Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Elected School Board: The Jerks Win Again

May 26th, 2017

Chicago is the only place in Illinois where the school board is not elected. Instead, the board is appointed by the Mayor, so when it comes time to make any decisions, they just do what the Mayor wants. Unlike rubber stamp aldermen, though, these people literally don’t have constituents. They don’t hold ward nights. If there’s a problem in your school and you want to go to an elected official, you wind up going to your alderman, even though he/she has no formal power. You can go to a monthly school board meeting, held downtown Wednesday mornings, and speak for two minutes, but unless it’s a very exceptional situation, nobody there cares what you have to say.

For years, numerous groups have been advocating for an elected school board. It’s overwhelmingly popular, all across the city. But for this to happen would require a change to state law. The Illinois House actually passed a bill in 2016, but it died in the Senate, because Senate President John Cullerton wouldn’t even let it be called for a vote. Cullerton is a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who completely opposes an elected board, because it directly takes away his power.

This year, the bill was reintroduced, as House Bill 1774. And today, May 25, it passed the House again, by a huge vote of 105-9. The even bigger news is that it will actually be allowed to get a vote in the Senate. It is looking very promising that the bill will actually pass.

You would think that all of the people who have been clamoring for this for years would be thrilled, right? And that Rahm Emanuel would be pissed? Well, you’d think wrong.

In reality, what we’re seeing unfold is a brilliant political maneuver. A deal was struck, without any of the advocacy groups being previously aware. Yes, the bill is going to the Senate. And it’ll probably get voted on there. And it’ll probably even get signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, who you’d also think would be opposed. And it’s all because of a simple amendment made to the bill at the last minute, before it passed the House:

The first school board election won’t be until February 2023.

Make no mistake. This is not simply a compromise, where the people get what they want, just a little delayed. This is a setup. When the first elected board comes online in 2023, they will be inheriting a district that is a shell of its former self, still overwhelmed by difficulties handling basic operating expenses, still beset with a crumbling infrastructure, still buckling under the strain of excessive numbers of charter schools. And they will be inheriting a district with tens of thousands fewer students than CPS has today. In short, this is what the people of Chicago are being told:

Fine. We’re sick of your complaining. You can have your damn elected school board. We’ll just take everything we can first, and there’s nothing you can do about it.


Chicago holds municipal elections every four years. The Mayor, City Clerk, City Treasurer, and all 50 aldermen will be up for reelection in 2019, and then again in 2023. The elected school board, per the language of HB1774, would consist of 20 members elected from districts, and a board president elected at-large across the entire city. The elections would coincide with the current municipal election schedule. And there is absolutely no mechanical reason why the first board election couldn’t occur in 2019. (Just don’t be surprised if some officials start claiming otherwise. There are people on the government payrolls whose jobs titles may as well be We Who Claim Otherwise.)

The actual amendment was introduced by the bill’s chief sponsor, Rob Martwick, who happens to be my State Representative. It’s very clear from the reports out of Springfield that Martwick was told that if he wanted the bill to get a vote in the Senate, he’d have to accede to changing the date. Martwick has been the most ardent champion of the elected board down in Springfield. Don’t blame him for the amendment.

The 2023 date represents a deal brokered by House Speaker Michael Madigan. We don’t know who all was party to the negotiations. And I don’t have some kind of deep inside information about what’s going down. But I pay attention. And I can see what’s happened here. It’s a brilliant political coup, pulled off by a couple of people who really are political geniuses… just not in ways that actually result in good things for the people they represent.

There are a lot of takeaways from how this has gone down. And a lot of potential winners. Here’s what’s really happening:

First, if there was any lingering doubt, it’s gone now: Rahm Emanuel is definitely running for reelection in 2019. But it’s not just that. He’s the one who “gave” the most in cutting this deal, so he expects a lot back. One thing he absolutely expects is much stronger institutional support from the Democratic Party apparatus in Chicago. That means support from Madigan, but also a synergistic relationship with the man that Madigan and Emanuel are trying to force down our throats to be the next Governor, J.B. Pritzker, whose billions of dollars could be instrumental in helping keep some wavering aldermen in line. The other thing Emanuel gets out of this is a full six more years to do what he wants with CPS. This means more union busting, more charter schools, more nonsense mandates, more rigged graduation rates, more squeezing of special education funds, more privatization… the list goes on and on. But, you might ask, doesn’t he already have that?

That’s where the next piece comes in. Don’t think for a second that Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the SUPES scandal represent some kind of extreme outlier situation. What made the SUPES scandal different is that Byrd-Bennett was both sloppy and greedy. See, the next batch of fat contracts won’t involve bribes – at least, not the kind you can actually get prosecuted for. Instead, you can expect to see more fat campaign contributions, going a lot of different directions. You can expect to see more sweetheart deals. The drive to privatize will get even more intense. And with the tap potentially set to run dry in 2023, you can also expect to see new, more exotic things start to happen.

How exotic? We have use our imaginations here. Think about the city’s recent parking meter deal. It was a terrible long-term deal for the city, all done in the name of a short-term cash injection. Think about how the state is looking to sell the Thompson Center. When government really wants cash for something – especially if it’s an intentional one-off use sort of thing – it will find assets to sell. It will find deals to cut. So what assets might CPS have – assets that someone else might be interested in? Look to see moves to start selling anything off that isn’t a school proper, to be then turned around and leased back to CPS. For that matter, don’t even rule out the possibility that CPS will start to try and sell more school buildings. No, they haven’t done well selling off the buildings they’ve closed in the past few years. But what if there are buildings in more attractive locations, places where developers might be more interested? You can’t rule this stuff out given the people who are running the show. Now, if you’re thinking that one thing CPS really can’t do is get away with closing any more buildings… think again.


For the 2016-17 school year, CPS experienced an overall enrollment drop of about 13,000 students. That’s a 3.5% drop. In one year.

The mass exodus of families is only going to continue. The percentage drop might level off. But the year over year losses will continue for the foreseeable future. Parochial or private schools might pick up some of the numbers, but a lot of those people are just going to leave the city. And don’t think for a second that this is seen as some kind of dire crisis on the part of the existing CPS leadership. The ripple effect of the enrollment free-fall is massive, and it’s well-worth stopping to consider who will actually benefit from this.

If a school has fewer students, then with student-based budgeting in place, it’ll get less money, which means less staff, which means fewer unionized teachers. In some cases, it’ll mean that a school has so few students left that it’ll have to get closed… or, if it’s still not politically feasible to “close” a school, then we can expect instead to see some “mergers” and other creative ways to make it so that there are fewer buildings open. Part of the calculus here too is that the stronger charter networks will ride the storm out. If the neighborhood schools continue to deteriorate, that’s all the more reason for parents to clamor for charters, right? CPS buildings will wind up being sold to privately bankrolled charter networks, accomplishing two huge goals in one – expanding charters while also bringing in an influx of cash. Some smaller charter operators might fold, but really, the Powers That Be don’t care about most of those people anyway.

There are also a lot of collateral benefits to driving families out of the city. The engine of gentrification isn’t going to slow down, after all. Sure, some of those young professionals will themselves want good schools to send their kids to. But the overall system will make sure that there’s still ways for at least some of those desirable populations to get access to better resources. After all, if things go according to plan, Pritzker will become Governor, Illinois will institute a progressive income tax, property taxes won’t actually shift much, and the result will be that even if CPS as a whole continues to struggle financially, the better-off schools will continue to get just enough that not everyone will leave. Remember: the overwhelming majority of the students who left before this school year were black or Latino.

And then, on top of all of this, the entrenched political elite will actually be able to claim that they gave the people what the people wanted. In so doing, they will blunt some of their loudest critics, because the elected school board has been the single most galvanizing issue for parents across the city. Unlike CPS funding woes, which are very complicated and which require layered solutions, the appointed school board is a discrete problem, and the elected school board is a discrete solution. It’s been a gateway issue to get parents and others more involved in fighting for other issues. Take away the elected school board issue, though, and you’re actually weakening the progressive opposition in the city.

But, you might ask, if all of this is true, and it does so many positive things for Emanuel and Madigan, wouldn’t Rauner simply veto this? It’s a logical question. And the logical answer is: No, he won’t, because many of the benefits are actually things he wants to see too. The Chicago Teachers Union is the strongest union local in Illinois. Rauner desperately wants to destroy them. If there’s a way to hurt the CTU by signing an elected school board into law, he’ll do it. He’ll also be fully on board with the privatization and related initiatives. He won’t like the idea of the synergy between Madigan, Emanuel, and Pritzker, but that was going to happen anyway. Rauner is a lot of things, but he’s not an idiot. In all likelihood, if he wasn’t literally at the table when the 2023 deal was cut, he was at least in the loop. In practice, this can be a net win for him too.

There is one possible saving grace in all of this: Rahm Emanuel still his to win reelection in 2019, and he is still very much vulnerable. But he’s already taken multiple steps to shore up his support. Just this week, a handful of black aldermen nevertheless already held a press conference endorsing him for reelection, even though he hasn’t even said he’s running! Nobody close to Madigan, Cullerton, or Pritzker is going to openly side against him. Too many people fell out of line in 2015, so a lot is being done now to ensure more of them stay in line: new school construction, a multi-front effort against Rauner, the hush-hush coalition backing Pritzker, etc. And by weakening some of his biggest critics – notably including the CTU – Emanuel is doing a masterful job of reestablishing himself.


