Equal Voice News: Chicago residents to leaders – listen to the people

By Brad Wong, Assistant News Editor

A Tuesday rally involving more than 800 people put the spotlight again on issues of concern to working families: Better wages, good jobs and neighborhood support. (Online story includes photos from CCH).

Election 2014 was just last week, but working families, low-income individuals and grassroots activists in Chicago are not letting their ballots be the end of their democratic participation for the year.

More than 800 people gathered on Tuesday to raise their collective voice so that political leaders will know, yet again, that neighborhood improvement, community schools, better wages, an elected school board and good jobs should top the public agenda — instead of anything that hints of corporate greed.

“We do not forget the 50 closed schools, the public worker layoffs, the privatization deals that rewarded corporate insiders, or the city budgets that closed mental health clinics, cut funding for libraries and hurt communities,” Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, said in a statement.

“A global city needs to take care of its neighborhoods.”

Community advocates held their “Take Back Chicago” event so that the spotlight would remain on issues that will help city residents, especially working families and those with low and modest incomes.

About 20 grassroots organizations, including Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago and the Pilsen Alliance, participated.

Organizers tied last week’s passage of a nonbinding higher minimum wage in the state to social, economic and community issues central to city residents.

Bumping the state hourly wage from $8.25 to $10.65 would be a boost to more than one million workers in Illinois, Alvesta Sanders, who is affiliated with Action Now, a social justice organization, said.

“As a mother and resident of the Englewood neighborhood, I know how badly working families need a living wage,” she said in a statement. “No one who works full time should have to struggle to put food on the table or live in a homeless shelter.”

Activists and residents also say that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s minimum wage proposal for the city excludes tipped and domestic workers.

“Chicago is a service city. The mayor and aldermen love being served from casual to fine dining restaurants,” Nataki Rhodes, a tipped worker who is a member of Restaurant Opportunities Center Chicago, said in a statement.

“But they want to pay us just $4.95 to $5.95 an hour. Once again, tipped workers are being left out.”

Erana Jackson of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization called on the city to have an elected school board, instead of an appointed one, so that its members can better represent neighborhoods. Campus closure decisions made by Chicago Public Schools, she said, have destabilized communities of color.

Later on Tuesday, residents marched to various corporate offices in Chicago to protest what they said are efforts by businesses to stifle legislation that would help working families. Activists pointed out that businesses profit by paying hourly workers “poverty wages.”

The theme of ensuring that elected and appointed leaders listen to the voices of residents is likely to grow in Chicago, the state of Illinois and the country in the coming months.

As Patel of Grassroots Collaborative and other rally participants observed, Chicago’s election season will soon start and new state lawmakers will take their offices in the coming months.

And in January, in Washington, D.C., Congress will welcome new and returning federal lawmakers.