SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Wizard of Oz was the theme as a conglomerate of community organizations with the Grassroots Collaborative descended upon the state capital to oppose the inaugural budget of Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner has made no bones about the cuts he intends to see passed by next week, cuts that just had to be made to bridge an Illinois budget shortfall of $9 billion – cuts that gave him and his wealthy friends a raise.
This writer was able to be there as a representative of the American Indian Center of Chicago. My day began with a 4:30 wake-up. My job was to get to the center early to meet 10 of our community leaders, get our bus loaded up, and head to the South Side to pick up our cohorts from the Illinois Hunger Coalition.
Next, we would be headed to Springfield, Ill. to rally with several other busloads representing communities across Chicago.
One of our leaders was Julio Cholula, an Indigenous refugee from Mexico of the Cholula Nation. He said that he was headed to Springfield because these cuts will most definitely hurt his family with two sons both in special education.
“My son has autism. If the governor takes away all the money, there will be little funding for special education. My second son too, is in special education. If they [take away] all these resources, I don’t see a better future in my sons lives. My wife is also a teacher and she is very worried right now.” Rauner has proposed to eliminate The Autism Project’s entire $4.3 million in state funding for FY 2016, which begins July 1.
Mr. Cholula went even further, talking about his neighborhood in Elgin, witnessing neighbors lose their homes. “All these families are broken up and right now they are homeless. That is not correct. Because the government says they support families but I notice they support wars and tax breaks for the wealthy when people are in need in Illinois.”
This reminds me – didn’t Governor Rauner spend $65 million to win the prize of the Illinois governorship? I believe that is by far the most money ever spent on a campaign for governor in Illinois. With Rauner’s attacks on working families and union busting it’s not a far cry to say that this Governor is at war with working-class families with the full intention of playing the school yard bully, picking on those of us who are the most vulnerable.
When bullies show up and threaten to take away your lunch money, there’s nothing else to do but unite and fight! And the only way to win a fight with someone like Rauner is to call up your friends for the big showdown and that is exactly what is happening at this point in the struggle.
With the Illinois Grassroots Coalition leading the way and training community organizers to educate Chicago’s masses we could be headed on the right path. The streets may not be paved with gold but corporations have been making more money than ever. The cost of business in Illinois should not come so cheap.
Some proposals that can generate revenue include the Millionaires Tax, restoring the previous individual tax rate back to five percent, adopting a progressive tax structure, adopting a financial transaction tax, and ending bad bank deals.
We showed up in Springfield and came to deliver some ‘brains’ to find an alternative to cuts. Not only will they need brains but needed too are heart and courage to stand up to Rauner, the bully. It’s been said that Rauner has raised $40,000,000 to go after legislators that stand in the way of his agenda.
Antonio Light Foot was with us as the Community Organizer for the Illinois Hunger Coalition and he said, “When you focus all your energy to giving tax breaks to the 1 percent of course the state is going to be short money because you are failing to go to where the money is. You say you want to nickel and dime the 99 percent to people who can’t afford it, its not going to increase revenue.”
According to plan, the group of 500 community activists broke into two teams. The first team was given golden slips of paper with proposals for increasing revenue. Veronica Hyde, Illinois Hunger Coalition, was front and center calling Rauner to ‘Come on out’! She had about 200 friends behind her, taping the yellow brick road to Rauner’s office.
Meanwhile, the second team, headed to the Stratton building to deliver needed brains, heart, and courage to all of the Illinois state representatives but had to meet with secretaries because the General Assembly was in session. The looks on their faces were priceless when they saw the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion headed their way.
Then we had some time to lobby constituents and I chose 13th District Rep. Greg Harris. He’s an Illinois progressive from the North Side of Chicago and he said: “It’s a long process but there are lot of things that we can do now to bring in revenue. There are a lot of ideas. Some people are suggesting to raise the income tax back up and I support that. There’s people who talk about expanding taxes on services, retirement income – I think we have to keep all those options on the table because you just can’t balance the budget by cutting the people.”
When asked which tax plan he supports he said, “One that gets 60 votes in the house and 30 votes in the senate and passes. So to say I’m only for this one and that one – we all have to be open to giving and taking.”
Next week Grassroots Collaborative members and partner organizations will travel to Springfield with a core group of 25 leaders to set up a Raunerville encampment for a week-long series of actions to demand progressive revenue options for Illinois.
People can connect with state legislators and urge them to choose revenue by calling 1(844) 311-CUTS .
Photo: “Illinois’ Legislators and Governor have a choice. Choose Revenue not Cuts!” Earchiel Johnson/People’s World