As city council prepared to pass Mayor Lightfoot’s Chicago budget, crowds gathered outside in a “City Hall Haunting” to protest the 2022 budget’s increased police funding and the 2021 budget amendment using rescue funds to pay city debts.
The Chicago budget has been received relatively warmly by progressive groups, especially given the contentiousness between the mayor and socialist aldermen during previous budget seasons. This reception is due to substantial investments in public services and justice initiatives which the Chicago Budget Coalition credits to the work of activist campaigns pushing the budget left.
Despite this, many on the left see the newest Chicago budget as little better than previous plans. At the October 27th protest, speakers criticized the 2020 budget for increasing funding for CPD in accordance with a Fraternal Order of Police contract. Protestors also took issue with a 2021 budget amendment which would pay down city debts with rescue funds, thereby profiting big banks.
Mal Burns, Chicago DSA member and Defund CPD Field Lead, attended the City Hall Haunting. They criticized Lightfoot’s allegiance to financial institutions:
“We’re giving away more than half a billion of our pandemic relief money back to Wall Street. This is unconscionable when people are losing their homes because they can’t make rent, had their additional unemployment benefits stripped, and communities are continually robbed of the resources they need. That money was for our people and they stole it from us for big banks.”
Nevertheless, Burns does consider the Chicago Budget Coalition’s efforts to sway the Chicago budget left to be an organizing win to some degree.
“I think it was a win in terms of uniting progressive and socialist organizations and groups to work together…But I can’t personally call this budget a win when the primary demand of those uprisings, to defund the police, was completely ignored and compromised on.”
Bettina J of Chicago AfroSOC SC, CDSA’s DefundCPD SC, and the CDSA Executive Committee shares this sentiment. In her assessment, the fight to sway the Chicago budget was not in alignment with abolitionist principles.
“Chicago AfroSOC holds to a divest/invest model for strategy — versus a socialist democratic invest/invest model that gives liberals the cops, military, jails and prisons they want while getting some compromises on social welfare programs. This failed strategy leads to carceral and imperial governance that specifically fails and harms poor, working, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.”
Ahead of the rally, Chicago AfroSOC urged the Democratic Socialist Caucus of Chicago City Council to vote no on the Chicago budget in a public statement. AfroSOC, a union of Chicago Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus, took issue especially with the proposal’s 11% increase in police spending.
At the same time, AfroSOC cautioned their comrades in favor of voting no not dismiss those in favor of voting yes as “sellouts” just as they wished not to be accused of “ultraleft” naivety:
“Such name calling gets us nowhere but more importantly is just not true. These are meaningful differences over strategy and should be treated as such. This is how we ensure we do better in organizing the working class around a socialist and abolitionist politics in the future.”