There was a big announcement this week. Mayor Emanuel’s Commission has come back with its recommendation. It has green-lighted a $13 per hour minimum wage in Chicago, and the Mayor apparently supports it. But there’s a catch.
“It’s clear that Mayor Rahm did not want to press this issue, Reader columnist Ben Joravsky claims. “He did not want to raise the minimum wage in a significant way because he did not want to alienate his core supporters in the business world who are against it. So he created a Commission that enabled him to come up wit this diluted, watered-down stuff that postpones it for five years – the headline is $13 an hour.
“That would be great next month,” adds Randell Strickland, the Dean of Restorative Justice at the south side’s Little Black Pearl high school.
“Yea,” says Joravsky. “Except that the month will be in 2018. He postponed it. The deal he’s got on the table now is actually worse than the deal he originally proposed.”
And, Strickland concludes, “I can assure you that five years from now $13 an hour will be as laughable as $8.25 is now.”
Strickland deals every day with young people who are trying to negotiate their way through neighborhoods stressed by random, unpredictable spikes of extreme violence. There’s no easy solution for any of this, he tells us, but there’s no doubt that the seeds of today’s mayhem were planted long ago.
“What we are looking at is the legacy of decades – generations – of neglect,” he says. “If you ride the Red Line you see it. If you take a tour of the parks from the far south side to the north side you see it. The number of vacant lots, the quality of buildings, you see the progression, or the regression, of disproportionate distribution of income and resources and intention. We well know that in Chicago certain neighborhoods suffered from benign or malign neglect as a matter of policy. And this kind of violence is the kind of thing that results.”
Mayor Emanuel, speaking after the especially violent July 4th weekend, invoked the “code of silence” as part of the problem. “I wouldn’t say it’s a code of silence as much as it’s a code of violence, Strickland explains. “It’s not just an African-American problem, it’s an American problem. It’s a male problem.”
And it’s also a family problem, according to Strickland. Disinvestment and economic policy have torn the fabric of the family unit.
“I was born in 1968,” he tells us. “Most of the people that I remember from Henry Horner Homes, most of the families that I interacted with, had two parents. And everybody worked. My grandfather was a construction contractor. But everybody, their plan was – I’m going to save, I’m going to work. We’re all going to pull together, and move to the south side or to a better neighborhood, or to the west side, and most people did that. And all the families that I knew in the 70’s and into the 80’s pretty much did that, and then the recession happened, and that access out – stopped.
It was more than a recession, Joravsky points out, because that was the beginning of the de-industrialization of Chicago, when hundreds of local factories and businesses closed, falling victim to increased globalization and an inability to compete. And the poorest people in the poorest neighborhoods were often the first victims.
But it’s not all about outside macro-economic forces. Sometimes it’s local economic, zoning and land-use policy.
“I remember interviewing people on the west side in the 1980s,” says Joravsky. “And they were telling me, you watch. They’re gonna move the people out, and white people are gonna move in. Now this was kind of far west side, and I just couldn’t believe it back then. But I’ve watched the patterns of 25 years of public policy where you starve certain neighborhoods, and you invest in certain neighborhoods. Mayor Daley – in the name of poor people, we’re gonna tear down the public high rises. So they tear them down, in the name of poor people. Like closing schools, in the name of poor people. It’s always in the name of poor people. Then, once they’ve moved them out – Cabrini Green? They’re selling off the land, there’s development, they’re seeding it with public dollars through the TIF program, so, it’s like this is what they wanted.”
We pause to salute, with awe, the ability of Mayor Emanuel to raise gigantic baskets of campaign money, including his just-opened Chicago Forward Super PAC. Joravsky has even named it.
“I call it the 6-8-1 plan. In six days they got eight guys to kick in a million dollars.”
No potential Emanuel challenger has anything like the millions at the Mayor’s disposal, of course, so will it deter serious opponents from even trying?
“It was an intimidating shot from Mayor Rahm’s political machine. No question about it,” Joravsky concedes. “Anybody who’s thinking of running…has to realize there’s no way he or she’s going to compete with the Rahm money machine. So this is gonna have to be the once-in-a-lifetime moment when the people of Chicago- God help ’em – are actually gonna take control of their life and do something as opposed to following.”
And Strickland adapts a presidential slogan to the Chicago electorate. “We are the ones we’re still waiting for,” he says.