by Bob Roman
After some consideration, the December 12th, 1998, General
Membership meeting of Chicago DSA voted to endorse Bobby Rush
for Mayor of Chicago and a mix of nine incumbent and insurgent
Congressman Rush's mayoral campaign evoked the most discussion.
There had been several occasions when his campaign missed opportunities
to recruit white ethnic support on issues that cut across Chicago's
communities. But whatever misgivings there were about campaign
strategy and tactics, everyone was in favor of supporting Rush's
run for Mayor.
Since the death of Mayor Washington, the core support for African-American
mayoral candidates has come from segments of that community who
are as interested in making the campaign a crusade to unite and
defend "the community" as they are in actually electing
a candidate. It is a sad comment on the state of our society that,
on one hand, these elements view Chicago's other communities as
a threat rather than as competitors and, on the other hand, that
much of the European ethnic communities have difficulty regarding
this phenomenon as being within the tradition of Chicago ethnic
It's not a strategy that has worked well, judging from the
past two mayoral elections. Still, this election could be different.
The Black middle class has been increasingly stressed: by national
economic trends, by the culture wars expressed in high rates of
imprisonment of African-American youth, by a declining share of
Chicago municipal spending and by a declining (or at least stagnating)
share of political influence. This has not generated the frenzy
of voter registration that characterized Washington's first successful
campaign, but it did help stimulate a very healthy turnout of
registered voters in November's general election. This turn out
helped Jesse White to become Illinois' Secretary of State and
made Carol Moseley Braun's defeat from the U.S. Senate rather
And Bobby Rush does exceed his campaign. If the campaign has
had a hard time making coalition politics a priority, Bobby Rush
realizes its necessity and has, in the years leading up to his
formal announcement, made it a point to lend a hand in labor and
progressive campaigns (for example, see New
Ground #55, November - December, 1997, page 4). Better
yet, if the campaign has been somewhat insular, the policy priorities
expressed very much reflect the left communitarian position of
favoring Chicago's neighborhoods over the corporate downtown.
Consequently, win or lose, the Rush campaign will benefit Chicago's
neighborhoods. And the campaign itself offers opportunities for
coalition building among groups that have drifted somewhat apart.
Clearly, this is the place for Chicago's democratic left.
Chicago DSA's approach to the 1999 Chicago Aldermanic elections
is based upon the 1997 Finance Committee and Council votes on
the original Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance. The Living Wage Campaign
had built up a list of 26 cosponsors and 10 supporters in the
City Council. When Daley finally turned his thumb down on the
measure, all 10 of the declared supporters and 9 of the cosponsors
deserted the measure.
There is a real question of integrity here. There's a real
question of respecting one's commitments. There is a real question
of taking one's role as a legislator seriously.
While it's an indication of progress that one can raise these
questions seriously in the context of the Chicago City Council,
it's still also true that politics makes for strange bedfellows
(see "The Good, Bad and Ugly"
sidebar). This is a limited criteria for making endorsements,
but we felt the issue was important.
For that reason, we focused on those wards with at least a
dozen DSA members. Aldermen who voted for the original Living
Wage Ordinance in 1997 were endorsed: Toni Preckwinkle
(4th), Barbara Holt (5th), Helen Shiller (46th)
and Joe Moore (49th). The meeting also made negative
endorsements of Burton Natarus (42nd) and Eugene Schulter
(47th). Unfortunately, Schulter has no opponent.
Partly because of the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance and partly
out of solidarity, the membership meeting also Ted Thomas
(15th), Michael Chandler (24th), Floyd Thomas (29th)
and Rey Colon (35th). Michael Chandler is the New Party's
original victory from 4 years ago, an incumbent. The rest are
Ted Thomas' campaign in the 15th ward could be considered an
inconsistency in Chicago DSA's endorsements. The incumbent, Virgil
Jones, voted for the original Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance.
Unfortunately, he was also indicted for corruption in Operation
Silver Shovel. Should Daley and Jones be re-elected, then Jones
be judged guilty, Daley will appoint the new alderman. In contrast,
Ted Thomas is President of Chicago ACORN and was a leader in the
Jobs and Living Wage campaign.
Chicago DSA will be mobilizing its members and friends in these
campaigns, but don't wait for our call or our mail. Seize the
day and give the Chicago DSA office a call: (773) 384-0327. We'll
connect you with the campaign of your choice.
