organizing – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop https://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 FOIA Fest for journalists, activists https://www.newstips.org/2013/03/foia-fest-for-journalists-activists/ Sat, 09 Mar 2013 22:51:40 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7029 How much does CPS spend on standardized testing?  How is the CHA spending federal subsidies it’s getting for housing units that it’s failed to occupy?  What’s happened to the clients of mental health clinics that were closed?  Which schools are losing students to urban violence?

With journalistic resources increasingly strapped, there’s “a lot of untapped potential” among community groups and activists to get information using the Freedom of Information Act, according to Steve Franklin, president of the Headline Club (and director of the Ethnic News Project at Community Media Workshop).

Along with journalists, organizations and individuals challenging cutbacks in education, housing and human services, and those working on violence and criminal justice and many other issues, are among the potential audience for the Headline Club’s FOIA Fest, a series of evening programs taking place this Monday through Wednesday, Franklin said.

Monday, March 11, 6 to 8 p.m., Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association will speak at an opening reception at Columbia’s journalism department, 33 E. Congress, second floor.  Along with its own investigations, BGA regularly holds FOIA clinics as well as trainings for “citizen watchdogs” and “education watchdogs.”

BGA is also partnering with the Headline Club on its effort to protect and improve reporters’ freedom of information rights, including a clearinghouse for information at FOIAIllinois.org.

Tuesday, March 12, 6:45 to 8 p.m., Terry Pastika of the Citizen Advocacy Center will discuss their work providing legal support to efforts to increase civic involvement, including support for FOIA requests.  The group offers open government trainings for journalists and citizens.  Their guide to filing FOIA requests is here.

Also participating Tuesday are Joe Germuska of Northwestern’s Knight Lab and Dan O’Neil of Smart Chicago Collaborative, exploring ways technology can improve access to public records.  That event is also at Columbia’s journalism department.

Wednesday, March 13, 6 to 8 p.m., features leading investigative journalists — NBC5 producer Katy Smyser, Gary Marx and David Jackson of the Chicago Tribune, and WBEZ’s Robert Wildeboer — offering tips and strategies for prying government records loose.

A representative of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office will also speak.  Wednesday’s program takes place at WBEZ’s community room on Navy Pier.

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Civic Lab plans ‘design hack’ https://www.newstips.org/2012/06/civic-lab-plans-design-hack/ https://www.newstips.org/2012/06/civic-lab-plans-design-hack/#comments Wed, 13 Jun 2012 23:00:31 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6367 Civic Lab, a new civic engagement project which aims at developing educational programs on local issues and online tools to encourage community involvement, will hold a “design hack” on Saturday, June 16, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Read/Write Library, 914 N. California.  Pizza lunch will be provided.

Initiated by long-time activist Tom Tresser, Civic Lab aims at operating a storefront “civic hacker space” to hold classes, conduct research projects, and create online tools for civic engagement.   It’s needed because while big money floods our elections, citizen anger and alienation is growing, Tresser said.

The first planned project is a TIF Report, with citizen journalists investigating the use and abuse of tax increment financing and producing ward reports for print and online distribution.

Also envisioned are classes in civics basics – how to read a property tax bill or a city budget, how to write a letter to the editor or run for office – and collaborations with activists and programmers to develop new tools.

One might be a phone app to allow participants at rallies to sign up for updates on particular issues or from particular groups– potentially a big improvement over hastily scrawled and often illegible sign-in sheets, Tresser said.

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More on movement building https://www.newstips.org/2012/05/more-on-movement-building/ Thu, 24 May 2012 21:31:11 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6289 For those interested in  more on the discussion of movement building featured yesterday, we’ve posted Mel Rothenberg’s paper at the CANG8/Occupy Counter-Summit on Labor and Occupy: Insights from Wisconsin, which fleshes out his analysis.

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From 1968, a long view on movement building https://www.newstips.org/2012/05/from-1968-a-long-view-on-movement-building/ https://www.newstips.org/2012/05/from-1968-a-long-view-on-movement-building/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 18:16:09 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6265 After demonstrators were arrested and roughed up in an unsuccessful attempt to march to McCormick Place on Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Mel Rothenberg.  He has the distinction of leading the only demonstration that succeeded in marching to the International Ampitheatre, where the Democratic National Convention was being held, in 1968.

Now a retired professor, Rothenberg has been politically active through the intervening decades, most recently with Chicago Jobs With Justice and the Chicago Political Economy Group.  This gives him a long view on movement building and social change. (He and I worked together on the Chicago bureau of the Guardian, the independent radical newsweekly published in New York, in the 1980s.)

Chicago 1968 “was very different,” he says.  “It was a shock.  Everybody, the demonstrators and cops, were uncertain about what would happen.” At last weekend’s NATO protest, “both the authorities and the demonstration organizers had much more control of the street action, and the media had already orchestrated its coverage ahead of time.”

