Originally published in New Ground 170, January — February, 2017.
by Bob Roman
Everyone is joining the resistance to the Trump agenda, whatever that may be, for we all fear the worst and anything less than that is still pretty bad. Everyone is joining, including what passes for the Democratic Party in Chicago’s 48th Ward, where U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky held her “Anger to Action” community forum on Saturday, January 7. All the local politicians were on the program: 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, State Senator Heather Steans, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Appropriately, 48th Ward Committeewoman Carol Ronen served as the master of ceremonies.
The event was held at the old Broadway Armory on Broadway near Thorndale. It drew somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 people (estimates vary). It was standing room only for a crowd that was largely older and white. The people of color in the audience were mostly not African-American.
Had this rally been held in a January prior to an election, it would not have been all that unusual and it would have had a fairly tight focus on mobilizing election volunteers to action and on getting money to flowing. But without an election, having Democratic politicians organize such an event is decidedly unusual. It was one of several rabble rousing events that Representative Schakowsky appeared at between the New Year and the Inauguration.
While the rally had some ordinary organizational aspects (list building, for example), the emphasis was very much on getting attendees active in non-electoral politics, of which the Women’s March on Washington was the headliner yet but one of several options presented. There was even an organization fair after the rally and a promise of follow-up emails with more activism opportunities. Senator Steans attempted to incite a Twitter bomb, though I’m inclined to think it fizzled, and there was a social media workshop after the rally as well.
The rally did not get much coverage in the media. Indeed, it did not seem to be designed as journalist bait. Among other things, the politicians actually gave speeches rather than providing the strings of sound bites that, in the worst cases, become one non sequitur after another. The speeches were largely what you would expect from a Democratic Party gathering: reproductive rights, LBGT rights, the Illinois budget impasse, education, Obamacare (most especially Obamacare), Social Security…. What is missing from this list? Labor. The labor movement was mentioned precisely three times. The first time was not by a politician but by an activist thanking SEIU for their assistance with the Women’s March on Chicago. The next two times were by Representative Jan Schakowsky who mentioned the need to defend labor rights and, later, the need for $15 / hour and a union.
The point is not to beat up on clueless liberal politicians (though if you wish to do so, dear reader, be my guest). The fact is, having a tin ear is not a survival trait for professional politicians, and this was not a largely union audience. Yet despite the audience, Schakowsky touted the labor movement. That labor was not an automatic inclusion for the others suggests that the labor movement is becoming, even in the minds of liberal Democratic politicians, what conservatives have always accused it of being: a special interest, supportive mentions optional. Friends like these do not have your back; labor has gone from having a seat at the table to being on the table.
Representative Schakowsky, at least, gets this. Even supportive mentions in passing are important. Liberal non-union audiences need to understand that the success of their agenda depends on the health of the labor movement, that there is a considerable overlap between the agendas, that the people who oppose labor’s agenda are largely the people who oppose theirs. All politicians who profess themselves to be friends of labor need to take part in this public education else they are not really friends.
The complete video of the forum is available via the Women’s March on Washington – Illinois Facebook page.