The Grassroots Collaborative  is offering visiting journalists bus tours of working-class neighborhoods struggling with violence, foreclosures, and clinic closings — and they’re questioning the millions of dollars being spent on entertainment at the NATO summit.
Buses leave from the Hyatt Regency at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, May 17 and 18, and return by 11 a.m. Information is at thegrassrootscollaborative.org .
Thursday’s tour will cover Little Village, one of the city’s largest Latino neighborhoods, where community groups are working to address youth violence; and Back of the Yards, where one of six mental health centers recently closed by the city is located.
(The two clinics primarily serving Latino communities were closed , as were four of six South Side clinics, and half the bilingual staff was laid off, all to save $3 million. Having been repeatedly rebuffed in attempts to hold meetings with city officials – including a City Council hearing blocked by the mayor– the Mental Health Movement  is planning to march on Mayor Emanuel’s home on Saturday morning.)
Friday morning’s tour will cover Englewood, a poor African-American community hard hit by foreclosures and violence, and Brighton Park, where low-income Latino residents are developing community schools.
Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of labor and community organizations, is questioning the priorities of spending millions of dollars to host the NATO summit while the city shuts down clinics and schools, said Eric Tellez.
On another level, he said, NATO spends billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars while poverty and unemployment “devastates communities across the country” and “the global poor fall deeper into poverty.”
Last month the coalition called on World Business Chicago, which is raising money to host NATO, to donate comparable sums to establish a Neighborhood Jobs Trust. In recent statements, the group is focusing on the $14 million being spent on parties for the summit.
“Spending $14 million on food and wine and music just seems evil and sinful when you have kids in this neighborhood who have no place to play, when you have parents keeping their children inside after school because they’re afraid of gun violence,” said Pastor Victor Rodriguez of La Villita Church in Little Village, a leader in Enlace Chicago .
To visiting journalists he says, “I would ask them to ask somebody if it’s fair to spend $14 million on parties when organizations are looking for $600 to buy new equipment so that 120 kids can stay off the streets for a year.”
Emanuel has “cut the head tax for the corporations and then the corporations turn back around in a deal and donate to support NATO coming here,” says Charles Brown, a 43-year resident of Englewood and a leader with Action Now . “Well the people that are going to profit from NATO coming here…it’s going to be the corporations.
“Will you treat us the way that you’re treating NATO, spend $14 million on us and put forth a program to help the people that are struggling and suffering? So that we won’t tear down any more homes, so that we’ll start preserving them, so that the banks will start paying their fair share and giving back to the 99 percent that made all of this possible?”
“Our elected officials time and time again take the podium and pound their fists and say it’s about the kids, it’s about the kids,” said Rodriguez. “I think that about 10 percent of that $14 million would do so much good here in our community.”
Pastor Victor Rodriguez, Enlace Chicago, Little Village:
Charles Brown, Action Now, Englewood:
Sonovia Petty, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Austin: