Chicago Activists Working to Take Over Local and National Politics
Anthony Clark, running for Congress in Illinois, Samantha Nichols of Reclaim Chicago, and Gino Betts, running for judge in Chicago, talk about their successes and challenges
Michael Synado: I’m Michael Synado with The Real News Network. We have with us Illinois Congressional candidate Anthony Clark. Mr. Clark what do you think a progressive Trump resistance should look like?
Anthony Clark: Yeah, my pleasure to be here. Thank you so much. Humbling experience and this is great. So first and foremost, for me I think it’s important to recognize that it needs to be the resistance. I believe that Trump and the current administration is a byproduct of systemic issues that we’ve been facing for decades and decades. There have been hundreds and thousands of people before us that have sacrificed their lives to enact and impact change on a systemic level. So, for me it’s not a Trump resistance, while he’s a byproduct, while he’s the individual that’s embolding people and creating from covert to overt it’s [inaudible 00:01:00] resistance and that’s why we’re here today because again it’s the systemic issues that we’re facing racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, abi lism. You know the oppresivisms that exist.
In order for them to truly be eliminated and for us to truly impact change we have to build a diverse coalitions. We have to tap into empathy. Tap into her intersectionality and understand that when we do that you create, you go from a singular movement to a mass movement and you cannot be marginalized because too often I feel like movements are marginalized because the opposition looks at it and says oh there’s just one group of individuals. But when each and every one of us no matter our demographic or socioeconomic differences come together, you know, imagine how powerful that is and I think that’s what we’re doing here. And you know I think we’re going to make change. We really are.
Michael Synado: And what inspired for you to run Congress and what do you think it’s going to take for progressives to break through the corporate alegarcy of the democratic party establishment?
Anthony Clark: Definitely. So, growing up my grandfather he was a huge Muhammad Ali fan. He always told me that service to others is the rent you pay for room here on this Earth. So, I’ve dedicated my life essentially to trying to give back. You know, I served my country, active duty military, trying to give back. I became a special education teacher, again, trying to give back. And just moving forward I recognize that essentially you know using the analogy paying rent wasn’t enough. You know because there’s so many individuals in our communities and around this nation that lack ownership. So, we have to move essentially from paying rent, to rent to own. Like how do we give back and create ownership for the individuals that we’re trying to help and support. And Brand New Congress is an opportunity for me, from being a teacher, and you know running a nonprofit in my in the 7th District.
When Brand New Congress reached out, and I learned about their platform, and they learned about me, and we vetted each other, I identified that this is a calling. This is an opportunity to again create ownership, and I think that’s how progressive candidates, new progressive candidates like myself can truly impact change when you tap into the community. You know when you’re on the ground floor, and you recognize, truly recognize the issues because it should be people over politics. Not politics. Not special interest groups. Not self-interest over people. People over politics and when you truly know what the people need and what they want and desire I believe they buy into and believe in the movement. You know you tap into that, and you utilize that together because I’m not running alone, it’s going to take you, it’s going to take you, it’s going to take everyone running with me in order for me to win. In order for all of us to win and create the systemic change that we need. So just believing in the movement, just truly believing. Don’t become jaded. Don’t just say well my life is good. Empathize and recognize what others are going through as well as human beings. Tap into that empathy. Tap into their intersectionality and understand that by you making a difference whether it’s donating, whether it’s time, whether it’s posting something, whether it’s going to a meeting and educating yourself, everything matters you know.
Michael Synado: And what do you make of some of the policies that Rahm Emanuel and Chicago has been you know pushing? You know he’s met with Betsy Devos in April, you know he rescinded his decision to reform the police department based on our Trump administration rule, so what do you make of all that? And how can progressives you know get democrats like that out of office?
Anthony Clark: Yeah, I mean first and foremost, educate yourself because what you just told me I’m going to assume there’s still individuals that care that may not necessarily know that information. So first and foremost, it’s important to educate yourself. Secondly based upon you educating yourself take that knowledge and decide what you can do. Is it involve yourself in activism, is it involve yourself in impacting policy? Is it attending marches? Is it putting out information to educate others? Because what happens is again our leadership, they’re not transformative. They’re not leading to help us. They’re leading to help themselves. You know, what is my next move? What is my next agenda? What is my next mission to empower myself, not empower the communities.