These Aldermen cosponsored or supported
the original Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance and voted for it when
the time came.
These Aldermen never supported the original
These Aldermen cosponsored or supported
the original Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance then stabbed it in
the back when it came time to decide.
by Ron Baiman
On December 5, yours truly, Chicago DSA 's representative to
the Citizen Action of Illinois Policy Council, made it my business
to get up a 6:00 am on a Saturday morning (please note my dedication)
to drive out to Ottawa, Illinois, for a Policy Council meeting
and 1998 Convention of Citizen Action of Illinois (ICA).
They told me it was an historic site, the location of many
a progressive nurturing of wounds or rallying for battle. When
I finally found the "UAW Pat Greathouse Education Center"
in Ottawa, Illinois, I was impressed. The Center includes a small
motel, a large full service dining facility and an even larger
convention hall. It is situated at the end of a dead end road,
atop a large bluff overlooking the Illinois River. Expansive greenery
and huge trees which sway in the wind coming off the river complement
the friendly staff and convey a feeling of retreat from day to
day union and activist struggle.
Though I missed the reception which was held the night before
with newly elected Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a former leader
of the organization, I made it to breakfast and the 9 AM Policy
Council meeting. The Policy Council is a roughly 80 member policy
setting body. It includes a wide range of community activists,
labor leaders and lobbyists, politicians, etc.; in brief, all
the usual suspects, including DSA members Dr. Quentin Young and
Congressman Danny Davis.
The agenda was short and sweet. A financial report, proposed
1999 budget, nominations of new Council members, major policy
issues of next year, and then setting a meeting for Chicago municipal
The organization is doing well financially, through broad support
by the progressive (especially labor) community. The budget is
almost balanced at about $666,000.
The "blue book" which includes a broad array of ICA
positions on everything of relevance to the state was amended
and voted on. I asked, and was supported, in adding stronger language
on the need to regulate global investment and democratize the
Federal Reserve. I still have to write language for these proposed
amendments so that they may be voted on at the next convention.
The key political issues for next year voted on by the Council
were a) Protecting Social Security and Winning Health Security,
and b) Clean Money Campaign Reform in Illinois.
The first issue reflects a sense that: 1) economic insecurity
is back on the political map. 2) The bubbling turmoil in the health
care industry is reaching a boiling point. 3) Unabashed by these
failures, the conservatives continue their drive to dismantle
federal middle class entitlement programs, pushing ahead on their
demands to privatize Social Security and replace Medicare with
medical savings accounts. 4) In Illinois, even Republicans like
Governor George Ryan and Senator Peter Fitzgerald were forced
to pay lip service to HMO reform and protecting Social Security
(though it would probably be better to forgo the "protection"
offered by conservatives).
The Council voted to oppose any reductions in existing benefits
for Social Security and Medicare, to support Federal Managed care
reforms based on the Daschel/Dingell Patients Bill of Rights,
and to support the creation of a universal health care system
based on expanding Medicare to all ages and covering all medical
needs. As Quentin put it, we need a system of "Everybody
in, nobody out!". Passing the "Bernadine Amendment"
guaranteeing health care for all in Illinois by 2000 would be
a major step in the right direction.
On the second issue, ICA's strong supported the bill signed
into law on August 12 by Edgar, and pushed through by former Senator
Paul Simon and ex-gubernatorial press secretary Michael Lawrence.
The bill ends some of the "prehistoric" campaign financing
in Illinois by:
However Illinois continues to have one of the worst campaign
finance systems in the country. ICA supports a "Clean Money"
law which would replacing private contributions with public funding
for candidates who agree to limit their campaign spending, as
has been done in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and other states.
ICA will work toward this goal by placing public referendum in
municipal and local elections in the state and asking local bodies
for supportive resolutions with a goal of 10 referenda and 50
resolutions by December, 1999.
The convention itself was attended by about two hundred. They
heard rousing oratory from Bill McNary, who has been selected
to lead a national effort to recreate a national Citizen Action.
They also heard from Roberta Lynch of AFSCME, Congressman Danny
Davis, Dr. Quentin Young and others.
There were also workshops on: "Winning our Government
Back", "Meeting our Energy Challenges", and "Facing
the Consumer Challenges". I went to the energy workshop because
of my abiding interest in deregulation, etc. I learned quite about
the benefits of wind power (neighboring utilities are investing
heavily it) and the environmental backwardness of Illinois energy
system and policy from a very competent and knowledgeable Hans
Detweiler of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
I gave my usual speech against unregulated free markets in
energy and the deregulation disaster which met with mixed response.
