group. But that is not the only definition of racist. Many a racist remark has been made with good intentions, for example; we can all think of cringe-inducing incidents of those from our personal experience. So perhaps it'd be better to call the school closure policy discriminatory. Oh, CPS's school closure plan is plainly discriminatory. The only open issues are whether the government had no choice but to be discriminatory. To date, CPS has not made that case.
This isn't controversial, in fact. Discrimination based on race is not about the intent of the discriminator. It's about the effect of the policy. This isn't Leftist race theory, this is taken directly from the United States Congress. Even to the Congress it's long been understood that a private employer or a government body can be guilty of discrimination even with a pure heart. Several pieces of long-standing legislation bear this out: the Civil Rights Act's "Title VII," which bars discrimination in employment; the Fair Housing Act, which bars discrimination in housing; the Americans with Disability Act; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, among others. These statutes all, either on their face or through interpretation by courts, contemplate that a policy can be discriminatory — have racist effects — even absent any racist motives.
In such scenarios, intent is immaterial. Motive is immaterial. What matters is, when a powerful actor (an employer, a government) acts, it has to be sensitive to the impact of that policy on protected classes — whether they be women or people of color or religious minorities or the disabled — and aware of possible disparate impacts. If they aren't sufficiently careful to justify or mitigate those impacts, then they have discriminated. Again, don't ask me, ask Congress — and take an example.
Marching in ominous orange prison jumpsuits with black hoods over their heads, activists marched amongst commuters and shoppers last Friday, May 17. The demonstration in downtown Chicago called for President Obama to shut down the infamous prison facility at Guantanamo Bay.
An ongoing hunger strike at the detention facility in Cuba has reached its 100th day with more than 100 detainees refusing to eat. This has drawn some attention back to the facility that President Obama promised to close down back in 2009.
There are just faces. No sign. No numbers. No flag.
In the windows above the Chicago Printmakers' Collaborative a powerful memorial to the United States servicemen killed in the War in Iraq is fading. Six hundred forty-eight faces fill three stories of windows. Some are now torn, faded, water-stained, or simply falling down.
"We have to keep repairing it," says the Collaborative's owner, Deborah Lader. "We go up and tape pieces back up."
Each piece is the face of a soldier who lost their life serving in Iraq. The Façade Project, created in August of 2004 by artist Carrie Iverson, abuts the tracks of the Brown Line's Western stop in Lincoln Square at 4642 Western Ave. There, the faces of the fallen peer out at the thousands of riders who pass through the stop every day.
By the time the project was completed in August of 2004 it was clear the war would not be the tidy six-month engagement that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld infamously predicted. The deaths of soldiers were no longer getting front-page hero treatment. As the death toll climbed, the faces slipped deeper and deeper into the paper and out of newscasts.
Shelly Friede, a single mother of three, looked a high-ranking member of the conservative Vice Lords street gang in the eye and asked a question.
"Are you trying to shoot my children?"
That was seven years ago, when Friede first moved into subsidized housing in the 4400 block of North Magnolia in Uptown. Her 24-unit courtyard building stood in Black P Stone Ranger territory and had been riddled with bullets from a drive-by shooting by the rival Vice Lords.
Two years later, Friede was pregnant with her youngest child, Sebastian, when her family came under fire again. This time, it was an internal dispute among the P Stones as "they shot down the gangway, then shot over my head," she recalled.
The physical landscape of Uptown has changed a great deal since Friede's first run-in with violence there. Wilson Yard, a former CTA rail storage and maintenance facility destroyed by fire in 1996, has been redeveloped to include residential apartments, a Target and an Aldi supermarket. Nearby, a mid-rise residential condominium sits on the former site of the 46th Ward office in the 1000 block of West Montrose Avenue.
"Nina" smoked crack and sold sex on Chicago's South Side for 33 years, racking up dozens of arrests, spending years in prison and losing custody of her seven children. One morning in November 2010, she tried to sell sex to an undercover police officer and wound up in jail again. She thought she was heading back to prison, but instead, she was offered a spot in an experimental new courts program aimed at rehabilitating prostitutes.
There are an estimated 16,000 to 25,000 prostitutes in the Chicago area, and their stories are remarkably similar. Most were sexually abused as children, started using drugs early and ran away from home. Most started selling sex between the ages of 12 and 14, oftentimes after being recruited by pimps. And most get arrested repeatedly -- dozens, even hundreds of times -- before they get off the streets, if they manage to get off the streets at all.
In January 2011, Cook County started handling these cases in a new way. Instead of prison time, women convicted of felony prostitution are now offered drug treatment, job training and other services in the community. The program -- called WINGS (Women in Need of Gender Specific Services) -- is based on a growing belief that women in the sex trade should be treated not as criminals, but as victims.
This is Nina's story.
Sarah Ostman is a freelance reporter and audio producer. She lives in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. This piece was supported with a Local Reporting Award from the Chicago Community Trust.
Earlier this year, Tio Hardiman saved the life of a young man who was about to be murdered by an elder member of his own gang. There was a miscommunication when the young man abruptly disappeared to care for his ailing mother; at the same time, his gang was raided by the police, leaving the gang to suspect they'd been sold out. Hardiman got word of the execution that was about to take place and literally talked the elder gang member down — but not after having his own life threatened.
"He told me he was going to put me to sleep," Hardiman said.
