Video: Cooperatives for a Better World at the Coop Economy Summit

Midwest Socialist went to the 2018 Chicago Cooperative Economy Summit and caught up with some of the people and organizations making co-ops happen.

Meredith Lemmon speaks about Cooperatives for a Better World, which spreads awareness about the cooperative business model, offering marketing, training resources, and education about co-ops.

Chicago DSA Fights for Rent Control on the November Ballot

The Lift the Ban Coalition knocked thousands of doors this year in its mission to end Illinois’ ban on rent control. As a member of this coalition, Chicago DSA is taking up the fight to pass referenda in favor of rent control in the 35th, 46th, and 49th wards this election day, November 6th.

In the 49th Ward, DSA volunteers collected 400 signatures from citizens who believe Rogers Park should remain an affordable, diverse community.

DSA organizer Mauricio Maluff Masi recalls a conversation with a woman selling tamales outside St. Jerome Church who was harmed by landlord greed.

“She’s been living in Rogers Park for many years,” says Maluff Masi. “Every year, her landlord raised the rent by $100. Recently, she had to tell him she couldn’t do it, and he said ‘Well, it’s either that or you can move somewhere else.’ She actually had to find a new place.”

Landlords and property managers are seldom friendly to progressive organizing. The infamous “double buzzer” apartment style has kept out countless would-be canvassers. But Lift the Ban in particular has encountered resistance from landlords because it challenges their power over tenants.

Isabella Janusz, a DSA volunteer, relays how some tenants seemed hesitant to say anything that might get them in trouble.

“There was a sense of fear,” says Janusz of an apartment building canvassed by DSA. “But then one of the tenants invited us into her unit and, after listening to what we had to say about the Lift the Ban campaign, she really opened up and told us of the repairs in her unit that weren’t being addressed, the landlord evicting tenants, and a living situation that did not feel safe to her.”

Some landlords began canvassing themselves to spread misinformation about rent control, claiming it will not benefit renters in the long-term. But DSA volunteer Bumper Carroll met one Rogers Park citizen who knew firsthand how beneficial even meager rent control policies are.

“She expressed dismay at the gentrification that had driven prices up in Southern California and was grateful that she had enjoyed some protection in Los Angeles,” says Carroll. “She was surprised to learn about the ban in Illinois, her new home, and enthusiastically supported our efforts.”

Megan Hyska, a DSA organizer new to Rogers Park, was amazed by how many of her neighbors are in desperate need of affordable housing.

“We know folks are busy and talking to canvassers can seem like a pain,” says Hyska. “So I think it’s telling how many people wanted to talk to us about rent control. A couple older homeowners who have lived in Rogers Park 50 years invited me into their living room to tell me they worried the neighborhood would become too expensive for their neighbors to stay.”

DSA organizer Brian Bennett believes true socialism is necessary to secure housing for all. He supports Lift the Ban not because it will fix the housing crisis but because of the good it can do for people right now.

“We spoke to a man who had recently gotten off the streets and into an apartment,” says Bennett. “His landlord was raising the rent on him, putting his ability to stay there in danger. It struck me what an incredible feat it is for anyone to escape homelessness in our society, and how the land owning class could possibly destroy this feat for profit. He asked simply, ‘Rent control…Is that ‘less’?’  For some, ‘less’ means they can worry less about their budget; for others ‘less’ means survival.”

The Next Step For Police Accountability in Chicago: Civilian Oversight

In the wake of Jason Van Dyke’s conviction of second-degree murder for the killing of Laquan McDonald, many Chicagoans are wondering what comes next in the fight for police accountability. While the verdict was certainly a victory, it doesn’t bring back Laquan or the many, many others who have been and are systematically murdered by the Chicago Police Department. Van Dyke is, after all, just one cop in the $4 million-a-day pigsty that is the CPD.

It was only a few days after the trial’s conclusion that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would fight the proposed consent decree recently put forward by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The consent decree aims to reform and improve the CPD, but it too lacks the larger structural change that would radically alter the balance of power between civilians and police in the city.

Spending almost two years stuck in committee, the ordinance for the establishment of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (or CPAC) in Chicago has been mostly ignored by Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall. CPAC, which was drafted by The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), aims to democratize policing in Chicago and abolish the bureaucracy that has long festered within the CPD allowing rampant abuse and corruption to go mostly unchecked for more than a century.

CPAC would establish an elected council with a representative from each of the city’s twenty-two police districts, including their own staff and salary on level with those of aldermen. The council would have the power to appoint (and fire) the Superintendent of Police; rewrite CPD policy, including use of force guidelines and standard operating procedures; investigate police misconduct and all police involved shootings that kill unarmed people; and act as final authority regarding discipline in the Chicago Police Department, including the ability to indict police officers.

CPAC is in many ways a “non-reformist reform” just as Medicare For All or Universal Rent Control are. Socialists aim towards the abolition of police and prisons just as with capitalism and private property, and as such we don’t see the end goal as simply reforming the CPD. Rather, socialists fight for the establishment of CPAC because it would result in a fundamental shift in power from the police to the communities they patrol.

