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Chicagoans Demand Public Services, Public Jobs on MLK Day

Kari Lydersen

Protesters in downtown Chicago on Monday, January 18—Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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CHICAGO — Chicagoans celebrated a frigid, foggy Martin Luther King Jr. Day by marching from the city’s public transit headquarters to Boeing headquarters and beyond, decrying money spent on war when public jobs and services are being cut right and left.

Major service cuts kick in Feb. 7 for the Chicago Transit Agency, which provides public transit in the city and has already suffered several rounds of debilitating cuts. About 1,000 bus drivers could lose their jobs. A federal class action discrimination lawsuit filed Jan. 6 alleges the state has disproportionately funded the suburban Metra system, with 70- percent white riders, at the expense of the CTA, with 60 percent minority” riders.

Meanwhile, up to 30 Chicago public schools are slated to be closed in another system long ravished by budget crises and other problems. And the county hospital and neighborhood and school-based health clinics, among other public healthcare services, are in dire straits.

So much money is wasted on upper management with big salaries, rather than being invested in service,” said a public transit worker, 26, who declined to give his name.

Doctor Chris Stahl has seen two school-based clinics where she worked shuttered for lack of funds.

It’s not at all cost effective as well as not being fair,” she said. I specialize in teens, if you don’t have a school health center teens won’t get the care they need and they will end up in the ER or with STDs and premature babies,” she said. One of the clinics was in Austin, a low-income African American neighborhood on the city’s west side.

In general, she said, the broken health care system has created a horribly unstable environment for medical practice.” I don’t know what will be covered for someone and what won’t, it changes day to day. Can I give them an ultrasound, can I send them to a specialist?” She often finds herself rushing to give low-income teens the best care possible before they turn 19 and lose Medicaid coverage.

Substitute teacher and parent Terry Rudd, 52, said the budget crunch facing Chicago’s long woefully under-funded public schools means that people like her find it extremely difficult to get full-time jobs; and people like her daughter get sub-par educations.

They’re closing schools, displacing senior teachers, and people like myself who have just graduated are in a horrible situation,” she said. It’s not just Chicago, it’s everywhere. They’re just not interested in teaching kids. It all goes back to the system, capitalism, they put their needs before the working class.”

A high-school student was with her at the march – We have to teach them to fight,” Rudd said.

Fran Tobin, a housing rights activist and senior field organizer of Jobs with Justice, said the country sorely needs a national jobs program – a big second stimulus that directly funds jobs, unlike the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is part of the five-point program the AFL-CIO and other groups have called for.

Tobin laments Democratic legislators and the White House have been reluctant to push for such a program, apparently fearing Republican attacks. (Read Rev. Jesse Jackson’s call for such a program here.)

For the first time in my political life, the wonky people, the progressive economists, are ahead of the activists in calling for what’s really needed,” Tobin said. The WPA and CCC are always talked about as these great programs, so why don’t we do that again?” 

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Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.

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