For some, this intervention would be heroic act of courage; for Hardiman, it's another day at the office.
Hardiman is an "interrupter" for — and director of — CeaseFire, a non-violence organization based out of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. The role of an interrupter is exactly what it sounds like — Hardiman, and others like him, work to prevent retaliatory violence.
"People can change, that's what we believe," Hardiman said. "We're in the business of changing behavior and mindsets associated with violence."
Outside of the persistent problem of slack capital spending, Chicago rapid transit currently suffers from two major physical problems. The El leaves a large portion of the city underserved or wholly unserved. Also, the El is too "loop-centric", making travel between different non-loop areas slow and time consuming. This is in part a legacy of the system's origins. Privately owned and operated until 1947, rail operators insisted that their charters include service to the central business district to ensure profitability. Neighborhood-to-neighborhood service on its own was not profitable enough for the securities holders who regularly flexed their political power to protect their charters.
Our proposal here seeks to address redundancy and coverage issues by creating three new train lines in the city and reorganizing the current system.
These new lines will consist of:
a) a train along Kedzie Avenue, from Evergreen Plaza to Lincolnwood Town Center ("K Train" or "Black Line"),
b) an Outer Loop train, running downtown to 49th Street, along the viaduct at 49th, north on Kedzie, along the Bloomingdale viaduct, and back downtown ("White Line"), and
c) the incorporation of the Metra Electric South Shore line into a fully integrated CTA line ("Gold Line").
A smart reorganization of intermodal and intersystem operations would improve efficiency and close gaps in the current system. These will be discussed later, along with some reasonable but ballparky cost and economic estimates.
North - South Travel
North-south travel away from the Lake is tedious. With no train service, outside of long and inefficient trips all the way downtown and then a transfer back out, the back bone of service is slow moving buses on crowded city streets. The Black Line Kedzie Train, or K Train, would change all of this. The K train would start at Evergreen Plaza, and run from 95th Street and Kedzie Avenue as a subway north to Lincolnwood Town Center, on Touhy (possibly emerging here at ground level). The K train would run for approximately 21 miles, with 25 stops. An access tunnel around Kedzie and Eastwood would link the Black Line CTA rail yard at Kimball.
Connections with the existing train lines would provide much needed flexibility to the transit system and added benefits to Chicagoans. The K train would connect to:
This is Part Two of a series examining health care in Cook County.
The Fantus Health Center provides a stark contrast to its neighbor, Stroger Hospital, making the latter seem almost a paragon of quality public healthcare with its modern design and efficient organization. The clinic, named after Dr. Bernard Fantus, who started the world's first blood bank at Cook County Hospital, is about 50 years old and shows signs of age from grime on the floors of the entryway. Immediately upon entering, you're greeted by a cacophony of conversations between people waiting to pick up their prescriptions and the numbers of people being served constantly being called out like a Department of Motor Vehicles station. Because of the size of the waiting area and possibly the dark walls and lighting, the waiting area for the pharmacy seemed to be more crowded than the ER waiting area at Stroger Hospital.
"Fantus is probably what most people think our health system is like," Sonja Vogel, Communications and Marketing Director for Stroger Hospital and the Ambulatory and Community Health Network (ACHN), said while walking to the building.
The outpatient clinic is noisy, dim, grim, busy and pharmacy area has a smell reminiscent of processed cheese in boxed macaroni and cheese. On the first floor, the pharmacy is the first thing that patients and visitors are greeted by, before turning down a hallway where The Lifestyles Center and Ambulatory Screening Clinic (ASC) are located.
This is Part One of a series examining health care in Cook County.
The lobby for John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, is a clean, bright, modern space. On the left side of the lobby are a gift shop and coffee counter run by the auxiliary board, which uses the money to help buy furniture for the hospital and gifts for mothers that give birth in the hospital. In the center of the lobby is an information desk where a sign telling visitors to get in line sits at the front of a roped off area to contain the line. The windows near the elevators are large, allowing those waiting to see greenery around the Stroger campus as well as the older Fantus Health Center building while sun streams through the windows.
What is the oddest thing about Stroger Hospital is that it does not seem to fit any conception of a public hospital most people hold.
Feeding the poor wasn't enough for one faith-based non-profit on the North Side. A Just Harvest, a community kitchen turned community organizer, is planning a tilapia farm in the North of Howard area. The main feature of the project would be an aquaponics farm that would produce both locally grown food and, ideally, jobs.
The scope of the project isn't your garden-variety urban greenspace. The goal is to construct an aquaponics system that would produce two yields of tilapia in the first year alone. Like a home aquarium, an aquaponics system pumps wastewater out of the fish tank to keep the fish healthy, but that's where the similarities end. Instead of using a mechanical or disposable filter, the wastewater from the fish would in turn be pumped to a separate area with a bed of produce. The water is then filtered by the plants and simultaneously used as fertilizer before being pumped back in to the fish tank as clean water. Depending on the size of the tank used, the amount of fish can be anywhere from a few hundred fish to tens of thousands.
Eddie Davis waits in his dapper suit for customers to arrive at Bass Furniture, but buyers and even browsers are few and far between these days for the Roseland landmark at South Michigan and 115th Street.
Business has been down for years, while Davis continues to pay the mortgage on his store and warehouses, which have sold new furniture on the Far South Side for generations.
