Book Covers 1.” They Got Us On A Rack”

Book Covers 1. John Edgar Wideman and “They Got Us On A Rack”

In 1984 John Edgar Wideman published Brothers and Keepers, a bestseller memoir and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for best book of non-fiction that year.  The book explores how he became an award winning novelist, while his brother wound up serving a life sentence convicted of murder.  I was working at the Midnight Special

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Cover of the first (Avon) edition of Sent For You Yesterday

Bookstore in Santa Monica.  I didn’t read Brothers and Keepers, but I did pick up his novel, published the year before, the third of what is called his “Homewood Books.”  Wideman is known for his experimental writing techniques, and perhaps that is what drew me into Sent For You Yesterday. The use of language, its color and rhythm and musicality.  But what really hit me hard was this passage, early on, when John French waits on a street corner in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, early on a chilly, damp morning, to be picked up for day labor. I wrote this four years ago about my daughter Courtney, her kids, and Diana and me, how we experience the life we lead mirrors what Wideman wrote many years ago:

How do you write about a life lived intensely, from crisis to crisis. Persistent, determined, bright, Courtney struggled as a single parent with three kids, still struggles. Mostly employed, but never employed enough to get out of debt, pay rent, buy enough food, afford health care.  Mirroring the irregularity of her precarious existence, Courtney shows the heights of creativity necessary to pick her way through the mine-field of poverty, falling into the depths of depression when circumstances gang up around her and block her way.  We’ve been lucky enough to be in a position to help when the depths were deepest; after all part of the joys of family is to alleviate the pain of those close to us.  But the other part that we have had to come to grips with is that we are living the life of a new section of society that is being born.  Yes even us, the old ones, Diana and I.

John Edgar Wideman wrote about it in a novel called Sent For You Yesterday. This is an image which has stayed with me for more than 30 years

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“They used to put people on wheels and pull them apart. Pull the arms and legs out of the sockets just like a kid do a bug. Boiling people in oil and slamming their heads in a helmet full of spikes, and horses tearing men into four pieces and that wheel with ropes and pulleys stretch a man inch by inch to death. The rack, Albert said . . . They got us on a rack, John French.  They’re gon keep turning till ain’t nothing connected where its supposed to be. Ain’t even gon recognize our ownselves in the mirror.”

Courtney has her own image, a personal one, that comes from the character in the Lil Abner comic strip.  Joe Btfsplk, the world’s worst jinx, the well-meaning character who walks around with a rain cloud over his head.  Ever since I wrote [my poem to Courtney when she turned 21]  “Twenty-one Is,” we’ve been coming to grips with how one’s personal luck fits in the context of the relations of society.  The dialectic of taking responsibility for what is in your power to control, but not accepting guilt for what cards class society deals you.

That’s what John French is trying to negotiate that early morning when he waits on the corner to get a day-labor job as a paper hanger, feeling all the joints in his body aching, and trying to explain that to himself.  It’s the social relations that force him into the back breaking work.  And it’s the social relations that force Courtney into having to move every year or two, to struggle to get adequate care and counseling

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Cover art for this edition is by Romare Bearden

for the kids, to get food stamps when out of work, to avoid on pain of starvation and eviction, going to apply for welfare .  It’s the social relations that bring Diana and me to look at our social security to figure out if we have enough to pay rent this month, or pay the medicare premium.

“They’re gon keep turning till ain’t nothing connected to where it’s supposed to be.” This image split my brain 30 years ago.  How is it that such an image that is so horrible is at the same time so beautiful?  It is a Goya painting in words.  It fascinates. Your eyes keep returning to it.  Your fingers want to touch the blood to see if it is fresh, if it is real.  But it is real, because it captures the essence of what I am feeling each time I pay rent, each time Courtney loses a job. And each time I dream of diamonds out of broken glass, pearls growing around sand grains.

A pandemic makes you look at things differently.  Everything, even the rack they’ve got us on.  Wideman wrote about that too, first in a collection of his short stories. I wrote this four years ago:

In the spring of 1989 John Edgar Wideman read from his short story collection, Fever, at Guild Books. He read from the last story, the title story, held me spellbound. He told us that it would be part of a new novel he was writing, and the fever was a famous plague year in Philadelphia. I have this underlined in my copy of the book: “To explain the fever we need no boatloads of refugees, ragged and wracked with killing fevers, bringing death to our shores. We have bred the affliction within our breasts. . . Fever grows in the secret places of our hearts, planted there when one of us decided to sell one of us to another. The drum must pound ten thousand thousand years to drive that evil away.” It’s an allegorical fever that riddled Philadelphia as the 18th century drew to a close; but one that still stalks our streets.

The novel Wideman was referring to came out a few years later, entitled The Cattle Killing. The plague fever was smallpox. Black Philadelphians in the late 18th century were both accused of being the origin of the disease and being immune to it, and thus were charged with caring for the ill.  Unlike today’s plague of COVID 19, the smallpox is spread by a mosquito.  There is no person to person way to spread the illness.  Like the Philadelphia plague, rumors spread early that Blacks were immune to the disease; however, today’s plague strikes hardest among the poorest, most congested populations, especially Black and Latinx.  That underlined passage rings truer even than it did when I first read it.

By 1990, when he published his Philadelphia Fire I was a certifiable John Edgar WidemanScreen Shot 2020-05-24 at 12.42.13 AM groupie.  His autograph in my copy reads “You’re a warrior in a good fight. Stay strong.” If the fight he was talking about was spreading new ideas, then Philadelphia Fire is the novel of a warrior in that good fight. My copy of the book is heavily annotated and underlined.  The inside boards of the cover are filled with page numbers — references to themes and concepts that struck me as I was reading.  Here’s what I wrote about the book a few years ago:

The novel is in three parts, each of which has a distinct musical style to the language. The middle section, also, is an autobiographical riff on when the author taught Shakespeare to Black students in the parks in the summer, and the particular play is The Tempest. Who Caliban really is plays an important part of this section and in some way inhabits the rest of the novel.

[After Wideman’s reading at Columbia College] I joined a few Columbia faculty and grad students at dinner with Wideman. One student asked a question about Shakespeare and about Wideman’s use of language, which reminded me of the question asked at Guild. Why Shakespeare in a novel of Black Philadelphia? The answers to both questions broke the boundaries that separates one genre from another and stretched the complaints about cultural appropriation. English, Wideman pointed out, is his language and he has the obligation to make the most of all his heritage, whether it is the language of the streets or the language of the Bard. It’s all his, and his responsibility to stretch that to its limits. I still find Philadelphia Fire the most exciting of John Edgar Wideman’s work because of this use of Shakespeare [and how rap interpenetrates that section] and because of the rhythmic cadences that mark each section – and because of the way his own biography sneaks into places of the novel, not just the teaching segment, but also basketball and his relationship with some of the political forces in Philadelphia. One of the most artful political novels I’ve read.

The fire in Philadelphia that this novel remembers is not the historical Philadelphia of The Cattle Killing.  It is contemporary Philadelphia, just five years from the date of publication, the five year anniversary of when the city fathers dropped a bomb of C4 explosives on the roof of a row house on Osage Avenue, setting a fire that killed 11 of the 13 people living inside and burned an entire neighborhood to the ground. The residents of the building belonged to a group variously described as radical, anarchist, Black, environmentalist, back to nature activists.  May 10, 2020 was the 35th anniversary of an event that is little known outside Philadelphia, but continues to be traumatic in the city.  ‘We have bred the affliction within our breasts,”  Wideman said in The Cattle Killing. You can see it even deeper in this story. A Guardian article brings some of the history up to date.  Some MOVE activists who had been arrested and imprisoned before the attack on Osage Avenue remained incarcerated for over 40 years.  Ramona Africa, the only adult to escape the holocaust alive, was imprisoned.  Five children were incinerated in the blast and the ensuing fire. One child escaped, running naked through a wall of fire into an alley and away. Or so the story of the novel goes.

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Iconic photo of Birdie Africa, taken by Michael Mally of the Philadelphia Inquirer as the van took the boy to the hospital.

In a sense, the main character of the novel could be the child that got away.  The novelist himself is a main character as well, under the name of Cudjoe (the historical antecedent of this name stems from a leader of the Maroons, enslaved West Africans who escaped into the hills of Jamaica and for more than a century resisted British colonization). Interviewing a woman who had been a MOVE member, Cudjoe searches for the child who escaped.  The name the woman gives him is Simbha Muntu, or “Lion Man.” In real life he was known as Birdie Africa, 13 years old when he got away. The mystery of his getting away is more important than the history, which is recounted in this Philadelphia Inquirer article. A police officer took the boy to a nearby van, which then took him to a hospital, where he stayed while his burns were being treated. His father, Andino Ward, not a member of the MOVE group, reclaimed his son and renamed him Michael Moses Ward. Birdie/Michael died in 2013 on a cruise ship in the Caribbean at 41 years old.

