Last night, Rahm Emanuel came out on top in Chicago’s mayor’s race, but the real winner is the grassroots organizing that forced this runoff to happen in the first place.
Six months ago, most political observers anticipated an election in which progressives would be struggling to protect progressive incumbents. Instead, we built a real fight for City Hall, giving Jesus “Chuy” Garcia a shot at winning.
And not only did Emanuel fail to defeat a single member of the Progressive Caucus, but independent political organizations helped grow caucus membership to at least 10-and likely more-from seven. Disinvested and marginalized neighborhoods stretched their political muscle. The reawakening of a broad-based progressive coalition will have political consequences well beyond this election, through new electoral infrastructure like United Working Families and Reclaim Chicago.
Most never believed that this moment even would be possible. With over $30 million in campaign contributions, largely from well-connected insiders and corporate executives, Emanuel blanketed Chicago with a media storm that defined Garcia as fiscally inept. The irony of this attack is that it is Emanuel himself who failed in the past four years to offer equitable, constitutional solutions to fixing our budget problems. He created a climate of fear among voters around the economic challenges that he himself helped create.
We need progressive revenue solutions to support neighborhood economic development-such as demanding that big banks stop gouging our city through toxic interest rate deals, having tax subsidy policies with real requirements for creating neighborhood jobs and investments, and passing a millionaire’s tax and a financial transaction tax.
Though Garcia ultimately came to support many of these measures, his campaign did not offer them in a clear, comprehensive way early in his candidacy. That was unfortunate. For it is clear that the majority of Chicagoans share the values of adequate, equitable revenue and making big banks pay their fair share so that we have the resources needed for great schools and quality services. These measures are elements of the financial plan that our city needs.
Forced to retreat
Emanuel was forced to retreat from many of the policies favored by his elite backers-capitulating to low-wage worker demands for a higher minimum wage, unplugging many red light cameras and running a slew of commercials targeting working families with a politically left message frame. He spent the past four years governing as a corporate Democrat, but he won re-election campaigning as a progressive.
The grass-roots progressive movement that defeated Rahm Emanuel on Feb. 24 and made him struggle to keep his seat on April 7 is not going away. Just next week, thousands of us will take the streets to demand a $15-per-hour minimum wage. This summer and fall, we will be fighting for a state and city budget that adequately funds the public services we need to build strong, healthy communities.
We will build on ever-growing public support for progressive revenue solutions. And for years to come, we will continue to deepen and expand the ward-level, neighbor-to-neighbor political infrastructure we need to elect city and state leaders who stand with working families.
This election showed us that we have the power to win real change. The people of Chicago will keep organizing to build a better Chicago for all. Emanuel won another term, but he fell far short of defeating the broad-based grass-roots coalition represented by Garcia’s candidacy.
Reposted from Crain’s.
Amisha Patel is executive director of Grassroots Illinois Action and founding member of United Working Families.