Friday, October 16, 2015

Round 3: Chicago: Stop the Property Tax Increase and Budget Cuts!

Stephen Perkins
Resident: Albany Park, Chicago
Green Party

On Wednesday evening, I attended the third in a series of meetings held in the Albany Park community in Chicago on Mayor Emanuel's proposed $550 million tax increase and budget cuts. He has suggested that up to 5,000 teachers will be laid off, 1 in 5 cops let go and 1 out of 10 fire stations closed if the measure is not passed by city council members who will vote later this month.
This meeting was sponsored by Communities United, an organization which advocates and lobbies on behalf of community residents. Albany Park is a predominantly a working class community in Chicago with the most ethnically diverse population in the U.S. Over 35 different languages are spoken at the local high school.
Nearly 100 people turned up for the meeting. Most audience members were working people from various Latin American countries.
The meeting began with different people describing the potential impact of the cuts and tax increase on themselves, their families and the community. One man discussed how when he moved to Albany Park 30 years ago, he paid about $600 per month in rent. Now he has to pay nearly $1200 for a similar apartment, despite household income having stagnated.
Residents talked about the ongoing gentrification of the neighborhood. Over 30,000 Latinos have been displaced due to condo conversion over the last 15-20 years. Because incomes have either stagnated or in some cases declined for members of the community, many people are not able to purchase their own home. Others who have been able to purchase their own residence have seen their property values decline, including this author. The property tax increase certainly won't help either them or people who will see their rents increase as a result of landlords scrambling to cover the increase in expenses. In essence for them/us, the America Dream has turned into the American Nightmare. It was also pointed out that while working people as a whole will feel the impact of the cuts, those who are people of color will be affected the most.
This concretely shows that it is not just Trump and the Republicans who are perpetuating the attacks on working class immigrants, but Democrats like Emanuel as well. Several local politicians all of whom are members of the Democratic Party were invited to attend the meeting. Four of them are alderman, while the other two, State Senator Jaime Andrade (State Representative, 40th District) and Ira Silverstein (Majority Whip, State Senator, 8th District) are members of the Illinois State Legislature.
None of the four alderman including Deb Mell bothered to show up, despite pledging to be in attendance. No doubt the reception that she received at the first Town Hall style debate that she held last week, affected her decision. Only one of them, Carlos Rosa, had an acceptable excuse, as he had a prior commitment to attend a community meeting on affordable housing. As a result, audience members were strongly encouraged to call their offices on the spot. Chants of "Si se puede, si se puede," erupted and the no-shows were roundly booed.
Andrade, who was generally well received, attempted to distance himself from Mell, whose father orchestrated a deal to get him elected to replace his daughter as state representative when she opted to take over her the seat her father held before he retired. Like Silverstein, he proceeded to blame the situation on Il. Gov. Bruce Rauner. When challenged from the floor, why the state of Illinois, which has the fifth largest population, is dead last in education funding, Andrade explained that while the Democrats occupy 71 out of 100 seats, that a relatively small percentage of those individuals do not possess 'Democratic values' and vote to keep their jobs.
This being the case it is time for working people in Albany Park, the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and beyond to break with the Democratic (and Republican) Parties and truly support independent political activity. Given the failure of the union leadership and the labor movement to build its own political party to represent working people, the more conscious elements need to recognize that at this point in time the Green Party represents that best opportunity to build a political alternative. This does not mean that the Green Party is without its problems. It will need to be transformed into a political party of working people, which supports a democratic socialist platform. At present its class character remains undefined, at least in the U.S., with various ideas competing for attention. Going forward it is our task, to transform it into a vehicle capable of improving the standard of living and quality of life for working people.
 Meanwhile, we need to also organize campaigns around not paying the increase and possibly recalling Emanuel. Merely pressuring Machine politicians will not bring about the desired results and could lead to the dissolution of any movement from being built.

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