The Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (CDSA) was a part of the 2022 Chicago Budget Coalition, a table of Chicago progressive and leftist groups that represented the most organized presence of the Left to agitate around the city budget since the Harold Washington era. Amid the ongoing pandemic, during which the City of Chicago squandered almost $300 million in relief funds from the federal CARES act on the Chicago Police Department, the coalition was fueled by a determination to direct federal funds to Chicago communities. The coalition worked to produce a common framework about the kind of Chicago we want to see, one that serves people over profit, with demands that offer real solutions to the issues Chicago faces around housing, public safety, and environmental justice.
Within the coalition, CDSA played a special role: we drafted the Chicago Rescue Plan, an ordinance for the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief funds, and our members—both those in City Council and those who spent their weekends knocking on doors—were key in shaping the discussion of the budget and in making the coalition’s demands a reality. The resulting budget includes:
- $1.2 billion won out of the $1.8 billion demanded in the Chicago Rescue Plan, which included $188 million for environmental justice and climate initiatives, $157 million for affordable housing, $117 million for homelessness assistance, $110 million for violence prevention, and more
- $6.3 million over three years to fund 29 new permanent positions at city mental health clinics
- $5 million to preserve Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing
- $10 million for eviction counselling
- A new Oversight Subcommittee in City Council
However, after last summer’s uprisings prompted a new conversation around public safety, the budget disappointingly fails to include demands shaped by the citywide Defund CPD campaign and its allies. While CPD’s budget increase was contractually obligated due to the new Fraternal Order of Police contract—which our alderpeople stood united against—neither the cancellation of police vacancies, reduction of the advertising budget, nor the cancellation of the ShotSpotter contract were won. Our alderpeople have all officially committed to cancelling the ShotSpotter contract, an inaccurate technology used by CPD to detect gunfire that is expensive, deadly, and disproportionately targets Chicago’s Black and brown communities. We will stand alongside our alders and allies, at the doors and in streets, until we cancel the ShotSpotter contract. While this budget does not align with our vision of a Chicago without police and prisons, we realize our demands go far beyond a single budget. Defunding the police, a necessary step towards our collective liberation, is not simple or easy, but rather an extensive process that will require a strong movement and continued struggle.
While the 2022 city budget bears some fruits of the hard work of our organization and its coalition partners, it also represents the massive obstacles we are up against. Under capitalism, every law, every union contract, and every budget is a compromise, and as socialists we have to determine which compromises are worth it and which are capitulations. The Democratic Socialist Caucus not voting as a bloc is a reflection of such compromises inherent to a budget crafted by capitalist forces, as well as the realities of acting in coalition while maintaining independent opinions and being responsive to one’s constituents. Despite the budget’s wins, the vote on an amendment to the 2021 budget, which the Socialist Caucus voted no on uniformly, will give 63% of rescue funds to banks to pay down city debts. Millions of dollars that could fund Chicago communities will go to Wall Street instead.
But we know a better city and world is possible by fighting beyond the oppressive forces in City Hall and elsewhere that seek to limit our radical imagination and deliver crumbs instead of cake, as DSA Alderwoman Taylor said. The reality is that the capitalist class—whose interests the mayor and the majority of City Council represent—wields an incredible amount of power, and it’s only through an organized, unified working class movement that we bring more leverage to the table to win bolder demands. We saw the potential of this working class power in last summer’s uprisings, and we’re seeing it now in the wave of strikes happening in Chicago and across the country. We still have a lot of power to build, but we are working on building this power through DSA.
The budget fight represents an increased level of community engagement around the budget, an opening for a unified Left to organize collectively around transformative demands tomorrow, and a step forward on the long path of struggle towards the Chicago we all deserve.
Chicago DSA is the Chicago local of the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest American socialist organization in nearly a century, with over 60,000 members nation-wide and rising, with upwards of 2000 in Chicago. Our vision as socialists is one of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.
Chicago DSA is an entirely volunteer-run organization currently leading campaigns to enact universal rent control in Illinois, democratize ComEd, #FreeHeartlandKids, establish a civilian police accountability council (CPAC), and win federal-level, single-payer Medicare For All. Chicago DSA also hosts regular political education programming and engages in rank-and-file labor organizing and strike solidarity campaigns.
Chicago DSA Communications Coordinator