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New Ground 62

January - February, 1999


  • Toward a Progressive Chicago by Bob Roman
  • Sidebar: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  • Reenergizing the Troops in Ottawa: 1998 Illinois Citizen Action Convention by Ron Baiman
  • Gays in Labor: Reviving the GLB Commission by Ben Doherty
  • Beyond White, Black or Other: Confronting Whiteness to End Racism The Third National Conference on Whiteness by Will Kelley
  • Other News by Bob Roman
  • Progressive Potential
    Prairie Power

    Toward a Progressive Chicago

    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 aldermanic candidates.

    Bobby Rush for Mayor

    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 politics.

    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 less drastic.

    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.

    Payback Time in 99!

    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.

    The New Party Addendum

    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 challengers.

    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.

    Your Help Will Make the Difference

    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.


    Sidebar: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

    The Good

    These Aldermen cosponsored or supported the original Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance and voted for it when the time came.

    Ward Alderman

    2 Madeline Haithcock
    3 Dorothy Tillman
    4 Toni Preckwinkle
    5 Barbara Holt
    6 (Steele resigned)
    9 (Shaw resigned)
    10 John Buchanan, retiring
    15 Virgil Jones
    16 Shirley Coleman
    20 Arenda Troutman
    21 (Evans resigned)
    22 Ricardo Munoz
    24 Michael Chandler
    26 Billy Ocasio
    28 Ed Smith
    46 Helen Shiller
    49 Joe Moore

    The Bad

    These Aldermen never supported the original ordinance.

    Ward Alderman

    8 Lorraine Dixon
    11 (Huels resigned)
    12 Ray Frias
    18 Thomas Murphy
    19 Virginia Rugai
    25 Daniel Solis
    31 Ray Suarez
    32 Terry Gabinski
    40 Patrick O'Connor
    41 Brian Doherty
    42 Burton Natarus
    43 Charles Bernardini (retiring)
    50 Bernard Stone

    The Ugly

    These Aldermen cosponsored or supported the original Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance then stabbed it in the back when it came time to decide.

    Ward Alderman

    1 Jesse Granato
    7 William Beavers
    13 Frank Olivo
    14 Edward Burke
    23 Michael Zalewski
    27 Walter Burnett, Jr
    29 Sam Burrell
    30 Michael Wojcik
    33 Richard Mell
    34 Carrie Austin
    35 Vilma Colon
    36 Willam Banks
    37 Percy Giles
    38 Thomas Allen
    39 Margaret Laurino
    44 Bernard Hansen
    45 Patrick Levar
    47 Eugene Schulter
    48 Mary Ann Smith

    Reenergizing the Troops in Ottawa: 1998 Illinois Citizen Action Convention

    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 endorsements.

    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:

    a) Banning lobbyist gift giving to state officials,
    b) restricting the use of political funds for personal purposes,
    c) increasing disclosure of campaign donors.

    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?

    Gays in Labor: Reviving the GLB Commission

    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 Youth Section.

    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 identity group.

    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 at best.

    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 b-doherty@pobox.com.

    Beyond White, Black or Other:

    Confronting Whiteness to End Racism

    The Third National Conference on Whiteness

    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.

    Other News

    by Bob Roman

    Progressive Potential

    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.

    Prairie Power!

    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 robertmroman@delphi.com.

     Add yourself to the Chicago DSA mailing list (snail mail and email).

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