How Progressive Agendas Came to Dominate Chicago Alderman Races

Reclaim Chicago Executive Director David Hatch explains that more than half of the alderman candidates elected or in runoffs have progressive agendas due to the efforts of a grassroots movement

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is headed to a runoff after he failed to gain 50 percent of the votes in the city’s mayoral election. Emanuel will face with Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García.

But part of this election story that isn’t getting that much coverage is the aldermanic races in Chicago. More than half of the candidates that won or who were pushed into runoffs have progressive agendas. They got the backing of self-described people’s-led movement called Reclaim Chicago. It’s a movement organized between the People’s Lobby and the union National Nurses United.

We’re now joined by the executive director of Reclaim Chicago, David Hatch.

Thank you so much for joining us, David.

DAVID HATCH, EXEC. DIR., RECLAIM CHICAGO: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: So, David, first just give us a quick summary about how many candidates Reclaim Chicago supported in this last election and how many actually won seats or were pushed into runoffs. And when we say they had progressive agendas, what do we mean by that?

HATCH: Sure. So, first of all, we endorsed 18 candidates. Seven of them won outright and four are in runoffs. And we have a–they all had to sign on–to be endorsed, they had to sign on to a people and planet first agenda that called for things like a $15 minimum wage, adequately funding public schools and services, not privatizing services, protecting pensions, a call for a LaSalle Street tax to tax trading at the Chicago Board of Trade, and reining in corporate power.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. So you clearly made some headway and got these candidates elected. So let’s talk about how you did this. I want to speak to specifics. Sort of give us a roadmap of how you accomplish this.

HATCH: Well, Reclaim Chicago really comes out of a critique of how we do politics. I mean, another story in this election and in the pattern of recent elections across the country has been all the people who stay home and don’t vote, which is usually about three-quarters of the people. And we think that’s because the way politics is done is we spend a lot of money, we do a lot of attack ads, we poll test what seems to be the safest message to tell people, and then we try and herd them out to vote. And we’re not speaking to the actual needs and concerns and, really, in a lot of cases, suffering of the people.

So our approach was pretty simple. Actually get people, neighbors, talking to their neighbors and asking them open-ended questions about what are you concerned about, what are your values, and taking it from there. And then we bring in analysis. Somebody says, they don’t fix the potholes on my Street, they’re closing the schools and clinics and libraries in my neighborhood. Then we engage them in a conversation about why that is, about corporate austerity politics, and that two-thirds of the corporations that don’t really pay no taxes, while we give away money to corporations like $350 million to the Board of Trade to fix their bathrooms or $55 million to Marriott Corporation to build a hotel. And then that makes them even more angry. And then we ask them if they want to come join us. So that resulted in 5,000 hours of volunteers knocking on their neighbors’ doors and making phone calls.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. So this anger that’s sort of generated–and you got people to be engaged. But how do you plan on keeping people engaged?

HATCH: Well, that’s really important, because we think our critique, another critique in elections is that you put a lot of time and resources and people’s energy into an election. Election night, you close the door, lock it, and turn off the lights, and it all goes away.

So we are–for instance, on March 11, we are doing an action with civil disobedience in the State Capitol around a new Republican governor’s horrible austerity budget. We’re going to have civil disobedience. We’re inviting people to come down and do that. And we are actually building organizations in these wards.

A couple of examples. Carlos Rosa beat a [machine (?)] incumbent in the 35th Ward. He’s 25 years old, he’s the first openly gay politician and elected official in the state of Illinois. He decided to run at a national training that we do with National People’s Action. And he’s already building an organization of local folks to fight with him against austerity politics.

And several of the candidates who lost their elections actually are building for not only the next round of elections, but to keep their aldermen accountable, to fight the favoring of the rich and corporations over their neighborhoods, to engage in community issues, policy, and legislation.

DESVARIEUX: Alright, David. Let’s talk about how Reclaim Chicago is actually financed. Can you just speak specifically? I mentioned that in the introduction, that National Nurses United is supporting you. What other groups are supporting you? And do you think this would have been even impossible without union support?

HATCH: Well, money is very important. And the National Nurses United funded a PAC that we did our electoral work through. The total amount was $150,000, which we haven’t spent all of yet, which is probably less than a lot of the incumbents that lost or are in runoffs in any one race.

So the way we were able to do that is the people power part of it. The People’s Lobby have, without very much financing at all, mostly just a volunteer kind of organization, has elected a couple of state legislators.

So, you know, I think one of the–money is really important, but I think part of the lesson in this election is you need some money, but you can be outspent 20, 30, 40 times over and win if you have enough. And if you really organize and mobilize people, and particularly if, unlike political seasons that just poll test and do massive campaign ads and stuff, if people actually talk to people, organize their neighbors, you can do a lot more with less. Having said that, obviously, we need a lot more.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And I’m sure there are some viewers listing to this and saying to themselves, I would love to copy this model in my hometown. What would you say to them in terms of advice moving forward? And what challenges that lie ahead? What should they be aware of?

HATCH: Yeah. I think there’s challenges of big money, of incumbent politicians often trying to punish people. But I think there’s a couple of keys to the success that we’ve had. And one is that we really invest in leadership training and development. Most people are not accustomed to being active in politics or having a public life, so it doesn’t–we’re not taught that, really, growing up or in school or anywhere. We have to sort of acquire what is power, how does that operate, and really understand the public arena.

So we do a lot of–we invest a lot in training our people, training leaders, and operating out of a methodology of some discipline and accountability, right? Because we’re volunteers and we have to make commitments to one another and hold our commitment. So we really emphasize those kinds of things. And because I think we have that kind of discipline and leadership training, people are able to go out and build bases and engage others.

I think another key sort of [incompr.] methodology is that instead of just coming to somebody with an agenda, we come asking them, what’s their agenda, what are their concerns, what’s their story. And out of that, then helping them to create analysis of, like, why that happened, politicize those things.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. David Hatch, executive director of Reclaim Chicago, thank you so much for joining us.

HATCH: Okay. Thank You.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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