The shutdown of the Dan Ryan Expressway by activist priest Michael Pfleger on Saturday caught elected officials looking like deer in the headlights.
And it’s not surprising that Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew how to get out of the way while Gov. Bruce Rauner proved once again that he doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.
But where do we go from here?
And what should the community’s response be to the Dan Ryan Peace March?
Pfleger is demanding that the mayor and governor meet with the young protesters to hear directly from them about the problems they are facing growing up in communities plagued by violence.
Other demands include putting pressure on the business districts to hire from communities hardest hit by unemployment, as well as creating an office that is dedicated to redevelopment in these areas.
For the most part, those are not new goals.
But Pfleger, a fearless strategist, knows that there’s no better time to make demands than when a politician is trying to hold on to his or her seat.
And with Emanuel facing an army of challengers, and Rauner facing a bottomless war chest, that time is now.
If Pfleger can extract solid commitments now, the likelihood of something, besides publicity, coming out of the march is very good.
What he is asking is that we stop wringing our hands and wake up.
The “we” doesn’t just include elected officials and business owners.
Everyone who calls Chicago home has a stake in this, and that includes the media.
Because if we let this moment fade like yesterday’s story, without recognizing it as an opportunity to fix some of the longtime inequities in this city, then we would have failed in our mission to empower citizens.
Pfleger knows this, and he stopped by the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom on Wednesday morning to push his message forward.
In a separate meeting with the editorial board, the Rev. Jesse Jackson shared his thoughts about what comes next.
“The march is not the end. We need a remedy. What’s next is a plan for reconstruction,” Jackson said.
He advocates for the creation of “tax-free” zones to encourage businesses to locate in distressed areas of the city.
Jackson said the threat by state police officials to arrest anyone who tried to stop all lanes of traffic on the busy expressway turned the anti-violence demonstration in a nonviolent “Right to March” protest.
Protesters, many of them young and from different parts of the city, made their point. They stood their ground even though they were faced with the prospect of being arrested.
Now it is up to us.
We can no longer blame a lack of citywide leadership on the violence issue because Pfleger and St. Sabina Community of Faith have stepped up.
That wasn’t easy.
Pfleger, a regular target for hatemongers, has received a lot more hate mail since calling for the shutdown of the Dan Ryan Expressway.
And at the end of the march, some protesters could roll up their clever protest signs and head home to safer communities, while other young protesters had to go back to neighborhoods seething with violence.
Frankly, it was discouraging to pick up the paper Monday morning and learn another young person was shot in a drive-by shooting in the Little Village neighborhood and a 20-year-old was shot in the face on the Southeast side over the weekend.
We can’t afford to ignore that the community has a role to play when it comes to reducing the level of violence our children have to live with.
For instance, everyone cannot mentor, but everyone can pick up the trash and make a neighborhood look more inviting to people who have the money to invest in development.
Everyone cannot take in an abused child, but everyone can commit to supervising the behavior of young people living under their roof.
Everyone cannot open a business, but everyone can support the businesses in their communities and create work opportunities for young people.
Everyone cannot police, but everyone can call police when they see something that may help get a shooter off the street.
Pfleger delivered a strong message.
It is on all of us to act on it.
Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a podcast on race relations called “Zebra Sisters.” Check out the first season on iTunes and Google Play Music — or find individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ Zebra Sisters page. Email Mary and Leslie at email@example.com or suggest topics for season two by calling the Zebra Hotline: (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).