Help people, not banks, say community groups
August 5, 2011
Lenda Mason, a grassroots leader with Service Employees International Union, and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36thWard) at the People’s City Council meeting at the UIC Forum.

By Sheila Elliott

In a gesture both symbolic and significant to community organizations, 30 Chicago aldermen signed a statement last month urging that the needs of working families take precedence over financial difficulties faced by corporations and financial institutions.

The Chicago People’s City Council meeting, held July 7 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, also featured street theatre tactics and puppetry, including a mock trial of “Mr. Moneybags.”

More significantly, it concluded with more than half the Chicago City Council members adding their names to a resolution that supports giving family and neighborhood programs top priority for government funding before providing help to banks, financiers, and corporations.

“Enough is enough,” said Daniel Vazquez, a spokesperson for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. Vazquez was among the first speakers to take the microphone at the sometimes raucous event. He later urged all present to state verbally that they put family and neighborhood needs at the top of their citywide concerns.

The South Loop organization Grassroots Collaborative organized the event, contacting community groups about participating, said Amisha Patel, Grassroots’ executive director.

Community groups, often clad in matching tee-shirts, and others filled the seats at the UIC Forum for the People’s City Council.
Patel estimated about 1,600 people attended and at least 20 organizations brought contingents consisting of multiple generations. Chartered buses brought attendees from storefront offices around Chicago.

Participants included the Metropolitan Tenants Association; Illinois Hunger Coalition; and community groups from Logan Square, Pilsen, Lakeview, Kenwood, and other neighborhoods.

The Chicago Teachers Union, Service Employees International Union Locals 1 and 73, and Write Here, an informal organization representing hospitality workers primarily at the city’s two airports, also participated. These groups’ spokespersons offered perspectives on the desirability of funding programs that bring immediate help to schools, employment programs, parks, and libraries and the need to make banks and corporations shoulder what participants regarded as “their fair share” of the tax burden.

Reforming tax increment financing, which participants said drains significant amounts of funding from school districts, parks, and other neighborhood entities, also was a high priority.

The People’s City Council meeting was the first gathering of its kind in Chicago, according to Patel. “The idea was, with a new city council coming in, tomake it clear to all aldermen that the needs of families must take precedence over difficulties being faced by private institutions like banks and corporations,” she said.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) of Rogers Park noted his ward had succeeded with many of the types of programs that were being discussed that night, such as inclusionary zoning, which requires a share of new construction to be affordable for low-and-moderate-income individuals. Moore said this type of zoning originated in public discussions and meetings and ultimately became part of doing business in his community.

Although no date was set, the Peoples Resolution signed at the meeting calls for another meeting to discuss making working families a priority in 2012 budget and revenue decisions.

To contact Grassroots Collaborative, call (312) 427-0510.