I have a three year old. He’d be in third grade in February 2023. That would mean four years in an intentionally resource-deprived system, one which seems like it will only keep getting worse. It’s one thing for adults to stand up and fight an unfair system. It’s something else entirely to put your children on the front lines of those fights, especially if there aren’t other kinds of ties holding you to the city.

I also serve on a Local School Council. I have voted to approve school budgets which were, in my opinion, illegally constructed, foisted upon us by a CPS Central Office that really doesn’t care what the law says, and really doesn’t care about its students except insomuch that they want to be able to tell a good story about them. That’s why you see these amazing increases in graduation rates, for example. It’s a good story. But as I read in an article just this week, these diplomas are so flimsy in some cases, they’re actually doing more for CPS than they are for the kids themselves.

It kills me. I see the quality of the staff in our neighborhood school. I see the tremendous, beautiful diversity the school offers. We have a nice neighborhood. We’re a block from the school. It should be an ideal situation for my son to walk into two years from now. And instead, we’re hearing the message loud and clear from downtown: You people should just go away. We don’t care about your kid, and we never will. Oh, we’ll pretend sometimes. But you know better. So just go away already, okay? And so it doesn’t matter how wonderful the people immediately around us are. It just seems like the effective result of staying and fighting is to deprive our child of a better education. It’d be one thing if it was about us. But when it’s about him? Well, it’s not hard for me to understand why there’s 13,000 fewer students in CPS this year.

The one thing I’d pinned some real hope on was that we might be able to put enough pressure on the political establishment that the elected school board could become a reality – just in time for him to start school. But now, today, we are confronted with the stupefying reality: The news that we may actually be getting the elected school board is actually not good news at all. As the late, great Karl Hendricks put it: The jerks win again.

Progressive Politics in Chicago and Cook County, Part 3

March 16th, 2016

[This is also separately posted to Facebook.]

Part 3. The last sentence from Part 2 was:

This is where a Progressive Party can make a huge difference.

I’m not going to rewrite Part 2. I’ll only note right now that when I talk about a Progressive Party from this point forward, I am specifically talking about Chicago and Cook County, and not necessarily talking about something national in scope. And it doesn’t _need_ to be named “Progressive”. That is simply the best name I could come up with for what I’m describing here, and this is explained in Part 2.

So what could a Progressive Party in Cook County do?

I left off in Part 2 talking about the possible school board races in 2018. I am not suggesting that a Progressive Party would “field” a slate of candidates. But I think it could _faciliate_ such a slate. By that I mean that it could muster resources, define an extensive platform for school board candidates, and strengthen individual candidates by giving them a visible identity as part of a larger movement in support of teachers and students. If the candidates themselves find merit in associating as a citywide slate under the progressive banner, or some other banner, that’s great, but it’s not necessarily essential to what I’m saying.

This Progressive Party could also bolster its credentials by fielding candidates _on its own party line_ *this fall* against well-known pro-charter legislators. If it moved quickly, it could help be a unifying force in pushing John Cullerton to call the elected school board bill in the Senate, something which hasn’t happened yet and which is still up in the air. I am specifically suggesting here that this new formation take the lead in organizing a large-scale rally to be held outside Cullerton’s Chicago office if the bill is not called relatively soon.

Importantly, all of these things can be done without having to be done within Democratic power structures. Also importantly, all of these things could be done _without necessarily having to go after those same structures head on_. Here is where I’m going to make a somewhat controversial argument about how to function outside of Democratic power structures, but without in the process shunning those people within the structures who we simply have to be working with.

Many people who I have seen call for a new party which would be “independent” and/or “working class” and/or “socialist” have expressed views which I would characterize as “oppositionalist”. This is actually one of the things which over time has torn the Green Party apart. The emphasis on “independence” has largely precluded being able to work with good people who happen to be existing officeholders. Would-be supporters who see an organization shun other people who those same supporters are fond of tend to go elsewhere. Sadly, I have too often found that Greens, Socialists, and others on the Left are content with this state of affairs. They’re more interested in “purity” than in actually accomplishing anything.

If a Progressive Party came into existence within Chicago and surrounding areas in 2016, I don’t see it fielding candidates for statewide office in 2018. That will be an all hands on deck year to get rid of Bruce Rauner. But I do anticipate there will be a sharply contested Democratic primary for Governor. And it may well come to pass that one or more candidates who might emerge will come from the progressive-leaning wing of the party, and will wind up running against one or more candidates from the Machine wing of the party. Given that two very plausible candidates for Governor in 2018 are Pat Quinn and Lisa Madigan, I think it behooves progressives to go out in search of someone else. And fast.

I don’t think it necessarily sacrifices “independence” for a Progressive Party to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary. If you are willing to accept up front that the organization is neither prepared to run, nor especially interested in fielding, a candidate of its own for Governor, then to completely sit out the primary process means accepting irrelevance on a crucial matter. If the legal structures we were dealing with were different – if we had Instant Runoff Voting, if we don’t have hideous ballot access hurdles, etc. – then I would be writing something different. But I have a child whose kindergarten year will coincide with the first year of the next governor’s term. I want a progressive in place, and most everybody reading this should want the same.

I insist that it *is* possible for a Progressive Party (or whatever else it might be called) to simultaneously field occasional candidates for state legislature; to build up a legally recognized (though likely spotty) party structure along the way; to take the lead in organizing a strong slate of public education advocates for the potential 2018 school board elections; and to participate on its own terms in the primary processes for vital offices like Governor.

I think such a nuanced place is where a heaping pile of Bernie Sanders supporters would want to be. They don’t want to give up participation in the high-level elections that matter. But they also don’t want to accept any kind of Machine status quo. They want to have it both ways, and why on earth would intelligent progressives be so antagonistic as to tell such a large number of simpatico people that they’re not allowed to have it both ways?

My immediate concern would not be with developing a formal city-level Progressive structure in Chicago, by which I mean bylaws and formal membership processes and so forth. I think that could start out more informally. I think focused organizing around supporting the elected school board should be of primary concern, and possibly also targeting a couple of pro-charter legislators. I also think one of the things which will need to get figured out early on is how the people who like any such idea and are interested in pursuing it will be able to interact with incumbent officeholders, especially some of the members of the Progressive Caucus. Frankly, I think the discussion at hand needs to have some of them at the table. (I know that’s a point on which some smart and reasonable people might disagree. I only insist that we can’t let a disagreement on a matter like that be the kind of thing which shuts everything down.)

I also think, along the way, other parallel support entities need to come into existence. One thing I am specifically thinking about is what I see as the glaring need for a strong progressive political web and social media presence which focuses on Chicago issues and brings together prominent voices from across the city (and maybe across a broader region). I am not talking about some sort of unwieldly collective, but rather a core group of 4 or 5 writers who want to get a small blog site together. I would really like to see some of the news aggregation entities citing pieces from such a group. I know Aldertrack would do so if it was done well enough, and I’m pretty sure Politico would do so as well. Progressives right now do not have a significant media voice. The best we have as far as the daily and weekly news cycles go would probably be the Reader, and the Reader is fine and all, but it can’t be what I’m talking about here.

Another thing I would explicitly like to see is a formal network of progressive LSC members from across the city. There are a couple of things out there sort of like this, but I’d like to see this go to the next level, with more formal networks of communication. I really dislike the idea that everything that LSCs hear ultimately comes from CPS or is otherwise mediated through other entities. I’d especially like to see strong LSC connections within continguous areas of the city.

Now, I’m writing this in plain text, and I’m not going to go draw a picture of a Venn diagram. But I’ll try to describe how I see this Progressive Party, whatever it means structurally, insomuch as it overlaps or doesn’t overlap with other groups.

Consider the following groups of people: Democrats, Machine Democrats, Progressive Democrats, Independent Democrats, Progressives, Independents, Greens, Socialists. I’m here trying to identify self-selected groups, by which I mean, I’m trying to describe people the way that they describe themselves. The only group which might not be like that is Machine Democrats, because people don’t usually come right out and cop to that. But we all know hardcore Machine Democrats when we see them.

The “Progressive Party” bubble, as I see it, overlaps with those Democrats who identify as Progressives; overlaps with some Independent Democrats, but not all of them; overlaps with a lot of Independents but certainly not all of them; and overlaps with most people who self-identify as Green or Socialist. This means that, yes, existing Democratic officeholders might realistically and fairly be seen as Progressives who interact with the Progressive Party. I’m not, at this time, going to suggest what any kinds of formal walls might be. I don’t want to get caught up in defining a positive movement in the negative.

I very much understand how problematic it is to put this out there without being explicit, but one person shouldn’t be trying to set all the rules of discourse here. I’m trying to advance a really broad and interesting idea without getting caught up in all of the details. That’s something people should talk about, and by “people”, I mean more than the people who I personally know. It’s got to go a lot broader than that.

To use one example of how this interaction might work: Instead of a Regular Democratic Organization, the org which exists there now is the 45th Ward Independent Democrats. In that name the word “Independent” is meant to signify that it’s not a Machine organization. It’s led by the Alderman, John Arena, who’s one of the more prominent members of the Progressive Caucus.

