Those of you who knew Mark have probably heard he has passed away. For those who did not, Mark Weinberg had been a DSA member and a member of the Chicago DSA Executive Committee. He was elected Co-Chair in 1998, but honestly, the position did not suit him. In 2000, he became our Political Education Officer and he remained so until 2006 when his chronic illness became debilitating.
As Political Education Officer, Mark made reviving the Open University of the Left (OUL) one of his main priorities, but he also made sure that Chicago DSA received some benefit from the project. He was also involved in other Chicago DSA projects, including our annual dinner, anti-war work, labor support, and opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act.
Mark wanted to make a revolution. I hope he has because now it’s up to us.
Dry tinder, high wind, and a persistent spark is all you need for one hell of a fire. Ask any Chicagoan, where the Great Fire seems to have epigenetically impressed itself on the heredity of the natives. And in 2015 we have Bruce Rauner, a fanatically right-wing plutocrat Governor plus the huffing and puffing of a mostly cynical Democratic legislative leadership, and the dry tinder of a state in fiscal paralysis. With distress rising from the downtrodden into the business class, all it would take tonight is a pissed off cow. Two demonstrations this month suggest fire and smoke.
On November 2, Moral Monday Illinois held the latest and possibly the largest of its Moral Monday protests. Well over 500 people gathered at the Thompson Center in the Loop and marched to the Chicago Board of Trade. They shut it down. Several dozen people were arrested. Some went with the police cooperatively. Others were carried. This was not the scripted kabuki performance typical of many labor demonstrations of late. Those arrested do face charges, not a ticket, and Moral Monday Illinois was collecting for a bail fund.
The militancy was impressive and calculated to get the attention of the business class, media, and politicians, but the primary demand was more important: It was for a “LaSalle Street Tax”. Also known as a Robin Hood Tax or a Tobin Tax, it amounts to a small sales tax on trades done on the exchanges. It is something that Chicago DSA and our friends at the Chicago Political Economy Group have been promoting for years, and it’s an example of how this idea is making its way into political discussion, even legislation. Representative Flowers has a bill before the Illinois House and plans are afoot for a Senate bill in next session.
On November 10, Fight for 15 called a nationwide strike of fast food workers and others for a $15 an hour minimum wage and, for many, a union. I have no idea how many such workers walked out on Tuesday, but that is a close second in significance to the noise and visibility generated by demonstrations in 270 cities across the nation.
In Chicago, we had several actions. Two in the morning on the south and west sides were directed at workplaces. The grand finale was a very large, media oriented demonstration at the Thompson Center. It filled the plaza. These demonstrations are akin to high school pep rallies, but they do have a cumulative affect. It was not so long ago that a demand for a $10 an hour minimum was considered the radical edge of the possible. And by repetition, working conditions and collective bargaining may soon be placed on the agenda, too.
Arise Chicago organized a bus to the demonstration from Oak Park that Greater Oak Park DSA, several west suburban congregations, and fast food workers helped fill. Chicago DSA mailed a few hundred postcards that promoted the bus and the demonstration to the usual suspects in the greater Oak Park area. We also did a similar mailing to people and organizations in downtown Chicago. And we promoted the event using the web, including Facebook, and with emails.
Where does that leave us? In mid-air with a dozen plates in play. This is a work in progress, and we invite your incendiary participation.
New Ground: Chicago Democratic Socialists of America and the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce? The Logan Square Chamber of Commerce manages the indoor winter and outdoor spring through fall farmers’ markets in Logan Square on the near northwest side of Chicago, very near our office. Lisa Wallis, a Chicago DSA activist, suggested we apply for a table at the indoor market last winter and ask market visitors to sign petitions urging Senator Bernie Sanders to run for President of the United States. On our application, we also stated that we’d be promoting DSA. To our surprise, we were approved and provided a table and two chairs and a very good location within the market. Although this was before Bernie had announced that he was going to run, many people knew who he was and were happy to sign our petition. We had a copy of several of his position papers and one visitor read through all of them, said she would sign the petition, but felt that Bernie was not radical enough. Lisa Wallis, Michael Milligan and Tom Broderick staffed the table and enjoyed our first Bernie outreach.
When the outdoor market opened, we applied for space and were supplied a table, two chairs and a tent. This was still before petitions to get Bernie or his delegates on the Illinois Ballot were available. The response was tremendous. We had the four page flier “Who Is Bernie Sanders And What Is His 12 Point Agenda” printed by Chicago DSA at a union print shop, campaign buttons produced internally by Bob Roman and two versions of bumper stickers printed by Chicago DSA at a union print shop. We also had copies of New Ground and Democratic Left on the table. We had sign up sheets for folk who wanted more information on DSA as well as for folk who wanted to help with Bernie’s campaign. We ran out of sign up sheets for those who wanted to help with the campaign and had to use the blank back side of the sheets to keep up with the interest. Alec Hudson and Bill Barclay handled the first shift, Tom Ladendorf and Peg Strobel staffed the second shift and Jan Sansone and Tom Broderick took the last shift. We all commented on the enthusiasm of the primarily young, white market visitors. Let’s hope they vote.