What is it that survived from the wreckage on Osage Avenue?  How did it come about? What are people thinking?  How does it reconcile with the author’s very comfortable life?  Or with his past life in this very city of Philadelphia?  How can we escape our past,

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Rhodes scholar and basketball star John Edgar Wideman on the cover of Look magazine

how do we beat the drums to recover our humanity?  Wideman poses no answers to questions.  Cudjoe has a dream.  He’s at Clark Park near Osage Avenue. “I’m also a witness, upright, floating, somehow staring down at the basketball court, screaming because a boy is lynched from the rim. A kid hanging there with his neck broken and drawers droopy and caked with shit and piss. It’s me and every black boy I’ve ever seen running up and own playing ball . . .”  Wideman was an All Ivy League team basketball player and leading scorer and captain of his University of Pennsylvania basketball team. Could the kid hanging there have been Simbha?

A howl ends the book:  “A mob howling [Cudjoe’s] name. Screaming for blood. Words come to him, cool him, stop him in his tracks. He’d known them all his life.  Never again. Never again. He turns to face whatever it is rumbling across the stones of Independence Square.”

Romare Bearden’s work explodes from the cover of Sent For You Yesterday (see illustration above). In 2018, Wideman published a collection of short stories, American Histories. I wrote this (you can read the whole essay in this blog) about the lens through which to read American Histories last year: “You can discover the key to American Histories, the profoundly dialectical collection of what purports to be short stories by master craftsman John Wideman, on page 206.  ‘Well, Basquiat asks, how does the artist resolve this dilemma, Maestro? This perpetual losing battle, this shifting back and forth, this absence, gap, this oblivion between a reality the senses seize and a reality the imagination seizes.’”  Basquiat, the young and brash artist, interrogates the old master

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John Edgar Wideman

Bearden in an imagined conversation.  They lived a few blocks from each other in Harlem and, as far as anyone knows, never met. That conflict, though, between what is real and what is imagined pulses through American Histories and through all his work; more politically stated, that conflict between what exists and what is possible. I can’t read American Histories without being haunted by the picture of every boy lynched from the rim of the basketball hoop; by the plague that needs no importation of refugees to spread its contagion; by the rack tearing us apart.

“They got us on a rack, John French.  They’re gon keep turning till ain’t nothing connected where its supposed to be.”  That’s still how I experience the world. If there is anything the current plague has shown us, it is that this statement is real.  They don’t care about us.  It remains for us, those whom the system has discarded, mutilated, wiped out of history — it remains for us to imagine and to build what is possible. “The drum must pound ten thousand thousand years to drive that evil away.”  We need to find that howl. We need to pound that drum.  We haven’t got 10,000 years.

Married to the Revolution by Lew Rosenbaum

Married to the Revolution

 Remembering 41st And Central 50 Years Later

by Lew Rosenbaum

Fifty years ago, December 4, 1969, a Thursday — the same day Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police —  I was making plans in Los Angeles to take my girl friend Pam to San Francisco.  We were co-workers in the welfare department in Pasadena, California.  Tall, slim, with short blond hair and an engaging smile, she and I shared union and social justice interests. And let’s be honest:  Girl friend? we were just beginning to date, and I was looking forward to getting to know Pam better than casual or business conversation in the work environment would allow.

The weekend is now a blur.  Events which were about to happen may have shoved them into a permanent background. Probably they were nothing memorable anyway. I reconnected with a good friend from high school, then practicing optometry in Berkeley. Never saw him again. I tried to meet up with a friend who I’d last seen interning with the San Francisco Mime Troop.  That went nowhere. But I do know we left San Francisco Sunday afternoon in my VW bus, arriving in Los Angeles past midnight, early Monday morning.  I dropped her off at her apartment in Highland Park about 1 A.M. and went to mine, a small bungalow up 87 stairs from Isabel Terrace in the Cypress Park neighborhood.

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41st and Central was destroyed by the SWAT assault.

Then came the phone call that woke me up at about 5 A.M, Monday December 8. Marie Branch, a nurse who coordinated the Black Panthers’ Free Clinic, called me up.  I had come to meet and work with her through activity with the Friends of the Panthers in L.A. She told me that police had massed around the Panther headquarters on Central at 41st St and had attacked it with tear gas and bullets in a shootout that lasted four hours.  Marie wanted to see if I could rouse some of my medical student friends and have them put on their white jackets and offer a “medical presence”  as witnesses. Her team hoped we would provide an incentive for the police to withdraw.  

Within a matter of minutes I was dressed and out the door to pick up Pam as well as two students from the dormitory, Gordon and John.  Gordon had been an SDS member in college and wore his impetuosity on his sleeve; John was an older student, originally from Canada, and politically more mature than most of his U.S. counterparts. Conversation in the car circled around the events four days earlier in Chicago.  We found our way to what was then Santa Barbara Ave. (now renamed for Martin Luther King Jr. and 2 blocks north of 41st) and Central and discovered that Central was blocked by the police.  We turned one block west and again headed south, finding all streets to Central blocked by the police.  Frustrated and foolhardy, Gordon stuck his head out the window and shouted a derisive comment about the pigs (most likely “Off the Pigs”; we didn’t as much say “Fuck the Pigs” back in that day, Fuck 12 was unknown).  In a matter of minutes we were pulled over, spread-eagled against the car and searched.  Once the cops realized they only had some stupid white kids on their hands, they let us go with a warning.  Dawn had come and they had more important work to do than detain us.

We continued to Vernon Avenue, a few blocks south, parked and walked to the corner of Vernon and Central.  The canisters being fired near the headquarters boomed and the acrid smell of tear gas spread and lingered over our intersection.  The Monday morning crowd gathered on the street to catch a bus for work or just to watch and listen and cough in the fumes. From out of tight lipped mouths on taut and fearful faces grumbled and tumbled angry sounds about the occupying police. On the southwest corner of the intersection, in the parking lot of a fast food joint, a man in a brown suit and tie stood on a milk crate and soap-boxed to a crowd that gathered around him.  This street-corner sermonizer preached the gospel of stopping the police invasions of the community, and his instant parishioners nodded their heads in agreement. 

At 8:30 I walked to a nearby phone booth and called the welfare office.  I told my employer the story that Pam and I had concocted.  My van had broken down in San Luis Obispo on the way from the Bay Area, and we couldn’t get it fixed at night on a Sunday.  I said it was being repaired now and we should be on the road in an hour or so and in the office in the afternoon.  When I got back to the corner the cops were forcing their way through the crowd, beating the suited orator, handcuffing him and throwing him to a police vehicle.  Someone from the ACLU was also there to observe and asked us to testify

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LAPD arresting two BPP members after the shootout.  5000 rounds of ammunition were used during the raid.

on the orator’s behalf in court, and we agreed. By about 10 the crowd had mostly dispersed. The smell of tear gas still hung heavy over the corner, and the memory of what we had experienced still seared our brains. The gassing had forced out all the Panthers in the headquarters;  the police had riddled the body of Panther Party member Roland Freeman with bullets, but he survived. And the four of us headed back north, Gordon and John to class, Pam and I to work.

That night, Monday, the Friends of the Panthers called for a rally on Wednesday on the steps of city hall.  I wrote a leaflet explaining what happened and advertising the rally, printed it up and passed it out at work, an informational leaflet sponsored by Local 535 of the Social Workers Union.  My office manager, Esther Matthews, called me in to warn me:  under no circumstances was I to miss work or I would be terminated.  When I got off work I called a friend from medical school who had graduated and was a resident at County Hospital.  I guessed he would be at the rally, and I was right.  Neal offered to meet me there and give me a medical excuse I could take to Matthews.  It was a little more difficult than I thought, because in only two days 5,000 people showed up for the rally. 

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Dec. 11, 1969 on the steps of City Hall, Los Angeles.

But when I found Neal, he turned a gleeful smile in my direction and handed me the excuse.  

 

The story of the shootout is told here (the original article is from the Los Angeles Times) from within the Panther offices, fortified by the efforts of Vietnam War Vet and Panther leader Geronimo Pratt, and defended by youthful Party members until they ran out of ammunition and were suffocated by tear gas.  The SWAT assault on the headquarters begin at 4 AM and ended some four hours later. Reneé “Peaches” Moore, one of the two women in the building, led the defenders out under a white flag. After the events of December 4 in Chicago, the Panthers expected the LAPD to do something similar in Los Angeles.  They had prepared themselves, but they had no way to anticipate the assault of hundreds of police and the deployment of a Defense Department authorized tank. On their part, the cops rethought what kind of nine-lives-of-a-black-pantheroperation they were dealing with and sent their SWAT division for training with the army.  

