Danny Glover, national activists converge on Evanston as city funds reparations with cannabis tax
The north suburb, with its historic passage last month of legislation creating a $10 million reparations fund seeded by cannabis sales, drew activists and scholars to a “Reparations Town Hall” Wednesday night, keynoted by actor Danny Glover.
Actor Danny Glover told an Evanston town hall Wednesday night the Chicago suburb will go down in history as having led the way in the reparations movement with its groundbreaking legislation funding amends for African Americans with a cannabis sales tax.
On Nov. 25, the Evanston City Council passed a proposal by Ald. Robin Rue Simmons establishing a $10 million reparations fund making amends to its African American population for historic wrongs traced to racial inequities in the affluent north suburb.
“This is an extraordinary moment for us to celebrate, no doubt about that. Ald. Robin Simmons and those who worked in support of this have stood in the fire to make this happen,” Glover told a standing-room only crowd of over 500 gathered for a two-hour discussion of the groundbreaking initiative at Evanston’s First Church of God.
“This is the most intense conversation I believe that we’re going to have in the 21st century, right here — reparations. This is a remarkable step. It is you, the citizens of this extraordinary moment, who will go down in history, and whose voices will be remembered, as they stood up in the face of condemnation, made the choice to stand up for not only their own humanity, but the humanity of all people,” Glover said.
Glover, the U.N. Ambassador for the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, testified earlier this year at a hearing on reparations on Capitol Hill.
Congress in June brought to discourse H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” First introduced in 1989, the bill that would study how America could best make amends for slavery hadn’t been called up in over 10 years, and the likes of Glover and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates had provided riveting testimony.
Simmons’ proposal would redress racism’s impact on Evanston’s African American population, seen in redlining, predatory lending, the educational achievement gap, etc. — making the fund available to assist those residents via a framework yet to be determined.
It will be seeded by a 3% tax on cannabis sales after recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, which made sense after studies found 71% of the town’s marijuana arrests had been in African American communities, Simmons said.
Meanwhile, Evanston’s African American population is on the decline, she said. At 22.5% in the 2000 census, it fell to 16.9% last year.
The fund, to be financed over 10 years, has drawn national attention, after Congress turned the spotlight to reparations, and cities across the nation — including Chicago — began debating whether and what type of amends are due for the sin of slavery.
“So we have this moment. We’ve traveled and journeyed this way before. But we’re at a place where the discourse now becomes another discourse,” said Glover, who held the Congressional hearing rapt in June, when he spoke of his great-grandmother Mary Brown, a slave freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It’s that idea that my great-grandma, born in 1858, had. She didn’t know how to articulate it, but she dreamed it,” Glover told the Evanston audience of folks from far and wide who traveled to the church sanctuary, frequently applauding, and shouting “Reparations Now!”
“It’s the idea of those who’ve come before, and spoke of liberation and freedom and end to slavery. It’s their idea that we step into and enlarge, taking into consideration not only their lives but the lives of their children and their children’s children. This narrative we’re talking about has to be our sole commitment, every single one of us sitting here,” Glover told them.
The late U.S. Rep. John Conyers first introduced the bill to establish a reparations commission, re-introducing it every Congressional session until his retirement in 2017. The baton was picked up by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D.-Texas), sponsor of the bill to authorize $12 million to fund a 13-member commission. It’s co-sponsored by 64 Democrats.
A companion bill by U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — the first reparations legislation ever introduced in the U.S. Senate — languishes in committee.
Booker, Glover, and Coates, author of the lauded June 2014 “The Case for Reparations,” published in the Atlantic, were among those testifying in June. The hearing forced the issue into the Democratic presidential debates.
Leaders of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), which has long led the reparations movement, joined Glover in Evanston, presenting Simmons with a national award.
“We’ve been in conversations and conventions on the study of reparations, but action is taking place right here, and the world is going to see that. Not only are they going to see that, but they will know it is possible,” Glover said.
“We understand the expansiveness of this idea. We have to continue to talk about it. It’s about telling the truth, hearing the truth, living with the truth, in our pain, in our songs, in every single thing that we do. If we can not tell ourselves the truth about our past, we become trapped in it.”