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Tuesday, Feb 22, 2011, 6:16 am

Dear Threadless: Anyone but Rahm

By Joe Macaré

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“Rahm has the experience, business savvy, and major plans that the Chicago business community needs. We're excited about Rahm's proposals to make Chicago a more friendly and efficient environment for business, to accelerate growth in entrepreneurship and innovation, and to help Chicago become a global leader in technology and education.”

Tom Ryan, CEO, Threadless

Dear Mr. Ryan,

I used to be a Threadless customer – and more than that, I’d go so far as to say I was a fan. I bought and wore your shirts. So did my partner. I’d almost say I did it proudly. I bought them for friends and family from out of town (and out of the country), sometimes by request, and sometimes as a surprise, which always got a positive reception. I used to check out your website to see what new designs were available. When illustrators I knew submitted designs, I’d be excited. I even own an “I [Heart] Threadless” shirt.

The point is, for a while there I thought of Threadless as one of things I loved about the city I love and now call home.

Not anymore. Not since you hosted Rahm Emanuel so he could plug his “Plan for Job Creation” (first sentence on the relevant page of his website: “Rahm believes that businesses – not government – are the chief engine of job creation and economic growth in Chicago.”) Rahm has some clear ideas about how to help business, which has always been his calling in life. They're very familiar ideas: cut taxes and eliminate "redundant" regulations.

But wait: In as much as Rahm was at your warehouse to announce the goodies he's promising businesses, he was also there to declare "The day of reckoning has arrived" for city spending. In other words, as in Wisconsin and Ohio, so it will go in Chicago: public-sector workers are to be demonized, services are to be further privatized.

This is familiar stuff. Sure, Emanuel may be canny enough to distance himself from Gov. Scott Walker's approach. But campaign ad in which he haughtily reminded public-sector workers that “they’re actually public servants” speaks for itself. Since his victory is virtually a given, this seems like pure shock and awe – the new boss firing off a warning shot to let the public sector know that he’ll be coming for their benefits just as soon as he can. It isn’t some far-left radical position to find that ad deeply alarming: ask a city cop or firefighter what he or she thinks about that ad.

The master of triangulation may have backtracked, stating "we’re gonna do this on a cooperative basis." But Emanuel’s real opinion of the American worker can be summed up in 10 letters: “Fuck the UAW.” Or maybe just five: NAFTA. How do you feel about Emanuel's past championing of anti-immigrant rhetoric, by the way?

Compared to the list of issues for which he has no answer or one that will make things worse, what Emanuel can do for small businesses seems like small potatoes to anyone with a conscience. Racial segregation is the shame of Chicago, but Rahm thinks it will just disappear as a “by-product” of good old-fashioned economic development. His ideas for how government should operate include “charter” city departments to go with our charter schools. The market will fix everything: what else can you expect, really, from an investment banker?

Simply put, Rahm Emanuel is, as Laura S. Washington put it recently, "a progressive's worst nightmare." I'd amend that to "a thinking progressive's worst nightmare," because plenty of people - say, LGBT "community leaders" whose idea of equality, like Rahm's and Michael Bloomberg's, apparently only extends to those who can afford to pay for it - have been suckered into backing Emanuel. People who lean progressive are not immune to branding and marketing, and Emanuel knows how to milk that Obama brand for all it's worth to the people who haven't really paid attention to the president's policies, either.

I can understand the temptation to see Mayor Emanuel as an inevitability - given that, maybe you just want to get on his good side early? I know that even labor leaders have jumped on the Rahm bandwagon. And I know that it’s perfectly acceptable in our political culture to sneer at critical coverage of Emanuel and then write off Miguel Del Valle for being “too nice.”

In light of all that, perhaps it is monumentally naive of me to say that I expected better. I always knew Threadless was a business, after all. But there are plenty of local businesses right now across Chicago neighborhoods with 'Del Valle for Mayor' signs. Indeed, one would almost think that Del Valle is the candidate of choice for the demographic one associates most with what I think of as typical Threadless customers: those young, well-off, well-educated individuals with somewhat ‘alternative’ cultural trappings and somewhat progressive politics to go with them. (Revolution Brewing, a new brewery in the city's increasingly hip Logan Square neighborhood, is even hosting Del Valle's ‘victory party’ (if only) tonight.

Not that I insist you pick Del Valle – but did you have to actively shill for the most reactionary candidate in the race? This week, on spying a ‘Rahm for Chicago’ placard in a storefront window in Lincoln Sqaure, I looked up to see that it was a rubber stamp store. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate (small) business in which Emanuel’s candidacy could be advertised: On Tuesday voters will, after all, do little more than rubber stamp an appointment that was already decided by the Democrat Party, the corporate media and wealthy individuals and big businesses based far from Chicago.

In These Times does not endorse candidates. But as an individual progressive, committed to opposing the ongoing solidification of corporate power, let me make this individual anti-endorsement: anyone but Rahm. Compared to backing him, Groupon's tasteless Tibet ad seems a minor offense.

Joe Macaré is a writer, editor and development and communications professional, originally hailing from the UK and now residing in Chicago. His writing has appeared at In These Times, TruthOut, AlterNet, Dazed and Confused, The Times, Plan B and Stylus. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss his extensive coverage of the Occupy Chicago movement.

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