But despite 50,000 residents writing their aldermen in support of the ordinance, as well as numerous community groups backing it (including Chicago DSA), CPAC was set to be left behind back in April as Public Safety Committee chairman, 30th Ward Ald. Ariel Reboyras, announced that he would start holding neighborhood meetings across the city on the three other competing police accountability proposals: a plan drafted by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), and two others introduced by Reboyras himself.

That was until 35th Ward Alderman (and DSA member) Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, whose 2019 re-election campaign was recently endorsed by Chicago DSA, told the press that he would force a vote on CPAC under parliamentary rule 41 at the City Council’s next session. Reboyras first responded by moving to hold the vote at the Public Safety Committee meeting the day before the council’s meeting, but less than 24 hours prior to that meeting, Reboyras conceded to Rosa’s demands and agreed to move CPAC forward along with the other three plans for discussion.

CPAC has been editorialized in local reporting as being “radical” (Chicago Tonight, 4/05/18), a “long shot”(Chicago Tribune, 4/05/18), “extreme” and even “draconian” (Sun-Times 4/05/17, 4/13/18); quite a reach when describing an ordinance developed from the bottom up to curb state oppression. While Draco may have given out death sentences for the most minor of crimes back in ancient Athens, the CPD seems to have always been given the leaway to execute its citizens without any need for ‘due process’ whatsoever.

The more lenient plan put out by GAPA, which builds upon the existing Chicago Office of Police Accountability and does not grant such sweeping oversight, has received similar backlash to CPAC. Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson dismissed the idea of increased oversight on the grounds that civilians “don’t have the professional acumen to develop policy and strategy” for the CPD, and that it would be akin to “telling a surgeon how to do his business.” Quite rightfully, it takes several years of education and experience to be certified to slice and dice as a surgeon. The requirements to butcher for the CPD are much less intensive.

Speaking to the Sun-Times, 41st ward Alderman Napolitano said that the GAPA plan would severely hurt cop morale. Napolitano says that GAPA would “put civilians on a board who most likely don’t like the police and are gonna look for everything they’re doing wrong.” Further, Napolitano adds, “we’ve already lost the pro-active police officer. [With civilian oversight], we are gonna completely lose them. It’ll be gone. Our crime rates are going to skyrocket. Nobody’s gonna take this job anymore. What reason do they have?”

Napolitano’s questioning of what reason someone would have to be a cop if they were going to be held accountable by an elected civilian council slyly reveals a belief that a large part of the allure of a career in law enforcement, and in Chicago this is quite certainly a given, is that being a cop will position you in a place above accountability and above the standard rule of law, along with other privileges and power CPD patronage grants. With civilian oversight in the picture, and such perks at least weakened, what reason would anyone have to serve with Chicago’s Finest? To serve and protect?

No more disturbingly was this belief illustrated than at one of the community hearings on the different reform plans this summer when an off-duty cop in attendance told the crowd that “if any civilian involvement legislation passed, we’ll stage an uprising.” A direct threat if there ever was one.

While The Fraternal Order of Police union would like to frame their opposition to any community oversight as being a labor issue, socialists recognize that police are not public workers to be stood with in solidarity against management. They are class traitors, a militarized syndicate paid and given total discretion by the bourgeoisie state to enforce order through unfettered violent oppression.

Video: Renee Hatcher at the Coop Economy Summit

Midwest Socialist went to the 2018 Chicago Cooperative Economy Summit and caught up with some of the people and organizations making coops happen.

Renee Hatcher is a law professor at John Marshall Law School. She is the director of the school’s Business Enterprise Law Clinic which offers free legal support to cooperatives.

Video: Reflections on 1968: Joanna Misnik and Micah Uetricht in Conversation

Jacobin’s Spring 2018 issue is on the complicated legacy of the upheavals of 1968, fifty years later. To discuss that legacy, Joanna Misnik, longtime socialist activist and Chicago Democratic Socialists of America member, spoke with Jacobin managing editor Micah Uetricht.

Joanna was present for some of the major battles of 1968 and has been a socialist militant ever since. She and Micah discussed how she joined the New Left, what it did right and what it did wrong, and what we should take from those struggles today.

Podcast: Sentimental Re-education

Sarah and André talk to Chicago DSA Political Education coordinator Ramsin Canon and co-host of the “Season of the Bitch” podcast Ambria Taylor about what Marxism means in our modern time. We define/talk about what terms like “alienation” and “materialism” really mean and walk through a timeline of how capitalism developed. We also talk about how Marxist theory can inform real world organizing.


Debs Dinner 2018: A Speech by Alderman Dylan Parker

The following is a transcript of a speech given by Rock Island alderman and DSA member Dylan Parker at Chicago DSA’s Debs-Parsons-Randolph Dinner fundraiser on May 18, 2018. This speech has been edited for length and clarity.

My name is Dylan Parker and I am honored to stand before you today. In April of last year, I became one of a handful of DSA members that are also privileged to represent our communities with elected office. I am proud to represent Rock Island’s 5th Ward—a ward of diverse and organized neighborhoods—on City Council.