Big differences

“In 1968 the mayor was completely unprepared and the city was completely on edge,” he says.  In contrast to media pre-coverage this time – featuring scary headlines which almost surely depressed turnout – in 1968 “the media was trying to keep things calm, pretending nothing was going to happen.”

Also different was the police department: “In ’68 there was a lot of overt racism in the department — the Klan was operating openly; there were conflicts within the police department.” There had been major riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark. “The authorities were in a panic.  There were National Guard and state police, and it looked like for a while that the city would be put under martial law.”

Rothenberg helped organizet the Bourbaki Brigade, a contingent of mathematicians, who marched about 100-strong through Bridgeport to the Ampitheatre at 42nd and Halsted.  “It was very tense,” he recalls.  “There were neighborhood thugs threatening us, and the police in between, both protecting us and threatening us.”

The police “were making decisions on the spur of the moment – they didn’t know what was happening either – and they decided to let us through; we were a small group and not very threatening, mathematicians, college professors.”

The next day was supposed to be the big march to the convention site.  “It was supposed to be peaceful.  We brought our kids.”  A huge crowd gathered in the park across from the Conrad Hilton, and someone (later revealed to be a police infiltrator) climbed the flagpole and took down the American flag.  “That was the signal, they attacked us, there was tear gas, there was chaos.”

A big flop

This year, he says, “I don’t think Obama or NATO came out very well.  All the attention was on the demonstrators. The summit was a big flop.”

“There was no popular support in Chicago for NATO, no outpouring of sentiment to support NATO.” And “no one except city officials and p.r. people thought it was going to help the city.  It was a bust from the point of view of helping the local economy or getting favorable international attention to Chicago.”

“About the only thing they accomplished was to avoid a disaster,” Rothenberg said.

As for the protests, they turned out thousands of people – certainly far more than the 2,000 reported by the police – and wove together a range of social concerns with the issues of war and militarization.

But Rothenberg says there needs to be more attention to building a sustainable movement that goes beyond occasional demonstrations to actually challenging and changing policies.

Much of the weekend’s youthful energy came from the Occupy movement, but that’s “very loose and not really coherent” – not so much due to a lack of clear demands as of “a clear strategy for bringing and  keeping people together,” Rothenberg said. “So they latch on to what’s happening.”

That can be been positive, connecting them to community issues.  But “before they can become the core of a sustained social movement they have to confront more clearly the basic issues of class, race, gender and militarism which drive American political conflict.”

Sustainability

He calls the Mental Health Movement, which led a huge march Saturday to Mayor Emanuel’s home in Ravenswood, “inspiring.”

“It has done so much” — mounting a vigorous, year-long fight against Mayor Emanuel’s attempt to close clinics – “with a very dedicated multi-racial group of mental patients and  very little money.  But it’s going to be hard to sustain the energy unless there are some victories fairly soon.”  (His wife, Marcia Rothenberg, a retired nurse, has been active in the campaign.)

He contrasts the Tea Party movement – heavily backed by corporations and millionaires, and in control of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives – with progressive issue-oriented activist groups, which get “only meager support  from labor unions”; meanwhile “labor donates millions of dollars to politicians who do little to advance progressive programs.”

The Tea Party “has organization and money.  The left has probably more of people’s sentiment behind it and more idealistic youth, but it doesn’t have organization,” he said.

The “black bloc” is one group that tries to step into that vacuum.

Black bloc

“I don’t think they’re that strong,” said Rothenberg.  “There may have had a couple hundred in the anti-NATO demonstration who are really committed, and there’s a fringe they hope can be moved on the spot to join them.

“They’re small but they are able to act together because they have an agenda, a strategy,” he says. “It’s an agenda with which I disagree.

“They believe that you can end oppression and injustice simply by denying the legitimacy of the state, refusing to follow the orders of the authorities.  I wish it were that simple, but it’s not.

“Until you have the majority of people behind you, denying the authority of the state simply makes you an outlaw. People might romanticize outlaws but most people don’t trust them, and they’re not about to join them.”

They “probably feel they accomplished their agenda” when news coverage focused on clashes with police.  “They wanted attention and they got it.”  But “they don’t have much of a strategy beyond that.”

“They feel like people are going to be fed up with peaceful mobilizations that don’t accomplish anything,” he said.  “They think that will somehow kick off something bigger.”

Instead “the left gets hurt and loses support.”  The images of violence are something the media “can exploit very effectively to discredit the left and any social movement.”

Still, “there is a problem with having the same old marches over and over that don’t accomplish anything.”

It is clear that  the Democrat Party  doesn’t provide any kind of alternative – and the Democrats of Illinois are a stark example, Rothenberg said.  They control the governorship, both houses of the legislature, and mayor’s offices in major cities, and  “they have no solution to the problems of the economic crisis at all.”

