Chicago! City of broad shoulders. Plutocratic hog butcher. Toolmaker for progressive change. Stacker of the wheat of grassroots power, wheat separated from the chaff of corporate politicians. Stormy, husky, brawling. Planning, building, breaking, rebuilding. Under its wrist is the pulse, and under its ribs is the heart of the people. Laughing! Proud to be hog butcher, toolmaker, stacker of wheat.
Apologies to Carl Sandburg for my butchering of his 1914 poetic paean to the rise of this colossus of a working-class city – but I see a promising new movement of broad-shouldered populist change for all of America arising today from the heart of Chicago’s workaday people. Under the banner of “Reclaim Chicago,” a dynamic, politically savvy progressive coalition has emerged, engaging thousands of grassroots Chicagoans in a people-led democratic movement to reclaim their city from the cabal of corporate elites and corrupt politicians now reigning over them.
These are not just mad-as-hell ranters, but mad-as-hellers with a bold agenda for moving their city toward fairness and justice for all. They have a shared vision; a long term plan; a democratic organizational framework; a range of trainers to provide movement skills and tools for all involved; a network for developing, electing and holding accountable their own office holders; and – most important – both a strong sense of purpose and an energizing sense of fun.
And the people of Chicago are about to have some fun. They’re grappling with a big question that nearly every urban place in our country faces: Can anyone really govern such a sprawling, brawling city?
Reclaim Chicago says the answer is a great big “NO.” Moreover, asserts this grassroots group, no one should. Rather, the many should, and if they’re organized through a democratic network, the people can be their own government, producing egalitarian policies that improve the lives of everyone, advancing the whole city.
Indeed, the problem in Chicago has been that “one” has been in charge, imposing corporate rule that further enriches the rich, while holding down everyone else. At present, the city’s Numero Uno is Rahm Emanuel, the strong-man mayor and Wall Street Democrat who uses everything from privatization schemes and tax favoritism to harsh budget cuts and arbitrary police action to shift money and power away from the people and the common good, into the coffers of the moneyed elites. Emanuel’s plutocratic ruthlessness is surpassed only by his blimp-sized ego – “Mayor 1 Percent,” as the people have dubbed him, thinks he’s untouchable.
Reclaim Chicago, however, is about to test that. This independent coalition is backing a top-notch slate of 14 people’s candidates to challenge incumbent city council members who’ve been tail-wagging lapdogs for Emanuel’s corporate rule. And Mayor 1 Percent himself has drawn two opponents for the Feb. 24 election.
Of course, Emanuel is floating on a boatload of special interest cash, but Reclaim Chicago has hundreds of its seasoned and trained members holding personal, door-to-door conversations with Chicagoans. With a platform that includes supporting public schools, a living wage and criminal justice reform, and opposing privatization of public sector jobs and cuts to pensions, Reclaim Chicago is reclaiming the common sense proposals that advance the notion of “Everybody does better when everybody does better.” Win or lose in this go-round, Reclaim will keep moving onward and upward – and that’s what it takes to build a winning people’s movement.
Reclaim Chicago is not merely building another election apparatus but a permanent progressive majority that functions year-‘round, year after year, so the people truly can become self-governing. Tune in to these democracy builders at http://ReclaimChicago.org.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.