"As much as I would like to stay in the 9th Ward, if I had the resources, I would move," Davis said.
The days when far South Michigan Avenue was a thriving commercial corridor with competing department stores are long gone, but Davis said business was much better even 10 years ago when a strip mall sat cater-corner to his store.
The mall was bulldozed for redevelopment in 2004, and the neighborhood has been waiting ever since for a grocery store to anchor the neighborhood on 115th. Roseland is completely without a supermarket, making it one of the city's largest "food deserts."
"It has impacted our business tremendously," Davis said. "We need foot traffic. We need people."
An Aldi store may yet anchor that location within the next year, but Bass Furniture could some day benefit from another development: a new El station a few hundred yards to the south, part of the proposed Red Line
"We've been here 70 years," Davis said. "If it takes 10 years for the train, we hope to be here in 10 years."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on an overhaul of the Red Line as his highest transportation priority, and within his first 100 days in office, the CTA has showed the beginnings of that process: the agency won $8.4 million in federal dollars to conduct environmental studies for Red Line improvements.
The environmental studies will take two years, and push out the finish line of a Red Line extension until at least 2017, but Joe Iacobucci, a strategic planner at the CTA, said any delay is hardly the biggest obstacle the project faces.
"The two main barriers are finding capital funds and operations costs," Iacobucci said. "We're still a ways to go, but we're still pushing this through as fast as we can."
When Richard M. Daley was mayor, the Red Line extension had to share CTA planning time with extensions to the Yellow and Orange lines as well as a new inner-city connector route called the Circle Line. Under the new mayor, those projects appear shelved, and only the Red Line extension remains active. But now the extension is sharing funds with improvements to the existing Red Line on the North Side.
In the spring, the CTA initiated its "Your Red" campaign, which, reflecting Emanuel's Chicago 2011 Transition Plan, takes a three-pronged approach to the Red Line: overhaul the dilapidated north branch of the Red Line and the suburban Purple Line for $2.4 to $4 billion; replace the rails, ties and ballasts of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line for $700 million; and extend the Red Line to 130th Street, through the Roseland neighborhood to Altgeld Gardens, for $1.2 billion.
"OK, so these are the things converging with us," Annabel Park says over the phone from suburban Washington, DC. "One is the corruption, the level of corruption in Washington that really is impeding progress on just about every single issue that concerns the American people. So I think from climate change to campaign finance to Wall Street reform, all these issues that progress is desperately needed, is impeded by the influence of money in our government."
Park is a documentary film maker who in 2010 turned a primal scream of a Facebook post about incivility at Congressional town hall meetings into a national organization called the Coffee Party movement. In less than two years the Coffee Party movement claims to have an e-mail list of 75,000 people and 378,158 Facebook participants.
The Coffee Party has taken up the cause of bringing individuals back into the political process through what they consider to be a more civil and reasoned approach to discussing and advocating for issues. As Park sits down to talk, the Coffee Party has taken on the issue of getting banking watchdog Elizabeth Warren nominated to head the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
"Look how numerous and powerful the Israelite people are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase..."
Rosanna Pulido is stabbing at me with her finger. After talking about illegal immigration for almost an hour now, she is both more comfortable and more agitated. Pulido says everything with some kind of emphasis.
What is it about illegal immigration that makes someone, a latina no less, an activist? Pulido answers by singing, not just quoting, America, the Beautiful. "You know the song, America? America, America God shed His grace on thee...o.k., there is a line in that song...in liberty in law. That's how you and I have so much freedom and liberty and prosperity."
Freedom, liberty, and prosperity are pretty much universal aspirations. They have moved people to action since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt up until the protests in Tahrir Square. America has, throughout its history, been a place where people have fled in order to live their aspirations. That history is filled with the brutal struggle over who belongs and who decides.
"You put laws down and if you don't obey them, you know what? You're going to pay for it," Pulido says. But who decides crime and punishment?
American immigration law has always been tied closely to race and ethnicity. The nation's first immigration law, the Naturalization Act of 1790, was passed only a year after the constitution and allowed for the immigration and naturalization of "free white persons" of "good moral character."
America, since even before its birth as a nation, has been defined as a place for seekers; a home where a variety of peoples, values, and aspirations can belong. Defining citizenship is part of defining America. Rather than melting into the national identity, each group of seekers has struggled their way past gatekeepers vigilantly guarding their own vision, interests and identity.
Carving out a place and claiming the rights that come with it is a political fight between those who stand on either side of the doorway to America. Who belongs? Who gets in? Who stays out? Who decides?
"Profanely." In a word, that is how Joshua Hoyt intends to address an announcement from Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn's office that services to immigrants will be cut by up to 74 percent in the proposed budget. Hoyt, as Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), has a meeting with Quinn's senior staff and he intends to be direct.
On any given night there's an estimated 2,000 homeless youth on Chicagoland streets, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago report in 2005. When many people think of youth, they might not consider its definition extending to age 24. But homeless youth that make up emerging adults are also vulnerable to a lack of services and the attention they need while living on the streets. While help in Chicago offers youth a variety of services including food, bedding, showers and support groups, there's not enough to accommodate the need. And many youth have a difficult time adjusting to the responsibilities of this coming of age.
Zabrina Worthy frets when she talks about losing her house. She never saw how it could happen to her the way it did. Her voice cracked with tears at the first words she spoke to me, over the telephone: "I completely lost everything I had." When they boarded her house, she didn't just lose her home. Her computer, her furniture, her business — all the things she and her three children owned — were locked inside.
