Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to not seek a third term has sent the city’s political and business communities into a speculative frenzy. While Chicago’s financial elite is preoccupied with the potential threat to business as usual, politicians and activists across the city are asking who should run — and who can win.
But for progressives who want to see fundamental change in Chicago, Emanuel’s exit must spark something bigger than the campaign of any individual mayoral candidate — it must inspire the people of Chicago to transform our city from the bottom up.
When previous mayor Richard M. Daley announced his retirement in 2010, the air was filled with talk of a non-machine candidate shaking up the status quo. Yet missing from the conversation was a firm vision of the Chicago progressives want to see — one that could bring together the diverse voices we want represented in city government.
We have a chance to do things differently this time around. Emanuel’s decision presents an opportunity for those of us who care deeply about Chicago to imagine a city free of corporate Democratic control; a city that is implementing bold policies — demanded by social movements — that act as a counterweight to the right-wing agenda coming out of Washington, DC.
While Chicagoans are eager to resist President Trump, the city’s corporate Democratic establishment continues to push through many of the very policies being pursued by the Trump administration.
Trump’s agenda to defund and privatize public education — seen most clearly in the appointment of Betsy DeVos, a Secretary of Education who once called traditional public education a “dead end” — is reflected in Emanuel’s protracted assault on public ed and the Chicago Teachers Union. Three years prior to Trump’s election, Emanuel, with the support of the rubber-stamp City Council, forced through the historically unprecedented closure of 50 public schools.
The president’s “law and order” plans to militarize the police, along with his inhumane, heart-wrenching immigration policies are also reflected in Chicago. Prior to Trump, Emanuel faced perhaps the largest scandal of his mayoral career with the alleged cover-up of the murder of Laquan McDonald. Under his watch, the police department has been a hotbed of abuse and discrimination.
And though Emanuel and many of his loyal City Council members posture as pro-immigrant, they have so far refused to remove the carve-outs from Chicago’s sanctuary city ordinance — carve-outs that ensure the city’s ongoing collaboration with Trump’s deportation régime.
Moreover, Trump’s egregious tax cuts for the rich are a magnified version of City Hall’s economic development agenda, which doles out tax breaks for big corporations and developers — and austerity for the rest of us. Compare the lavish deals readied for Amazon and Sterling Bay with the unmet needs in the classrooms of Chicago’s public schools.
For Chicago progressives eager to transform Chicago and resist Trump, the 2019 election presents a critical opportunity. We can win the city we deserve and fight back against Trump’s agenda by supporting and electing candidates committed to policies that serve as a bold, progressive alternative to Trumpism and the neoliberal status quo. Such bold policies would protect immigrants, fully fund our neighborhood public schools, end the criminalization of Black and Brown communities, and fully fund city services by taxing the rich and ending corporate welfare.
At the national level, progressives have been successful in resisting Trump and winning elections by moving beyond blustery rhetoric against the president and supporting bold demands that are backed by mass social movements. Movements and candidates calling for a $15 minimum wage, the abolition of ICE, Medicare for All, free college tuition, and criminal justice reform are moving beyond saying “no” to Trump. They’re putting forward their own progressive agenda — one made up of policies that are wildly popular. A recent Reuters’ poll found 60 percent of Americans support free college tuition, and 70 percent support Medicare for All. It’s no surprise that champions of these issues are winning at the ballot box.
Chicago’s progressives should seek to replicate this national model of success by presenting our own bold demands that present a clear alternative to both the current City Hall status quo and Trump’s White House. We don’t have to pay a consultant to construct our agenda for 2019, we simply need to listen to the demands of working-class Chicagoans of all backgrounds organizing for change. Here are ten proposals pushed by grassroots movements that should make up the foundation of a progressive 2019 platform for Chicago:
Free the Funds and Tax the Rich. Fund our public schools, pensions, mental health clinics and city services by taxing the rich and ending handouts to corporations. This means eliminating Tax Increment Finance districts that benefit the wealthy while reinstating the corporate head tax and instituting a downtown commercial rent tax. We also need to make our money work for us, not Wall Street bankers, by creating a publicly-owned Bank of Chicago with the $80 billion in assets and pension funds controlled by the city and sister agencies.
No Cop Academy. Keep our communities safe and help end gun violence, not by spending $95 million on a new facility for the police — as Emanuel has proposed — but by investing in jobs, education, after-school programs and mental health services.
ERSB Now and No More Charters. Finally reinstitute an elected, representative school board (ERSB) for Chicago Public Schools, and put a moratorium on the construction of new charter schools.
CPAC Now. End racist policing and institute real police accountability through an all elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) empowered to hold officers to account and democratically decide how our communities are policed.
Lift The Ban and Just Cause For Eviction. Lift the ban on rent control in Chicago to reign in skyrocketing rents and pass just cause for evictions to stop the displacement of Black, Brown and working-class Chicagoans of all backgrounds from rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.
Erase The Database and Abolish ICE. Eliminate Chicago’s unconstitutional “gang database” that is arbitrary, overly inclusive, riddled with false information and serves as a list of Black and Brown people who will be targeted for incarceration and deportation. Remove the carve-outs from Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance that allow the city to work with ICE to deport undocumented immigrants.
Homes For All. Preserve and expand affordable housing across all Chicago neighborhoods by bringing oversight and transparency to the Chicago Housing Authority and require CHA to maintain public housing units on a one-for-one basis in future redevelopments.
Environmental Justice Reform. Reclassify zoning in Chicago’s Black, Brown and working-class neighborhoods that are disproportionately subject to environmental hazards and polluters in order to protect residents’ health.
Water For All. Address lead contamination in Chicago’s water, prevent the privatization of our water system, and make water truly affordable for all Chicagoans.
Fight For 15 and a Union. Immediately implement a $15 minimum wage for Chicago, pass the Fair Workweek Ordinance to provide workers with stability in scheduling, and create a Chicago Office of Labor Standards to protect workers’ rights.
At the heart of this set of proposals is a principle that progressives have long known to be true: transformational change always comes from below.
This bringing together of movement demands is not a new idea. We can see it playing out in the efforts of progressive groups like United Working Families, Grassroots Collaborative, the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America as well as ward-based independent political organizations.
Collectively we understand that to win the city and country we deserve we must take on both the right-wing Republicans and corporate Democratic establishment by uplifting demands rooted in social movements.
Chicagoans deserve a city with living wage jobs, affordable rent, accessible healthcare, clean air and clean water. We deserve a city where our neighborhoods are safe, our schools are fully funded, our streets are re-paved, and new garbage carts are delivered in a timely manner. We deserve a city with a future our children can believe in.
Delivering that city and that future doesn’t take 100 years. It takes, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, political courage.
By uniting around a bold progressive platform informed by our city’s social movements, and by identifying the candidates with the courage to champion this platform — whether they’re running for City Council or mayor — we can use the 2019 municipal election to build a powerful and broad-based movement to transform Chicago into a city for the many, not the few. We can win much more than an individual race, we can win the city we deserve.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed candidates who had signed onto the platform, but that list had not been independently confirmed.