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Karen Lewis reminded us Chicago’s institutions need rebuilding for residents who rely on them

If that requires pushing officials out of their comfort zone — or even their office — so be it.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis introduces the Progressive Gubernatorial Forum on Oct. 8, 2017.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Karen Lewis’ passing, and the remembrances of her unending fight for social justice for Chicagoans now being shared, remind Chicagoans of what we so desperately need today from our self-proclaimed progressive leaders: an unwavering commitment and an unstinting campaign demanding that public officials rebuild Chicago’s institutional infrastructure in every dimension that matters to its residents most reliant upon it.

And, if that requires pushing these officials out of their comfort zone — or even their office — so be it. For it’s clear that whether it’s delivering vaccinations, abating crime in Chicago’s neighborhoods, schooling the city’s children, or getting their out-of-work parents unemployment checks, Illinois’ governments are failing Chicago’s working families.

In light of Chicago’s particularly woeful situation; the inability to implement timely, fully-functioning vaccination programs; the discord between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teacher’s Union; and what appears to be a fractious relationship between Mayor Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that some Chicago business leaders are now “seeking [a] Lightfoot alternative.” Two years’ off, that’s one solution to Chicago’s current crisis. I prefer a full-throated, all-out campaign — now — by Chicago’s social justice advocates to change the status quo and for Lightfoot and her peers to join it.

It’s time for today’s progressive leaders to do like Karen did. Force accountability.

A couple weeks ago, I expressed my view to one of Chicago’s progressive leaders that the then failure of Chicago’s vaccination registration program could quickly become a significant political problem for Mayor Lightfoot and, by extension, for Gov. Pritzker. It now has.

Subsequently, I read a notice from the Chicago Department of Health: “feel free to try to sign up on this [new scheduling] website.” I learned of a video explaining how the new scheduling program works, but that Chicagoans “are still encouraged to seek a vaccine appointment first with their primary care providers, if they have one, and also through local pharmacies or their employers, if available.” But what are tens of thousands of Chicagoans who neither have a computer, nor a car, nor a primary care provider, nor−for that matter−a job supposed to do?

To add insult to injury, even if Chicagoans find a way to register, they are being told that the inability of Big Pharma to produce the COVID-19 vaccine is the true culprit. So, where is the call from Chicago’s progressive leaders to campaign against this Grim Reaper and for our elected officials to join in this campaign?

When candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot ran against Bill Daley in the 2019 mayoral primary, both set forth policy proposals intended to change Chicago’s status quo rooted in racial inequality, health inequities, structural discrimination against women, and lack of opportunity for too many. Voters chose Lightfoot overwhelmingly. So, today, a phrase from an old blues song by B.B. King jumps to mind: “I’m paying the cost to be the boss.” Well, fairly or not, that “I” is Mayor Lightfoot, even as one can sympathize with her administration’s challenges to taming Chicago’s crime and pandemic. Notwithstanding, I’m reminded of another old-timey phrase: “that’s what time it is.”

Time for progressive leaders to crusade for social justice and demand that Lightfoot−along with Gov. Pritzker and County Board President Preckwinkle−join them to fight the scourge now readily apparent on every Chicago doorstep. The compelling personal story Mayor Lightfoot told during her mayoral campaign−of triumph over familial adversity, and race and sex discrimination rooted in the failure of public institutions to serve families like hers−could inspire this new campaign. I turn to my progressive colleagues fervently. Remember that story? “That’s what time it is.”

Rebecca Sive is the author of “Vote Her In: Your Guide to Electing Our First Woman President”