Wayne Pharr, 19 years old on that day in 1969, was among the first to fire his weapon at the invading SWAT team and drive them out of the building.  In 2014, the Chicago Review Press imprint, Lawrence Hill Books published Pharr’s Nine Lives of a Black Panther which documents the history of the Los Angeles Panthers. Pharr died in September, 2014, at 64 years of age.  This obituary also contains a trailer to the documentary, “41st and Central,” that features a number of the surviving Panthers including Pharr, Pratt, and Freeman.

One more thing about December 4 and Fred Hampton.  These attacks were coordinated nationally against an organization the FBI deemed the greatest threat in the US.  Fred Hampton, who had built a coalition with Appalachian whites as well as Puerto Ricans in Chicago, explains why. “We say primarily that the priority of this struggle is class. That Marx and Lenin and Che Guevara and Mao Tse-Tung, and anybody else who ever said or knew or practiced anything about revolution, always said that a revolution is a class struggle.”  And then, “We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat; I am the people.”

On a personal note: later on in the week, when I asked Pam to go out to dinner, she told me that we should stop seeing each other.  She said she’d learned something she hadn’t realized before this weekend: that I was already married.  “Married,” she said, “to the revolution.”

Poem for April 4: In Memoriam, Martin Luther King, Jr. — by June Jordan

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[On April 4, 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  For April 4, 2019, I choose to read/reprint this poem, by the widely acclaimed, politically engaged poet, June Jordan (1936-2002).  The Poetry Foundation web site biographical page for June Jordan quotes an interview with the poet:  

In an interview with Alternative Radio before her death, Jordan was asked about the role of the poet in society. Jordan replied: “The role of the poet, beginning with my own childhood experience, is to deserve the trust of people who know that what you do is work with words.” She continued: “Always to be as honest as possible and to be as careful about the trust invested in you as you possibly can. Then the task of a poet of color, a black poet, as a people hated and despised, is to rally the spirit of your folks…I have to get myself together and figure out an angle, a perspective, that is an offering, that other folks can use to pick themselves up, to rally and to continue or, even better, to jump higher, to reach more extensively in solidarity with even more varieties of people to accomplish something. I feel that it’s a spirit task.”

Martin Luther King’s enduring gift to his political descendants is his “work with words.”  LR]

 

In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.

I
honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born
America
tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand

deform the normal rainy

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June Jordan

riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
terrorizing
death by men by more
than you or I can
STOP
       II
They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells
we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and
more

 

[The poet can be heard reading her poem here.  Her poem “Apologies to All The People Of Lebanon” can be read here (Aja Monet performs the poem here].

Chicago Elections 2019: The (April) Day Of

Chicago Elections 2019:  April 2

by Lew Rosenbaum

This is more than a guide to the election map of April 2, 2019.  Enough people are talking

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Mayor Emanuel isn’t running, but his fingerprints are all over the crime scene.  He has personally given thousands from his campaign war chest; and his PAC, Chicago Forward, has spread money like peanut butter on the campaigns of his allies.  He’s hoping to preserve his “legacy” by ensuring that his friends remain in their seats.

about how this election could transform city council, how there are some exciting candidates as well as a load of incumbents deserving to be retired. We don’t have 20-20 hindsight yet, so we can’t offer perfect predictions of what will happen.  But here’s the deal:  a debate about major questions of our survival is raging across the electoral landscape.  Whether or not you will have a house or home to return to;  whether or not your neighborhood school will be replaced by privatized charters; whether or not mental health clinics will be restored;  whether or not police will continue to terrorize our communities; these are real debates taking place from wards on the south side to the north.

The demands that people have been making, for example for police accountability and for housing as a human right, have pushed a new crop of candidates into the electoral arena.  As much focus has been on the individual candidates, we should be paying at least as much attention to the movement on whose waves these candidates are riding. And while there is a significant amount of simply populist backlash to turn the long term incumbents out, the real catalyst to the emergence of the new crop of challengers is the anger — righteous and deep — of the people.

Let’s look at some of the wards up for grabs.

Ward 5: Activist William Calloway, best known for his efforts to bring the video of the murder of  Laquan McDonald to the public, has forced incumbent Leslie Hairston into a runoff.  His main support comes from the South Shore neighborhood, but he has gotten an endorsement from the other Hairston challenger, Gabriel Piemonte, whose base is in Hyde Park.  Hairston came close to winning outright, so this will be a difficult one to flip. What makes this race even more interesting is that Willie Wilson endorsed Calloway over Hairston (no love lost between Wilson and Rahm Emanuel).  Wilson took more African American majority wards than any other candidate in the February election. A Calloway victory holds the most promise for the workers of the fifth Ward.

Ward 15: Rafa Yanez led 4 other candidates to force Rahm Emanuel rubber stamp Ray Lopez into a runoff, but just barely.  Yanez had union support in the first round and continues with union support and the endorsement of United Working Families.  A former policeman, he has been vocal in supporting the NoCopAcademy campaign and exposing abuse in the police, not as a matter of bad individuals but as a systemic problem.  Rafa Yanez has the movement support that could make a change in the ward.

Ward 20: Nine candidates vied in February to replace retired/indicted alderman Willie

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David Orr retired as County Clerk. He has played a role in the elections often endorsing candidates opposing the incumbents.  This is an indication of fissures developing in the Democratic Party itself.

Cochran.  Of these, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson made the runoff.  Jeanette, with 29% of the vote, came to the attention of Chicagoans with her participation in a hunger strike to keep Dyett School open.  She earned her right to be part of that group, by decades of volunteer work leading the Local School Councils in the neighborhood.  Her fight for public education is not a whim; it’s life or death, a matter of survival for her, her children and the families where she grew up.  Incidentally, she apparently just joined DSA.  Jeanette Taylor shows something about how the programmatic demands of the people are embodied in the candidates themselves.

Ward 25: In 2015, Byron Sigcho-Lopez and other challengers almost forced Danny Solis into a runoff.  This year Solis decided not to run, after the FBI got him to wear a wire to establish corruption among the aldermen.  Byron is in a runoff this time against Alex Acevedo, a machine hack.  Hilario Dominguez, a teacher and one of the other candidates with progressive endorsement, has endorsed Sigcho-Lopez, who has impressive credentials fighting for public education and against charters (he did a lot of the work uncovering the corruption in the UNO charter network).  He is also an activist in Pilsen Alliance and embraced the “Five Point Program” of the Concerned Puerto Rican Voters, a model of the fight for basic needs.  The movement around Byron Sigcho-Lopez provides an opportunity to develop a citywide network of fighters against gentrification and for public education.

Ward 30: Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the ward and Rahm Emanuel shill, is best known this year as the man who went to the West Coast to research police oversight practices, and came back with two proposals to divert from the Chicago Police Accountability Council, or CPAC.  Jessica Gutierrez, daughter of former Congressman Luis Gutierrez, is in the runoff challenging Reboyras. To some extent this campaign reflects an opposition to Emanuel and the whole police accountability question. A vote for Gutierrez could solidify that opposition.

Ward 33: Rossana Rodriguez has become the star of the runoff season.  She actually polled more votes than the incumbent, but not enough to win outright.  Rodriguez has run as a Democratic Socialist;  the incumbent, Deb Mell, is the daughter of long time Chicago pol Dick Mell, a loyal follower of Rahm Emanuel.  More important than her star quality is that Rodriguez has embraced the NoCopAcademy campaign, supports CPAC, wants an elected school board, and seeks housing as a human right.  Endorsed by United Working Families, a citywide movement is coalescing around the Rossana Rodriguez. campaign.

Ward 40: Alderman Pat O’Connor was part of the Vrdolyak 29 that obstructed Mayor Harold Washington’s program in 1983. He never apologized for his participation in this racist, anti-working class cabal.  As the floor leader in city council for Mayor Emanuel, O’Connor did Emanuel’s bidding for the last eight years.  When Alderman Ed Burke was indicted 6 months ago for extortion and then stripped of his chairmanship of the powerful finance committee, Emanuel placed O’Connor in his place.  In that role just last week he prevented a referendum from reaching the floor of the Council that would tax sales of homes more than $1 million.  That tax would provide funds for services for the homeless. Andre Vasquez was the first among challengers to O’Connor’s seat and will face him in the runoff.  Coming out of the hip-hop movement, Vasquez has embraced everything decent that O’Connor opposes.  He’s endorsed by United Working Families and points out that his winning this office would allow for the further development of a Socialist Caucus of aldermen. Ousting O’Connor by itself would be a worthy achievement. As with a number of other wards, here too the movement for affordable housing for all, for public schools, for police accountability could be solidified with the victory of Andre

Erika and other challengers in 46th ward

Before the February 26 election, the challengers in the 46th ward agreed to support whoever got into a runoff against Alderman O’Connor

Vasquez.

