Chuy lost, but the people won

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The Service Employees International Union was a strong supporter of candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor.

Working families spoke loud and clear on Tuesday, revealing a growing progressive movement in Chicago that produced a historic runoff race for mayor, the first in the city’s history. And despite the loss by the movement’s leading candidate, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the impact has been felt throughout the city.

Cook County Commissioner Garcia was the face of the movement, but it really wasn’t about Chuy. And though it may seem otherwise, this progressive movement did not start with this year’s mayoral and aldermanic races.

OPINION

This movement is about the intense dissatisfaction that exists in the hearts of the tens of thousands of working families who feel their voices and struggles have been ignored for a long time. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s abrasive and sometimes disrespectful style in addressing his constituents – the closing of mental health clinics and 53 schools and installing the dreaded red-light cameras — was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Chuy’s candidacy in the race and the successful election of progressive aldermen such as David Moore (17) and Carlos Rosa (35) are phases of the burgeoning movement.

This coalition of community groups, clergy, labor, and activists were able to place a minimum wage referendum on the ballot last year, a process that allowed for deep, meaningful conversations with residents about the increasing wage disparities in our city.

Concerned members of this movement canvassed neglected communities educating families and residents about what they felt were harmful moves by the mayor, who on one hand was handing over millions of taxpayer dollars to his campaign contributors through bad financial deals such as so-called “social impact bonds” and “swaps” while denying struggling families access to a $15 minimum wage and a way to improve their lives.

Movement members engaged communities in a discussion about the need for an elected school board, a referendum for which was put on the February primary ballot and passed overwhelmingly.

These actions — along with numerous protests and rallies calling for reforms that would, among other things, implement a progressive tax, and for Mayor Emanuel to stop from making toxic deals with banks that leave taxpayers holding the bag — have gelled to produce the moment we are witnessing.

Consider this: The raising of the minimum wage in Chicago is a direct result of this movement. The discussion about having an elected school board is a result of this movement and will continue until it becomes a reality, as will other conversations about social and economic justice sparked by this movement.

This movement is about producing a groundswell of people power to effectively counter the corrupt abuse of power wielded by the wealthy few who pour so much money into campaigns that the candidates essentially buy the elections. This was obvious in the runoff election. Television ads run by the incumbent mayor and financed by his deep-pocketed contributors swamped the number of ads the long-shot challenger was able to generate. It begs the question, what was Mayor Emanuel worried about?

There is still much work to be done. The good news is that on April 7 something amazing happened. The emerging people’s movement took another step toward making Chicago a city where opportunity exists for all, rather than for a select few.

April Verrett is executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

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