As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block is on indefinite hiatus. The site will remain up in archive form while we evaluate our options, which may include a redesign or sale. ✶ Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. ✶
Last week in Chicago and throughout Illinois we suffered through the latest installment of the polar vortex. Unfortunately, the frigid weather brought out a heated and ugly side of many students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).
On Sunday the 26th, all UIUC students received an email from their school's chancellor Phyllis Wise reading, "Classes and operations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will proceed as scheduled Monday Jan. 27. Please use caution as you proceed in and around campus during what is forecast to be an extremely cold and windy day and night."
Unsurprisingly, given the projections of below-zero temperatures and even lower wind chills, many students were peeved that classes were not cancelled. But understandable displeasure soon morphed into an outpouring of vile, sexist and racist Twitter rants against Wise, who is Asian-American. Some of the Twitter posts, which were filed under #fuckphyllis, included:
While Congress ponders a "pathway to citizenship" for some of the millions among us who arrived in the country under the radar, Illinois has forged ahead, sending waves of ecstasy through some constituencies and outraging others, by providing a pathway to the highway for those in the same boat. Or sedan.
Yes, for those who were under a rock or asleep, the State of Illinois last week put aside that annoying chatter about pensions and bond ratings for a while so we could concentrate on getting some documents for those who claim to lack them. Governor Quinn this week signed a bill that will allow illegal (and some legal) immigrants to get special Illinois Temporary Visitor Drivers' Licenses, although it may be a year before the Secretary of State's office figures out how to implement it. Supporters claim this will make our roads safer . Opponents fling their hands in the air (but not while driving, we hope) at the idea of "rewarding" those who are in Illinois only by virtue of their own, or someone else's violation of federal immigration law.
This site hasn't touched this hot topic since the bill signing, and so it was shoved my way like a bowl of cereal toward Little Mikey. So here's a short column about traffic -- probably mainly website traffic, since anything touching on immigration brings out sloganeers from all corners.
On Tuesday, Columbia College welcomed Gloria Steinem as the second guest in their "Conversations in the Arts" program. Steinem, a seasoned journalist, speaker, and feminist activist, started off the night with a light joke that the auditorium was in fact the "smallest biggest place on a campus" that she had ever lectured within. But regardless of how big or small the space, Steinem found herself facing a completely full house — just another aspect that sets Steinem apart from the average septuagenarian.
Not that Steinem is your "average" anything. A co-founder of Ms. magazine, a bestselling author and founder of several women's rights organizations, Steinem's long career has not only been prolific, but pivotal in the fight for human rights. For over half a century, she has contributed years of work in helping change the world, and all for the better.
On a recent sunny afternoon, "John," 25, was hanging out at the Lake Meadows shopping center at 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. He is a new resident of the city's oldest black neighborhood, formed in the first quarter of the 20th century by southern migrants searching for better jobs and living conditions in the North. John is also a migrant: he moved to Bronzeville from southwestern China earlier this year. And, in doing so, he became part of the slow breakdown in the racial order of Chicago that has been taking place for the last few decades.
It is not news that this city, like most northern industrial metropolises, is an especially egregious case of American racial segregation. Separation was never explicitly enforced by law, but restrictive housing covenants, social pressure, and violence, both random and coordinated, managed to create very real boundaries outside of which few blacks dared to live. Successive waves of migrants following World War II expanded the black ghetto to encompass much of the south and west sides of the city, while the severity of segregation worsened.
But it is less often noted that since peaking around 1970, black segregation in Chicago has been on a slow, but notable, decline. Now, new data from the 2010 Census gives an in-depth portrait of a still-divided city's tentative steps away from the kind of apartheid that earned it the nickname "Beirut on the Lake" in the 1980s. In neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Woodlawn on the South Side and Garfield Park on the West Side, white, Latino and Asian Chicagoans have cracked open the door to integration. Likewise, black families have started to move into pockets of the northwest and southwest sides where African Americans often made up less than one percent of residents just ten years ago. In some of these places, African American populations have grown by factors of two, three, or even ten since 2000.
by Dick Simpson
Seismic political changes are occurring unnoticed. Racial minorities have always been important in Chicago elections, but population changes now have profound effects on national politics as well. Minorities helped Barack Obama win the White House and Democrats control Congress until their setback in 2010 midterm elections.