Ward 46:When the votes were counted after the February 26 election, less than 300 votes separated the three top challengers to incumbent Jim Cappleman, gentrifier extraordinaire.  Any of the three would have been a vast improvement over the man Emanuel tapped to take Danny Solis’s (the alderman who wore the wire, ward 25) position on the Zoning Committee. That lot fell to Marianne Lalonde, a PhD chemist who is also on the Board of a shelter for homeless women, Sarah’s Circle.  She is a fierce advocate for people experiencing homelessness, a big problem in Uptown where this ward is located.  Cappleman gained about 44% of the vote in February; Lalonde’s chances are improved by the fact that the other challenger candidates have endorsed her. Getting rid of Cappleman would be advantageous by itself.  A victory for Lalonde could strengthen an already strong movement for housing and education in this ward. 

Ward 47:  Alderman Pawar decided not to run for re-election and instead to run for treasurer.  Nine candidates vied for this office. Matt Martin won 40% of the vote and will face Michael Negron in the runoff.  Martin is endorsed by United Working Families and has a good chance of winning this seat.

53039203_408679889895392_6608008554437672960_n

On February 26, volunteers pack the 49th Ward office of Maria Hadden turning out the vote that gave her practically a 2 to 1 margin of victory.

We should at least note that Democratic Socialist  Daniel LaSpata beat incumbent Proco “Joe” Moreno by a 2 to 1 margin; and Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez Rosa retained his seat with 60% of the vote. Maria Hadden ousted incumbent Joe Moore by an almost 2 to 1 margin; Moore held his seat for 28 years and operated as a gatekeeper for Rahm Emanuel.  But we should also note that John Arena, a champion of affordable housing, lost his seat because of racist and anti-homeless smear by his challenger.   Most of the African American incumbents on the South and West side retained their seats regardless of their sycophant connection to the Democratic Party machine.

The Mayor: If you have read this far, you are perhaps wondering if we are ever going to discuss the mayoral race.  For a race between deeply flawed candidates, this campaign has ignited considerable passion.  Of the original 14 candidates, few would have predicted that two African-American women would face off against each other.  That the next mayor will be an African American woman is pretty remarkable in this city.  One, Lori Lightfoot, is best known as a Rahm Emanuel appointee to the police review board as well as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer for one of the most connected law firms in the city. Her defense of police in, for example, the Rekia Boyd murder, has earned her the enmity of the police accountability movement.  The other, Toni Preckwinkle, chairs the Cook County Democratic Party.  She is the ultimate insider with scads of experience as an alderman and also as the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.  Anyone in politics as long as Preckwinkle would have to have ties to the corrupt (ties to the recently indicted Ed Burke and the disgraced Joe Berrios).

Preckwinkle has raised over $8 million for her campaign, while Lightfoot in excess of $4 million.  Preckwinkle’s top donors include various branches of SEIU for about half of her donations (teachers’ unions have contributed about $400,000).  Lightfoot has gotten about $500,000 from the Laborers Union and has been endorsed by the Plumbers.  It appears that the Building Trades have more confidence in a Lightfoot administration, while public workers and service workers unions think they have more to gain from Preckwinkle winning.  The newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Sun Times, Crain’s) have endorsed Lightfoot. Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle style themselves as progressive and independent, though their claims make one wonder if we are speaking the same language.

As we said above, the passions are running high in this campaign among activists. The opinions on both sides are understandable, and the objectives (stopping a cop supporter vs dealing a blow to “the machine”) are worthy.  A number of the activists on both sides of the divide recognize that, no matter who wins, the movement is going to have to fight like hell.  And, with respect for the passions of those involved, that is the word we want to leave you with:  no matter who wins, we are going to have to fight like hell.  Thankfully, with the rising movement in the wards around the fight for survival, a citywide movement of those at the bottom will be much more possible.

Chicago Elections 2019: Chicago’s Black Wards by Allen Harris

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction of articles so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

Chicago’s Black Wards In The February 26 Election

by Allen Harris

Ten wards on the North Side, plus the 25th Ward on the near Southwest Side, lifted mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot to first place on February 26.

ward mapIn the 1st, 33rd, 35th, 40th, 46th, 47th, 48th and 49th wards, Lightfoot was first and Preckwinkle second. However, in the 25th, 32nd and 44th wards, Lightfoot was first and Bill Daley second.

Five wards carried Preckwinkle to second place. Four were on the South Side – the 3rd, 4th, 5th and the 8th – and one on the West Side, the 26th.

In the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 26th wards, Preckwinkle was first and Lightfoot second. But in Ald. Michelle Harris’s 8th Ward, Preckwinkle was first, and Willie Wilson came in a close second and Lightfoot was a more distant third.

Interestingly, it was Willie Wilson who carried the most wards citywide. He won 14, all of them that were black-majority or heavily black on the South and West sides. They are the 6th, 7th, 9th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st and 34th on the South Side and the 24th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th on the West Side.

Here is a closer look at how Lightfoot and Preckwinkle fared on February 26 in those Willie Wilson wards.

On the South Side, Toni Preckwinkle came in second in the 6th, 7th, 9th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st and 34th wards. Lightfoot came in third in each ward, but she was a distant third in the 6th, 7th, 18th, 20th, 21st and 34th.

On the West Side, Preckwinkle came in second in the 24th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards. Again, Lightfoot came in third, but closer to Preckwinkle than on the South Side. Preckwinkle’s support is weaker on the West Side than on the South Side.ct-met-viz-chicago-mayor-election-results

Since it was Willie Wilson who won the black wards that Preckwinkle and Lightfoot didn’t, one can conclude that once again it will be the black community of Chicago which will decide the mayoral runoff on April 2. As of late March, Lightfoot appears to be surging ahead while Preckwinkle is faltering.

This is especially the case for Preckwinkle. She needs to carry all five of her wards and all 14 of Willie Wilson’s wards – and scrounge for extra votes in Susana Mendoza’s 12th, 15th and 22nd wards as well as in Ald. Sue Garza’s 10th Ward. Preckwinkle’s negative TV ad against Lightfoot boomeranged. The public did not like it. Around March 19, she pulled all her advertising off the air. In the 15th, Willie Wilson on March 5 endorsed Rafael Yanez against incumbent Ald. Raymond Lopez. This aligns Yanez with Lightfoot.

Lightfoot could win by carrying all her 10 wards, plus the eight Bill Daley wards and by picking off a few of Wilson’s and Susana Mendoza’s wards.

On March 5, Wilson endorsed Lightfoot, which may or may not deny the West Side to Preckwinkle. Rep. Danny Davis, whose district is mainly on the West Side and who had been a Willie Wilson man, broke with Wilson and endorsed Preckwinkle.

*****************

 

In the races for City Council, these black wards will have runoffs on April 2:

5th: Challenger William Calloway (26.74%) vs. incumbent Leslie Hairston (48.51). Hairston was elected in 1999. Willie Wilson endorsed Calloway on March 5 and Calloway endorsed Lightfoot. Hairston aligned with Preckwinkle.

6th: Incumbent Roderick Sawyer (49.97) vs. challenger Deborah A. Foster-Bonner (31.24). Sawyer was elected in 2011. He is backed by Workers United.

16th: Challenger Stephanie Coleman (44.12) vs. incumbent Toni Foulkes (31.48). Foulkes was first elected alderman of the 15th Ward in 2007 and was elected 16th Ward alderman in 2015. Willie Wilson endorsed Coleman on March 5. Wilson will have a tight grip on the 16th Ward.

20th: Challengers Jeanette B. Taylor (28.78) vs. Nicole Johnson (21.97). Incumbent Willie Cochran did not seek re-election. On March 21 he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges and resigned his seat. The other Willie won the 20th Ward and endorsed Johnson on March 5.

21st: Incumbent Howard Brookins (45.82) vs. Marvin McNeil (25.27). Brookins was elected in 2003. Because Lightfoot was a distant third in the 20th Ward, Wilson is playing safe by backing Brookins. Challenger McNeil likely will line up with Preckwinkle. Wilson won the 21st.