Zabrina stands about 5'8". She's 36, her face is round and coffee-colored, and when I visit her, she often smiles, in spite of her ordeal. She bought the two-story bungalow at 72nd and Sawyer in Chicago Lawn for just over $200,000 in 2004, and moved there with her three children after divorcing her second husband.
By 2008, she was making $4,000 a month, filling two jobs — nights as a security guard at McCormick Place and days as a school bus driver. She needed to keep both jobs till her small business transporting social service clients for the state of Illinois got off the ground. She employed her son, Bruce, and her new husband to drive two vans, chauffeuring her customers. "The transportation business could have been big. Chicago is a big place — they are overloaded getting people around," she said.
By the summer of 2008, the money from her business loan ran out, and the state had fallen three months behind in paying her. In August, her Wells Fargo home loan suddenly shot up from $1,500 to about $2,200, and she couldn't make up the difference. That fall, she put her house on the market, and she says she tried to get Wells Fargo to modify her loan. She geared herself for a move she did not want to make.
One morning in December 2008, four months later, the kids left for school, and she left to drive her school bus route. When Zabrina came home from work, her windows were boarded up, the locks on the doors were changed; she had no way to get in. "When I left, I just had my clothes on my back for work," she says. Her two younger children were left in their school uniforms. Her computers and paperwork for her business were also lost inside. "I had never been homeless in my life, but after that, I was." They never lived in the house again.
In most communities, residents who see the need for an infrastructure project must send letters, make phone calls and attend meetings. In the 49th Ward, they simply need to vote.
The North Side neighborhood uses a process known as participatory budgeting, which puts the fund allocation decisions in the hands of the community itself.
In 2007, Ald. Joe Moore first learned about the concept from a presentation by Josh Lerner, director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. Over the next few years Moore further researched the potential to use the process for city funds known as menu money. In fiscal 2010, his ward became the first jurisdiction in the United States to implement participatory budgeting.
Each ward receives the same amount of menu money, last year that amount was about $1.3 million, and it can be used for any infrastructure projects the Alderman's office chooses. Ald. Moore created a four-step election process whereby any resident who is 16-years-old or older can propose and ultimately vote for expenditures, regardless of citizenship or voting eligibility.
After seven years and thousands of cameras, neither Chicago's police nor its public officials can claim that their video surveillance program, Police Observational Devices (PODs), is effective at stopping and preventing crimes. This shouldn't be a surprise, though. After sifting through mountains of crime data provided by the police and observing two Chicago neighborhoods, the Urban Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington D.C., couldn't say how well the cameras were working. What may be surprising, however, is that the police department looked into this twice before; they never shared the findings and evidence suggests no one will ever know if the system is truly effective.
In 2005, a group of Northwestern University students led by Dr. Mark Iris, professor of law and politics and former head of the semi-independent Chicago Police Board, examined 137 cameras throughout the city to conclude the system has "mixed levels of effectiveness." Which is more or less what the Urban Institute has said. Just one year later, in 2006, the Chicago Police Department evaluated 111 of its own cameras to uncover a measurable 13.7 percent decrease in reported crime incidents near cameras. Iris' study contained 100 pages of detail and analysis (with 42 pages of crime data provided by the police) while the police department's examination consisted of eight pages of findings and an additional 18 pages of crime data. But both of these studies have remained under the lock and key of the police department since they were conceived.
This article was written by freelance journalist Samantha Winslow.
Juan Calderon sips coffee at Café Colao on Division Street in the historic center for the Chicago's Puerto Rican community. This part of Humboldt Park is marked by red and blue metal banners on each end in the shape of the Puerto Rican flag. The café, known for Puerto Rican style coffee and pastries, is a block from where he works at the Vida/SIDA center inside the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
Calderon begins to talk about why he and fellow Humboldt Park activist Roberto Sanabria published a letter in the Windy City Times, a Chicago publication for the gay and lesbian community, voicing their concern and anger over Equality Illinois firing Rick Garcia, the political director and co-founder of the state's largest advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.
"Firing Rick Garcia was a slap in the face to the Latino community," Calderon says.
By Katherine Tellez, Julie Sammarco and Mollie Zubek
NOTE: Children's names have been changed to protect their identities.
Kindergartner Nina Phillips uses the whiteboard to do her work. Adam Conway says HOPES tries to provide as many learning materials as they can, though says, it's not the ideal situation. Photo by Julie Sammarco
On a typical weekday, Chicagoans will pass dozens of children with their backpacks heading to school.
Annie appears born to teach. A third grade teacher near Bucktown, she bursts with enthusiasm, gesticulating excitedly when talking about her students or a math curriculum she thinks highly of.
The majority of her students are Latino; she is white. Born on the East Coast and educated in Urbana-Champaign, she now lives in the neighborhood, and likes it that way. On the way to the interview, she says, she ran into a student from the past year.
She comes from a family of educators, and has wanted to teach from a young age. Now in her sixth year of teaching, she plans to be an educator for life.
I was lucky to grow up in a town where the public system was phenomenal. I had great teachers. When I go home, I still visit my teachers from as far back as third grade. In my class, we do a project called Flat Stanley, and every year I send a Flat Stanley back to my old third grade teacher's classroom. My third grade teacher now can see me as a third grade teacher.