So right now, I mean perfect example if you look at Chicago Public School system we almost ended three weeks early. That would have been tragic. I taught in CPS. Also, the privatization of our public school services, janitorial services are being privatized. I will task you again about educating. Look up CPS and Aramark it’s Aramark, how they’re privatizing janitorial service, how they’re privatizing the food services in our school systems and they claim that it’s cheaper but in the long run it’s more expensive because again our children at often times lack the ownership that are marginalized. They’re being underserved. The food is moldy. Our classes in the classroom are filthy. So, are we truly valuing education? Are we truly valuing human beings? So again, I can ramble on this for days, I’m truly passionate about it but educate yourself and based upon that education, identify how you can act, because it’s so important because we need each and every one of you to make a difference.
Michael Synado: Chicago is very interesting when it comes to public education for a lot of reasons. There was the home of the first teacher’s union, home of local school counsels, which is a crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. And also, the home of mayoral control of schools but now in the state capital there’s a bill that would break that mayoral control, there would be an elected school board in Chicago. Can you talk about where that stands right now and what impact that could have on local communities whose schools are being disinvested or being privatized?
Anthony Clark: Yes, so what we just talked about is currently Chicago public schools, we do not have an elected school board. So essentially that is not a representative of the community. When you have an elected school board you’re allowing the community to speak, to talk, to vote, to make their choice of who can best represent them as stake holders. We don’t have that. They’re placed because of the mayoral control that exists. So, this has been on the agenda for quite some time. We have been talking about this. The teacher’s union has been behind it. This is not the first year this has been on the table and it was tabled but now we’re revisiting it. Now we’re coming back and it possibly can be pushed forward but it’s extremely important that we have an elected school board because again, it should be people over politics. We need the people’s representation and without that you’re not getting that, you’re getting the special interest. You’re getting the self-serving individuals that feel beholden to a mayor, that feel beholden to other established individuals that place them in certain positions to make decisions. That’s not gonna make a difference.
Right now, if you look at the lack of equity that exists within our public school systems, property tax funding, our public schools are being funded by property taxes. A zip code or area code should not determine if your child or children has an equal opportunity for education. That is not equitable. So, we truly need to make a difference. We truly need to go to an elected school board. So, if you don’t know about that educate yourself. Reach out to your alderman. Reach out to anybody, your leaders in your community to truly push for this. Get your voice heard because without it we’re going to continue to suffer.
Samantha N: My name is Samantha Nichols and I’m a leader with the People’s Lobby and we claim Chicago. And ten months ago, I was rapped. Ten months ago, my body was violated. Someone ignored my no. And these last ten months have been some of the most difficult in my entire life. It has been a struggle to get out of bed some mornings and I have questioned on many occasions whether or not life is still worth it. And it took me a while to realize what had even happened. That I had actually been rapped. And it took me even longer to realize that I needed help. And so after months of anger and fear and exhaustion and a wavering will to live, I finally asked for help. And so, I sought out mental health care. I sought out mental health care and this was a huge step for me because my family didn’t talk about health care, mental health care when I was growing up. And I found myself sitting in this therapist’s office and I was feeling a little awkward, a little nervous but I also felt pretty good because I knew in that moment in that office that this was the right and necessary step for me to take.
But then we had to talk about money, specifically how much money I would have to pay this therapist each week. And her sliding scale only slid as low as $50 per session. I can’t afford that. I couldn’t even afford to pay for that first session. The only reason I was able to hand her a $50 bill is because my Dad had given me a $50 bill when he had visited a few days before saying spend it on something fun. And so, I cried in this office, and I cried the entire way home because I had taken this huge step to seek help, to heal from this trauma but I couldn’t actually afford it. And so, I felt desperate and I felt alone. And I still feel angry because it doesn’t have to be this way. Mental health care like all health care can be free. And it can be accessible for all people so long as the rich pay their fair share.