These black incumbents won on February 26:

SOUTH SIDE

Pat Dowell (3rd) with 69.00%. She was elected in 2007. Also won by Preckwinkle.

Sophia King (4th) with 66.09. She was appointed by Rahm Emanuel in 2016. Also won by Preckwinkle.

Gregory Mitchell (7th) with 66.33. He was elected in 2015. Also won by Wilson.

Michelle Harris (8th) with 64.35. She was appointed by Richard M. Daley in 2006. Also won by Preckwinkle.

Anthony Beale (9th) with 59.30. He was elected in 1999. Also won by Wilson.

David Moore (17th) with 67.20. He was elected in 2015. Also won by Wilson.

Derrick Curtis (18th) with 67.34. He was elected in 2015. Also won by Wilson.

Carrie Austin (34th) with 54.37. She was appointed by Richard M. Daley in 1994. Also won by Wilson.

 

WEST SIDE

Michael Scott Jr. (24th) with 59.92%. He was elected in 2015. Also won by Wilson.

Walter Burnett (27th) with 68.59. He was elected in 1995. Also won by Wilson.

Jason Ervin (28th,) with 61.38. Ald. Ervin was appointed by Richard M. Daley in January 2011 and elected to a full term in February 2011. His wife is Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who is in the April 2 runoff for city treasurer. Also won by Wilson.

Chris Taliaferro (29th) with 58.72. He was elected in 2015. Also won by Wilson.

Emma Mitts (37th) with 54.1. She was appointed by Richard M. Daley in January 2000. Also won by Wilson.

 

These black challengers won on February 26:

  • SOUTH SIDE – No one
  • WEST SIDE – No one
  • NORTH SIDE – Maria Hadden (49th, won by Lightfoot) with 63.40%.

REFERENDUMS IN THE BLACK / HEAVILY BLACK WARDS

  • COMMUNITY BENEFITS

5thWard, 05thPrecinct            259 votes

Yes            88.80

No            11.20

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

6thWard, 05thPrecinct            141 votes

Yes            90.07

No            09.93

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

6thWard, 23rdPrecinct            102 votes

Yes            87.25

No            12.75

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

6thWard, 26thPrecinct             137 votes

Yes            83.21

No            16.79

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

16thWard, 33rdPrecinct            134 votes

Yes            87.31

No            12.69

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

17thWard, all 41 precincts            7,412 votes

Yes            85.87

No            14.13

 

 

  • COMMUNITY BENEFITS

20thWard, 01stPrecinct            260 votes

Yes            89.62

No            10.38

  • COMMUNITY BENEFITS

20thWard, 22nd Precinct            331 votes

Yes            81.87

No            18.13

 

  • COMMUNITY BENEFITS

20th Ward, 23rd Precinct            215 votes

Yes            90.23

No            09.77

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

24thWard, 05thPrecinct            77 votes

Yes            88.31

No            11.69

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

24thWard, 20thPrecinct            129 votes

Yes            86.05

No            13.95

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

24thWard, 30thPrecinct            92 votes

Yes            95.65

No            04.35

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

28thWard, all 46 precincts            7,750 votes

Yes            84.48

No            15.52

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

29thWard, 02ndPrecinct            289 votes

Yes            85.81

No            14.19

 

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

29thWard, 03rdPrecinct            220 votes

Yes            85.91

No            14.09

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

29thWard, 16thPrecinct            213 votes

Yes            92.02

No            07.98

 

  • MARIJUANA FUNDS

29thWard, 28thPrecinct            246 votes

Yes            89.43

No            10.57

 

 

Collage — by Lew Rosenbaum

Collage

a review essay by Lew Rosenbaum

[American Histories, by John Edgar Wideman, was published in May, 2018.  The paperback9781501178351_p0_v2_s600x595 will be released later this month, March 26, 2019, by Scribner– ISBN 9781501178351, $16.  It should be available at your favorite bookstore]

You can discover the key to American Histories, the profoundly dialectical collection of what purports to be short stories by master craftsman John Wideman, on page 206.  “Well, Basquiat asks, how does the artist resolve this dilemma, Maestro? This perpetual losing battle, this shifting back and forth, this absence, gap, this oblivion between a reality the senses seize and a reality the imagination seizes.”  The Maestro in this story is Romare Bearden, the artist who in his youth lived in the Pittsburgh neighborhood, in which Wideman himself grew up a couple of decades later.  The conversation is imagined, but it could have been real, because Bearden and Jean-Michel Basquiat lived and worked not far from each other in Harlem, jean-michel-basquiatwhere both of them died in the same year, 1988.  Bearden, who preferred to be considered an artist and was usually called a “collagist,” was born in 1911.  Basquiat, described primarily as a painter, was born in 1960 and died  at 27.  Bearden and Basquiat never met.

Perhaps it’s the parallelism in their work, the fact that they were both giants of the art world in New York at the same time; that they incorporated, in abstract work, elements that clearly responded to the social situation that surrounded them; that jazz influenced their work; that Bearden was of the Black art movement and that Basquiat seemed unaware of it  – perhaps all of that is why Wideman chooses to imagine a conversation between the two of them.  You can be curious about that if you want to.  But it’s what he does with the mystery of the artistic forms that connect them and what separates them, and the Pittsburgh story, that intrigues me.

bearden_140-176dcbfa09f7c9fa2f2db4f91f5fefb0da0ad0f5-s6-c30

Romare Bearden

For instance, a page later he expands on this  “losing battle” in describing the problem of collage:  “He’s (Bearden) unable to explain to Basquiat why removal of objects from an array sometimes makes the array more plentiful, not smaller.  Nor can he explain how a board on which he is arranging things becomes more spacious as he packs it.” Or, Wideman has Bearden say, a few sentences later, “You might say each collage starts with the bare bones of a story.”  He tells a brief story about how he and two other kids beat up a neighbor. When Bearden’s grandmother intervenes, she brings that disabled neighbor boy, Eugene, to live with his family. A story that haunts the artist for 50 years: “A collage I built [Farewell Eugene] is layer upon layer questions about that simple story.” Adding each piece to the collage requires studying that piece, and the whole composition disappears;  “To see it whole again, his eyes must relinquish his grip on the element.”

And so it is with the whole of American Histories. But in this collage, concentrating on this one piece (“Collage”) brings everything else into focus. American Historiesis a collage of imagined American history, in which the imaginative is at least as important as the sensual.  The writer struggles with the gap between what maybe ought to have occurred and what we believe did happen.  John Brown and Frederick Douglass converse in the very first story, the Old Man unable to convince the escaped slave to join him at Harper’s Ferry. It’s not clear what part of “JB and FD” is real, what is imagined, and through it all what part is the writer’s voice. And ends with wondering why the author makes John Brown a Black man.

Wideman plays with the confessions of Nat Turner, imagining what is going through his head as he stands ready for execution. Turner begins to recite his “abc’s” – he is self taught, and instructs us about his own history and plans. As he explains the meanings of letters, he reaches his conclusion skipping to the end of the alphabet. An alphabet foreshortened as much as execution foreshortened his life.

At the very beginning, Wideman’s “prefatory note” is an open letter to the president. It’s likely written, or at least finished, after the 2016 election, and he wonders if the president who receives this note along with his stories will be a woman, perhaps a Black woman. If any president will receive it, he doubts. Wideman doesn’t explain the stories: They speak for themselves. “The note is a plea, Mr. President. Please eradicate slavery.”   And maybe, Wideman declares, terminating slavery may even be “beyond your vast powers.”  The thirteenth amendment did not accomplish the fact, another example of the play between sense and imagination, “But you should understand better than most of us, Mr. President, that history tells as many lies as truths.”

There is of coure the poetry of the language, a defining characteristic of Wideman’s writing. Framing the whole as a collage though, makes me look again and again at an element in “Maps and Ledgers,” a sentence that begins on page 57 and ends on page 59 and has to be written this way. A story as much about language as about a life experience.  Story with sentences, like this one, without verbs and articles. Another gem of a short story in which every paragraph begins with “We go out to dinner and discuss.” The two paragraph story “Bunny and Glide” parodies with the robbers of legendary fame. The long story, in which Wideman’s narrator stands at the edge of the Williamsburg Bridge contemplating suicide.

wideman

John Edgar Wideman

In the Aldous Huxleyesque universe of “Empire,”  Wideman replaces “superfluous distinctions” like race and gender with the “gratefuls” and the “givers.” This, in a way, a reprises the prefatory note’s allusion to the separation of peoples by immutable but superfluous categories and the question, when will it end and under what circumstances? His story “Expectations” ends with “I expect Nat Turner.  I expect he will die again for the sin of color.”  If we get a second coming of Nat Turner, do we also get a second coming of John Brown?  What will the next Harper’s Ferry look like?