I would expect that some of the people who associated with that organization would be very happy to see a Progressive Party organization. Others would not see the need, since they’ve already got the kind of organization which they think they should have. Others might even be hostile. There’s a range there, and I see no inherent problem with the idea that some of them will want to be involved in a Progressive Party and be plugged in to that, while other might not. That means that there would be an overlap, but not a complete overlap, between the two groups, as involves people who live in that ward.

If there were a 45th Ward Progressives group, my guess is that they would be on the same page as the 45th Ward Independent Democrats the vast majority of the time, but might favor different candidates from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with that, and organizations like that shouldn’t have to see each other in an adversarial light. If you look at the recent 40th State Rep primary, some aldermen supported Jaime Andrade and some supported Harish Patel. It’s not like those who were on opposite sides of that aren’t going to talk to each other now.

One of the problems that the Green Party always had is that it largely refused to be on decent terms with any self-identifying Democratic entity, unless it was one which was itself mostly fringe, like a Progressive Democrats of America chapter. Greens wound up so isolated as a result that over the long haul, it caused a lot of damage and helped contribute to the party operating more like a club or, in some places, even like a cult.

I reject the dichotomy that you either have to sell out to the dominant political paradigm to participate, or you have to go off into isolation and just hope for the best. I think there’s a principled place inbetween.

Within that principled place, there are two issues which I see as especially critical, otherwise the whole thing is a non-starter. First, any kind of Progressive Party which comes into existence simply cannot be a party overwhelmingly composed of white men. It must, at the outset, be broadly representative of the city, to the best extent possible. I am acutely aware how hard it might be for this idea to take off equally well everywhere in Chicago. But one of the things which has become so thoroughly unacceptable in the Green Party is how unwelcome new people are – especially youth, and certainly also minorities. It just can’t be that way.

The second thing which I think is critical is that there must be a principle in opposition to corporate financing. This is an entity which has to talk the talk and walk the walk on campaign finance. I know this might itself be a big problem when it comes to interacting with some officeholders, because even people who have really done a good job can be weak on this issue. But this, to me, has to be a bedrock principle.

Beyond that… I’ve written enough. I think there’s tremendous potential out there, and the results of the primary election convince me that progressives simply have got to come together in a separate way, and establish a political space that will do more than push the Democrats from within the limitations of their structure. Some of my ideas may not be that interesting to people, but the general discussion has got to start somewhere, so hopefully this can all be part of that.

Progressive Politics in Chicago and Cook County, Part 2

March 16th, 2016

[This was separately posted to Facebook.]

This is Part 2 of what is now a 3-part (!) series on progressive politics in Chicago and Cook County. Part 1 dealt with establishing the lay of the land. Part 2 focuses on what progressives can, probably can’t, should, and probably shouldn’t do. I’ll be referencing points from Part 1. Note that Part 1 was an attempt to be very objective in evaluating what’s going on. This part is different. It’s harder to write, as I’m speculating on a lot of things.

Part 2 went on so long that I’ve decided to split it into Parts 2 and 3. Part 2 is heavier on analysis, explanation of legal issues, etc. Because I’m writing so much, and I don’t want people to gloss over everything, Part 3 is much more focused on specific ideas for what to do next, as opposed to explanations of possibilities. Therein I talk about focusing on school board races, how to interact with prominent Democrats, etc.

I held off on finishing this until we could see the primary results. Nationally, it’s now extraordinarily difficult to see how Bernie Sanders can win the nomination, so it stands to reason that people will be looking for something to plug into. (I realize that there are mathematical possibilities open for Bernie. But with the Illinois primary behind us, and the odds very much against him, my assessment here is based on the very strong likelihood that he can not make up his delegate deficit.)

In Chicago, the Republicans are irrelevant in local politics, so only the emergence of third party or independent candidates will make for interesting local elections in November. The primary results, overall, were exceedingly good for the Democratic Machine, and really hammer home the need for progressives to find a way to come together. The most favorable results, though, were a couple of surprises from Ward Committeeman races, which demonstrates that progressive, anti-Machine efforts are most likely to pay off at the ward level.

The essential question I’ve been trying to grapple with is: How can progressives take the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders and apply it toward building something more permanent? I’ve been trying to think of this in both national and local terms. I’m focusing mostly here on what could happen locally, but I’m also viewing Chicago as one of the most important epicenters of progressive political development in the country. What happens in Chicago matters elsewhere, so we have to think in terms of engaging in efforts that, while locally focused, are not parochial in their applications.

So let’s consider all of the Bernie love that’s been going on. If you’re a Bernie supporter, where do you “go” from there? How do you move beyond the presidential, especially in Chicago?

For some people, the question may seem curious, because they already feel pretty good about their local elected officials. Let’s say you live in the 35th Ward – Logan Square, Avondale, thereabouts. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is now your Alderman and also the Democratic Ward Committeeman. There’s no other local electoral effort to be directed into for a while (unless Rosa runs for higher office!) We might expect to see people in such an area mobilized for higher-level races in the future (a hotly contested primary for Governor, perhaps?) Overall, though, if we follow the maxim that all politics are local, we’ve got to think in terms that here are residents who have already won at the local level.

In multiple wards of the city, Independent Political Organizations (IPOs) have been created, and United Neighbors of the 35th Ward is one such example. The thing is that for all practical purposes, that organization has simply displaced the Regular Democratic Organization in the ward. What we have here is perhaps the very best example of how difficult it is to parse where Democratic politics end and self-stated “independent” politics begin.

By becoming Committeeman, Rosa – and for that matter Sue Garza and before her John Arena and Scott Waguespack – has slightly compromised his ability to do certain things, in exchange for gaining an ability to do certain other things. “Compromise” here is intended as a neutral word; I’m not using it as shorthand for “compromised their values”. The reality is that it would have been politically foolish for Rosa not to have run for Committeeman and both consolidate his base and expand his influence. Voters didn’t elect him so that he would sit on the sidelines.

A lot of progressives might feel that such a compromise isn’t worth it, because it betrays “independence” in favor of bolstering the formal Democratic Party organization. I’m not going to argue against that position. Instead, I want to emphasize that even for people who might feel that way, it cannot be used as some sort of a hard litmus test. Any would-be serious progressive movement in Chicago which would outright, as a matter of some randomly elevated principle, shun the likes of Rosa or Garza, is wildly deluding itself, and consigning itself to total isolation. This doesn’t mean that progressives must themselves embrace internal Democratic Party affairs. It does mean that a movement with absolutely no friends is not really a movement.

As many people know, I’ve been heavily involved with the Green Party for 15 years. The Green Party, for what it’s worth, has basically refused to engage in any of the kind of bargaining or alignment I’ve written about. We’ve very strongly supported CTU, and we did endorse some aldermanic candidates for the first time in 2015. But the party generated no enthusiasm for those candidates, and now in 2016, the party is not even attempting to field candidates for state legislature. At one point in time, the Green Party was relevant in Chicago. It’s not today, largely by its own choosing.

My extensive experience in the party, though, understanding both the legal issues confronting an entity which strives to field candidates outside of Democratic Party processes, and the internal issues which at least for the Greens have tended to hold the party back from becoming what I feel it could have become, are very instructive to my overall thinking about what progressives could or should do now. Given the number of people I’ve heard in recent months talk about forming a “new working-class party” or who are so disgusted with Hillary Clinton that they’re looking for an alternative, any discussion about what might constitute such an alternative simply has to take into consideration the extensive experiences of the people who have been on the inside of the Green Party and who understand so well why it has mostly failed over time. I mean no offense to friends or colleagues across the progressive spectrum when I say that while many of you are brilliant and wonderful people, most of you simply do not know the details you need to know when seriously contemplating any kind of broad third party approach.

At this point, I want to explain some technical stuff, which I admit is dry and not too exciting to a lot of activists, but which I think is very important to put on the table so we can have the kind of conversation we need to have.

When I talk about a “formal” political party, I am in general talking about an entity that is either legally recognized under the laws of a given state, or which is seeking to be so recognized. The Libertarian Party, for example, is a formal political party. The Tea Party is not. Organizations like Democratic Socialists of America may constitute a distinguishable political current, and may even in some way aspire to forming formal party organizations, but they are not political parties.

In Illinois, speaking in strict legal terms, there are two kinds of formal political parties: Established and New. These can exist statewide, or isolated within one or more electoral jurisdictions. The Green Party, for example, is Established right now for 5th Congress (north side), 12th Congress (deep downstate), and MWRD. Because the Green Party is established for MWRD, the party is entitled to Ward and Township Committeepersons throughout Cook County. The Democrats and Republicans are of course Established statewide. Any political party which is striving for legal status, whether statewide or within a given district, is considered “New” in the eyes of the state. For ease in understanding what I’m explaining, I will always capitalize the word New when referring to the _legal_ status of a party within Illinois. In general, I will use lower-case “new” to refer to the idea of a political entity which has not before even conceptually existed.

Here I will briefly emphasize: the way all of this works in Illinois is unique. There are similarities to other states, but every single state has developed its own system. While I’m focusing on Illinois here, it should be understood that some of this simply won’t apply in other places, and examples from other places might not hold any relevance here.

I’ve had a number of discussions over time with people who have expressed interest in creating some kind of new political party. This sentiment usually seems to come from people who self-identify as independent and/or socialist. Keep in mind here that a very large number of Sanders supporters self-identify as independent, and a very large number self-identify as socialist. While I’ve seen no numbers, I think we can all agree that those two self-identifying groups substantially overlap. That does not of course mean that there is necessarily a strong sentiment within those groups in favor of the creation of a new party – but for the moment we’re going to assume that there’s sufficient sentiment to justify this line of discussion!