Liberal environmentalists and regulators are typically too bamboozled
by "free market" economic rhetoric to support fundamental
critiques of the way deregulation is headed though they have plenty
of critiques on the margins, i.e. not spending enough on conservation
and alternative sources. This (the former) problem, is, in my
view, part of the reason why the baby (regulation) has been thrown
out with the bath water (captive regulators) in the first place.
Capitalist economic ideology is powerful stuff!
There appears to be a strong sense among progressives and labor
in Illinois (reflected in the level of financial support) that
there is no other comparable broad-based, effective, political,
issue-oriented organization in the state. ICA's full-time lobbyist,
William McNary, is a top-notch, experienced and dedicated player
in Springfield (and nationwide). ICA also produces reports, holds
press conferences and demonstrations, endorses and supports political
candidates, and generally functions as an all around instigator
and supporter of progressive social change in the state. ICA's
current Director John Cameron also has a long history in progressive
politics in Illinois. Most of the Policy Council members appear
to be broadly supportive of democratic socialism, or at least
social democracy, and very welcoming of our input and presence
at the table. Somebody's got to do this reformist, very partial,
very incremental, and often purely defensive, but vitally important
political work. To loosely quote Rabbi Hillel: if not ICA, who?
by Ben Doherty
When I was a young child, no more than fifteen years old, I
read about a noble race of men (that is: of Man) who lived and
suffered in defiance of conventional morality. Even though they
confronted many problems daily which they called homophobia,
heterosexism, patriarchy, compulsory heterosexuality,
a few giants rose above the immediacy of their own adversities
and became leaders of the burgeoning gay and lesbian liberation
movement. Many people, whose names were never remembered or perhaps
just never spoken again in these mere three dismal decades following
height of their activities. The revolutionary ardor among many
of the gay and lesbian activists was not only pro-feminist and
pro-gay but overtly and necessarily anti-capitalist as well. We
socialist/progressive gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer people do have
a legacy throughout the entire history of socialism that goes
beyond being an "issue".
Oscar Wilde wrote an aesthetic and moral argument in support
of socialism, which should "relieve us from that sordid necessity
of living for others which presses so hard upon everybody",
and a criticism of liberalism that only Queen Oscar could concoct.
Many homosexuals and libertines were active Bolsheviks... active
until they were purged from the party for insisting on too much
sex and democracy.
Gay men and lesbians even participated in the American socialist
movement and socialist movements in other countries. In fact,
The Journal of Homosexuality published a two volume series
entitled Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left
that, under a clever rouse of dry, academic prose, exposes more
tawdry scandal and material for juicy gossip than could be found
in the entire history of the coordinating committee of the DSA
Does this not count as proof that homosexuals were closely
and intimately involved in the Left before radicalism was cool?
Lesbians, I suspect, became rightly disappointed with the class
politics of the Old Left and disagreed with the exclusively masculinist
leadership of the parties and organizations and thus parted ways
with mainstream socialism to form their own movements. Gay men
probably stuck around a little longer until they began to be ignored,
belittled, or officially purged because they began to come out
and demand party reform and due attention to issues of sexual
orientation. However, even after the initial wave of identity
politics, anti-capitalist lesbians and gay men continued to integrate
a Marxist critique of capitalism into their analyses of whatever
oppressive peculiarities that were experienced by their so-called
Presently, popular anti-capitalist sentiment is anything but
a trend. Any avowed socialist, gay or straight, is typically
found to be unpopularnothing is less fun or less interesting
for your average consumer than shopping at Neiman's with a garment
tag reading internationalist. If we take the Dow Jones Industrial
Average to be nothing more than an indicator of the popularity
of capitalism, it has been rising faster than light for almost
this entire decade. The words of the few prominent queer socialists
in the United States typically fall on deaf ears or on all too-well-seasoned
ones that have heard it all before.
For example, none of Tony Kushner's excellent essays on politics
and economics have ever been published in the Advocate.
That rag seems to only want him to write about poetry and
drama. However, in A Socialism of the Skin, he lambastes
gay neo-conservatism (of Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bawer specifically)
and then, while they're still stunned, softly and subtly attacks
the "aims of the gay rights movement, a politics not
of vision but of pragmatics?"