From beginning to end, Wideman layers story after story, after a patient lifetime’s practice, as if they are colors, fabrics, doing what Bearden did on a board, having “practice[d] patiently for a lifetime the skills of cutting and pasting, gluing down

Pittsburgh Memories Farewell Eugene

Pittsburgh Memories — Farewell Eugene by Romare Bearden

textures, colors, fabric, layer after layer to picture what the past may have been and how it rises again, solid and present as the bright orange disc of the sun I put at the top right corner of Farewell Eugene.”

The Compromise of 1850: Chris Mahin writes about abolitionism then and now

[People’s Tribune correspondent and independent scholar Chris Mahin writes about history so that we can learn from it.  The fight against slavery has a lot to teach us today about the property relations under which we live.  The article challenges us to think about what being “moderate” in today’s world means.  LR]

The Compromise of 1850:

Learn from the uncompromising spirit of the abolitionists!

BY CHRIS MAHIN

He spoke to a packed chamber, in 100-degree heat, for three hours and 11 minutes, barely using his few notes. Afterward, a leader of the fight against slavery declared that the oration had transformed the man who delivered it from a lion into a spaniel. One of the country’s most talented writers composed a famous poem likening him to Satan. A prominent New England minister compared him to Benedict Arnold.

daniel-webster-wc-9526186-1-402

Daniel Webster, the Senator from Massachusetts, who used his oratory to support the “Compromise of 1850,” and thus was transformed from a lion into a spaniel.

This month marks the anniversary of the day that U.S. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts gave his notorious “Seventh of March” speech in the U.S. Senate. On March 7, 1850, Webster used his considerable eloquence to support the “Compromise of 1850,” a series of measures designed to appease the slaveholding South. The events of 1850 are worth examining because that political crisis has much to teach us about how the fight against unjust property relations unfolds – and who can be trusted in such crises (and who can’t).

The crisis of 1850 had been brewing for a long time. While the United States was founded on slavery, by the middle 1800s, the population and economic capacity of the free North was surpassing that of the slaveholding South. The defenders of the slave system desperately needed to expand slavery into the West. When the settlers of California petitioned Congress for admission into the Union late in 1849, the stage was set for a showdown. Admitting California to the Union as a free state would tip the balance of power in Congress in favor of the free states. To prevent that, representatives of the slave states threatened to secede from the Union.

In response, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay crafted a series of proposed laws. While described as a “compromise,” they were heavily weighted in the South’s favor. California would be admitted into the Union as a free state, but slavery would not be banned in the rest of the vast territory seized from Mexico in the war of 1846-1848. While the slave trade would be banned in the District of Columbia, slavery itself would remain legal there. The “compromise” also included a new, stronger Fugitive Slave Act requiring the free states to send runaway slaves back to slavery. 

Clay’s “compromise” outraged not just those people who advocated the immediate abolition of slavery throughout the United States, but also those who accepted slavery in

Clay,_Henry

Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, who, since the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had built a reputation as the great compromiser.

the South but were opposed to slavery being spread elsewhere. Daniel Webster had been on record since 1837 as opposing the extension of slavery into the territories. Yet, on March 7, 1850, he vigorously supported Clay’s proposals. Webster argued that preserving the Union was more important than anything else. 

Webster’s speech split the country. Shortly after the speech, the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator published an eight-column analysis refuting Webster’s arguments. Within days of the Massachusetts senator’s appearance on the Senate floor, a mass meeting in Faneuil Hall in Boston condemned Webster’s speech as “unworthy of a wise statesman and a good man,” and resolved that “Constitution or no Constitution, law or no law, we will not allow a fugitive slave to be taken from the state of Massachusetts.”

In his speech, Webster had denounced the abolitionists, referring to them contemptuously as “these agitating people,” and declaring that they had contributed “nothing good or valuable.”

“At the same time,” he declared – with great condescension – “I believe thousands of their members to be honest and good men. … They have excited feelings; … they do not see what else they can do than to contribute to an Abolition press, or to an Abolition society, or to pay an Abolition lecturer.” 

Webster specifically condemned the abolitionists for fighting to convince people that the question of slavery was a moral question. He argued that by posing the slavery question that way, the abolitionists treated morality as if it had the certainty of mathematics and made compromise impossible. 

By the end of September 1850, all the different pieces of the “Compromise of 1850” had been passed by the U.S. Congress – but civil war was only postponed, not averted. The new Fugitive Slave Law allowed slave catchers easier access to their prey – even in Boston, the city where the killing of a runaway slave by British troops had begun the American Revolution.

abolitionists-7-638

The Liberator, a preeminent voice of abolition, inscribed on its masthead, “Our Country is the World, Our Countrymen are all Mankind”

For 10 years after the compromise which was supposed to settle the slavery question in the United States “forever,” the abolitionists hammered home their message about the immorality of slavery. It was not Webster’s willingness to compromise his principles that helped push history forward; it was the abolitionists’ unwillingness to compromise theirs. Today, the world needs revolutionaries willing to be as uncompromising as the advocates of the immediate abolition of slavery were in the 19th century, and willing to proclaim their message as forthrightly as those abolitionists did.[

As we fight an unjust set of property relations today, we should strive to use the revolutionary press and the speaker’s platform as skillfully as the abolitionists did then. Like the abolitionists, we should be bold and insist on describing the existence of massive wealth alongside massive poverty as a moral question – because it is one. If we do that, we will pay the best tribute that can possibly be paid to those “agitating people” of the 19th century with their abolition presses and lecturers and societies, people who – Daniel Webster notwithstanding – contributed something very good and valuable to society indeed. 

[This article originally appeared in the March 2000 edition of the People’s Tribune. We encourage reproduction of articles from the People’s Tribune, so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org.
Please donate whatever you can! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

 

 

Chicago Elections 2019: The Day After

Chicago Elections 2019:  The Day After

Lew Rosenbaum

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction of articles so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

If the November midterm elections were a wave of resistance, how to describe the Chicago general election of February 26, 2019? With sub-freezing weather coupled with a lackluster bevy of 14 mayoral candidates, turnout rose only slightly above record low numbers.  One thing was consistent throughout: the electorate is showing how fed up they are with the officials who ignore them or actively work against them.  The people are taking their fight for housing, healthcare, schools and a safe community to the polls, and candidates are stepping up to respond.

Here is a brief list of what the people of the city of Chicago accomplished yesterday:

  • 1st. Ward: Voted overwhelmingly against corrupt incumbent Proco Joe Moreno, electing in his place Daniel LaSpata
  • 5th Ward: William Calloway, perhaps best known for fighting to have the video of the murder of Laquant McDonald released, appears to have forced Leslie Hairston into a runoff.
  • 10th Ward: Sue Sadlowski Garza won re-election in a deindustrialized South side ward, once a center of steel production in the midwest.
  • 14th Ward: Ed Burke, longest sitting alderman in Chicago history, now under indictment for extortion, retained his seat by an unexpectedly slim margin.  Tanya Patino captured almost a third of the vote in her challenge to Burke.
  • 15th Ward:  Rafa Yanez forced incumbent Raymond Lopez into a runoff.
  • 20th Ward: Jeannette Taylor, long time community activist and leader in the Dyett School hunger strike is the leading candidate in a runoff in a ward without an incumbent running.
  • 25th Ward:  Byron Sigcho-Lopez, an activist in the Pilsen Alliance and in struggles around education, won nearly 30% of the vote to force a runoff in the ward formerly represented by the corrupt former chair of the zoning committee, Danny Solis.
  • 33rd Ward:  Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez actually leads incumbent Deb Mell in the vote tally.  Both are polling a little above 40%,  in a ward that will see a runoff in April.
  • 35th Ward: Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez-Rosa was reelected.
  • 40th Ward: Andre Vasquez will face incumbent Pat O’Connor in a runoff.   The main issue in this ward, says Vasquez, is affordable housing.  O’Connor has been Emanuel’s floor leader in the City Council, was tapped to head the finance committee when Burke was stripped of his chairmanship of that committee.  One of the most powerful of the City Council, O’Connor only got a third of the votes.
  • 45th Ward: We missed this one in the original article. Jim Gardiner defeated incumbent John Arena in a close race, capturing 51% of the votes.  Arena was elected in 2011 and in 2012 was one of very few alderman willing to walk a Chicago Teachers Union picket line. He was reelected in 2015 by only 30 votes.  In the last years he has taken heat for supporting affordable housing in his ward, assailed by critics who accused him of bringing “Cabrini Green” to his ward — a naked racist slur referencing the now-demolished near north housing project. Kathy Powers writes us: “You missed the 45th ward (Jefferson Park) .We lost the very special John Arena who actually fought and won a NEW building for accessible, affordable housing on Northwest Highway. I protested there a couple of times. The racist SOBs in JP didn’t like it.”
  • 46th Ward: With 3 precincts left to be counted, three challengers are separated by 300 votes in their bid to unseat gentrifier-in-chief James Cappleman.  Maryann Lalonde seems most likely to wind up in the runoff, followed closely by Erika Wozniak Francis and Angela Clay.  The challengers have promised to support whoever gets into the runoff against Cappelman, whom Emanuel has tapped to lead the Zoning committee instead of disgraced Danny Solis.
  • 49th Ward: Maria Hadden trounced 28 year incumbent Joe Moore, winning nearly
    53039203_408679889895392_6608008554437672960_n