Let’s pursue the idea that a group of people wish to form a formal party within Cook County, under a party name which doesn’t currently exist. For our exercise here I’m going to call this the Orange Party. Let’s say a bunch of people across the county – but, realistically, mostly from Chicago proper – convene in the very near future with a goal of achieving a legally-recognized (i.e. Established) political party.

Up front, there are a lot of immediate issues. First, there’s actually no way to form such an entity directly at the Ward level. Where I live, if I want to become the Orange Party Ward Committeeman, this would require that the Orange Party field one or more candidates at one of these levels: State Representative, State Senator, County Board, Congress, Countywide, Statewide. If you’ve got a good IPO at the Ward level but you’re not also in power there – think the 12th and 33rd Wards for a couple of examples – then the only way for you to have a Ward Committeeperson is if you’re involved with fielding candidates for at least State Representative in your area. (Remember, Alderman is a nonpartisan office.) It might be enticing to try and just field candidates at the countywide level, but it’s brutally difficult to collect the signatures, and precisely who is going to get excited about a candidate for Cook County Recorder of Deeds? Kim Foxx’s win in the State’s Attorney primary pretty much rules out any third party run at the Cook County level in 2016, as I see it.

So for the moment, let’s set aside the idea of fielding New party candidates at the county or state level, and suggest that only state legislative races may be immediately compelling. After all, we know that some pro-charter Democrats won their primaries (notably including some who were unopposed!) Maybe there would be a desire to whip support for a slate of anti-charter candidates to go after certain primary winners.

One problem with this line of thinking is that if there had been much excitement along those lines in the first place, then the pro-charter candidates probably would have just been challenged in the primary. The signature requirement for State Senator in the primary is 1,000. For a New party, it depends on the district, but it might be over 3,000, which is very difficult work.

Another problem is that, regardless of what people might say, most activists are not going to travel any appreciable distance to support candidates running in other districts. We repeatedly found this to be true within the Green Party. We would try to have “anchor” campaigns which would be epicenters of activity for a wide radius around, but people simply didn’t feel ownership or excitement about races which weren’t in their own districts or at least immediately adjacent. Now, I’ve seen some evidence in recent years of organizations recruiting outside volunteers to go in and target specific areas – I know IIRON was doing this with some aldermanic races in 2015 – but I feel like that’s still more the exception than the rule. At best, you might find one or two dynamic candidates with very broad citywide appeal and be able to muster support for them.

It should also be stressed here that when you field candidates in isolated races, you’ve still got all of the other surrounding races to deal with. There might be an Orange Party candidate running for State Representative somewhere, but almost all would-be voters in such a race will also vote for the Democrat for U.S. Senate and U.S. House and the countywide offices. This presents a lot of practical issues, because it means there’s not other campaigns that you can link up with to do combined precinct walking.

And one more thing. If you try to field a candidate in the general election against an incumbent Democrat, and you’re at all regarded as a credible threat, Michael Madigan or John Cullerton will divert six figures worth of their largesse to support the incumbent.

With all that said, I have nevertheless been trying to think through what it might mean for there to be a formal, legal party organization, if not entirely throughout Cook County, at least with remnants scattered across Cook County. I have been trying to think in terms of what the organization might look like, and how it would come to terms with the way in which the Democratic Party is structured around it. All of the practical issues with trying to field such candidates hadn’t deterred the work I was doing in the Green Party for so long, and I found that fielding such candidates could often prove very important for the long-term success of local progressive politics. The Green Party’s work in Logan Square through 2010 is the most notable example, as we established the blueprint which wound up being followed first by Will Guzzardi and then by Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.

The two questions which would have to be asked up front are who any immediate candidates might be, and under what party label they would run. Often identifying who to run has to begin by identifying who to run against, but for my immediate purposes here, I want to set all of that discussion aside. I’ll just speculate here that perhaps 3 state legislative candidates might emerge in Chicago running under the same party label this November, and focus on the party label question.

I see five possibilities for the party label: None / Independent; Green; Working Families; Progressive (or something similar); “Chicago” (or something similar).

I think any such effort which comes together only to field candidates as formal Independents is a waste of time. No formal party structure would wind up being created, and when each race is over, it’s really over. Only if a particular given candidate wanted to use such an approach as a means of preparing for an aldermanic run in the future could I see much merit in it.

I wish it were otherwise, but I don’t see Green as a serious option at this point. The party is now saddled with a horrible congressional candidate in the 5th District, and the party infrastructure itself is largely hostile to “outsiders”. While it might at first seem like an understandable route to go, especially for Sanders supporters who will now need a presidential candidate to support in November and see Jill Stein as the most likely option, unless there was a serious intention on the part of progressives nationally to step in and take over the Green Party as a whole, Green isn’t really a sensible option for the kind of work I’m talking about now. I feel terrible having to admit this, but it is what it is.

I also do not see Working Families as the answer here, for a number of reasons. United Working Families in Chicago wasn’t formed as a bottom-up entity but as a top-down entity pushed by two highly compromised labor unions (CTU and SEIU Healthcare). And the main model of what the existing Working Families Party is comes out of a fusion system in New York which simply doesn’t translate well to other states. I expect that UWF will wind up focusing on the 2019 elections, maybe also getting involved in the school board elections if the elected school board bill eventually passes. But this is not the kind of entity which these large numbers of Bernie supporters can meaningfully plug into.

The primary election results superficially look like CTU had a good night. In reality, though, CTU wasn’t very involved in most places. Its presence mattered in perhaps two races, but in both cases, the winning candidate was more closely linked to the Democratic Machine than to CTU. They are in such an incredibly precarious situation, having essentially been forced to buddy up with Michael Madigan, that it is simply unfair and unrealistic to expect that they are in any position to be the out-in-front leaders of a strong progressive electoral force in Chicago. They badly need a new entity to arise and lead the way, which will protect their flank and give them better room in which to operate. United Working Families is too close to CTU for that, and the other entities involved are actually less radical than CTU itself. For all intents and purposes, the primary results constituted the informal absorption of the Chuy Garcia chunk into the formal Cook County Democratic Party apparatus. In some ways that might prove good and useful down the road, but that’s not the model which is going to sustain extensive progressive change in Chicago or beyond.

This leaves two options: a party label like Progressive, which would be broad and non-localized; or a party label like “Chicago” or anything else where the very name connotes localization. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. To me, though, if you’re going to begin the work of trying to create any kind of formal party apparatus, and you expect to have any reach, giving yourself a localized name is just not a good idea. Suburban voters won’t be interested in a Chicago Party, and what local name will resonate with anyone if it doesn’t have Chicago or a stand-in for Chicago (like “Windy City”) in it?

By process of elimination, I think any attempt to start building a formal legal party structure, with an attendant backbone of a structure rooted either in a membership organization or in an umbrella approach involving various ward-level IPOs, needs a broader, general, uniting name with which people can readily identify. The most logical word I can think of here is Progressive. It’s not a perfect word, and maybe someone can find a better word or couple of words. But it is the word which most sensibly reflects what cross-section of the voting public I think we’re talking about; it is already a known name which people positively identify with; and outside of Vermont, it’s not really in use anywhere.

Now, maybe candidates can emerge under such a party banner in 2016. Maybe progressives simply aren’t prepared for such a thing right now. Because I don’t want to wildly speculate on individual races, I want to just resuggest the idea that perhaps a couple such candidates could emerge this year, in isolated legislative districts. With that as a hypothetical goal, I want to pivot to what I think this party/movement needs to look like, especially within Chicago, but also into Cook County, and, conceptually, across the entire country.

One thing I really dread is the prospect of hauling people into a room to have a discussion about all of this, and getting people generally on board with the idea of creating some kind of new structure, only to have it all degrade into a debate about organizational structure. There’s an inherent danger in completely ignoring structure, but there’s an equal danger in having form demolish function. I’ve been spending a lot of time discussing legal and practical considerations for what an emerging legal political party structure might look like, but I’ve intentionally avoided a lot of discussion about things like bylaws and high-level organizational matters. I’ve been in the trenches for a lot of that stuff, and it’s important, but it sucks the air out of the room, and it turns off activists quicker than anything else.

So having said all that: I’m not going to argue for calling a “convention” of people to come together to form a new party or anything like that. I think we should strive for some general understandings about where we might all be going. It may prove smart to have, say, a Cook County Progressive Party and/or a Chicago Progressives organization within the next year. But I absolutely do not think focus should be on a county-level organization in and of itself. The focus should be on bringing people together to talk about how to best empower local activist communities. If a strong progressive challenger emerges this year to take on a pro-charter incumbent Democratic legislator, how do we marshall resources to support that challenger? That’s the kind of question which should be foremost.

When I look at the existing obstacles to coming together as progressives, whether under a party banner or otherwise, one of the things which I most clearly see is that everybody is very spread out in terms of how they’re organizationally plugged in. Certainly teachers are directly involved with CTU. Some people are very heavily involved in an IPO, or in something else very localized, like Pilsen Alliance or Logan Square Neighborhood Association. Some who aren’t directly involved with CTU have doubled down on education issues, either through groups like Raise Your Hand, or through investment in Local School Councils. There are a lot of great things going on, but it’s often hard for them to talk to one another, and expecting leaders of neighborhood organizations to also step up and be leaders of some new city or county level organization would be stretching these people too thin.

