[Adapted from a speech by Mary Difino on August 24, 2020. Featured photo by Deana Rutherford]
In the spring of 2019, we watched a wave of insurgent, leftist candidates elected to seats all throughout our neighboring Wards and across the city at large. The energy of seeing so many unapologetically bold, imaginative leaders elected to office was both inspiring and contagious. It was not lost on us that many of these candidates were born out of strong community groups with a history of showing up for their neighbors. It was in the wake of this exciting surge of new, working class representation that a small group of neighbors first decided to gather at Moody’s Pub on Broadway to take stock of the political leadership in our very own 48th Ward. From there, neighbors began regularly attending neighborhood community meetings led by our alderman: from town halls on public safety to neighborhood association meetings, to his now defunct community housing meetings. In attending these meetings and examining our Alderman’s record, we found troubling patterns of complacency and equivocation. It became increasingly clear that our current leadership is unwilling to be bold, unwilling to reimagine the way we govern and care for one another, unwilling to challenge the racist, classist, status quo that has perpetuated inequity in Chicago all throughout its history.
As a school social worker, I was particularly disappointed at his silence this past October, when educators across the city took to the streets and sacrificed their own livelihoods in hopes of attaining basic resources for our schools: social workers, nurses, librarians, and manageable class sizes, just to name a few. In a time when it felt like the Mayor and much if the city were against us, we needed our elected officials to have our backs and to say that the fully funded schools were worth fighting for. Instead, our Alderman told us to “take the deal” and quietly showed up with a box of donuts and a camera.
This has proven to be a trend, our alderman has stood on the sidelines and remained silent as CPD abuses, detains, and even doxxes protestors who have the courage to challenge the racist system of policing in Chicago. Similarly, there has been a staggering silence on the widespread hurt and uncertainty facing renters in Chicago as countless evictions loom. As Chair of the Housing Committee and Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee, we deserve better.
Since that initial gathering at Moody’s Pub, we have grown from a handful of neighbors to nearly 200 members. In a matter of months, we have been able to organize and engage our neighbors through a number of events, including community town halls, street canvasses for police accountability, and a march of over 500 people urging the Alderman to support the demands of Black Lives Matter. We have also cultivated relationships with local groups who share our values such as Edgewater Mutual Aid and Anti-Racist Andersonville. Our members represent a wide range of citywide groups such as The People’s Lobby, The Democratic Socialists of America, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and many have worked or volunteered on political campaigns, for candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Maria Hadden, and Byron Sigcho-Lopez.
We are filing as an Independent Political Organization because nice isn’t good enough. Street fests, social media campaigns, and ward services aren’t good enough. We need people with power to use it — and to use it boldly. It is unacceptable to say “Black Lives Matter” out of one side of your mouth and dismiss their explicit demands for change out of the other. I would also like to take this moment to remind everyone that in June, the Alderman promised that he would meet with leaders of Black Lives Matter to discuss their demands- specifically surrounding the CPAC ordinance. It is now August 24th, and still, no such meeting has occurred. It makes me question whether he ever intended to.
We have seen how groups in the 25th, 33rd, and 49th Wards (to name a few) have been able to successfully organize to meet the needs of their communities, hold their elected leaders accountable, and challenge them when necessary. It is in that spirit that we have decided to officially file as an Independent Political Organization to support leftist causes and represent the political interests of the multiracial working class in Edgewater, Andersonville, Uptown, Rogers Park, and neighborhoods across the city. We need our leaders to meet the political moment that we are in and use the platform they have been given to implement real, meaningful change that materially improves the lives of poor and working class communities.