Welcome to Issue #24 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as an analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members the information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
Today’s issue strays from our normal format. Below we provide a round-up of the atrocities of neoliberals and good work of socialist organizers in Chicago. While there are constant frustrations, a socialist Chicago seems more possible than ever.
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City Council Recap and Preview
The Chicago City Council last convened on April 21. It was the first in-person council meeting since the beginning of the pandemic.
Aside from the somewhat jarring spectacle of alders interacting once again in person, there were two main takeaways from the meeting.
First, the Council approved Mayor Lightfoot’s changes to Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), which sets out some new parameters for housing developers. The ARO states that residential developments that receive a zoning change or city financial assistance or that involve City-owned land must provide a percentage of units at an affordable level.
Under the previous ordinance, passed in 2015, residential developments of 10 or more units had to set aside 10 percent of their units at “affordable prices” or pay fees in lieu of that allocation. The revised ordinance requires housing developments to set aside 20 percent of units if they are located downtown, in neighborhoods with low current levels of affordable housing, or in neighborhoods facing displacement of low-income residents. The ordinance also reduces the number of units that may be paid out with in-lieu fees from 75% to 50%.
This is a step in the right direction, but these actions are primarily performative, since the ARO does not cover all housing developments. Between 2007 and 2017, the ordinance covered 440 new projects. Of those, 88 developments chose to pay fees instead of creating affordable units, for a net loss of 1,200 potential affordable apartments in the process.
Among the opponents of the proposal were Alders Maria Hadden (49th) and Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th). Hadden correctly pointed out that the “affordable” units are still out of reach for thousands upon thousands of struggling Chicagoans. Sigcho-Lopez voted no because Lightfoot’s plan would not create enough family-sized affordable apartments.
As long as the city uses feeble policies like the ARO, there will be a housing crisis in Chicago. These market-based reforms still kowtow to capital, reinforcing the commodification of housing.
The other takeaway from April’s meeting did not come from inside City Hall but on the streets outside.
Protesters circled City Hall, chanting, honking car horns, and playing instruments to demand that the City Council adopt a proposed civilian police oversight plan called Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) and dubbed the “People’s Ordinance.”
Thus far, tougher versions of police oversight have not exited the Public Safety Committee. At the April meeting, Sigcho-Lopez berated Lightfoot for her inaction on this issue, saying, “What our community demands and deserves is more than prayers or platitudes, but action, Mayor Lightfoot.” He went on to mention the bill in the Public Safety committee, whereupon Lightfoot banged her gavel and called the alder out of order.
After the meeting, Lightfoot said that she was still working on a proposal for police oversight, but since then, alders have taken it upon themselves to form a coalition against her wishes.
On May 17, the Black Caucus joined the City Council’s Hispanic and Progressive caucuses in supporting ECPS. This is a dramatic shift in power and threatens to serve Lightfoot her first major legislative defeat. Alder Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) says that with the three caucuses supporting the measure, there are enough alders on board to override any objections raised by the mayor.
Don’t expect Lightfoot to sit back and take this defeat lightly. As we have seen in the past two years of her administration, the mayor has a penchant for pettiness. After months of dragging her feet, we should expect to see a proposal from her in the near future that tries to supplant ECPS.
The next council meeting is Wednesday, May 26, at 10 am. While alders will report in person, you can tune in virtually by visiting the City Clerk’s website.
A New Caucus
The Bulletin would be remiss not to mention the official formation of the Socialist Caucus in the City Council.
The Socialist Caucus includes Daniel La Spata (1st), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th). You can click here to read their introductory press release and explore the site for th
Having an official caucus in City Hall helps build power by clearly delineating what the alders fighting for the people are: socialists. Additionally, it will help push legislation left as the Caucus works with other alders on the Council.
(New) Affordable Housing in Logan Square?
Alderman Ramirez-Rosa wrote in Jacobin about the collective victory to build a 100 percent affordable housing building just a stone’s throw from the Logan Square Blue Line stop. Working with community organizers from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Logan Square Preservation, UN35, and Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance, Ramirez-Rosa stuck to his campaign promise to only support 100 percent affordable housing for the site, which sits on a former public parking lot. Ramirez-Rosa secured city funding for the site despite pressure from the Emanuel administration, local landlords, and a handpicked opponent in his reelection campaign. Now, instead of millionaire landlords profiting off gentrification, 100 working families can afford to remain in the neighborhood.
The victory is a community one that demonstrates the best combination of pressure from residents and internal advocacy of elected officials, a model that we can build on for other initiatives. Ramirez-Rosa emphasized that much work remains in fighting for affordable housing and against gentrification, both in Chicago and the nation.
Lightfoot’s Continued Allegiance to the Chicago Police Department
Just weeks ago, in the shadow of the new complex that Ramirez-Rosa and community groups worked so hard for, thousands came out to protest the CPD murder of Adam Toledo. Yet once again Mayor Lightfoot seems determined to ignore the public display of solidarity and calls for defunding CPD. On May 5th, Lightfoot tapped John O’Malley–the former number two ranking US Marshall in Chicago–as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety.
In addition to having minimal experience in local policing, while on the Chicago Police Board, O’Malley was the sole vote against the firing of Daphne Sebastian, a CPD officer who covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald. The eight other members of the police board found her account to be “demonstrably false.” The pick underscores Lightfoot’s abysmal record on CPD and the necessity of defunding the behemoth.
An Update on General Iron
In better news, facing pressure from activists and in response to a letter from Joe Biden’s EPA administrator, Michael Regan, Mayor Lightfoot delayed the permit process for General Iron’s move to the Far South East Side.
As mentioned in issue #21, our city has a legacy of environmental racism, and General Iron has a long history of pollution and nuisance violations. Despite strong community opposition and a grassroots hunger strike to stop the move, the city seemed all but ready to rubber-stamp the necessary permits. Lightfoot justified this approval by claiming the city had punished General Iron with air pollution fines that supposedly demonstrated a commitment to community input. But the mayor has not allocated revenue from those fines to assisting the communities General Iron pollutes.
While Regan’s pressure on Lightfoot is encouraging, a sound rejection of General Iron’s move is needed, not just a temporary delay. Rejecting General Iron will be a move toward a more democratic Chicago that is accountable to all of its residents, whether they live on the Far Southeast Side or Lincoln Park.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Nick Capri, Brent Glass, Charlotte Kissinger, and Alan Maass. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.