Oak Park has an annual event called Day In Our Village, where local social, religious, civic and educational organizations can rent space to erect a tent and present themselves and their purposes. The Greater Oak Park chapter of Chicago DSA has taken advantage of this for years. This time we focused on Bernie: basic information about him, along with our petitions urging him to run. Oak Park is often referred to as a liberal community, and while it might be liberal on social issues, it is fiscally conservative and so of course we did encounter people who scoffed at the term “socialist.” We also encountered folk who declared themselves Republican as they strode past. It was also apparent that in Oak Park more white people than people of color knew the name Bernie Sanders. Along with our push on Bernie, we had copies of Democratic Left and New Ground available. Day In Our Village is an all day event and several comrades helped with set up, take down and staffing our tent.
Our experience at Day In Our Village made it clear that it was necessary to do outreach in areas of Chicago where a white skin tone was less prevalent. To that end, we took the “12 Point Agenda” to the African Arts Festival, which was near Dyett High School at the north end of Washington Park. Dyett High School gained fame for the hunger strike that local parents staged to have the school both remain open as a public school and offer a curriculum focusing on green energy technology. Visitors to the Festival were overwhelmingly African-American. While there were some who said they didn’t know who Bernie was, this was a minority. Many smiled as I handed the Agenda to them and said “We Love Bernie.” Nobody told me they were Republican although two said they were going to vote for Hillary because we could not endure another Republican in the White House. As this was an entrance to an event, and I was there early in the day, most people were going in, leaving little opportunity for discussion. But I was wearing my DSA hat with one of our Bernie stickers pasted on the brim and one of our Bernie campaign pins. I was also able to hand out a few pins to folk who took a moment to talk with me. In about two hours, I handed out 200 fliers.
We also went to St. Pius V Parish in a predominantly Hispanic area of Chicago. Here we were able to utilize the English language/Spanish language “Who Is Bernie” flier that we produced internally. Thanks to our National DSA office for the translation and thanks to Peg Strobel for producing them. People were entering and exiting church or passing by. Not a lot of people wanted to stop and talk and I’d say the brief interactions I had with people convinced me that few knew who Bernie was. Our work there may have been the introduction of Bernie to this community.
Toward the end of the summer, Alex McLeese, Bill Barclay and Tom Broderick traveled to “Fighting Bob Fest” in Madison, Wisconsin where we joined with our Madison DSA comrades to promote Bernie and DSA. This was a decidedly left political gathering and many groups were tabling for Bernie. Alex did an outstanding job of corralling people passing by the table to discuss not only Bernie, but pushing a democratic socialist agenda.
Paul Sakol, Alex McLeese, Peg Strobel, Bill Barclay and Tom Broderick worked around Humboldt Park, which has a diverse community including a strong Puerto Rican presence. Again offering us a chance to use our bi-lingual fliers. Paul Sakol and Bill Barclay went to a community center in the Austin neighborhood. Austin has a large African-American presence and a young women posted information about Bernie on her Facebook page.
Finally on Wednesday, October 14, petitions to put Bernie on the Illinois Primary ballot were provided. Each petition had space for ten signatures and GOPDSA was given 50 copies and urged to turn in as many signed and notarized petitions as possible on the following Monday. Though not immediately in everyone’s hands, by Monday, Julie Allison, Peg Strobel, Bill Barclay, Ron Baiman, Sydney Baiman, Jan Sansone, Hilda Schlatter, Paul Sakol, Joe Kransdorf and Tom Broderick submitted more than 270 signatures to the Bernie campaign staffer working in Illinois. That is more than 5% of the 5,000 maximum number of signatures that can be submitted. We have since turned in additional signatures and we were told that the state-wide count was over 3,200 signatures as of November 4.
DSA is working independently from the official Bernie campaign and are taking no direction from them. We are a creative group. We took a variety of signature gathering approaches. Of course visiting friends was prominent, but also walking several blocks from a CTA train station on the way home from work, standing by the Lake Cinema, standing outside Unity Temple Unitarian Church and Third Unitarian Church before and/or after service, sitting in a lawn chair in front of an apartment near a CTA train station and stopping commuters and passers-by, taking them to a business meeting among non-profits, taking them to a writers’ group, and sitting on a park bench on a shopping mall in downtown Oak Park and to various farmers’ markets as that season wound down.
At press time, the petitions to get Bernie’s delegates on the Illinois Primary Ballot were not yet available. The official campaign wants to create a slate of Bernie delegates for each Congressional District. The upside? Each collected signature is good for the entire slate. The downside? Double petition work for the circulators. But gathering petitions to get Bernie’s delegates on the Illinois Primary Ballot is critical. We need to get all of his delegates to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July, 2016. In Illinois, we get to elect a portion of delegates to go to the convention. Delegate petitions (unlike Bernie petitions) must be signed by registered voters who live in the Congressional District where the delegates live. Paul Sakol, a GOPDSA comrade, is hoping to be a Bernie delegate. We hope to enlist more Chicago DSA members to circulate petitions within their districts to enhance Bernie’s chances to become President of the United States.
Editor’s Note: Paid for by Chicago Democratic Socialists of America and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.