    At the Maria Hadden campaign office on election day, Feb. 26.  Maria is in the right foreground.  Photo taken from her FB page, posted by Jeff Reed

    2/3 of the votes against her opponent.  Hadden announced in her victory speech that the next step would be to mobilize to help other similar candidates in other wards.  This could have important consequences for runoff campaigns, especially the 40th and 46th Wards, where entrenched, reactionary aldermen are vulnerable.

  • Furthermore — incumbents were forced into runoffs in the 16th, 21st, 30th, 31st and 43rd, Wards.  It’s noteworthy that incumbent John Arena lost to James Gardiner in the 45th Ward. It’s also worth mentioning that Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the 30th Ward, distinguished himself in the last year by bringing to City Council two police oversight proposals intended to undercut the CPAC (Chicago Police Accountability Commission) proposal, an outgrowth of community, grassroots agitation.

And then there is the mayoral election itself.  While there were some very fervently held opinions about the candidates, the most consistent at the grass roots was against Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty. There was very little enthusiasm for anyone. People often modified their arguments for any candidate  by the proviso, “She’s not perfect, but . . .” All of the top four candidates, who together garnered about 60% of the votes, had ties to the “Chicago Machine.”  Lori Lightfoot, who had never won elected office but had been appointed to various positions in city administration, was the “outsider” and  won the most votes.  Daley, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations , received $2 million from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin.  Toni Preckwinkle is Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.  She occupies a power base in the Party tactically in opposition to Emanuel, but strategically going in the same direction.  Susana Mendoza, on the other hand, has distinct connections to Emanuel.  The indictment of Ed Burke ensnared both Mendoza and Preckwinkle in a web of corruption that they can’t entirely shake.  The runoff between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle will yield the first African American woman mayor of the city.  It will not yield a mayor friendly to the interests of the working class, whatever it’s color.

The tremendous advances that we’ve seen in this election should only whet our appetite, not satisfy us or make us complacent.  In fact, for all that was accomplished, here are a couple of sobering thoughts.

First of all, the election turnout.  What do the majority of Chicagoans think about these candidates?  Does the electorate think that voting makes a difference?  Even in wards like the 49th, the turnout was 40% and rarely in the city exceeded 45%.  In some wards, the cynicism was rife.  But how can you blame people whose votes are taken for granted and whose elected representatives don’t bother to represent? The signs are there that a sleeping giant is awakening, how quickly we don’t know, but direction is more important than speed.

Second, even if we can toss O’Connor and Cappleman overboard onto the trash heap of history, even if in Wards 5, 15, 20, 25, and 33 the winners are ready to fight for a program of the working class, that still leaves a large number of politicians in place that graze in the pastures of wealth.  It will be an uphill battle for the working class, and we’d best remember that the victory is less in the seats captured than in forming ourselves into a battle-ready contingent for future encounters.

We won a lot in this election cycle, which continues now until April 2 and the runoff. No matter what happens in the runoffs, we have a potential network of grass roots activists developing across this city. We especially won the right and responsibility to up our game and keep fighting together for that which did energize the electorate:  the right to housing, education,  police accountability and an end to violence, and all the basic needs of the people.

[See also “The Four Aldermen of the Apocalypse” on this blog.]

Chicago Elections 2019: Willie Horton Comes to Rogers Park

Willie Horton Comes to Rogers Park

by Lew Rosenbaum

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction articles so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

Most of my older friends will know what I am talking about when I ask “Do you remember Willie Horton?’  They may not remember the year, the presidential campaign, and the names of the candidates. They’ll know I’m not talking about a baseball player and his homerun hitting heroics.

The candidates were George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis in 1988.  The latter, a Democrat, hailed from Massachusetts and opposed the death penalty. Horton, an African-

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Mug shot of Willie Horton from the 1988 G.H.W. Bush campaign ad

American man, had been convicted of murder.  He was on leave from prison under a program in place while Dukakis was governor.  While furloughed, Horton raped a white woman and stabbed her partner.

Bush launched an ad with the mug shot of Horton, and with these words spoken by a narrator and flashing across the screen: “Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” and ends with “Weekend prison passes, Dukakis on crime.”

Unless you have forgotten your recent history, you know that Bush I won in a landslide

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Detroit Tiger Willie Horton, NOT the subject of the campaign ad

over Dukakis, and that this ad was very successful.  It tapped into the long simmering racial schism that has besmirched this country since its inception.  It is the primary way an otherwise out-of-touch elite has been able to divide and conquer, especially after the Civil War (when legal equality between white and Black began to be legislated). It has been all over the map, openly, in the last two years with a federal administration that courts the KKK and the Nazis, while using the one word “wall” to summon up the most vicious myths of people “threatening” our existence. And now Willie Horton has come to Rogers Park.

Today, February 22, the birthday of George Washington (incidentally the wealthiest man in North America at the time of the revolution, a considerable amount of that property in enslaved people), the postal person delivered two mailers. They say substantially the same thing:  “Maria Hadden wants to take police officers from safe neighborhoods.” She “supports moving officers from Rogers Park to other neighborhoods, putting our safety at risk.” Joe is white.  Maria is Black. Pictures of each. In stereotypical fashion, Rogers Park is safe (because it has cops); the South and West sides are unsafe (because they don’t have cops).

First of all, does anybody reading this NOT see: the “Black woman is soft on crime”

Maria soft on crime?

Joe Moore’s “Willie Horton” leaflet

message in this? Does anyone NOT see: residents of Rogers Park, especially white residents, are supposed to protect themselves from the hordes on the South and West Side with this message?  This is a barely clothed appeal for white unity.

Second, the source for the smear is an answer that Maria gave on the IVI-IPO questionnaire to aldermanic candidates.  The question (#82) is: “Do you support reallocating police services from high-crime to low-crime neighborhoods?”  There is no sane person who would answer that question “No.”  Moore himself “reallocates police services” within his ward from one neighborhood to the next depending on the crime rate.  It is bogus.  But it is sensationalized in this mailer.

Third, if we are going to talk about soft on crime:  what about Moore destabilizing the community by advocating with the Mayor to close half the mental health clinics in the city (there were only 12 at the time; now there are six) including one in the 49th ward?  What about lying to the community that they could find the services they need in the privatized sector?  The reality is that Cook County Jail has become the largest provider of mental health services in the County.  Thanks Joe.

And what about public schools, the anchors of the neighborhoods?  Maria has always championed the neighborhood school, while Joe has led the fight to privatize education — he has brought two charter schools into this community, stealing resources from both the elementary schools and the high school. He advocated for a third charter to which  community residents expressed such opposition that the plan fell through. Joe supported efforts to close two neighborhood schools (parents and teachers resisted this and embarrassed him so badly he could not complete that plan);  he ignored legitimate and documented claims of lead paint in Gale School, thus delaying remediation — he claimed that he did not know of a study CPS had done a decade earlier that revealed the lead paint, and that CPS (in typical Daley-Emanuel style) had simply neglected to correct.  Community residents had to embarrass him at a meeting on violence in the ward that he called to welcome a new police commander. We pointed out that lead paint in the schools does a violence to our community. We also pointed out that the school had been

Maria soft on crime? 1

Maria Hadden’s plan addresses the root causes of crime

asking CPS to fix a fire alarm that was out of order and got no response from his office nor from CPS. In a school named after Stephen Gale, who from 1844-47 served as the chief engineer of the Fire Department, Moore failed to advocate for fire safety. In a city that early in its existence almost completely burned down! If he wanted to reduce violence he should pay a little attention to that kind of violence.