Stepping out of the elevator onto the 14th floor of the Richard J. Daley Center, Sheriee Woodland was greeted by a world-famous panorama of high-rise architecture.
The Chicago Temple Building, Holabird & Root's 23 story, neo-Gothic masterpiece; Kohn Pederson Fox's "Birthday Cake Building" at 311 S. Wacker; and The Legacy, Solomon Cordwell and Buenz's 72-story condominium tower of ocean-blue glass, were a few of the many well-maintained buildings that looked back through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
But Woodland was at the Daley Center because of a different high-rise. She was on her way to eviction court.
Lindsey Rohwer is a 26-year old Spanish teacher who lives in Lakeview. A native of Omaha, she began teaching in Chicago in 2006 at Corliss High School on the South Side through Teach for America, a non-profit organization that places recent college graduates in schools in low-income communities. Rohwer fulfilled her two-year commitment with Teach for America in 2008 and worked at Corliss for another year. In August 2009, she started a new position as a Spanish I and II teacher at TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School. A few weeks before Rohwer began her second year at TEAM Englewood, I sat down with her at a Starbucks in Bridgeport to discuss her experience teaching and why she remains committed to staying in a classroom beyond her tenure with Teach for America.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. My mom and both my aunts were public school teachers. I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, and it was a really fantastic school district. So my experience with public school is that it is very high quality, just excellent education from those schools. Then I went to school at the University of Kansas and was a Spanish and International Studies major. I thought I wanted to go to grad school and do foreign policy, sort of more on the politics side of things. During my senior year, I heard a couple of people that had done Teach for America and I started to find out more about it. To be honest it seemed at the time like a good two-year buffer before I actually had to decide what I was really going to do, so that is what drew me to it. I had done tutoring and teaching throughout college, and really enjoyed it, but I did not have an interest in having a career in public education. So it was really like, 'This will be something I will enjoy doing for two years. It will be a challenge.' Then I will go on to do what I really planned to do.
Several dozen parents and students completed the third night of an occupation of a Pilsen elementary field house Friday night, protesting the planned demolition of the allegedly dilapidated structure. The sit-in has withstood several visits by the police - at one point they threatened arrests then abruptly left after more than 100 students, parents and community members pushed past barricades to support the protesters - and scored the promise of an interview with Ron Huberman to discuss turning the field house into a library for the school.
The field house of Whittier Dual Language School, at 1900 W. 23rd St., has been used as a center for after-school programs and community meetings. According to Gema Gaete, an activists with Teachers for Social Justice and Pilsen resident, parents found out that the building was set to be demolished in November 2009, when a budget detailing the proposed spending of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money allotted to Whittier was released.
[Editor's note: This story was submitted by freelance writer Michael Volpe.]
It was the end of January 2009 and things were looking up for Mario Benitez. His employer, Pan American Mortgage, had recently promoted him from a reverse mortgage specialist to head of the reverse mortgage department. That also meant a bump in pay that would finally end his days of living paycheck to paycheck. Since the mortgage market tanked in 2008, Benitez, like most mortgage professionals, struggled mightily with his own finances. Furthermore, he had made inroads in Chicago's Hispanic Republican community and was in the beginning stages of forming a political consulting firm dedicated to reaching the Hispanic community.
But his outward good fortune was masking an internal terror. For the last year and a half, Benitez was on the wrong end of a criminal proceeding. He had broken into his neighbor's home and stolen $130 almost twoyears prior when he was living in Florida. It was the sort of crime that would usually get a slap on the wrist had it happened in Chicago, but it happened in Brevard County Florida. He was dealing with it almost entirely alone. He didn't tell any of his co workers or friends. In fact, when he walked into the Brevard County courtroom on January 31st, 2009, he was still expecting to fly back home to Chicago at the end of the weekend. His expectations were wrong. For the next year and a half, Benitez would become a resident of some of the toughest prisons in Florida. He'd wind up in solitary confinement, in the crosshairs of a vicious gang, about to be deported, and he'd also wind up teaching mysticism to murderers, thieves and rapists. It's a journey borne out of recklessness, alcoholism and stupidity, but it's turned into a unique journey into America's underbelly.
This September 22-24, architects, affordable housing activists, developers, educators and government officials will be gathering at the University of Illinois at Chicago for the Architecture for Change Summit. Aimed at addressing the affordable housing crisis, the summit will be linking together affordable housing design advocacy with the affordable housing movement.
Your background is in architecture and you teach in the architecture school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and you also have a rich background in activist architectural practice. But architects usually aren't viewed as activist. What attracted you to the idea of activist architectural practice?
Most people aren't activists, architects included.
[This article was submitted by freelance journalist Michael Volpe.]
"Nigger boy, you gonna cooperate?" a 220lb. Chicago police officer screamed as he pounded on the chest of 16-year-old, 120lb. Mark Clements. As the beating continued, pain shot out from Clements' chest and exploded into the rest of his body. He gasped for air, struggling to breathe, in excruciating pain. Clements say the officer, whom he identifies as John McCann, had a way of getting his knuckles to the tenderest part of the bone.
Clements could barely read. He hadn't even finished seventh grade but he was smart enough to know what the cops wanted. They wanted Clements to confess to an arson that occurred at 6600 S. Wentworth six days earlier. The beating went on like this for nearly 30 minutes, but still Clements remained stubborn. He'd gotten into enough fights in the neighborhood to be able to withstand a beating.