In 2008, nearly one in four voters was a racial minority. Whites still made up 76 percent of the 131 million people who voted nationally, but blacks were 12 percent, Latinos 7 percent and Asians 2.5 percent.
In the 2010 election 6.6 million Latinos voted, again representing 7 percent of all voters. But they are predicted to cast as many as 12 million ballots in 2012. They continue to grow more rapidly in population and in voters than any other segment of society.
These trends are being played out even faster in Illinois. In 2008, 11 percent of the Illinois electorate was Latino, 13 percent was black and 6 percent was other (mostly Asian). With over 708,000 eligible Latino voters in Illinois, they are enough to swing any statewide election and many local ones.
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.
Congressman Danny Davis dropped out of the race for the Mayoralty on Friday, endorsing Carol Mosley-Braun, achieving through attrition what Black civic leaders were unable to achieve through acclamation, a "unity" candidate for Black voters.
Greg Hinz, on his blog at Crain's, laments the playing of the "race card" by Black candidates, saying, "Imagine the reaction if a bunch of white ward bosses had met with the stated goal of selecting one white candidate."
This canard stinks enough now for disposing. There are a number of things one needs to imagine before this thought experiment is properly controlled. Imagine first, for example, that white ward bosses represented city residents who made up about 75% of murder victims; imagine next that those white ward bosses represented city residents still living in neighborhoods that were typically 90-98% racially homogeneous as a legacy of segregation; imagine also that those white ward bosses represented wards where the unemployment rate was double that of the other wards. Suppose those white ward bosses were also hearing from their constituents about how the infant mortality rate was approaching Third World levels in their wards. Perhaps those white ward bosses would then have more incentive to work together under a consensus that wasn't merely, "Keep the other race out of power."
To say that Danny Davis's withdrawal from the Chicago mayor's race, and his endorsement of former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, changes the landscape is understatement. The emergence of one, and only one, strong African-American candidate in a field where no one is named Daley would be noteworthy under any condition. But for that candidate to be a history-making personality who now also happens to be the only woman in the race is an earthquake of far greater magnitude than the tremor felt in Chicago a few days ago. Effectively narrowing the field to four strong candidates, west sider Davis's weight being thrown to South Sider Braun now makes clear what had always been true but not recognized by some: the ascendacy of Rahm Emanuel to City Hall, despite numerous advantages, is not an inevitability. Some other person, including Carol Moseley Braun, could be the next mayor of Chicago.
It may not have been the most high-profile race of the evening, but in many ways, the contest for Cook County Assessor between Democrat Joe Berrios and Independent Forrest Claypool may have been the most symbolic. In a victory for Machine-style patronage, Berrios cruised to a win with 48% of the vote to Claypool's nearly 32%.
Claypool Campaign HQ on Election Night
The largely white, relatively sparse, yet immensely supportive crowd at Claypool's election headquarters remained fairly subdued all evening, with expectations tempered by both the moneyed interests and the large Hispanic support Berrios was poised to receive throughout the city and county. Now, Berrios, the already clout-heavy chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, gets to openly operate as Assessor what have been his overtly tax-friendly tactics towards Loop high-rises while he served as a member of the Board of Review. If history proves to repeat itself, coupled with the political power that comes with the Assessor's office, Berrios will be looking towards the neighborhoods to make up the difference in collection.
