CHICAGO – Just a weekend away from Election Day in Chicago’s mayoral and City Council races, two progressive candidates and their supporters pre-emptively declared victory in bringing forth a new kind of peoples movement.
“Together we’ve already fundamentally changed the conversation,” said Susan Sadlowski Garza, candidate for alderman in the city’s 10th ward.
Chicago Mayoral candidate Jesus Chuy Garcia, speaking alongside Garza, mirrored the explosive enthusiasm of the crowd of 700 gathered Thursday evening in Chicago’s far southeast side. Thirty years after the shutdown of every one of the area’s four major steel mills, the ward’s neighborhoods are still reeling from the poverty and despair created by these acts of corporate greed.
The rally’s list of speakers ranged from Sadlowski Garza, Garcia and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, district Steelworker retiree leader Scott Marshall and East Side Methodist minister Rev. Z. L. Zocki. It was a snapshot of a movement growing on multiple levels.
“People are hungry to take Chicago back,” said Garcia. He made it clear by “people” he meant working class. “You always treat working people with the highest dignity and respect and put their interests first,” he continued, adding, “I need Susan in the City Council. We need someone who comes from Chicago’s working classs.” No one uses the eumphemism “middle class” in describing the 10th ward and its residents.
Sadlowski Garza is a school counselor in the same local elementary school that she, her four children and even her mother attended. She laid out a solid progressive agenda to “revitalize and unite” the 10th ward, leading with a call for a clean environment without toxins in the air and water and a call to direct tax dollars to developing green jobs at living wages.
The incumbent alderman, John Pope, has been called a rubber of stamp of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the Koch Brothers. Their companies have been allowed to dump toxic petcoke (petroleum coke, a residue of the refinery process of tar sands) in the 10th ward on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Garza further vowed to oppose any bill to cut workers’ pensions or to privatize a public service. She called for a “LaSalle Street tax,” referring to the street at the heart of the city’s financial district.
“Latino, white, Black – all the neighborhoods of the 10th ward – our destiny is tied,” she continued. “We are forged of steel.”
Garza was introduced by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis who made a surprise appearance, and the gathering reacted emotionally as sheapproached the stage slowly but deliberately, supporting herself on a walker. Lewis is recovering from surgery following the discovery of a brain tumor months ago. She recruited Jesus Garcia to run for mayor last Fall after her medical diagnosis forced her to drop out of the race against corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel.
Lewis guided those gathered to look at a long-range picture: “This has got to be the start of a movement. We have the opportunity to change the political landscape,” she said calmly and slowly, allowing the crowd a moment to look at itself and see a mass of steelworkers, teachers, high school students, Sierra club members, Working Families partisans and iron workers of many ages and hues. “It’s messy, but this is what political democracy looks like,” she concluded.
The Chicago Teachers Union made a conscious push after its 2012 strike to recruit and support candidates like Sadlowski Garza as viable candidates for the Chicago City Council. Tara Stamps, a fifth grade teacher, forced another Emanuel supporter into a run off in the West Side’s 37th ward. Social Studies teacher Tim Meegan missed a run off by only two votes in the Northside 33rd ward. All the teacher candidates emphasized funding for schools, $15 hour minimum wage and opposition to privatization of public services.
As Garcia took the stage he highlighted the importance of aldermanic races. This is the first time in Chciago’s history that 18 of the city’s 50 aldermanic have been forced into run offs, he pointed out.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders elaborated on the theme of building a peoples movement. “What we are doing is not just to make the 10th ward better,” he said, “but demonstrating when people stand together there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Then he laid out what looked to the enthusiastic crowd a lot like a platform for the 2016 presidential race.
“We re gonna ask the richest people – billionaires and corporations – to start paying their fair share,” he said right off the bat. Next he spoke of putting millions to work at green and living wage jobs by “investing in the crumbling infrastructure” and creating energy systems that cut carbons. He advocated free tuition in public colleges and universities, Medicare for All, raising Social Security benefits, overturning Citizens United and public funding for elections.
The rally took place in a former Steelworkers Union hall, just a stone’s throw from the field where 10 striking steelworkers were gunned down by Chicago police on behalf of Republic Steel Corporation in May 1937 during the infamous Memorial Day Massacre.
“As the people from all walks of life band together to fight against a new era of corporate greed, the steelworkers who made the ultimate sacrifice would understand our struggle now,” said Sadlowski Garza, the descendent of three generations of mill workers.
Change is in the air, observed steelworker retiree Marshall. “A powerful movement, led by labor, is being born.”
Photo: Roberta Wood/PW
Video: Apr 4. Get out the vote rally with Senator Bernie Sanders in Southeast Chicago, by Eli Halbreich