To demonstrate the problems and opportunities, let’s consider the possibility that we’ll have an elected school board in 2018. I’ve already heard rumblings from a lot of corners that pro-charter groups are already gearing up to support candidates, by establishing structures, and identifying money to pump in to races. I’ve seen no comparable effort – yet – on the part of progressives. It’s admittedly hard because we don’t know what the district lines might look like. But let’s pretend we can guess what the district lines would look like.

Here’s the big problem that I see: Most of the very good organizations that progressives and anti-charter people are involved with simply can’t participate in the school board elections. Neighborhood associations are 501c3s. Raise Your Hand is a 501c3. The Cook County Democratic Party structure isn’t going to get involved in these races. The City Council Progressive Caucus and some of their ward-level groups might well get engaged, but that election is also going to coincide with the next set of primary races, with big ticket offices like Governor on the ballot, and that’s where a lot of that attention will be. Even CTU is going to be in a tough position here, because although Chicagoans generally support CTU, it’s going to play poorly in the eyes of voters if CTU spends gobs of cash to try and elect the very board members who would be ratifying their contract.

The school board races, perhaps more than anything else, demonstrate the critical need for there to be citywide communication by progressives, taking place outside of the structure of the Democratic Party, and outside of the confines of most of the good organizations with which people are already involved. There should be a citywide slate of strong progressive public education champions for school board, and right now, there’s no entity in place to take the lead in bringing such a slate together.

This is where a Progressive Party can make a huge difference.

End Part 2.

Progressive Politics in Chicago and Cook County, Part 1

March 16th, 2016

[This was originally posted directly to Facebook and has been copied here. The spacing may be a little off.]

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on progressive politics in Chicago and Cook County. My focus in this part is on the broad lay of the land, which means I’m going to talk about Bernie, Chuy, Toni Preckwinkle, Kim Foxx, the CTU, Omar Aquino, Jaime Andrade, and a whole lot more:

As noted in the Reader article I posted earlier today, the guy running Bernie’s Illinois operation is Clem Balanoff. He was Chuy’s campaign manager. He comes out of SEIU Healthcare.
SEIU Healthcare and the CTU are the main entities which came together to form United Working Families, an organization which has been curiously invisible this election cycle. CTU itself has also been mostly quiet this election cycle, except that I’ve seen it get very involved in two local races. One is the ridiculous Ken Dunkin – Juliana Stratton race and I’m not going to dwell on that here. That race is so out of control that no less than President Obama intervened.
The race where I have seen CTU and education advocates really strongly converging is the 2nd Senate race, where people have been pushing hard for Omar Aquino. Aquino’s opponent is Angelica Alfaro and she’s outspokenly pro-charter. I will say, in very mild defense of Alfaro, that _she went to a charter school_ so at least she’s coming by her position more honestly than a lot of people would.

Of course, CTU and public education supporters and so on want nothing to do with a pro-charter candidate, so they’ve lined up to support Aquino. But the problem is that Aquino is also well-known to be a Joe Berrios surrogate. Berrios put up Aquino to run for 36th Ward Alderman last year. That race was won by Gilbert Villegas, who was backed by Luis Arroyo. A lot of wacky things went down in that part of the city, with another Arroyo backed candidate, Milly Santiago, knocking off Ray Suarez in the 31st Ward. That’s Berrios’s own ward, and he couldn’t protect his own guy.

More recently, the circumstances have changed. The two strongest people in the Cook County Democratic Party right now are Toni Preckwinkle and Michael Madigan – both even stronger than Rahm Emanuel _in the context of the functioning of the party_. Preckwinkle, as it so happens, has been propping up Berrios for a while. Berrios has been Madigan’s stooge for even longer.
So what we are seeing play out right now is a very complicated bargain.

As I noted, the CTU and its allies have fully lined up in support of Aquino. In so doing, they’ve essentially acceded to keeping Berrios around.

Madigan, meanwhile, surprisingly got on board with the Elected School Board bill, one of CTU’s most important pieces of legislation. Madigan and CTU of course have a common enemy in Bruce Rauner. But CTU also has an enemy in Rahm, who fiercely opposes the Elected School Board. The thing here is that Rahm is actually in a fairly weak position, relatively speaking. Rahm needs Madigan to be on the same page regarding everything going on with Springfield. Madigan has decided it’s in his interest to give CTU what they want on this. For all intents and purposes, Rahm is on the sidelines of the bargain at hand. (Of course, Tammy Duckworth is a Rahm surrogate, and the entire Democratic power structure did fall in line to support her Senate run. So maybe that’s what he’s getting out of the bargain.)

In the midst of all this is the appearance of Kim Foxx, who was of course already running for State’s Attorney before the Laquan McDonald video surfaced. She was Preckwinkle’s chief of staff. Preckwinkle has worked hard to back her. Getting Foxx elected is the utmost priority to Preckwinkle, as it will solidify her position as the main county-level power broker for the Democrats. Thing is, back in early November, this was looking like a tall order. Alvarez is a two-term incumbent who even now has a lot of important supporters, such as Ed Burke.
For Preckwinkle to get what she wanted out of this, a lot of bargaining had to be done. She needed Berrios and his people to fall in line – which meant that she needed to be involved in brokering a compromise between Berrios and Arroyo. After the Laquan McDonald video came out, it was also easy for her to get all of the anti-Rahm progressives and most of the black committeemen in line as well. CTU finally climbed on board too. Madigan didn’t, but nobody needed him to. Senate President John Cullerton is in the mix here as well, since the Aquino deal involves a State Senate seat. Madigan and Cullerton simply helped facilitate here.

Now, Alvarez, of course, simply has to go. It doesn’t much matter if Foxx is the greatest thing since sliced bread – this is one of those situations where you have a real cancer in an extremely dangerous office, and the cancer needs to be removed. That Foxx has decent progressive credentials _for a State’s Attorney candidate_ – remember, this is someone running to be the county’s chief prosecutor – is really just a bonus.

One other thing to keep in mind here is that it really helps Rahm out if Alvarez is the chief public official who takes the fall for the Laquan McDonald case. Make no mistake: Rahm wants to see Alvarez go down. He might actually like her personally, but it’s to his political benefit for Foxx to win. He can then continue to separate himself from the “mistakes” made in the State’s Attorney’s office. His goal is to never meaningfully be held personally accountable for anything associated with the Laquan McDonald case.

In the midst of all this bargaining, there are other situations at play as well. Jaime Andrade, trying to hold on as 40th State Representative, wound up getting the endorsements of numerous progressive aldermen, perhaps most importantly the endorsement from Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. His opponent Harish Patel also got some aldermanic endorsements (from Scott Waguespack and Ameya Pawar) but Andrade is clearly in good shape in that election.

Andrade emerged out of thin air as a big CTU champion, and even picked up their endorsement. He started hanging around other progressives. All of this, even though he was given the seat by Dick Mell, and completely owes allegiance to Mell. Mell’s daughter Deb is of course now the 33rd Ward Alderman. (Mell’s son-in-law is in federal prison, but that’s a story for another day, isn’t it?)

Even armed with the support of his benefactor Mell, and with the endorsements of multiple important aldermen, Andrade’s campaign nevertheless has also taken big cash from Michael Madigan, and has used that money to absurdly attack Patel as being a surrogate of Rauner, which is just total crap, but precisely what one would expect from Madigan’s playbook.

Oh also: Chuy and Mell go back. The Garcia-Preckwinkle is perfectly fine letting Mell have what he wants here. After all, Mell is one of the committeemen who helped Preckwinkle with the Foxx endorsement, isn’t he? Because that’s how these things work.

And then there is yet another race where we see a lot of complicated posturing happen. On the near southwest side, there’s a quasi-open seat for 2nd State Representative. Theresa Mah has now been endorsed by Chuy, and by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and by Alderman George Cardenas and his own surrogate, Alderman Raymond Lopez. See? All of the important Latinos are playing nice. They’re all jockeying for position.

The Andrade-Patel and Aquino-Alfaro races, and to a lesser extent the Mah-Acevedo race, are where we can most clearly see what’s happening in terms of aligning forces. The CTU, the bulk of the Progressive Caucus, Chuy Garcia, Toni Preckwinkle, Joe Berrios, and Michael Madigan are all lining up on the same side. Attaching themselves to that grouping are hangers on like Luis Gutierrez and George Cardenas. The whole thing is increasingly absurd, because there isn’t really a coherent other side to this. Preckwinkle and Madigan aren’t fighting Rahm. CTU isn’t fighting Arroyo. You just wind up with “outsider” unaligned candidates like Patel getting beaten up for daring to get involved at all.

Bernie Sanders, of course, has many other things to concern himself with. But even Bernie has now gone on record supporting the teachers in Chicago. And Chuy is his main campaign surrogate. And Balanoff is running his state operation. And Bernie himself came to Chicago early last year to help get Sue Garza elected as 10th Ward Alderman. Even Bernie has a little skin in the game here.

Now. I’m not trying to disparage Bernie at all when I say that. I’m really just trying to describe the lay of the land. It’s not like Joe Berrios and Michael Madigan are out stumping for Bernie Sanders!

But what people should see in all of this is an attempt being made to say: Hey, look, the Democrats in Cook County are really the good guys. Isn’t Chuy a good guy? Look who all Chuy is hanging out with. Isn’t Toni Preckwinkle very smart and very competent? She wouldn’t line herself up with fools.