Clements remained quiet and refused to give in even as welts grew in his chest from the officer's fists cracking his bones. Then, they stopped hitting Clements. Instead, Clements says, McCann grabbed his balls and squeezed. This was a pain he'd never experienced before. There was only one thing that would stop it.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll cooperate," Clements said, in unbearable pain. That's how Mark Clements remembers and recounted that night nearly 30 years after it occurred (neither the Chicago Police Department nor the Cook County State's Attorney's office would respond to requests for comment for this article). A few hours later, at about 2am on the morning of June 26th 1981, Mark Clements would sign a confession to an arson at 6600 S. Wentworth six days earlier that killed four people. A year and a half later he'd get four life sentences and become the youngest person in the history of the state of Illinois to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Op-Ed Contributed by GB Contributing Writer Bob Quellos
Last week, the Chicago City Council approved a $96 million TIF for the South Works development site, the largest ever given to a private developer in the City of Chicago. The plan for South Works calls for the eventual building of over 17,000 dwelling units on the 500-acre site at the location of the former U.S. Steel South Works, near 79th Street and east of U.S. 41. The project is to be run by a development group that includes the Chicago-based McCaffery Interests. The first phase of construction is scheduled for groundbreaking in 2012; located on a 77 acre portion of the site, it will compromise an astounding million square feet of retail space alongside residential dwellings. Decades from now if the project eventually is completed, it will create an entirely new neighborhood along Lake Michigan on Chicago's South Side.
But if you had $96 million dollars to invest in the City of Chicago what would you do with it? Would you build the infrastructure for a new neighborhood, or perhaps take a shot at filling the ongoing budget hole that is wrecking havoc on the Chicago Public School system. Perhaps you would find a way to put the over 1,100 employees at the CTA who were recently laid off back to work and restore transit services that were axed. Or maybe (hold on to your seat, this is a crazy one), reeling with disgust from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico you decide to make a ground breaking attempt to move Chicago away from a dependance on non-renewable resources and invest the $96 million dollars in wind power that would provide free and clean energy to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.
At October's National Equality March for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Washington, DC, a tall, fit woman with a quantity of curly gray hair strode to the microphone and gripped both sides of the podium.
"I hope Glenn Beck is watching," she began in a powerful voice, "because for the record, my name is Sherry Wolf, and I am a socialist!"
Her name was not as well-known to the crowd of 200,000 as some of the day's other speakers, like NAACP chair Julian Bond and pop star Lady Gaga, and her proclamation of socialist politics was not echoed in the day's additional speeches.
But much of the crowd would not have been present without this socialist's efforts. Sherry Wolf, a Chicago author and LGBT activist, was an organizer for the first mass gay rights march in a decade and the first mass protest to pressure President Obama to act on his campaign promises on any issue.
Despite her lack of name recognition, Wolf's activist history for LGBT equality and socialism spans the course of several decades. As gay and lesbian interests become institutionalized, she remains firmly outside the LGBT establishment -- and that's the way she wants it.
Maggie crosses herself as we drive past St. Rita's on 63rd Street. She is taking me around the neighborhood to see the board ups.
Maggie Perales is an organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). Her work for SWOP connects the divergent interests throughout the southwest side of Chicago. She has advocated for educational initiatives, immigrant rights, violence reduction and most relevant now, mortgage reform.
This is ground zero for the financial meltdown. Over the past two years, four zip codes in the southwest side have seen 6,100 foreclosures. The wreckage is everywhere. Every block seems to have a least one house boarded up by the bank; the previous owners long since gone.
Some blocks have five or more board ups. One block; the houses abandoned and cringing as the streets take over.
Update: The Vialdores family had their day in court--and won.
Carol Vialdores and her children have lived in Rogers Park for 16 years. Currently residing near the Chicago-Evanston border off of Howard Street, the family has never lived anywhere besides the Far North Side.
"The kids have never changed schools," she says. "It's where they've spent their whole lives."
Vialdores and three of her children. Photo by Megan Cottrell.
Vialdores, 41, and her five children, ages five to 19, live at the Northpoint Apartments. For now. The Vialdores family is facing an eviction. Northpoint management claim Vialdores violated several aspects of her lease, including threatening a manager, and are attempting to remove her and her children from their home. She and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC) say her eviction is a response to her active role in organizing with a tenants union at Northpoint for better living conditions, and are mobilizing with community members and other tenants to demand the family be left in their home.
Vialdores and Northpoint began their trial this week. The verdict will determine whether or not the family will get to keep a roof over their heads.
Victor Hernendez addresses a rally in the state capital in Springfield. Hernendez was a victim of wage theft.
You work assuming you'll be paid, but too often, workers are simply denied what they're owed. It happened to Kim Kambra who worked at Jericho Products in Springwood. "They didn't pay me. I worked over 55 hours a week and they paid me for one week out of the last 10 weeks. My house went into foreclosure and I lost the legal rights to my house even though I still live there."
Kambra was one of many Jericho employees who were not paid. Computer programmer Bill Van Dusen worked for 12 years at Jericho but for three months in 2008 and another three months in 2009, Dusen was not paid. "I had to use the money we saved for our kids' education to pay our bills."