While socialism admittedly did not come up much during my election, my campaigning on municipal broadband internet, resident-focused development, and neighborhood organizing won me two votes for every one that my opponent received. However, I feel I should fill you in on a conversation I had recently with a local business owner. He informed me that he had heard I was one of these “socialists” and that I was going to take all the money hard working folks had earned and give it to people that didn’t work. By the end of our conversation, he told me that I was a fine individual and that he would, should I ever desire, support me in running for higher office. I thanked him for his words and left it at that—but between you and me, we all know what he was describing is actually capitalism.

Let me offer a little backstory for the 2017 Rock Island municipal elections. For several years prior to the election, the previous council and city staff, recognizing the need for more retail sales tax revenue to support city functions, engaged in a multi-year $25 million dollar bonding campaign to bulldoze a derelict strip mall in an economically depressed part of town in hopes to secure a new Walmart. It was massively unpopular with residents and when Walmart finally rescinded their proposal to build in Rock Island, the city was left holding the multi-million-dollar debt bag. Money that historically had been used for street repair was shuffled to finance debt payments and we still, to this day, have a massive empty lot waiting for development. Understanding this climate, it didn’t take ardent socialists to respond to my campaign mailers renouncing “corporate welfare.” However, what was most incredible, upon being sworn in as alderman, was the council’s complete lack of ideas for what to do next.

So, I pounced on the opportunity and used the citizen backlash against city-funded speculative development agreements to fuel support for programs that benefit ordinary residents: neighborhood empowerment, open government, urban gardens, and welcoming policies for immigrants and refugees. As our council is revving up for this year’s strategic goal setting session, I’m confident that we’ll pass policies that clamp down on landlords and vacant property owners, increase our city’s commitment to environmental sustainability, and explore ideas like participatory budgeting.

None of this, mind you, is under the banner of Socialist Alderman Parker. I recently had a conversation with our mayor, who is likely the most opposite from me regarding the political spectrum, about our city’s problem of local small businesses failing to have succession plans. When the owner is ready to retire, they simply close shop, resulting in job loss and tax revenue loss for the city. I recently proposed that our city create a worker-buyout program to assist workers to collectively buy their places of work from their ready-to-retire bosses. It’s 100 percent within the motto of socialism’s “workers owning the means of production,” but it’s also a realistic proposal to resolve an issue we have in our business community. I’m often asked what it’s like being a DSA elected official, implying that every day is some Bernie Sanders-style battle with “the establishment,” but in many of our cities and smaller communities around the country, people are simply looking for ways to alleviate the devastation that capitalism has wrought. I pride myself on the fact that my constituents—if they’re paying attention—will easily state that their elected representative is a socialist, but it’s often made matter-of-factly and without drama. That’s where we should aim to be: recognized as responsible members of society and government that offer realistic solutions to the problems that regular working people face.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. By proposing realistic solutions, we, in turn, threaten the ruling class’s wealth and ability to control. Local internet companies haven’t started a smear campaign against our city-owned ISP proposal, but it may very well be coming. I don’t think I’m the only one in this room that recognizes the naivete of walking up to the Democratic Party and asking if they’ve simply ever heard of cooperative-based economies. But, the way that we defeat the rhetoric-laced red-scare attacks on socialism is by advocating politics and policies that clearly benefit most of humanity: workers.

So, where do we go from here? In the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what is the “real and genuine alternative providing the same living standards and opportunities which were swept away by a force called progress?” All of us in this room know the answer: democratic socialism. The threat of automation is not a threat of liberating the working class from repetitive menial labor, but rather a threat of further ownership consolidation by the capitalists. As socialists, we should advocate for replacing human-machines with mechanical-machines. As humans, our days should be spent in recreation or the humanities—outdoorsmanship, music, family, or creative ambitions—not tied to an assembly line for hours on end.

No, the threat of automation is the same threat of capitalism: that the individual with private property rights to the means of production deserves all wealth generated from said system. Just as the very 35,000 workers that assembled here in Chicago back in 1884 knew, so do we know today: the private property rights that allowed man to enslave man, king to conscript serf, and boss to employ child are corrupt, arbitrary, and immoral. So, too, is a system that “snuffs out the hopes and lives of the people by whom the industry was built.”

Therefore, we offer an alternative to massive unemployment or meritocratic job-readiness training programs: that each cabbie replaced by an autonomous vehicle be part-owner of their replacement; That social safety nets are sufficient to alleviate the suffering of unemployment; That the basic necessities of life be ripped from commodification and privatization and rather offered to and provided by all.

This is our charge—from the smallest of cities to the largest of metropolises, from rural farmland to concrete jungles—the needs of all shall not be subservient to the desires of a few. It is a simple message, but it is a deep-rooted and powerful message, one that resonates in the quiet chambers of Rock Island’s City Hall and through the boundless neighborhoods of Chicago.

It is a brand-new day in America, comrades. The crimes against our communities by the Walmarts of the world are becoming more and more apparent. The truth of wealth inequality, racial inequality, sex inequality, class inequality, and all the other ways in which humanity subverts the autonomy of another is rising. The truth of liberty, justice and equality is still climbing the scaffold. With your help, it shall be overcome.

Solidarity Forever. Thank you.