Will the real People’s City Council please stand up?
August 5, 2011
Grassroots Collaborative’s People’s City Council was a high-tech event attended by many community group representatives.

The South Loop-based Grassroots Collaborative, a coalition of community and labor organizations, recently organized the “People’s City Council” meeting at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The purpose of the gathering was to remind aldermen from the actual Chicago City Council to put the needs of the working people of Chicago above the needs of corporations and financial institutions.

One would hope such a meeting would not have been necessary, but it was. Certain members of the City Council never met a corporation or rich person they didn’t like.

In recent years, we’ve seen too much of City government bending over backwards for those who need help the least—Tax Increment Financing (TIF) support for wealthy real estate developers comes to mind, as does the City spending millions of dollars in upkeep, fire, and police protection for bank-foreclosed properties while the banks themselves have not been required to kick in any extra money for such City services. All this and more for the rich, while the average person has to deal with rising property taxes, crumbling infrastructure, reduced City services, and loss of jobs.

It was very heartening that many of Chicago’s aldermen signed a statement agreeing with the goals of the People’s City Council, and that 19 aldermen actually attended the event. It also was heartening that 1,600 Chicagoans participated as well.

Grassroots Collaborative clearly is making an impact. It has organized a variety of neighborhood organizations and labor unions to work for the same people-centered goals. There is strength in numbers, and we urge any community groups in our coverage areas who are not currently participating in Grassroots Collaborative to join in. The work did not end with the closing of the People’s City Council meeting.

Legislation introduced by Pat Dowell, who represents this community as 3rd Ward alderman, recently was enacted by the City Council that would make banks responsible for paying for the maintenance of foreclosed properties, not John Q. Public.

The passage of this legislation shows that the City Council is able to enact Grassroots Collaborative goals. We hope the City Council will remain in sync with Grassroots Collaborative when the new City Budget comes up for discussion. Privatization, reduction, and cutting of City services will inevitably be suggested, and it is up to the aldermen who agree with the goals of the People’s City Council to reject such ideas.

It is too early in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s term to know whether he will govern favoring corporations or favoring the people. We certainly hope it is the latter. If he leads in that direction, the aldermen who signed on to the goals of the People’s City Council will follow, as may some of our more corporatist aldermen.

If the mayor tries to lead in a corporatist direction, however, we hope that the aldermen who supported the People’s City Council will remember that as a legislative body they can pass their own budget that favors the people, and that they can vote their own minds and not wait for the mayor to tell them how to vote.

That would make the Chicago City Council the real People’s City Council.