Jericho went beyond not paying their employees. The company "stole our deductions for health insurance and child support. They collected that but didn't pay it to the proper person they needed to pay it to," according to Van Dusen.
However, Jericho's owners have been paid handsomely. Kevin Lynch, one of the owners of Jericho Products would have wild venison for his dogs and chrome parts for his car delivered to the company while three employees' homes went into foreclosure.
Maria is lying on the bed. She's been trying to get up, lifting her head, maybe rolling over onto an elbow, but she's gotten nowhere. Another half attempt to sit upright. She reaches in her pocket and fumbles with a cell phone. She wants to call her best friend Tammy, but her fingers forget where they're going and never make it past the US Cellular logo above the keypad. "Tammy, you wouldn't believe what I'm about to do," she'd tell her. But she can't get as far as calling her.
When Raul Real decided he and his co-workers needed a union, he knew his bosses wouldn't be happy. He didn't realize, however, that his organizing would eventually cost him his job and lead to his arrest at his former place of employment.
Real is one of a number of former workers at the Chicagloand grocer Pete's Fresh Market who are levying charges against the company including firings for union activity, threats based on immigration status, and gender and pregnancy discrimination. Company officials say they have engaged in no wrongdoing, and that the majority of workers have no desire to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.
But workers who claim the company abused them have begun to speak out, pressuring the company to recognize the union. Real claims his organizing first led to his firing, and that his participation in a recent protest at a southwest side Pete's resulted in his arrest.
As he pauses at the corner of 31st Street and Central Park in Little Village, Rafael Hurtado can only think about factories. Turn any way, and they're all he sees, and on the worst days, they're all he smells. On a drizzly April morning, the smell isn't nearly as repugnant as it is on unbearably hot summer days, but Hurtado still has a message for anyone listening. Hurtado, an 18-year-old Little Village resident, volunteers as a tour guide for Toxic Tours, which guide people around the load of manufacturing plants and chemical sites that have been polluting the community for years.
On this April morning, in the midst of the murmuring steady rainfall, the noise of sirens, trains and cars passing through puddles briefly disturbs his message, but Hurtado continues with his story. He became involved with LVEJO in 2002 after noticing a rally outside his home protesting for more parks in the area.
"We only have one park in Little Village, and it's only accessible to one-third of the community because it's all the way on the west side," he says. "For you to go over there, you don't have to be part of a gang... they'll harass you."
Welcome to Mechanics, the new political section on Gapers Block. Editor Ramsin Canon gives more background on what Mechanics is all about here.
The Mechanics staff and other GB contributors will be covering the 2008 General Election right here, from morning until late into tonight -- but we want to hear from you, too. If you've got a tip for us or want to share your perspective on the day, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, IM us at email@example.com, or send us a message in Twitter. We'll also aggregate news and reportage from elsewhere in Chicago and beyond, making Mechanics your one-stop shop for election news.
06:09 Anne Holub My polling place is just steps from my house, but at 6am there, already 50 people waiting in line. 6700 n greenview, Rogers park. I'm in line. Waiting with my judge info.
06:24 Ramsin Canon I just took a dip in the boisterous sea of liberty, which in the case of my precinct meant I chatted with seniors for two minutes before voting my first ever non-straight Democratic ticket. That's right, I finally broke with the party over water reclamation.
06:31 Anne Holub Half the voters in front of me have already voted, but I've been here since 6am!
06:45 Ramsin CanonSenator Obama has voted in Hyde Park. I wonder if anybody who waited in line with him made a "palling around" joke, because I would have. Stupid BBC wire stories. But he's voted now! [0750 Ramsin Canon]
07:01 Anne Holub Took an hour, but I voted!
07:10 Ramsin Canon You Rogers Park goo goos with your passion for voting. Pshaw! Check out this BBC report about Barack's first victory today: he has won the vote in Dixville Notch, NH. Vote totals: Obama 15, McCain 6.
07:23 Ramsin Canon As of this morning, election prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com's prediction model (which runs something like 10,000 election simulations every day based on various polls), Senator McCain has a 1.9% chance of winning today, which means if we voted 10,000 times, Senator McCain would get 270 electoral votes 190 times.
07:43 Ramsin Canon Bill Ayers voted earlier this morning at Obama's precinct. Can you imagine if they had been in line together? Awk-ward.
08:12 Kenzo Shibata We were told early in the school year that CPS personnel are prohibited from wearing campaign gear at our schools, as many are polling places. Also, as respected adults, we would unfairly influence the opinions of students. For once, the Board of Education has admitted that we are actually making an impact in students' lives! Now only if they'd only stop closing down our schools...
09:00 whet Got free coffee at swim & got to keep vote slip. My vote is worth 2 cups of coffee!
09:07 CMPR Arrived at polls in La Grange Park at 6:05 am...line of 20 voters already, which is a first for this polling place...finally voted at 6:35
09:24 Jill Jaracz About 25 pct voted early + 25 pct so far today.
09:32 Robyn Nisi I voted this morning at Brentano School in Logan Square (35th Ward, 8th Pct.) -- I was 3rd in line when I arrived @ 5:45 a.m. The line grew to 15 by 6am, and was snaking out of the building when I left at 6:20. Check-in was a bit shaky -- I wanted to do the touch screen method, but of course it wasn't working when they tried to get me started (I checked back on my way out; the touch screen was working again).