Which leads to the inevitable question of how anyone in the neighborhoods could throw their vote behind such a candidate. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of identity politics is that it can also serve to eliminate true discussion of any possible consequences of long-term destructiveness of certain candidate's policies. The long-time congressman and 2nd Ward Alderman William Dawson is a shining example of such in Chicago's past. One of the great ironies of the long-arc of democracy as well is that the well-intentioned inclusiveness of identity politics - at least initially a way to excite and engage masses - can often lead to alienating and discouraging the most strident and most needed believers behind an honest candidate's cause. As one of Claypool's volunteers said, right before his concession, "there's something adrenalizing about getting involved in a campaign like this, and yet, it's demoralizing" knowing the outcome.
Claypool's concession speech highlighted the success of the campaign in "planting seeds" for good government. With Toni Preckwinkle's victory in the Cook County Board President race, there's room to believe that these good government seeds may slowly be taking root. Till then, here's hoping Cook County is able to cure its case of What's the Matter with Kansas-itis and we're not all taxed out of our underwater homes in the interim.
Forrest Claypool delivering his concession speech for Cook County Assessor
Early and Often, the new Chicago politics reporting venture, had a story about a proposed "plebiscite" of Black political and community organizations to find a single candidate to represent the interests of the Black community. This was a compelling idea that could have really started something of a groundswell and, to some degree at least, consensus. It also generated possibly the best quote of the cycle so far, from state Senator Ricky Hendon, who said the original crowded Mayoral field "looked like the Universal Soul Circus." Bless that man's wit.
One of the organizers of the meeting, NEIU political science professor Robert Starks, is backtracking or correcting the record, stating that the second meeting of organizations will be a candidate forum rather than a plebiscite:
But less than 24 hours later, the chair of the meeting, Robert T. Starks, a professor of political science at Northeastern Illinois University, said "it's not going to be a plebiscite."
"It's going to be a forum, a candidates forum," he said, sighing deeply. "There will be no vote."
CBS 2: Daley Mentored Others as He Shaped Chicago: But he's still "absolutely the best mayor in the country," Berry said. "Nationally there's no question he's been probably one of the most successful and important big-city mayors in the last couple decades."
Progress Illinois: Shift Expected at CAPS: The ground continues to shift at the Chicago Police Department. On Thursday, outgoing Mayor Richard Daley said he wanted civilians rather than uniformed police officers to run the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program. Ron Holt, the CAPS director, told the Tribune that too many of the 200 to 300 officers assigned to CAPS were doing administrative and civilian tasks. Many are expected to be reassigned to patrol work.
In These Times Working Blog: Hotel Quickie Strikes Build Union, Workers' Determination for Contract Battles: Workers in Chicago, like most of these cities, are responding with overwhelming strike authorization votes, protest rallies, sit-ins and civil disobedience, campaigns to persuade organizations and individuals to boycott certain hotels, and-last week-a planned one-day strike against hotel union UNITE HERE's national target, Hyatt, in four cities.
People of Color Organize!: Solidarity With Whittier School Occupation: The Whittier Parents' Committee has been organizing for seven years to push Pilsen alderman Daniel Solis to allocate some of the estimated $1 billion in Mayor Daley's TIF coffers to their school for a school expansion - he finally agreed to give $1.4million of TIF funds for school renovation. Cynically, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has earmarked a part of this money for the destruction of the school's field house, which has been used for years as a center for community organizing and services. This would directly undermine the ability of the Whittier community to organize and struggle for educational rights. Parents are demanding to be part of the decision-making process.
Austin Talks: March against violence challenges community to fight back: Graham urged residents to take a stand against gun, gang and domestic violence. Rev. Jennie Jones of Pleasant Ridge Missionary Baptist Church led the group in prayer and pleaded for strength in the fight against violence plaguing Austin.
Chicago Union News: Adjunct faculty at Chicago college cries foul while trying to organize: With only a few weeks until fall classes begin, some part-time instructors at East-West University in Chicago's South Loop are still waiting to see if they will be hired back to teach after what has been a "messy" summer-long conflict involving efforts to unionize.
