Chicago Teachers Union, progressives form new Chicago coalition

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Look out Chicago, a new political movement has arrived.

United Working Families, a partnership between labor groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, and a coalition of a dozen community groups is expected to announce its formal launch on Monday, executive director Kristen Crowell tells Early & Often.

Crowell is the same woman who headed an effort to counter policies by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, raising $50 million along the way.

“This organization collectively will represent well over 100,000-plus members in a diverse range of communities in Chicago,” Crowell said of the Chicago group.

Crowell previously served as executive director of We Are Wisconsin, which grew out of protests in 2011 and eventually cultivated its battle into a full-blown recall election against Walker.

Walker ultimately defeated the recall. But We Are Wisconsin raised $50 million that poured into a super PAC. Crowell is credited with influencing state races and galvanizing a field campaign that had members knocking on 3.5 million doors.

“I think there is a real moment right now for change. When it comes to issues, what we’re seeing are two different Chicagos,” Crowell said. “We are really concerned about the growing inequities facing our neighborhoods.”

The group says it isn’t anti-Rahm Emanuel per se, but it certainly is working to give people an alternative to his policies. It is no doubt closely monitoring a possible mayoral run by CTU president Karen Lewis, who has informally launched an exploratory committee.

Another key partner in United Working Families is Grassroots Illinois Action. That group’s executive director, Amisha Patel, has said it is tapping into voter discontent across Chicago. It also is focusing not only on policies coming out of the mayor’s office but pushing for aldermen who won’t rubber-stamp his policies.

“We’re hearing a very similar response wherever we go. People are fed up and they’re looking for something different,” Patel recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The fact that there hasn’t been a response to the violence — that it hasn’t changed the reality in so many neighborhoods — I think that’s a huge problem.”

Crowell cited school closings in poor neighborhoods, high unemployment and extreme violence on the West and South sides as some of the reasons that have propelled the movement here.

“I think these are issues right now that are central to what our community is paying attention to,” she said. “I think that it’s very important that United Working Families is a strong, independent voice for our residents.”

Despite the name, the group is not a formal affiliate of the Working Families Party, which successfully propelled New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio into office.

Still, it’s no coincidence. The Chicago group has been in discussions with the Working Families Party — a progressive group that successfully backed candidates for office in various states — about modeling some of their programs, including community outreach and candidate training.

De Blasio’s focus on inequities in New York resonated with voters, who backed him overwhelmingly despite his being outspent. Part of his campaign’s success was the strategy of running a slate of progressives in communities across the city, all echoing the same message.

Crowell said the group is developing its political strategy, including whether it will back a slate of aldermanic candidates.

“Certainly, it is our opinion that the current leadership is not doing enough to take care of our folks,” Crowell said. United Working Families will focus on “finding, recruiting and supporting candidates who are going to be with us.”

“It’s not about elected officials, it’s about members having a role and having a voice in Chicago.”

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