NATO JOURNALISTS EMBARK UPON THE “REAL CHICAGO TOURS”
The Grassroots Collaborative Asks “A Global City for Whom?”
Guest post by Ashley Moy-Wooten, The Grassroots Collaborative
A few months ago we at The Grassroots Collaborative began asking ourselves what opportunities the NATO summit offered us. How we could get our message through the sensational “police vs. protestors” storyline that would inevitably absorb most media attention? We wanted to move the media towards a deeper analysis linking global inequity with the local economic devastation seen in most of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Thus, we created the “Real Chicago Tours” which took journalists and reporters from 19 different media outlets to the neighborhoods of Englewood, Little Village, Brighton Park, and Back of the Yards.
We took media into some of the most neglected and ignored neighborhoods to hear from community leaders and see firsthand how they are taking matters into their own hands to fight against foreclosures, gang violence, and mental health clinic closures.
Charles Brown with Action Now took us down two blocks in Englewood that were virtually empty because so many of the houses had been foreclosed and abandoned. “These homes have become magnets for crime instead of foundations for working families. And many of our children have to pass by them on the way to school. A little girl was pulled into one and raped.”
In the Back of the Yards neighborhood, mental health leaders with Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) told stories of what those services meant to them and the fight that they have been waging since November. Debbie Delgado was distraught over the decline she has witnessed in her son since the clinic closed “My son had his brother die in his arms. Ever since he’s been suffering from depression and trauma. I already lost one son, I can’t lose another.”
Margaret Sullivan, another leader with STOP was fed up: “They keep telling us ‘There’s no money, there’s no money.’ So why did are we spending tens of millions on this NATO summit? It would just $2.3 million to keep these clinics open and save lives.”
Both Little Village and Brighton Park activists and organizers spoke to media about the violence that is ravaging their neighborhoods, with different community responses. In Little Village Pastor Victor Rodriguez with La Villita Community Church showed us around the Chicago Youth Boxing Club located in the church basement. “Up to 150 youth come here every day after school to train. They are here between 3 and 8pm. They say that if you keep kids off the streets during those times you likely saved their lives.” He was also indignant about the amount of money being spent on the NATO summit: “I would say that is just sinful…when we here are struggling just to find $600 for new speed bags and boxing gloves to save kids’ lives.”
In Brighton Park, a parent patrol group of 25 moms and one grandmother showed us how gangs take a back seat when they are patrolling streets around schools. Nancy Barraza, leader of the patrol with Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) remarked, “They say they control this neighborhood, but when we are out in the streets together before and after school we show them that WE are in control, and these are OUR streets.” The parent patrols struggle with how to keep violence in control beyond school hours since all their efforts are on a voluntary basis.
Mariela Estrada, an organizer and coordinator of the parent patrol at BPNC, criticized the amount of money going towards protecting downtown Chicago for one weekend, “Tens of millions spent on security for the NATO summit, but when we demand money for safety and violence prevention in our neighborhoods, for some reason we just never seem to be a priority for our mayor.” Just this past weekend a fourteen year old boy set to graduate from the eighth grade next month was gunned down and shot near Burroughs Elementary school.
Mayor Emmanuel frequently talks about building a “World Class Chicago.” But we at the Grassroots Collaborative, and many others, want to know; A world class city for whom? Where does our city put its money? If we are giving millions of TIF tax dollars regularly to giant corporations or toward fancy parks downtown, what other priorities are being sacrificed, and who are the people suffering the consequences?
Gary Younge, a reporter with The Guardian (UK), came with us on the second tour of Englewood and Brighton Park, and put it best in his article published on Monday: “When the city mayor Rahm Emanuel brought the summit to Chicago he boasted: ‘From a city perspective this will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.’ The alternative “99% tour” of the city, organised by the Grassroots Collaborative that came to Brighton Park, revealed how utterly those who claim to export peace and prosperity abroad have failed to provide it at home.”
What do you think?
Ashley Moy-Wooten is an organizer with The Grassroots Collaborative, a community-labor coalition fighting for racial and economic justice in Chicago. She is a native of Chicago and is proud to fight for better lives for low-income communities of color in her hometown and home state.