I had a clashing of two worlds that happens to brown people, particularly first generation brown people; this is when different groups of your friends collide. In this case it was some friends from work meeting some Assyrian friends of mine. Afterwards, one of my friends said I didn't act like myself around my Assyrian friends.
"How do you know I'm not not acting like myself around you?" I asked. It wasn't snide; I was honestly asking. To me, both selves are equally me.
This issue has been flogged to death; suffice to say that if you are white and have brown or black friends, please never tell them they're "basically white."
This is more common than you'd imagine, particularly for brown people of my ilk; I belong to a tiny ethnic group (less than 4 million worldwide) with no nation-state and who aren't that phenotypicaly distinct from descendants of Europeans. There aren't enough of us to generate stereotypes (except parochially--talk to people from West Rogers Park or Sodertalje). A creepy anthropological study of the people of northern Iraq (called "Southern Kurdistan" in the study) from the 1950s cataloged the Assyrian tribes and provided things like the average size of their skulls and chests, and the authors noted that many Assyrians are often "very light complected" and "could pass as Northern Europeans". My mom for example has blonde hair, greenish eyes, and milky fair skin; my dad on the other hand is dark, has a prominent Semitic nose, and deep-set dark features. I'm undeniably brown. But because I skateboarded and listened to punk rock as well as hip hop, and shed my accent, when push came to shove people would be kind enough to inform me that I was "basically white".
How cool is my mom? Studying science in Basra in the '60s.
I don't want to discuss a struggle with identity or the prejudice (or advantages) I've had because I'm brown and working class. Again, that's a boring story, boo hoo, sometimes things are hard. That's not my point.
No, my point is that identity politics is hindering the ability of this society to move forward on almost every front of human relations. Identity politics both torments people of color and sincere whites, constricts the genders, and scatters and disrupts almost every effort at collective effort made by the left; and it is very consciously deployed to that end by powerful elites.
"Identity politics" is also one of those amorphous concepts that is easy to set up as a nemesis for whatever, better belief system one has. (Not dissimilar from calling someone a "reductionist".) The identity politics that has wrought so much havoc builds out from the concept of "privilege" rather than a material definition of social relation to productive property (i.e., labor sellers and labor buyers). At a tactical level of politics (and policy) it emphasizes subjective, personal narratives as central to how society is ordered, and that encourages in-group behavior by generating cultural affinities and traditions. Various "anti-Imperialist" or "Third World" movements, including nationalisms of the more radical strains, are the archetypes.
The right wing pretends to hate identity politics but are expert practitioners of it; Sarah Palin is the pure distilled grain alcohol of that shit. I arrived at my distaste of identity politics honestly. It comes from being confronted by it while trying to do sincere community and labor organizing. Identity politics--appeals to race, ethnic, language, and religious in-group solidarity against outsiders--was deployed by powerful people to disrupt collective action. And it was used in a very ad hominem way, meant specifically to intimidate me and my comrades--of all races, men and women--out of trying to organize.
Is one of Mayor Daley's legacies ending the city's explosive racial politics?
Given the concerns that the race-based "Council Wars" of the 1980s could boil over again without a strongman at the top, that seems to be a hard case to make. Something that was truly ended wouldn't loom as an existential threat. The Mayor incorporated major identity groups into his ruling coalition using a not dissimilar approach from that of Harold Washington: minority contracting rules, grants and contracts to influential community organizations, and appointments of local leaders to influential city and state boards and commissions. He kept a balance that didn't fundamentally alter Chicago's racial politics, but merely placated the actors most willing or able to intensify those politics.
If identity does come to play an important role in the coming election campaign, years of idle speculation tell us that a Latino is the best placed to win the day. The Latino population has grown significantly in the last two decades--to approximately 25% of the population, when "Hispanics of all races" are computed--while the Black population has dropped by about 10%. Given the Black-brown affinity on economic issues and the prevalence of mixed white-Latino neighborhoods, there is some circumstantial evidence for that view. The candidacies of Luis Gutierrez and Miguel Del Valle could help us walk through whether there is a strong likelihood of a Latino Mayor in 2011.
