CHICAGO, IL — Chicagoans are focused on one of the most contested, interesting elections in years. For four years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his corporate thieves have imposed their agenda, clearly seen in education. Following the historic closing of 50 schools two years ago, frustrated activist teachers and parents began building for the February, 2015 elections. They planned to win the seats of Rahm’s alderpuppets in city council. Democrats occupy all the aldermanic offices, so the campaigns can challenge the way the Democrats run Chicago and the Democratic Party itself.
The campaigns have become a battleground for the needs of those whom Chicago’s corporate elite have discarded. The “Fight for Fifteen” and the “Our Walmart” movements, which had nationwide strikes following Thanksgiving, forced attention to the minimum wage. To co-opt these movements, Rahm Emanuel pushed a minimum wage bill, approved with only four dissenting votes. His bill will increase the minimum wage to $10 in June 2015 and up to $13 in 2019.
Dianne Daleiden is running for alderman in the 40th ward, challenging Rahm’s floor leader Pat O’Connor. She is a math teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and a member of the Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE) in the teachers’ union. She responded by writing: “What passed today helps, but it is only an extra 98 cents an hour BEFORE TAXES each year for the next five years . . . I support $15 an hour NOW for workers at corporations grossing over $50 million a year . . .”
Zerlina Smith, running in Chicago’s West Side 29th ward, is an “independent grassroots activist” and also a member of CORE. She told us: “The minimum wage passed by the City Council is inadequate. We need $15 an hour now. Not $13 in 2019”
The Chicago Board of Education, appointed by the Mayor, is dominated by corporate leaders like investment banker David Vitale. Rahm’s alderpuppets tried to block a referendum on an elected board. With 66,000 signatures, petitioners got the referendum on the ballot in 38 of the 50 wards. Smith and Daleiden support the referendum. Further, Smith declared, “We need fully-funded neighborhood schools with rich curricula and full wraparound services that stimulate students to think and create. The practice of allocating resources by race has to stop, as does the testing abuse that is killing our children’s love of learning.”
The common program of many of the independent aldermanic campaigns represents an effort to move from scattered, isolated battles to raise the questions politically. Education no longer guarantees a good job, as jobs are being automated. The minimum wage guarantees a life of poverty. Even the very lives of the poor are in jeopardy, as police run rampant and the justice system does not hold them accountable.
The campaigns for elections in February can mark a turning point in bringing people together to fight not only for a change in the city council, but also strengthening the movement for food, housing, education, health care and an opportunity to contribute to society: the demand for a cooperative society.