Oh! Quelle blessure! He certainly told those pro-capitalist,
individualist, gay white males what time it is! He turns the tables
on his foes and thus begins a sort of cock-fight over moral authority.
He challenges the scope of the gay rights movement and exposes
its moral contradictions, its hypocrisy. Evidently, the vanguards
at the helm of the gay rights movement misunderstand the
concept of "gay [human] rights". In an essay so devilishly
gay that even people who have real live gay friends might be lost
in the vernacular, so sassy and so camp, Tony lobbied a jab at
mainstream gay politics.
However, his brilliant and artful message was cast to the readers
of The Nation, a fine news and editorial publication filled
with liberal and left-ish oriented writing. When Tony Kushner
challenged the moral, political authority of the gay rights
movement as we know it, he did it in the wrong part of town!
How many gay people read The Nation? Not nearly as many
as those who read the Advocate. Moreover, The Nation
is hopefully not read so much as a guide to being liberal or left-ish
as much as the Advocate is read as a guide to being "gay",
that privileged position where the holders think that they are
living the last chapter of "gay liberation". "We're
finished! We've made it!" they cry. After all, who needs
liberation when you're favored by capital?
Clearly, all gay people are not favored by capital. As a matter
of fact, queer people make less money than straight people do.
Moreover, there even exist various non-white and immigrant queer
peoples with similar but compounded structural limits on their
income hence social status. What do we do now? We've got a whole
lot of poor gay people and a few rich ones. Oh no, not this again!
Could it be that there is a gay working class?
The gay working class is the very much like the old gal you
might have known before 1972, but this time she's lost some weight
and had her hair done. She's got two kids of her own that she's
raising with her partner in a South Side slum. And she's a trade
unionist with a superb health plan. And she's in a public mental
health facility. And she's happily transgender but deeply in debt.
And she's a Latino gangster who gets doubly harassed by the police.
And she's a cruiser in the park who is just looking for a good
time before going home to momma. And she's a part-time dancer
at a bar in Boystown. And she was the first woman at her work-site
to be promoted to foreman. And she lives with HIV. And she is,
as a matter of fact, a diesel dyke. And she is (yes it is true!)
a clerk at a cosmetics counter but only until she can afford to
go to cosmetology school. And she must walk with a cane because
of the injury she received in the war. And she is a struggling
actor who needs to get her wisdom teeth removed now and needs
a new series of head-shots even sooner.
If the gay working class is so proletarian then how
come she does not rise up with her brothers and sisters in arms
and revolt against the gay bourgeoisie? The rest of the working
class is not monolithic and thus has never risen up to oust the
bourgeoisie, why would the smaller, gay working class be any more
adept at revolution? There are just as many divisive issues, differences,
and rifts in the gay working class as there is in any other class.
Often, working class queers do not believe themselves to be working
class but instead believe themselves to be akin to their richer
"gay" brethren; they suffer from bourgeois delusions,
as it were.
So there we have it: a rich legacy full of inspiration, plenty
of justification, and a social base that is nearly unconscious.
Where to start? What to do? "Oo! Oo! Why don't we start an
exciting, fresh, and new queer, leftist political organization?"
As exciting as that sounds (another leftist political organization
floating around Chicago that could very well do just fine as an
internet email list) for anybody to start an new organization
on such presumption is the wrong way to go for two closely related
reasons: we are not sure who "we" are and our provisional,
conceptual social base ("gay working class") is a nebulous
We can assume that we are queer and queer-amicable people concerned
about social justice and democracy. Unfortunately, if we conceive
of ourselves in such abstract ideals, we might overlook some very
simple and important facts. In organizing ourselves, we must pay
brutally close attention to the raw facts of our own race, gender,
ethnicity, class, etc. and that our level of diversity determines
the limit of our scope. Gay politics, even under its supposedly
"grass-roots" mode of operation, reeks of vanguardism.
We must have a working definition of "gay working class"
that is flexible but subject to limitations. The term itself is
already open to ambiguity: there are significant differences in
the social structure, ideology, and needs of working class queers
who work entirely within Boystown and of working class queers
who work in the loop by day and take the Metra to their South
Bend suburb every evening.