The quasi-movement that has sprung up around Bernie, though, has not done so because of any particular affinity for the likes of Joe Berrios or Michael Madigan! If the liberal wing of the county organization thinks that all of these people are just going to roll in line, they’ve got another thing coming. The reality is that Bernie is running a campaign _decidedly to the left_ of anything any of these people here in Cook County are doing. Chuy campaigned for putting 1,000 more police on the streets! Supporting an Elected School Board is not some kind of fringe left-wing idea – it’s called _basic democracy_. Absurdly, we now have a situation where moderate/centrist Democratic officials are indirectly trying to associate themselves _with Bernie Sanders_, even though not a single Congressman from Illinois has endorsed him! Again, none of this I’m holding against Bernie. Chicago is one place among many where crazy shit is happening for him, and he has no chance to control it. He knows how nonsensical Cook County politics are. They take on a life of their own.

So set aside Bernie for the moment, and let’s get back to some cold reality. Michael Madigan is the person most responsible for running the state into the ground. Joe Berrios is widely known to be incredibly corrupt. While it is understandable that an entity like CTU needs friends, for CTU to have gotten so close to the establishment here means that they’re in no position to effectively challenge that same establishment. This is not to knock the CTU, or at least, not to knock them too much. The point here is simply that CTU can’t be expected to provide coherent political leadership on anything else. They’re boxed in, and doing what they can with what play they think they have.

Consider that while the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Elected School Board bill, there are almost no co-sponsors of the bill to allow for the recall of the Mayor. (Although: One very interesting exception to this is Jaime Andrade!) The Democrats in Springfield have for years and years had numerous opportunities to fix the state’s structural deficit and to ensure that the state is pumping in its fair share of dollars to schools. It was always Madigan who refused. Aside from Daley and Emanuel, no single politician has done more to HARM the public school system in Chicago than Michael Madigan. But CTU and Madigan perceive that they need each other right now.

Very few of the Chicago-based legislative races are even being contested. One of the reasons why the Andrade-Patel race has gotten as much attention as it has is because almost none of the neighboring districts are at all contested. Now, one which is – for 15th House – is pitting an even more entrenched family dynasty Machine Democrat in John d’Amico against Jac Charlier. But this has not gotten nearly the same level of outside attention. Perhaps it’s because the district is almost half suburban. Or perhaps it’s because d’Amico isn’t directly involved in anything I’ve noted above… except, of course, that Madigan is giving him gobs of money, even more money than Andrade is getting.

One of the essential problems here, and it is a particularly thorny one to overcome, is that as soon as The Right Person wins an aldermanic seat, the political alignment changes around that person, and they simply become part of the overall Democratic Party process. Look at all of the most progressive aldermen in Chicago. Every single one of them is either also the Democratic Ward Committeemen, or soon will be. Even though we’re not talking about Machine politicians per se, what we _are_ talking about is the continuation of the Machine processes.

There’s no obvious “back door” to get into all of this. Ironically, the way in is through the “front door” – by running an insurgent campaign for Alderman and winning. Even though the aldermanic seats are the most coveted, ironically, the Machine is the most susceptible in those races, because the ward is the smallest electoral unit, and there’s the potential for the runoff (which has treated some incumbents very poorly in recent elections), and because the race is nonpartisan, with the bizarre but accepted protocol that the Cook County Democratic Party doesn’t get involved in the aldermanic races.

Your other alternative to getting in is of course to be a loyalist to a boss and just bide your time. That’s how Andrade got to where he’s at, and that’s how Aquino is going to wind up a State Senator. But these aren’t rational or acceptable ways for progressives to get involved. And so, inexplicably, it seems like the best way for progressives to pry their way in is by running for alderman.

It is possible that the Elected School Board will change this some, because those will be nonpartisan seats covering fairly large areas (2.5 times as large as a ward), and the nominal demand will be necessarily lower since it won’t be a “job”. CTU will of course eagerly pursue getting their own allies in to school board seats. Charter proponents will as well. But what direct stake does someone like Toni Preckwinkle or Michael Madigan have in who’s on the school board? The nature of the stakes are different. The power structure will largely sit it out. And yet those school board members may very well wind up aligned with some faction or another along the way.

That’s the lay of the land, and I didn’t hardly go into details on a lot of it. There are so many nuances, so many weird temporary alliances, it would make a professional wrestling booker’s head spin.

Part 2 will come in the next couple of days, and will talk about what Bernie supporters, progressives, Greens, socialists, anyone who sees all of the above and cringes, might actually try to do under the circumstances.

Borgen and Government and Being Green

January 22nd, 2016

Over the past weekend I finished watching the final season of Borgen. For those of you unfamiliar, Borgen is the Danish word for Government, and the show is three seasons long focusing on how Danish government – and media – function. It might sound like a snoozer from the description, but it’s among the best shows I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend it. (Yes, you have to deal with subtitles. The show is in Danish!)

Denmark has repeatedly been at or near the top of the list of places where people are happiest. It’s also a destination country for migrants who don’t look particularly Danish. The show dealt with that, with Denmark’s role in a broader global climate, and so forth. But it mostly dealt with how a fairly healthy multi-party democracy can function.

It’s hard to get into it in too much detail without spoiling big chunks of it, but it’s a non-spoiler to say that the central character is a Prime Minister from the Moderate Party, which in the context of imagined Danish politics is a “centrist” party, centrist in Denmark meaning something profoundly to the left of the Democrats in the U.S.

The parties represented in the government are, sort of from right to left: Freedom, New Right, Liberal, Moderate, Labor, Greens, Solidarity. It’s not really a precise right-to-left lineup, but it’s presented in a highly coherent way to a U.S. audience, and if you just understand that the main party of the right are the Liberals, whose policies are very similar to the Democrats in the U.S., then the alignments should fairly readily make sense.

If you get beyond the mutli-party dimensions and so forth, though, and compare it to our system – and of course recognizing this is all a fictionalized account – the main thing that stands out in terms of what’s presented is that government is supposed to be a place where people pursue policies, then build support around those policies, and then go get them passed if they can. There’s a process involved that is suspiciously like how one might expect representative democracy to have been conceptually intended to function.

Our own governments at most levels function nothing like that. Legislation is typically generated by fiat, money dictates the particulars of the language that gets pushed, and there is little to no working across party lines.

Even the “extreme” parties presented – the Freedom Party (which is sort of analogous to the Tea Party) and Solidarity (which I suppose is sort of analogous to some sort of Socialist formation) – are still involved in working across party lines and from time to time forming unusual alliances.

The “opposition” – which as the show opens up are the right-wing parties, as the Moderates lead a center-left coalition – are not presented as mere oppositionalists. They are involved in dialogue, often via the media. Nobody is so far at the edge that they’re reduced to pure oppositionalist screaming from the sidelines. It’s a mostly proportional system, therefore if you have enough support, you’ll get at least one MP.

Having watched the whole thing has given me a lot of reason to pause and consider what I have been doing over time and what might be possible given the structural problems with the system in the U.S. If we had a proportional system, the Greens might very well have been placing people in government over the last decade. But because we don’t have a proportional system, the Green Party is both formally marginalized (since it is not in government at all) and indirectly marginalized (people won’t get involved because it’s not in government) and then internally marginalized (because of its outsider status, outsiderism and oppositionalism become badges of honor, things to be cherished, which effectively precludes working with anyone in government ever, only reinforcing how marginal everything is.)

It is that oppositionalism – by which I mean a de facto policy of simply being opposed to the system because it is the system – and the way that it has manifested itself which I think explains a great deal of the long decline of the Green Party in the U.S. At one point I think more people involved were genuinely serious about being in government and working within government. But now I see that many people who have been involved in the party over time never really wanted to do anything like this. It’s much like some of the socialist formations in the U.S., perhaps most notably the ISO, in just being opposed to everything that’s actually happening. This in turn explains why there’s a lot of internal purity tests and so forth. And it also sort of demonstrates that a Green elected to an especially high government position would have a very hard time functioning, because he or she would be under attack from other Greens for ever trying to get anything done with anyone else.

I don’t consider what the Green Party has become to be tenable. The concept of the Green Party is still mostly right to me, but so much has gone wrong, and the denial is so thick, that it is extremely unlikely to be a formation which will actually meaningfully challenge the status quo. It’s not enough to me to stand on principle outside of everything which is going on. The planet does not get saved by people who choose to be on the sidelines.

I grant that what I’m saying sounds suspiciously like what people have said to me before, about how if you want to see policy change, you need to actually get somewhere where you can impact it, etc. That’s not lost on me. When I talk about “choosing to be on the sidelines” though, the distinction I’m drawing is between the party I’ve spent so long trying to build up into an actual player, and what I feel it is now, an entity where people no longer make serious attempts to recruit candidates – and worse, where nobody seems to be very bothered by the fact that there are almost no candidates. We haven’t had a single candidate for state legislature on the ballot in Illinois since 2010, and I feel like this is an extreme embarrassment, but most people who I would consider to be Green leaders just don’t see it that way.

