Chicago has many options to rise up in era of Trump
March 4, 2017

Marchers cast long shadows in demonstrating in Chicago on November 12 in protest against the election of Donald Trump as President. (Photo by AJ Kane)

By Dan Kolen

Raids rounded up dozens of Chicago’s immigrants. The U.S House voted to allow states to completely cut Planned Parenthood funding. President Donald Trump threatened to send in federal officials if the violence in Chicago was not fixed. Trump also issued an executive order calling for restricted Muslim travel, causing an uproar at O’Hare in the aftermath.

The Trump era has begun, and the impact is being felt throughout Chicagoland—whether it is the effect of policy, or fear about potential federal actions.

“We are seeing a lot of anxiety, and people are asking a lot of questions,” said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).

“Many people are worried that there will there be another executive order that’s going to affect them.” Many women are also concerned about the rollback in their rights regarding the right to choose, access to contraceptives, child leave, and equal pay for equal work.

“Nobody should have the right to tell me whether I should have a child or not,” said Sharon Sanders, founder of United for Democracy Now, a coalition of 400 progressive organizations interested in uniting behind common causes. “I think we’re in the most dangerous times in my life.”

Many in the LGBTQ community are concerned about the right to refuse service based on religious grounds to LGBTQ people, and the right to refuse employment. This is based on proposed legislation that came from Vice President Mike Pence when he was Indiana’s Governor.

“We don’t want a country where you are denied employment,” said Wayne Besen, radio show host on WCPT-820AM. “We don’t want a country where you are denied service based on who you are. I believe that’s what Republicans fervently want. When one group is attacked, we all are attacked. We as LGBTQ people must stand up against bigotry, we must stand up against prejudice, and not allow this.”

Anti-immigrant actions

Tsao said in addition to the travel restrictions, there were 20 separate enforcement operations against immigrants that occurred in early February. Immigration officials arrested 48 foreign nationals in the Chicago area, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“It’s a relatively high number,” Tsao said. “These kinds of operations send a chill through this community.”

In addition to the executive order and ICE’s enforcement actions, Tsao and others have indicated the president’s rhetoric has had a major impact on many immigrants and minority communities.

“The rhetoric is painful to hear,” said Shahaab Uddin, a physician at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center located at 2525 S. Michigan Ave., who is also a Muslim. “It’s tough to see where you fit. When Trump first came out with this stuff, I was shook by this. It hurt me.”

Uddin has been working as a social activist and he said the problems are extending beyond the travel ban and rhetoric.

“Agents are asking a host of new questions, secondary questions at the airport,” Uddin said. “I have friends who are being asked to unlock their phones, so agents can go through their social media. Go through their emails. They were trying to leave the country, they got pulled from the line, and Homeland Security asked them to go with them. And they were given no reason other than national security.”

From the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) finding legal help for Muslim travelers into the U.S., to the hundreds of thousands taking to the streets of Chicago for women’s rights, many in Chicago have mobilized to voice their opinions.

“It’s not enough to be unhappy, to be depressed—that’s not going to do anything for anyone,” said Gene Stone, author of The Trump Survival Guide. “Be relentless. If you don’t like what you see, change it.”

Civic action

In Stone’s book, he outlines 12 policy areas that he expects to be impacted by Trump’s presidency: civil rights, the economy, education, energy, entitlement programs, the environment, immigration, LGBTQ issues, national security, health care, political issues, and women’s issues.

Stone’s publisher told him if he could write the book in 12 days, the publisher would publish it before the inauguration. “I wanted people to have some kind of resource before Trump became president,” Stone said. “People must stay informed. They must find a way to get involved.”

He also shows how people can respond to changes to these policies that could negatively impact their life and their neighbors’ lives. From getting involved in or donating to organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Stone highlights many national groups that he says are doing good work.

“This is a time where people have to be inventive,” Stone said. “They can’t just rely on what’s already in place. It’s time for people to put something new in place.”

Behind the visible marches and protests, there is a quieter story taking place. Organizations that offer help to many vulnerable populations in Chicago have seen a swell of support after Trump’s inauguration.

“People are getting engaged and are getting informed,” said Tsao. “It’s heartening to see people running toward the fire, offering support, offering resources, and making contributions.”

Tsao said ICIRR and immigrant service groups from around Chicago have seen a visible increase in financial contributions and volunteers. While he cannot provide numbers partially due to the fact that his organization can no longer afford to have a volunteer coordinator on staff, he viewed this as a positive sign.

“I’d urge everyone to support those among us who are trying to do good, trying to defend these communities, trying to advocate for good policies,” Tsao said. “It need not be immigration. It could be women’s health. It could public safety issues. It could be environmental issues. All these are areas that are fraught right now.”

There have been countless reports of people in the city coming together.

After Trump’s executive order against Muslim immigration broke, Bronzeville Civil Engineer Ziyad Dadabhoy went to pray at the Downtown Islamic Center. He said a group of non-Muslims showed up. “They were there for support,” Dadabhoy said. “They were just out there to say we support you. It just gives me hope.”

Dadabhoy has used his earnings as an engineer to donate to the ACLU and help the legal fight against Trump’s executive order. He has also joined the Muslim Writers Association with Uddin, along with participating in a variety of other organizations.

“How do we turn this from emotionality to engagement?” Uddin said. “I think that’s where we are, and seeing the response from the diversity from all of America, so people are looking to get engaged.”

Offering resistance

Chicago is a diverse, progressive stronghold. The city, like the rest of the nation, also is under threat from the Trump administration to cut funding to programs that help the nation’s most vulnerable.

From slashing entitlements, to visa restrictions, to reducing taxes on the wealthy and weakening the tax base, Stone said in his book that Trump might spur initiatives that have a negative impact on the people who rely on the government the most.

Having state, local, or private funds can help maintain programs that might otherwise be cut by the lack of federal funds, according to author Tom Tresser and editor of Chicago Is Not Broke. He said that if Chicago can shore up its budget, it will be able to put up a fight without the help of Washington or Springfield.

“Chicago is on its own,” Tresser said. “It won’t get anything from Washington and Springfield. The good news is we have a lot. If people want to do something, use meetings, use Facebook to host meetings in a committee or at a bar, get together and let’s talk about what’s going on in America. Let’s talk about what’s going on in Chicago.”

The City’s budget is a tool that if used properly can be used to combat the nationwide and statewide instability, according to Tresser. Chicago could have $5.5 billion coming back into its budget if the City’s aldermen banded together and enacted reforms listed in Tresser’s book, according to Tresser and close to a dozen other policy experts from institutions such as the University of Illinois at Chicago and The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

“The budget from 2017 was passed 48-0,” Tresser said. “There wasno dissent whatsoever. We have to take Chicago back as an example for the rest of the country.”

While many of the city’s organizations may be impacted by Trump’s policies, or the negotiations on the Illinois budget, there is no permanent plan to keep the funds that have been recently coming to these organizations.

“The prospects are still shaky for us continuing our work,” Tsao said. “The governor’s budget for next year zeroes out” immigrant services. “We’ve already seen the devastating effects from the last impasse.”

Tsao said that another defense against persecution is education and knowing your rights.

“It’s important everyone in the United States regardless of status has basic rights,” Tsao said. “The right to be safe and secure in your home, rights to an attorney, the right to remain silent.”