Peter LaBarbera looked drained. His glasses drooped in weary harmony with the sandy hair barely populating his head, and even his suit seemed poised to crumple and fold. The soft-spoken conservative had clearly worked long hours trying to galvanize his newest venture, a group called Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (AFTAH).
The non-profit, which describes itself as "a national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda," has done very little since its formation. Until last week, AFTAH mostly peppered its web site with opinion pieces on homosexual activist infiltrations, from Ronald McDonald to the DoubleTree Hotel.
LaBarbera must have wanted to escalate. Last week, AFTAH launched an ambitious three-day "Truth Academy" in Arlington Heights. Nine speakers were flown in from around the country to "answer the myths, lies and misinformation of the nation's Homosexual Lobby." For a daily $50 fee, Academy attendees were handed binders, name-tags and a discounted price on any DVD recording of the event. LaBarbera expected the Truth Academy would be "one of the most important and comprehensive pro-family conferences on homosexuality that has ever been held in the United States."
Groups such as AFTAH may be marginal, but they are ruthlessly dedicated to their cause. Their tautological arguments against gays and lesbians begin with religion and end with the archetypal homosexual scapegoat, that they are responsible for undermining the military and the government through an agenda that is at once elite and socialistic. These theories are neither new nor politically effective. Similar ideas took hold during the McCarthy era, but in the 1950s gays and lesbians were much less visible. In the past 30 years, the LGBT minority has been largely emancipated and openly accepted into the American mainstream. Anti-gay ideas are resurging today because of an environment of fear, exacerbated by a bad recession and perceived threats to national security. Exploiting these conditions gives groups like AFTAH what little power they have, and therein lies their potential for harm.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele makes Joe Biden look gaffe proof. It seems like every time you turn around on CNN, or load up Huffington Post, Steele is explaining how the Republican Party is the party of one-armed-midgets, Republicans fought to outlaw slavery in the Bill of Rights (it was actually the 13th amendment, not the first 10), and apologizing to Rush Limbaugh.
Which is why I went to the Chairman's appearance at DePaul University. I appreciate good stand up comedy.
Steele's appearance was sponsored by the campus Republicans and the DePaul Cultural Center. An odd combination considering that the Conservative Alliance had once sponsored an Affirmative Action Bake Sale targeting the cultural center and organized pickets against the speakers the Cultural Center invited such as Ward Churchill.
Steele is the first Black person to be the national chairman of the RNC and was to speak on Conservatisms appeal to minority communities. Instead he talked about its lack of an appeal.
When asked , "Why should Blacks vote Republican?" Steele responded without hesitation, "You really don't have a reason to, to be honest. We really haven't really done a good job of giving them a reason to... We have failed miserably in that regard. We have lost sight of the historic integral link between the party and African Americans."
Activists demonstrate against the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group that chartered themselves as a church to get away with their harassment of Queer groups, Jews, military families and others, conducted a tour of Chicago on March 8th.
The group of five lonely haters targeted Jewish centers, protesting everything more modern than the middle ages at Hillel's at UIC and the University of Chicago before holding their signs outside of the Israeli consulate.
Hundreds of queer rights activists rallied against the Westboro group. Activists used humorous and satirical signs to mock WBC. UIC student Jason Connell used the appearance of the hate group to raise money for queer rights groups such as Human Rights Campaign, International AIDS Foundation and Chicago based Jerusalem Open House. Donations were named in honor of the Westboro Baptist Church and community thank you cards will be sent from the non-profits to WBC leader Fred Phelps. Connell called it a, "Lemons to Lemonade" situation.