And then there is the little matter of housing and services. Diana and I moved into Rogers Park a few years after Joe became alderman. One could find affordable housing here still, but the winds of change were blowing.  The Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN) had its hands full doing the research and confronting the alderman about prospective TIFS and redevelopment plans that were created sub rosa, without community input, while continuing to disinvest in the area north of Howard, the most poverty stricken area of the ward.  At one point, the alderman denied that plans to redevelop were in existence, only to find RPCAN had found them and made copies to distribute among activists.  Complete plans, in fact, with extensive implications for community residents such as displacement at least by rapidly increasing rents. You can see how Moore had learned the business of denial, which he employed in his stonewalling Gale’s lead paint, early on in his administration. Development with displacement has become the rule in this ward as affordable units are converted to luxury units;  and only with tremendous resistance are affordable units maintained.

Joe Moore:  a friend to private developers, privatization of public mental health services, privatization of public schools.

So who mailed this flyer smearing Maria Hadden with Willie Horton claims?  “Paid for,” it says, “by INCS Action Independent Committee.”  Further, the INCS AIC is not authorized by Joe, nor did Joe authorize the content of this communication. In Crook County, are we to believe the emperor has a tuxedo?  INCS is the acronym for the “Illinois Network of Charter Schools,” and the “Action Independent Committee” is a PAC that supports candidates that support charter schools. Joe has been THE pivotal person on city council to block an advisory referendum from coming before the entire city electorate on an elected school board.  And, as mentioned above, he has been actively soliciting charter schools to his ward to the detriment of the public neighborhood schools in the ward.  Joe is clearly acting in their interest, a mainstay on the city council at a time when nearly every mayoral candidate now has expressed a concern about proliferating charters and declared a willingness to invoke a moratorium on charter expansion. Incidentally, the INCS PAC has contributed heavily to Moore’s campaign.

The history of the 49th ward is an important one.  In 1983,organizers in this ward were on the front lines organizing on the North Side for Harold Washington.  While Alderman O’Connor (just south of the 49th in the 40th ward) joined with “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak and Ed Burke to lead the pernicious Council Wars against newly elected Mayor Washington, David Orr from this ward took a leadership role in organizing to support the Mayor. The election of 1983 was a partisan election — that is contested by Republicans and Democrats.  Washington won the Democratic primary by a plurality among the three major candidates.  Winning a Democratic primary was the expected prelude to a guarantee to occupy the mayor’s office — at least for the entire 50 years prior to 1983. O’Connor et al were shocked by Washington’s stunning victory and deserted the Democratic Party to endorse the Republican candidate. But once Washington won, the Vrdolyak 29 engineered changing the primary system so that never again, they thought, could a radical emerge as a winner.  Thus came about the “non-partisan” mayoral and aldermanic elections we have today. The form of this was a racist attack on Washington. The content, however, was an attack on the movement that Washington symbolized, a movement of the disenfranchised, the working class of the city in all its hues. Momentarily a movement emerged that began to recognize that there was no demand that the African-American working class could make that would not benefit the entire class.

And now, 36 years after the Harold Washington election, the Bush-Trump-and-Vrydolyak-like Democrat in office in the 49th ward conducts a racist smear campaign against a candidate I have no hesitance in comparing with Harold Washington. Joe should be ashamed of himself.  But then Joe, after 28 years feeding from the trough of the privatizers, has no shame.  I hope that the good voters of the 49th ward will resist the politics of division and embrace the politics that has long characterized our ward: the politics of a multicultural, diverse class unity.  I’m casting my vote for Maria.

Chicago Elections 2019: Maria Hadden in the 49th Ward

Market City or People City? Most People

Want to Be Involved

[Lew Rosenbaum interviewed Maria Hadden for the People’s Tribune.  She is running in the 49th Ward to unseat long time incumbent Joe Moore.  The incumbent has a long record of courting charter schools and neglecting the neighborhood public schools; of supporting the closing of half the city’s mental health clinics (including one in his own ward); of opposing an elected school board; of prioritizing the needs of the gentrifying corporations over the residents of the Ward; of offering to help Mayor Emanuel avoid blame in the coverup of the Laquan McDonald murder. This article also appears on the People’s Tribune Chicago Area FB page.

The People’s Tribune encourage reproduction of this article so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

The People’s Tribune talked with Maria Hadden about her candidacy for alderman in Chicago’s 49thward.

We asked how she decided to run.  It began when the developer who owned the condominium building where she lived absconded with the residents’ money, leaving stacks of unpaid bills and the apartment building only half completed.  Faced with losing her home, she found that “The city of Chicago had no plan when things fell apart” in the 2008 housing crisis.  “I talked to not-for-profits, the city, the current alderman, and none had a solution.  I asked Alderman Moore what kinds of discussions City Council was having to address what was happening.  The only thing he could say was ‘It’s a really big problem, and no one person can fix it.’  But isn’t that what government is for?”

In contrast, Hadden got involved with participatory budgeting (PB) in 2009 and has worked with aldermen around the Chicago area implementing the program. Residents of a ward vote on how the alderman’s discretionary funds will be spent, a program that ax224_77e0_9-e1548619332497gave her some insight into what democratic processes could be like.

She found out three things. “First, government works better when people most impacted by problems have a seat at the decision making table. Second, a lot of the ways that especially local government works are still based on 200 year old policies, practices and charters;  they aren’t set up to be inclusive for the people we see today. Third, most people want to be involved.  They don’t necessarily want to be involved deciding all the time, but people want to be involved making their communities better for themselves and their families.”

What are the main issues in her campaign?

“My first priority is development without displacement. The status quo of housing is unbridled development, which is not meeting the needs of most residents.  In a community like the 49thward, diversity of housing serves a variety of racial, cultural and ethnic groups, it’s built on the fact that many people can find a home here and afford to live here.  I want to maintain that and manage it so the people who live here now can continue to live here.”  She added, “Nearly all new developments require some change in zoning. Developers need to come to the alderman to get approval. Our current alderman does not use that authority in our best interests. Alderman Moore is chair of the Housing and Real Estate Committee [in the City Council], but also he is heavily influenced by developers, more than by the residents. . . [I am concerned with] what is it going to take for people who currently live here to stay and want to live here? . . .What are the needs of the ward residents, how much can people afford, what kinds of services are needed?  As alderman I want to be able to negotiate for us to have more affordable units, accessible units.”

We could not discuss housing without raising the question of homelessness, something often swept under the rug, hidden from view.  Hadden answered our queries by pointing out that, though there are some “fantastic social services” available in Rogers Park, they don’t meet the need here, and that she would be an advocate for more and better services throughout the city, private as well as public. In her view, “Until we fundamentally change we are still very reliant on the non-profit sector. . . we could increase the public safety net, publicly funded SRO’s for example, things that are done in other cities to make sure that people are not just discarded. “

The problem, Hadden said, is explained well in a new book she is reading, Market Cities, People Cities: The Shape of Our Urban Future. *  The book contrasts Houston and Copenhagen, but, according to Hadden, they might as well have chosen Chicago as Houston. “Market cities,” she said, “are based on how do we show up in the market, in the capitalist economy? How are we bringing more business and industry to the city?”  On the other hand, “People cities are framed around how are we best serving our residents?  What are we doing to provide the best quality of life?

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Volunteers at the Maria Hadden campaign office 

“People cities are cities that include how the market works, good jobs, and other market issues, but they’re goal is people. . .Chicago long has had the goal to be a driving economic force — by pursuing Amazon for example. . . Because of what we are seeing globally, nationally and locally, I don’t think a market driven city is going to lead us to a future stable city. We have to change our focus, otherwise we will continue to have inequity, continue to struggle, and make ourselves vulnerable to takeover as in Michigan.

“When we have 12,000 people on the streets to protest closing 50 schools, because they are making decisions (not wrong for their frame of a market driven city) that are not meeting people’s needs.  This is not about politics, it’s about buckling down in the city, long term goals, make some conscious intentional choice. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, capitalist, socialist or communist ideology— its about what is really happening.  You can believe what you want, but this is what’s real.  I don’t want a city that is filled with buildings that provide housing for international wealthy visitors along side empty buildings and machines.”

Cities have a decaying infrastructure that politicians in the past refused to plan for. “How could the people in power 20 or 30 years ago not see what could happen  . . . People in power are profiting off of an existing system.  They’ve come to a conclusion that we don’t matter enough.  A fair amount of members of city council members care about their community, but it’s not their number one priority.”

Maria Hadden’s campaign combines attention to the basic needs of the residents of the community as well as the vision and outlook of someone who understands the city, national, and global context in which the campaign takes place. This would be a breath of fresh air for the 49th Ward.