Hundreds of Chicago Residents Demand Action on State Minimum Wage, $15 City Minimum Wage, Elected Representative School Board, and Reform of Chicago Housing Authority

Chicago Neighborhood Leaders Mobilize to Take Back Chicago

CHICAGO – (ENEWSPF)—November 11, 2014. On Tuesday, November 11th, over 800 neighborhood residents from across the city of Chicago came together to demand that elected officials listen to the voice of community members, instead of continuing to allow corporate elites to dictate city policy. A week after the elections, just before veto session, and at the start of the Chicago election season, marchers sent a clear message that the voice of the people will not be stifled.

Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative explained, “We do not forget the 50 closed schools, the public worker layoffs, the privatization deals that rewarded corporate insiders, or the city budgets that closed mental health clinics, cut funding for libraries, and hurt communities. A global city needs to take care of its neighborhoods. Our campaigns for a living wage, an Elected School Board, and CHA reform are part of something larger- we are fighting to win a city that prioritizes community need, not corporate greed.”

The event connected the mandate for increasing the state minimum wage to a multi-issue city agenda that supports working families in the city.  Residents from across the city came together because they expect elected officials to represent them, not the bankers and CEOs who are pulling their strings.

Alvesta Sanders, a member of Action Now, explained, “Raising the state minimum wage to $10.65 will put money in the pockets of over 1 million working people in Illinois, people who are struggling to get by on $8.25. As a mother and resident of the Englewood neighborhood, I know how badly working families need a living wage. No one who works full time should have to struggle to put food on the table or live in a homeless shelter.”

Participants called on city legislators to do more for Chicago minimum wage workers where the standard of living is higher. The Mayor’s proposed minimum wage ordinance would largely leave out many Chicago workers, including tipped and domestic workers.

“Chicago is a service city. The Mayor and Aldermen love being served from casual to fine dining restaurants. But they want to pay us just $4.95 or $5.95 an hour. Once again, tipped workers are being left out,” said Nataki Rhodes, tipped worker and member of Restaurant Opportunities Center Chicago. “$13 is not enough for a livable wage in Chicago. Why is the Mayor only listening to the restaurant lobby?  Tipped workers deserve living wages too!”

In the spirit of Veterans Day the crowd heard from Vince Emanuele, an Iraq War Veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “Many of my family members are veterans. Many veterans are working-class. As schools, mental health facilities and homes are closed, trillions of dollars are spent on wars abroad. For example, the Illinois budget deficit is only $45 Billion. Yet, since 2001, Illinois taxpayers have spent $72 Billion on US wars. There is no separating wars abroad and austerity at home.”

One of the ways that community leaders are pushing back against the corporate elites controlling our city is by fighting for an elected representative school board. Currently the school board is controlled by the mayor and has in the last few years massively disinvested in public schools, especially in black and brown neighborhoods.

“In the Bronzeville area, CPS has closed or turned around 15 schools over the same number of years. In fact, CPS has forced an action on more than 150 schools during the same time period that has resulted in the further destabilization of communities of color. CPS policy hurts children and communities,” stated Erana Jackson with Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “We need an Elected Representative School Board.”

On a day predicted to bring a freezing polar vortex to the city, participants also focused on the critical reform needed to the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) so that more people can be put into homes before another brutal Chicago winter.

“I have been homeless for three years, from 2011-2014. During that time, I signed up for every open housing waitlist available. It took me three long years to finally find a place. It was the longest three years of my life,” said Mary Nelson, leader with the Chicago Housing Initiative. “To know that CHA has $430 million in extra cash just sitting idly that could be used to place people in housing makes my stomach curl. How many people could the Mayor have housed with this $430 million?”

This year, as a result of growing community pressure and media coverage, CHA finally released 3,000 vouchers, more than ever before. However, permanent change is needed. The Keeping the Promise Ordinance, currently sitting in the Housing Committee, would provide much needed reform and oversight of CHA.

After calling on elected officials to take action, participants took the fight directly to corporations dictating the policy hurting Chicago neighborhoods. Hundreds marched to several corporate players stifling legislation to help working families while profiting off of poverty wages, toxic interest rate swaps, and social impact bonds, like McDonalds, Bank of America, and Loop Capital. Marchers also interacted with large 8 foot puppets of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Bank of America, Alderman Ronald McDonald, and Alderman Loop Capital.

Still reeling from the largest school closing in US history, Chicago residents expressed outrage over the continued dumping of precious public education dollars into the private hands in the form of toxic swap deals.

“While children lose their schools, their teachers and their programs, corporations like Loop Capital continue to make millions of dollars off of the Chicago Public Schools and the City of Chicago. Every year, the city pays out $72 million dollars to cover losses in “toxic swap” deals, agreements entered between banks such as Loop Capital, and CPS and other City of Chicago departments. We are here at Loop Capital to deliver a message to CEO Jim Reynolds: Mr. Reynolds, the Toxic Swaps deal must come to an end. It is time to renegotiate.  We are here to take back Chicago,” stated Rosemarie Sierra, member of Pilsen Alliance, to cheering crowds.

As new legislators prepare to assume power in Springfield, residents made it clear that Chicago neighborhoods will no longer tolerate politics-as-usual in the form of budget cuts, privatization, community disinvestment, corporate taxpayer handouts, and entrenched inequality. “As Chicago election season nears, community members are sending a message to legislators: we need policies that work for working families,” said Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative.

Photos of the event will be available on the Grassroots Collaborative Flickr account

Grassroots Collaborative is Action Now, American Friends Service Committee – Great Lakes Region, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Teachers Union, Enlace Chicago, Illinois Hunger Coalition, ONE Northside,  Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois Indiana