Kurt Esslinger Lee, an Presbyterian ordained minister from the UIC Agape House Christian Campus Ministry said, "We don't care so much about this group of hate, we know that they are not going to listen to anything we say. What we are care about is the closeted, afraid LGBTQ students around UIC who are are taught to hate themselves to think that god is also loathing them, so we reaching out to them to break through that ignorance."
Activists demonstrate against the Westboro Baptist Church.
Among the small network of Jewish mothers in suburban Detroit that all played a part in raising me (my mother, my best friend's mothers', my mother's best friends) an email made the rounds last week. It contained a video of some young people at a Trader Joe's somewhere boycotting the sale of Israeli-made goods. The young people posted stickers with images of bombs on the products and informed shoppers about their boycott, asking that they not support a nation who occupies and oppresses a people.
Of course, this being an email circulating among middle-aged suburban Jews, the comments on the video were filled with vitriol. "How could Trader Joe's let this happen," "This is hard to believe and harder to watch."
I don't know what the moment feels like when a generation reaches the point that it turns to its progenitors, at eye level and not looking up, and engages as an equal in dialog. In fact, I suspect that that may never fully feel right. The reverence and respect I have for the mothers in my life makes it even harder to think they are wrong. But I think in the Jewish community--at least in my Jewish community--there is a divide between the ages that needs to be discussed. Many of our parents refuse to see the err in any Israeli action. Many of them are far closer to the pain that brought about the state of Israel.
We can argue over the use of words like apartheid and occupation--and certainly those are arguments that ought to be had--but to become enraged at a boycott of a controversial nation that the international community has routinely condemned is to act blindly and of the same base sense of identity the worst acts have been done to us.
I have much family and many friends in Israel, which makes it even the more painful to see the logic in criticisms of Israel. Harder, in fact, than to challenge my mothers. It is also painful to hear the opinions of those living in Israel when speaking about certain other human beings. There is a deep and pervasive sense of racism in daily life in Israel, and I suspect that's a fact more widely known in my community than revealed. Those ties--familial, religious, emotional--should not cloud discussions of justice and policy. We sit on a priviledged perch, us American Jews, the better to see the world and its shades of gray (not my line), a luxury spared most Israelis.
This flier represents some of the nastiest identity politics. I've madecomments about the fact that all of the state's most powerful politicians are Irish-American, but while that fact can be said to reflect a legacy of our politics being basically dynastic, it is hardly a reason to accuse elected officials of being race traitors. Stroger formulated basically the thesis (if not the wording) of this flier (if you can say something this insane has a "thesis") in an interview with the Chicago News Co-Op:
"If none of us win," Mr. Stroger said of himself and Ms. Preckwinkle and Ms. Brown, "there will not be a single black executive in the state who deals with real money -- you know, like a billion dollars or more."
"If you break down our state," he continued, "and you look at who's the governor, who's the speaker of the House, who's the Senate president, who's the mayor of the city of Chicago, who's the water reclamation district president, who's the chairman of finance for the city and who's the chairman for finance for the county, you'll find that they're all Irish males."
So even if this flier was produced without coordination with the Stroger campaign, it can't be dismissed as the one-off act of a lone radical. There is a current of thought among some segment of the black political class that may be seeing the refusal of their traditional white allies to step up as a hostile act. The media, by typically pigeonholing "black" candidates, must feed this perception. But given the cruel and subjective nature of identity politics, this flier is actually more harmful and hurtful to Dorothy Brown, Toni Preckwinkle, and the other black politicians maligned as "sellouts" and race traitors. The outcry over Rod Blagojevich's statement equating shining shoes with blackness is offensive exactly because it places unfair expectations and roles on black men and women. Similarly with this flier, these black politicians are being told how they have to behave and who they have to support to "qualify" for blackness.
And yes, these Irishmen are traditional allies for the political organizations behind Stroger. That's the thing to remember: where was this flier when Governor Quinn was running for office? Or Mayor Daley? Why wasn't this flier being circulated about Todd Stroger when I took these pictures in 2006:
It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...
It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...