My preference would be to see the party wake up and evolve and find a new coherent path which involves trying to function within the context of a highly dysfunctional government. The government badly needs more people involved who are sincere about trying to get positive things done, and I don’t just mean as elected officials. I’m also talking about “community leaders” here, people who actually interface with their aldermen and legislators and so forth. Unfortunately, my preference doesn’t seem to be shared by a sufficient number of people. We’re at the point now where I think on the whole people are more concerned with the Green Party being some kind of personal political safe place where they can feel good about standing for the right things, implicitly suggesting that they know they have no access to power, and – most importantly – through such an implicit suggestion, essentially conceding that they are in a certain sense okay with it all. I’m not saying that, ultimately, they really are okay with it all. But once you reach a place of helplessness, I suppose it means something to at least be able to hold on to the idea of being right.

Well, I’m not okay with it all. And so I have been trying to think through a different path. I don’t really like the idea that there are Democrats and then there are “Progressive Democrats” or “Independent Democrats” because I’ve seen too many times how people in one of those self-defining categories just serve to reinforce the dominant status quo through much of what they do. I also don’t much care for the concept of being an Independent, because it literally means not self-identifying with anything in particular.

There is also the old idea that there needs to be a Democratic equivalent of the Tea Party – not in terms of policy, but in terms of role relative to the party. I understand the thinking and I don’t think it should be totally dismissed. But the success of the Tea Party (which of course isn’t a party at all) has too much to do with money and how Tea Party types have been exploited along the way. I don’t think that’s the right model, although something which superficially looks similar might work. (I know some people would say, well, how about the Working Families Party? To that I say, what we need here is not a quasi front group.)

Without dwelling on it too much, there is a concept called “fusion” in some states, most notably New York, where a candidate can run on multiple ballot lines. This isn’t going to happen in the rest of the country, though. And it’s worth pointing out that the Green Party in New York has long been adamantly opposed to fusion.

One state that offers a variant on fusion, though, is Vermont. Vermont has a coherent, functional, state-level third party – the Progressive Party – which actually boasts several elected state legislators, and with which a certain U.S. Senator is closely aligned. Now, I already said that fusion isn’t arriving anywhere else. And Vermont is maybe not the very best place to look for a political model which can be used across the country. And yet…

When I was at the Left Politics forum in Chicago several months ago, which for me was mostly dispiriting, one thing which stood out was when one of the people from the Vermont Progressive Party talked about how the mechanics of how Bernie Sanders has run for office. I don’t fully understand the relevant Vermont laws here, but the concept as I understand it is that Bernie essentially runs in the Democratic primary, wins the Democratic nomination, but then declines it, and uses a separate mechanism to get on the ballot as an Independent. In this manner, he appears on the ballot as an Independent; there is technically no Democratic candidate; and there is technically no Progressive candidate. It’s a method that is simply not available in most states, but as the VPP representative explained it, the peculiarities of Vermont law allowed for a situation where Bernie could actually function as a nominal Independent, even while de facto being the Democratic candidate as well.

In turn, the reality is that Bernie Sanders has at least some kind of legitimate chance of winning the Democratic nomination for President, even though he is still regarded as a nominal Independent in Vermont. He had to do something to become a technical Democrat (though I’m not sure precisely what that action was), but as I’ve previously written about, there was no other real mechanism for someone like him to run for President anyway. And even if he ultimately fails – and the odds are still strongly against him, just no longer staggeringly so – I think he’s gotten far enough to prove that this was the right thing to do and the right way to do it, at least generally speaking. It is the aftermath of his campaign which will really tell how “right” this all has really been – if absolutely nothing comes of the campaign then what? – but I think to pre-conclude that his losing will consign the legacy of the campaign to the kind of irrelevance with which we now regard the likes of Dennis Kucinich is at this point somewhere between spiteful and ignorant.

Some of my erstwhile Green colleagues may be loathe to admit it, but circumstances have changed. There are sitting aldermen in Chicago today who we should be happy to stand with. There are candidates running as Democrats against Machine types here in Chicago who are eminently worthy of support. And to suggest that we should not be voting for them because they’re Democrats, when Greens are literally not running anyone at all for any such offices… I don’t see how such a position can be defended anymore. I am mindful here of Peter Camejo’s strident imploration to NEVER VOTE FOR THESE PEOPLE EVER AGAIN. But “these people” were different in 2004. Today, while I think the vast majority of elected officials who call themselves Democrats are somewhere on the spectrum from lousy to horrific, the reality is that a decent and maybe even a growing number are not. The electorate is evolving, even though it’s happening at a time where there is not a strong third party for the evolving electorate to identify with. Some people may deny that, but, as I’ve painfully found in recent years, Greens are especially good at denial.

I’ve fought and fought and fought over time to put the Green Party on the course I thought it should be on. Anyone who would try to belittle what I’m saying now by claiming I’m not pitching in or not working for the change I want to see is choosing to ignore what I’m saying and choosing to ignore my body of work over time. The Green Party I tried to build is clearly not possible at this time, and continuing to fight for it in the same old ways is the kind of repetition-as-stupidity that we have long tried to pillory Democratic voters for. Instead of perpetuating the fight, instead of continuing to put myself through the agony of horrible meetings, I will attempt to blaze a new path and lead by example.

It is time to accept that Greens will not be running a lot of candidates – and in so doing, to also accept that there may be people running as Democrats who are worthy of support. And, beyond that, to actually support them.

It is time to accept that a person can put themselves out as a Green and still work with people from other parties. We have to deal with legislators and aldermen and others. We have to deal with them as reasonable people, not grit our teeth through the process. We have to actually do things community leaders should be doing, like rallying people to contact those elected officials about important legislation, instead of blowing off such political work on the grounds that no Democrat (or Republican) would listen anyway. These people aren’t automatons. They will be responsive to their constituents about things that you might not otherwise expect. Let’s embrace that instead of dismissing that.

And beyond all that, I think the party itself should embrace these positions as well. For a very long time I have adamantly maintained that the Green Party should not be endorsing candidates in other party’s primaries. Well, I’ve changed my mind. If the Green Party has no intention of fielding a candidate for a given office, and if there is a particularly vital primary for that office which everyone knows is the de facto real election, then the truly appropriate thing to do is take a position. The best example at hand is the Cook County State’s Attorney’s race. Kim Foxx may or may not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we all know what Anita Alvarez is, and if the party is willing to take the position that Alvarez should resign, then it should be willing to take the position that people who are going to vote in the Democratic primary anyway should be voting for Foxx. That doesn’t mean that this should necessarily happen. Maybe closer examination of Foxx’s questionnaires reveals someone who isn’t truly worthy of an endorsement. My point is, narrowly, that the party should be willing to consider such an endorsement. Maybe this doesn’t sound like so much of a stretch to some, but from me, it’s a huge break, and reflects a very different vantage point about the party.

In short, I no longer think it makes sense to talk about the Green Party in terms that it could or should be another major party. Maybe such a goal is realistic at some much later date. This may seem like a strange analogy, but I think one which kind of works is one involving the English Football Association. There are 20 Premier League teams, and then 20 teams in the Championship League, and then there is a League One, and then there is a League Two. It is very difficult to imagine most teams which are currently in League Two winding up in the Premier League at any point – they have nowhere near the financial resources, they play to much smaller crowds, the best players will always go sign somewhere else. But sometimes a squad can actually get promoted in a hurry. Bournemouth was almost relegated completely out of the Football League in 2009. Then in 2010 they were promoted from League Two to League One. Two years later, they were promoted from League One to the Championship League. Two years after that, they won the Championship League, and are now in the Premier League for the first time. A dynamic coach, a dynamic bunch of young players coming together, maybe some lucky breaks here and there… this sort of stuff can happen. But it can’t happen to an entity like the Green Party which is hardly doing anything at all. Resetting expectations does not mean resetting permanent expectations. But refusing to change anything means permanent irrelevance.

Still, it’s not an internal argument I’m likely to win. So as I said above, my choice is to lead by example instead. If there are candidates running as Democrats who are sincerely worthy of support, then they will have my support. I’m thinking here of people like Jac Charlier, running for 15th State Representative against an ultimate Machine Democrat in John D’Amico.

I’m sure all of this feels a long way afoot from my having started writing about a Danish television program. But inspiration can come in a lot of different ways. For me, the vital takeaway from Borgen is that things change when people get involved in processes which can lead to change. It may not always be clear which processes those are, but when it becomes obvious that what you’re doing is not affecting any change, then you need to evaluate what your principles actually are. If your desire is to a principled oppositionalist, then you and I simply don’t have that much in common. My desire is to be affect change in a principled way, and I refuse to accept that there is no way to do so.

I am a proud member of the Green Party, but I will no longer engage in internal actions which have no hope of accomplishing anything. One of the Ten Key Values is Personal and Global Responsibility, and I find nothing responsible about bashing one’s head endlessly into a wall. Those of us who are serious about affecting change, and who very well understand that societal change requires governmental change, and who further understand that the Green Party is not currently equipped to lead the way in affecting such governmental change, should join together to find a different path that exults the Ten Key Values. The Green Party can still play an important role, and may one day be again poised to play an even more important role. But we came together in the name of lofty ideals like Social Justice, Non-Violence, Ecological Wisdom, and Grassroots Democracy, not in the name of doing the same thing endlessly and hoping it would turn out different. To respect what the Green Party stands for requires that even if the party itself will not evolve, those of who self-identify Green will evolve nevertheless.

Yes, Rahm Can Still Be Recalled

January 5th, 2016

Today’s big news was that Governor Rauner came out in favor of LaShawn Ford’s recall bill. But the way the press picked up on it… let’s just say that some of them whiffed.

