CHICAGO—Calls for politicians to support working families over corporate interests just got a little more creative. The Grassroots Collaborative drove the point home to many new city council aldermen in the group's own Chicago People’s City Council Meeting, held Thursday, July 7 at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC). The officials joined labor unions and community organizations at the UIC forum to hear a mock debate between "Mr. Money Bags," dressed in a top hat and vest, and Chicagoans from across the city.Mr. Money Bags argued the typical line from bankers on jobs, housing, education and public safety, but was rebuffed by Chicago’s workers, homeless, teachers and youth. He was supported by a small group of faux bankers in suits holding signs reading “Too Big To Fail.” After each argument, the more than 1,000 in the audience voted by standing up in support for the position they agreed with most.“Now, you people don’t seem to understand the way the world works,” Mr. Bags said on Chicago’s housing problem amid thunderous boos from the audience. “We are not a charity. We are a business, operating in something called a free market economy. This means that each one of us are responsible for the decisions that we make.”Board Member of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Stephanie Hooker stepped up to the microphone. “I am here as a formerly homeless person,” she said. “In my life I had to sleep at parks because I couldn’t get into a homeless shelter on that particular night because of the shortage of spaces … If the city had used more property tax money or TIF [Tax Increment Financing] money for affordable housing, I would not have had to sleep there.”As you might guess, Mr. Money Bags never won an argument.Chicago is in rough shape. Its current budget shortfall is more than $600 million, its unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, foreclosures are rampant and its schools are crowded. As newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel considers various austerity measures, including changing work rules for city truck drivers, Grassroots Collaborative pushed aldermen to sign "The People’s Resolution," which prioritizes "families, neighborhoods and communities over and agenda that prioritizes banks, corporations and financiers.”The groups that convened The People’s Meeting included Action Now, American Friends Service committee, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Teachers Union, Enlace Chicago, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Service Employees International Union 73 and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), among others.At the meeting, members of the group noted how TIF money is spent in the city. Instead of putting money generated from TIF districts into housing and public schools, activists pointed out that TIF money was allocated to remodel the toilets of the Chicago Board of Trade as well as to relocate some companies into the Sears tower.After rounds of debate, Grassroots Collaborative members introduced The People’s Resolution. Of the 50 city council aldermen invited to the meeting, 19 showed up and signed the resolution, including Toni Foulkes, Joe Moore, Pat Dowell and Deborah Graham.An ordinance introduced by Alderman Dowell that leaves banks responsible for the maintenance of foreclosed properties (and passed the city council on July 6), is one example of city council members holding banks accountable. But with a new city budget coming out of the mayor's office soon, the 38 percent of the council that supports The People’s Resolution could face a test of their mettle very soon.“There’s a lot of familiar faces I see from being a community activist,” Alderman Foulkes said. “I haven’t forgotten where I come from, so I always got your back.” She led a chant “the people united will never be defeated” during her 90 seconds at the microphone. Alderman Graham told the crowd that she too was a formerly homeless person. “I know what it’s like to need affordable housing. I know what it’s like to send my children to a quality public school,” she said. “I support this resolution for a good day’s work for a handsome pay.”
Candice Bernd is an editor and staff reporter at Truthout. Her work has also appeared in several other publications, including The Nation, In These Times, the Texas Observer, Salon, Rewire.News, YES! Magazine and Earth Island Journal, as well as in Truthout’s anthology on police violence, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? She received two awards from the San Francisco Press Club in November 2018, and the Dallas Peace and Justice Center’s annual journalism award in December 2016. Follow her on Twitter: @CandiceBernd.