11:43 Andie Thomalla I was listening to CNN's live feed of the Shoesmith School polling place this morning, waiting for Obama to cast his vote... Just a feed, no commentary. Did anyone else notice someone in the background yelling "Ayers! Ayers!" and then the sound suddenly cutting out? Conspiracy theories, anyone?
13:22 Mark Smithivas wgn radio talking to guy who's first in ticketed line. he showed up @ 730 last night! | and get this... he's an internet consultant! LOL | 300 people in ticketed line now.
13:23 CDButler voted just after noon in Streeterville. No line. Only 3 voters in the place
13:31 ondraceka no line whatsoever at fullerton court apts. @ 12:15. worried i wasn't going to have time to vote; was pleasantly surprised.
13:34 Andrew Huff I was able to vote midday, so I didn't have to wait. I live in a precinct with a large immigrant population, too, so the total number of registered voters is low -- I was #141 to vote with a paper ballot at my polling place (according to the counter on the scanner), and with only one electronic voting machine the total count probably wasn't that much higher.
13:44 As you'd expect, the Capitol Fax Blog is an excellent place for ongoingcoverage.
13:48 ajbaudio reports Chicago Police patrol boats are on already the Chicago River in anticipation of tonight's Obama rally.
13:52 superanne lines said to be two hours wait at 4300 winchester, now abt 20 min, only, and everyone's all chatty. (and wearing obama shwag.)
14:05 Kenzo Shibata So far, all of my students who are eligible to vote tell me that they voted for Obama. After they asked me how I voted, I had what we call in the business a "teachable moment" where they learned the definition of "gag order" and how the policies of municipally-managed entities can override first amendment rights.
I have one student, Cynthia, who works full time to support her family...she is earning a B average and is actively looking at colleges for next year. She got up two hours early to vote.
Barack needs your help right now -- our data indicates that the results will
be very close in many states. I can't emphasize enough how urgent this
message is. Please go to our website and start calling as soon as you can.
We are not going to hit our goal of 500,000 calls for today by 3pm Central, unless we get at least 2,000 more people calling for the next hour.
Can you call now and continue for as long as you can manage?
16:26 First wave of exit polls are starting to get leaked, and, of course, you should take them with an enormous grain of salt, or listen to Nate Silver of 538 and ignore them completely. But if they are accurate, it looks like an epic blowout. To wit: VA +8; OH +8; NC +4; MO +5; PA +13; CO +7. Again: don't count on these numbers as anything more than a curiosity.
16:46 David Schalliol I'm inside the non-ticketed area in Grant Park. People are already in here, obviously, since they don't need a ticket there's no wait. They're showing CNN on the Jumbotron, and every once in a while they'll show Grant Park and everybody will scream.
17:10 Kentucky and Indiana polls have closed. Here we go -- are you ready?
17:15 Cinnamon Cooper CTA conductors are encouraging people headed to Grant Park to make sure they have enough money on their CTA cards to help reduce bottlenecking on the way home. All trains will be running until at least 2am -- later if necessary.
17:29 Wondering what's for dinner for Grant Park rally VIPs? Here you go.
17:30 ellembee At rally eating arugula sandwich, drinking chardonnay, watching CNN on jumbotron.
17:40 James Janega They're letting people w/ tix past the first gate, but holding them at Congress and Columbus. Still, gates may open B4 8:30
17:46 Jasmine Davila Walking to Grant Park for rally. Just saw rickshaws with HUGE Obama/Biden stickers.
17:51According to the Boston Globe, "The stage set, in contrast to the massive Greek columns behind him at his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, is a fairly humble affair, featuring a wooden podium, a row of American flags against a navy blue backdrop, giant TV screens showing CNN, and towers of speakers ready to broadcast Obama's speech to the masses. Security, on the eve of the country having a new president, is even tighter than it has been; workers have installed panels of bullet-proof glass on either side of the podium."
18:30 So the Obama campaign has asked celebrities to stay away from the rally tonight--makes sense, don't want it to look like Oscar night--but one celebrity we KNOW will be there: hometown demi-goddess Oprah Winfrey.
19:04 NIU Northern Star Jesse Jackson Jr., is at the rally eating pizza with his family.
19:13 Andrew Huff & Ramsin Canon
Andrew: "Calling" a state with 0% votes counted is just plain ridiculous.
Ramsin: but they don't call it unless the exit polling is extreme.
Andrew: I know, but still
Ramsin: they've had the exit polls for at least an hour, or two
Andrew: it just looks dumb
Ramsin: it does
Andrew: this is how we got in trouble in 2000
Ramsin: plus it's not gratifying because you don't see the percentage spread
Ramsin: but like in SC, Obama is leading
Ramsin: but their exit polling must be widely outside the margin of error, because they called it for McCain
Andrew: exactly, it looks insane to call a state when the "loser" is leading
Ramsin: they should release the exit polling.
00:19TimeOutChicago T-shirts being sold after the rally say "I was there when change happen at Grant Park." Yay grammar!
00:30 I think we're done for the night. Thank you to everyone for following along and for the updates throughout the day! And share your thoughts on what an Obama presidency will mean for Chicago over in Fuel.
It's worth asking why riders need to switch to Ventra to begin with. Halfway across the country, D.C.-area transit riders will soon get a Ventra-style open fare payment system...but will still be using a card based on a version of the Chicago Card technology. More...