We need a steering committee. I propose that we need activists,
smart-asses, nay-sayers, and other pests interested in social
and economic justice to design a comprehensive, long-term, goal-oriented
plan for identifying queer workers and labor unionists. Yes, our
first step is just to decide who the "gay working class"
encompasses. Then after we're comfortable with that definition,
we must locate and outline the issues that matter to all sorts
of queer, working people. Ultimately, the hope in my mind is to
foment a radical left and ardently pro-labor voice in the established
gay community and to remind queer people that labor unions have
a lot to offer us. This plan must win the support of progressive
labor unions and established leftist political organizations.
This is an opportunity to start something and, even better,
to learn something: gay history, labor history, democratic socialist
politics, Marxism, queer politics (past and future), and whatever
anyone brings to our table. For this project to be authentic,
respectable, and credible, we need involvement from all sorts
of different kinds of people including African Americans, Latinos,
women, parents, people living with HIV and AIDS, people over age
40, leather-folk, drag queens, the transgender, [A]vengeful lesbians,
and you, regardless of your leftist political affiliation and
tendencies. Except for you sectarians: Sectarians stay home; we
have work to do. If a reasonable and evident level of diversity
is not achieved, this project will turn into another "GWM-knows-best"
organizing project, and we would never be happy with it.
The first thing we need to do is meet sometime in mid-February.
At that time, we can elaborate upon our goals, get to know each
other, and form a steering committee. Contact us for more information
or with suggestions: (773) 363-9011 or email@example.com.
by Will Kelley
The Third National Conference on Whiteness was held at the
University of Chicago on November 6, 7, and 8, 1998. This year
the conference focused not on the lore and customs of White folk
- such as celebrating Jello molds, Miracle Whip and Vienna sausages
- but on Whiteness as a category of persons in the United States
that has to be created in relation to other categories of persons,
what that does to people, and how to undo it.
Nationally, the most visible organizer was the Women's Theological
Center from Boston. Local organizers included Chicago INK
magazine and the Partnership Against Racism, founded by Lowell
Thompson (author of White Folks: Seeing America Through Black
Eyes). There was a strong Baha'i presence. The organization
ultimately behind the series of conferences, the Center for the
Study of White American Culture, actually kept a charmingly low
profile throughout the entire conference.
The low profile of the sponsoring organization was appropriate,
because this was a year for others to speak up about and back
to White people and Whiteness. The organizers did their jobs well:
there was a strong non-White presence, which was a delight.
In addition, a very strong influence came from Noel Ignatiev,
who teaches history and is the author of How the Irish Became
White. This is a study of how an oppressed minority in the 19th
century countered Know-Nothing Nativists by discovering that they
could obtain better opportunities in the United States if they
claimed that at least we're White. Ignatiev argues that Whiteness
is an American category with the specific effect of creating privileges
unavailable to non-Whites (Blacks, Mexicans, and Indians), and
for this reason racial justice can only come about by undoing
racial classifications. He edits the magazine Race Traitor
and calls for the abolition of Whiteness.
Between the influence of Ignatiev and the diversity of the
participants, it was a lively conference. The initial panel on
Friday evening had a number of eloquent speakers, all of whom
spoke in ways that meshed with each other. The open microphone
sessions did have some tendentious Left speakers who hogged the
floor while promoting narrow agendas, but these were kept within
reason by the moderators. One theme that emerged is the need for
White society to acknowledge the pain of Black history, which
is often described as an apology for slavery though it is more
complex than that.
The most interesting part of the conference came in the workshops
on Saturday and Sunday, a smorgasbord of presentations that ranged
from social science to social criticism to expressive art. It
was all about listening to people describe their experiences with
Whiteness, whether as a valuable possession, a painful condition,
a conditional promise, or a source of oppression, and what could
be done to generate change. It was well worth attending.
More can be found at a rich website with the URL www.euroamerican.org.
Some 200 people attended a panel presentation on "The
Progressive Potential of Chicago City Politics" this last
December 8th at the University of Chicago. The panelists included
Jacquelyn Grimshaw, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman Helen
Shiller, Bernard Craighead, among others. The event was sponsored
by the University of Chicago DSA Youth Section and the Hispanic
Association for Cultural Expression and Recognition.
Midwest DSA has been asleep since midwest delegates caucused
at the last DSA National Convention, but the project agreed upon
at that meeting has made its debut: the premier issue of Prairie
Power!, a quarterly newsletter. If you'd like to see a copy,
contact the Chicago DSA office (773) 384-0327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.