City’s organizing community restless

Written By By LAURA WASHINGTON Posted: 04/25/2014, 12:11am

Rauner v. Quinn. It’s going to be a long, hot season.

The class war of the Nov. 2 election campaign was declared primary night. The polls were barely closed when Gov. Pat Quinn slammed out of the box with stark TV ads attacking Bruce Rauner’s shifting position on the minimum wage.

The venture capitalist got a fright. The 17 to 20 percent margin promised by fickle polls vanished. Crossover public union voters responded to Rauner’s fierce threats by voting Republican for the first time in their lives.

The three GOP state legislators who voted for same-sex marriage held onto their seats, thanks to major cash and energy from their defenders in the gay rights community.

The marriage deal is done. There’s no going back. Religious conservatives, and some in the African-American church, promised hellfire and brimstone.

Damnation did not materialize.

Vernita Gray, the fierce and beloved lesbian activist, can finally rest. She died on election night.

In November, Gray and partner Pat Ewert became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Illinois. They won court approval to wed ahead of the June 1, 2014, official start date of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Gray was terminally ill.

Gray fully earned a few precious months of equality. As gay activist Rick Garcia put it, “Today, we have a powerful advocate in heaven.”

Progressive organizing took some hits. Six years after Barack Obama deployed his community-organizing pedigree to take the presidency, two leading Chicago organizers failed to make the cut.

Josina Morita, a young, grassroots operator who led United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, lost her bid for a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. It’s a blow for Asian power, as she aimed to be the first Asian American to be elected countywide.

Jay Travis, the charismatic former executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, put a scare into freshman State Rep. Christin Mitchell. With monster backup from the teachers unions, she came close, but Mitchell prevailed.

Too close, in fact, for a polished politician who boasted backers like Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obama adviser David Axelrod. Travis will be back.

Chicago’s organizing community is restless. They actually agree with Rauner on one thing: The Democratic Party establishment is not working in their best interests.

So they are looking past November, to 2015.

Four major Chicago progressive operations have been in quiet but intensive planning for a brand-new political organization that will identify, train and run candidates for the 2015 citywide elections.

They aim “to build an infrastructure that allows community folks to act political and exercise political power in a way that doesn’t exist right now,” a top member of the planning team told me late last week. As Bill de Blasio did in New York City, this group thinks the time is ripe to move Chicago to the left. They will formally announce and launch the new organization this summer.

“This is the moment to be bold,” the activist said.

Please let it be hot.


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