And this conviction is at the heart of my collectives work around the Illinois state budget crisis. For two years we have gone without a budget and that is on top of years and years of cutbacks. And so, we created a budget. We created the People and Planet First budget which generates 23.5 billion dollars in revenue by closing corporate tax loop holes, enacting a progressive income tax and passing a financial transactions tax. And that revenue would go towards fully funding health care including mental health care, Pk through 12 education, infrastructure development, green energy, free college and more. And this budget would change my life and so I marched for this budget. I marched 200 miles from Chicago to Springfield for this People and Planet First budget. And we stormed the capital and we disrupted a house session. And we staged a sit-in outside the Governor’s office. I marched 200 miles sharing this progressive vision for our states budget with people in communities that are urban, suburban and rural all across the state and I was met with excitement around this vision. I marched 200 miles and shared my story with people I had never met, people who had also been sexually assaulted. People who have also been unable to afford mental health care, and that makes me angry.
I am angry that we live in a world where our bodies are used and abused. I am angry that we live in a world where the lifesaving support services that we need to heal from this trauma are so often too expensive. I am angry that so many people have a similar story to tell, but I find hope in the work of my collective. I found hope in every step on that march to Springfield. I find hope knowing that our People and Planet First budget reached millions of people, even eliciting comments from the offices of Governor Bruce Rauner, speaker Mike Madigan, and Senate President John Cullerton.
This People and Planet First budget is an aspiration vision for our states budget but it is grounded in real numbers, in real policies and in the real experiences of people all across this state including my own because ten months ago I was rapped. My body was violated. It was taken advantage of. My no was ignored and I was left feeling shame and guilt even though I know I don’t have to feel that way. But I chose to use my body to not only resist but to fight something for better. To march 200 miles to sit outside the Governor’s office, to be dragged away by police officers because I know that no one gets to tell me what I do with my body, so I choose to embody justice and fight for the world that we all need and deserve. Thank you.
Michael Synado: Mr. Bets can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to run and a little bit about your campaign?
Gino Bets: Absolutely so my name is Gino Bets. I grew up on the west side of Chicago actually. What inspired me to run for judge is looking at the demographic of folks locked up in the Cook County Jail, I mirror that same demographic. The highest demographic of folks in our jails are black men from the south side of Chicago born into poverty that are in their mid to early 30’s. That’s exactly my demographic. I feel like to reach the folks that’ll be coming to my courtroom, I should be cut from that same cloth.
Michael Synado: What do you make of establishment democrats like Rahm Emanuel in Chicago? And what do you think it’s going to take for progressives to defeat those kind of democrats?
Gino Bets: So, I don’t think anyone is in the business of giving up power, so anytime you want to make a change and that you know we’re in a climate right now where folks want change, we all gotta come together and use our resources, pull them together and that’s how you effectuate change.
Michael Synado: And I know Chicago has a long history of organizing and resistance that goes back generations but some people are asking questions about why some of the [inaudible 00:14:55] organizing in Chicago isn’t more represented in this conference right here. Do you have any insight or thoughts into that? There’s a movement for reparations, there’s the education movement, there’s the police reform movement, which is in jeopardy right now because the Trump administration might nix the consent agree. Can you give me thoughts about that or what people here should know about what’s going on in Chicago right now?
Gino Bets: You know I think there’s a lot going on in Chicago right now, we’re moving towards criminal justice reform and you know, my own personal interest in my campaign for judge is folks don’t really talk about how judges are the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system. That folks don’t stay in jail unless a judge makes that decision, right. And I think in terms of getting folks to come out and to embrace conventions like this, they just have to know about it. You have to met people where they are, go talk to them, like have them understand why their voice matters and why they need to be heard, and extend that olive branch and they will come out. They will show up.
Michael Synado: Chuy Garcia ran I mean primaried Rahm Emanuel last year and he did better, he beat all expectations, forced him to do a run off. What lesson does that, was there a lesson there in running established politicians like Rahm Emanuel that can call in President Obama that have tremendous national support. They’re bank rolled by some of the wealthiest people in this country. Are there lessons for [inaudible 00:16:23] insurgencies taking on the most powerful interests in the country?
Gino Bets: I think for me, the lesson to be learned was that we are the change that we been waiting on, you know what I’m saying. So, on the south side of Chicago we want to see change, we’re going to have to come together to effectuate that change, again, no one is giving up power, so we gotta come together and take that power.