Let’s take the Sun-Times article first. Rauner said he hasn’t studied HB4356, but based on what he knows about, he’d sign it. Then he is quoted as saying that he would be “broadly supportive of the recall concept in general for all elected officials in the state.”

Two and a half weeks ago, this is what I said:

Rauner might even find it politically expedient to champion broader recall provisions, including ones that could ultimately make even himself subject to recall.

Now, I forgot at that point that gubernatorial recall actually had been snuck in to the Illinois Constitution in the aftermath of the Blagojevich mess. Bad on me there. But I got it right that Rauner would support recall, and I wasn’t just stabbing in the dark with that.

Now, Greg Hinz has his own theories about Rauner’s motivations. I’d say he’s got it mostly right. Importantly, Hinz nails the nuance in Rauner’s remark about the applicability of the law, and it’s something people really ought to pay closer attention to.

Back to the Sun-Times article first. Mark Brown wrote there: “Rauner said he has been advised any such legislation could not apply to current elected officials. That might tamp down the implication that he was taking a swipe at Emanuel, but you know that Emanuel doesn’t want the Legislature to pass such a bill.”

Then there’s the AP article which Crain’s picked up on. It just blandly states, off the top, that Rauner “says the law wouldn’t apply to Rahm Emanuel.”

But Hinz sees through it. He knows that it’s an open legal question as to whether the recall provision could apply to Emanuel. If the bill passes as is, and recall proceedings actually take off, then the whole mess will wind up in court. For a long time. And that will be terrible for Emanuel. Not as bad, you might argue, as being recalled. But it would involve an extremely expensive, extremely ugly, neverending public spectacle. It would cripple Emanuel’s ability to get much of anything of substance done. And that may very well be Rauner’s point… just like Hinz suggests.

Meanwhile, HB4356 has picked up three more sponsors… all of them suburban Republicans. Pat Quinn came out in favor of recall. More importantly, so did Lisa Madigan. And the General Assembly overplayed its hand when it put forward the constitutional amendment which allows for recalling the Governor without mentioning anyone else. Ford’s bill practically copies the language from the gubernatorial recall provision verbatim. This means that the General Assembly thinks recall is fine conceptually, right?

So this bill is not going to be killed off any time soon. It faces a more difficult road in the Senate, because John Cullerton is a much closer ally of Emanuel, but what’s being set up right now is a coalition of Republicans who want to please Rauner, Chicago Democrats who want to flaunt their independence, and… it won’t take a whole lot of other people. And while the reasons people might rally around recall might be to pursue their own agendas, in the end, recall should always be a fundamental democratic right.

In the wake of Rauner’s statement, look for more Republican co-sponsors, and look for more Chicago Democrats as well. Often bills like this would get assigned to Rules and buried there, but if that happens now, it will be blatant case of Michael Madigan protecting Emanuel. His best bet may be to let it squeak out of the House and then die in the Senate, if he and Cullerton are pretty sure that can happen. But can they really be sure?

This isn’t going away.

Statement to Chicago Board of Education

November 20th, 2015

The following is my pre-prepared statement made in front of the Chicago Board of Education on November 18, 2015. As I read it, it was edited slightly given what others present had already said.

Members of the Board. My name is Phil Huckelberry and I am on the Local School Council for Prussing Elementary. As you know, on October 30 our school experienced a major carbon monoxide incident.

In front of you are Relevant City of Chicago Ordinances Pertaining to Boiler Operation. You may not have been previously aware of these specific ordinances. We believe, however, that your administrators have been very much aware, have knowingly been in violation for some time, and that because of high-level conversations, City of Chicago inspectors have been instructed not to enforce the ordinances.

We believe that this reality, in conjunction with the history of issues with the boiler system at Prussing as partially outlined on the reverse of the document, combine to demonstrate a pattern of negligence, for which this Board must hold senior CPS officials accountable.

The Prussing community demands the following actions be taken:

First, we demand a comprehensive systems upgrade, including replacement of the school boilers, heating controls, and any other elements previously identified as being so needy.

Second, we demand the permanent reinstatement of a full-time building engineer at Prussing, and at all relevant CPS schools, so as to ensure compliance with city ordinance, and to help ensure safety in all schools.

Third, we demand the issuance of thorough CPS protocols governing the installation and inspection of carbon monoxide detectors. Adding 5,000 detectors is great, but not if most of them stop working.

Fourth, we demand a thorough internal investigation into the history of the boiler situation at Prussing, the results of which will be made readily available to the school community.

Fifth, we demand the immediate reinstatement of our building engineer, Patrick Kelly, pending an actual fair process. He has clearly been made a scapegoat to cover for the systemic wrongdoings of CPS, and if he is terminated today as CPS administrators are seeking, it will only further infuriate our community.

See, ladies and gentlemen: Either you sincerely care about the health and safety of our students and staff, or you don’t. If you don’t care, well, then, you don’t care.

If, however, you do care, then it is about damn time you showed it. This experience has convinced parents that neither the Board nor your administration truly care about their kids, and they desperately want you to prove otherwise, and move to rebuild their trust.

Thank you for your time.

wacko road

July 24th, 2009

I had thought I might blog some from this national Green Party meeting in Durham NC, but only about an hour or an hour and a half ago was I actually able to get online on the laptop. The campus-wide network at NCCU hasn’t worked in any building I’ve been on, and so I’m in the computer lab of the dorm in which we’re all staying for the weekend. And so, naturally, here, in the computer lab, where I’m making use of an ethernet cable borrowed from one of the computers, here is where the wireless network actually works. It doesn’t even work in the foyer 20 feet away.

The cafeteria here is surprisingly good. It’s a Sodexho cafeteria, but a lot of the options are actually choice. I was able to concoct a near-vegan burrito out of beans, rice, plantains, kale, and grilled squash. The highlight/surprise was the kale, which I learned was sauteed in sesame oil. This may have been the most important thing I’ve learned in months.

The meeting has gone well. It has been remarkably low-key. It’s poorly attended, as expected, but since we drove the budget way down, we’re alright in terms of the finances. I got to get up and channel my “inner Cobb” a couple of times in the plenary session, and that’s always a little fun, though I admit it seems kind of strange that I would need to play that role. We’re talking about a room full of people who, whatever else anyone might say, are definitely passionate people, and yet there often seems to be the need for some sort of over-the-top energy burst.

Weirder than playing the Cobb role, though, is playing the GQ role. I think Jason and I were the only two people in suits each of these two days. I realize this is not a suit-wearing crowd, but it’s still a bit odd to think of myself as the jetsetter in the group. At work, I’m the guy in the operation who usually doesn’t wear a tie, and to legions of adoring fans back home, I’m still the guy with a pair of flannels in the closet and no less than three Mike Watt t-shirts.

I can build my energy up when I need to but I feel like when it comes back down, it comes back down pretty hard. Unfortunately my days off are being chopped off into things like this, which are energy drains, instead of vacations which might somehow be revitalizing. In part because I’ve been so busy, in part because there’s always some kind of excuse, in part because I feel such an energy drain that I want to maximize my “work time” at home since I think it’ll take me longer to get things done, I haven’t made it into the gym in weeks. I’ve got to reverse that trend starting this week but it just seems so daunting. I haven’t biked to work all season, either, even though it doesn’t take me any longer to bike than to ride the CTA. It seems like I’m simply obsessed with burning through the books which have piled up around me.

What’s kind of bizarre is that even as I’m at this meeting with all of these serious activists, I still kind of feel like there was some kind of activist highpoint, at least surrounding me, about five to six years ago. Part of it must have been that some of the activism was new to me and the freshness was there, but too it must have been that just being around people with energy and enthusiasm while also talking about a whole lot of divergent issues was really uplifting and inspiring. I don’t like the current meta-role I have because I’m not going to other things and being that kind of “crossover” activist that is bringing people from other groups in and so forth. Who has the time for something like that anyway? It’ll be interesting to see how things develop at the beginning of this petition drive, and then when it wraps up.

Now, since this blog (at gets crossposted to Facebook, a lot of people who might stumble upon this might have very little idea what some of the things that I’m referring to are. It’s just that it’s gotten to the point where I’m not really thinking in terms of providing certain basic details about things, because there’s such a common part of existence that I don’t think to mention them. That probably sounds vague, so let me put it like this. Here we are about to begin petitioning for the 2010 primary on August 4, with seven statewide candidates and a whole slew of other candidates. I’m the Chair of the Illinois Green Party so I’m doing the bulk of the coordination on a lot of this. But mentioning all of that is something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, because it would be like prefacing the comment “my boss got mad today at some guy on the phone” with a full-blown explanation of where I work and what I do, and who would do that? I’d have a Facebook status that looks like this:

Phil Huckelberry works at John Hancock Observatory where he is employed as an Analyst. His boss got mad today when somebody called.

instead of a status like this:

Phil Huckelberry some doofus called the office and Daniel turned bright fuschia

If people constantly posted status updates like the first one, everybody would think that they were a little touched in the head. So, you see, we now live in this environment where people who have connections to one another but don’t know basic functional realities about each other get tidbits of undirected conversations and so forth, and that necessarily forms their basis for understanding what those people are doing and like etc. It’s just all very strange.

I feel like the derivative of a parabolic function: just one continuous tangent line.