“The deal they cut with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to give them a tax break worth $100 million a year when the state is going through a financial crises is simply outrageous,” Rothenberg said. “They should be driven from office for that alone.  They do what the Republicans do but with another kind of rhetoric.

“My feeling is if you can bring in numbers of Occupy people. progressive activists and community groups like the Mental Health Movement, and bring in substantial support from labor, you would have the basis of a movement that could sustain itself.”  Without that, “it’ll be touch and go.”

 

Further reading: We’ve posted Rothenberg’s talk from the CANG8/Occupy Counter-Summit on Labor and Occupy: Insights from Wisconsin, which fleshes out some of the issues raised here.

 

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The anti-muckrakers https://www.newstips.org/2012/04/the-anti-muckrakers/ https://www.newstips.org/2012/04/the-anti-muckrakers/#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2012 19:45:54 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6038 Ever since the muckrakers of the Progressive Era – since McClure’s Magazine published Ida Turbell’s “History of Standard Oil” and Lincoln Steffen’s “The Shame of Minneapolis” in its January 1903 issue – investigative journalism has exposed the machinations of the powerful.

A few years ago a coterie of young conservatives decided to take up their own version of investigation journalism.  But they employ it to attack groups working to empower regular folks, and their methods feature deception and subterfuge — especially trying to trick staffers at community organizing groups into saying something embarrassing or worse.  It’s slash-and-burn journalism.

It worked with ACORN, where – as we noted in a 2009 post, Framing ACORN – Editor and Publisher found that “a bountiful crop of misinformation” was taken up by the FOX News echo chamber and repeated endlessly “without fact-checking” in the mainstream media (with metropolitan newspapers being a notable exception).  It led to the defunding and collapse of that organization.

Now the New York Times reports on a “sting” at two New York affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the Chicago-based organizing network founded by Saul Alinsky in 1940.

Since the presidential campaign of former organizer Barack Obama, Alinsky has been the target of right-wingers, who suggest that Obama’s Alinsky connection should disqualify him from political leadership.  Sarah Palin and more recently Newt Gingrich have attacked Alinsky in vague terms, and earlier this year Michael Miner reported on a really bogus “expose” of Obama’s participation in a panel discussion on Alinsky years ago.  It earned Miner a spot in Andrew Breitbart’s final column.

(Recently we noted that our own mayor granted an extended interview on the glories of charter schools to an anti-teacher outfit with troubling Breitbart connections.)

The sting

In New York, organizers at Manhattan Together and East Brooklyn Congregations thought something smelled funny when a young man who claimed to be from an environmental company and interested in organizing a union asked them for advice – including how to shake down politicians for money.

Turns out the company and organizing drive were fake.  The young man was John Howting, who’d been a conservative leader at Miami University (where he reportedly once used tanning lotion to try to pass as a Latino activist) and an intern at Human Events (where he penned a scathing attack on Senator Robert Byrd — who along with his populism and constitutionalism, exemplified a capacity to grow and change — shortly after his death).

You can bet young Howting was taping his encounters, although for the moment he’s gone into hiding.

“This kind of sleazy attempt to trick  people into saying something that can be misquoted or taken out of context in some campaign ad can have a chilling effect on that free and  open exchange of ideas — but maybe that is exactly what those who are trying to  scare people by attacking community organizing want,” comments Greg Pierce, a business owner and leader in United Power for Action and Justice, the local IAF affiliate.

“Why don’t these  cowards come out from behind their false identities and hidden microphones  and debate the merits of citizens getting organized to protect their homes,  their jobs, their communities, and their religious institutions — which is  what community organizing is really all about?

“I’ll tell you why,” Pierce says. “They know they  would lose that debate.”

William Buckley, the intellectual founder of the modern conservative movement, reveled in open debate and the free exchange of ideas.  These guys seem to take their cue from another tradition – that of Richard Nixon’s dirty tricksters.

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Occupy Austin, Occupy Bronzeville https://www.newstips.org/2011/10/occupy-austin-occupy-bronzeville/ Fri, 28 Oct 2011 21:51:06 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4873 Occupy Austin and Occupy Bronzeville, joined by people from Occupy Chicago, will begin a new drive to occupy foreclosures at actions on the West and South Sides tomorrow.

They’ll rally with tenants of a foreclosed building who are resisting what they say are illegal attempts to evict them from a 12-unit rental building, just two weeks after foreclosure.

Federal law requires tenants be given at least 90 days to move.  (See the recent Newstips post, Foreclosure and tenants: Banks break the law.)

“We’re saying these folks will not be moved,” said Elce Redmond of South Austin Coalition.  He said Occupy Austin would continue “organizing people on a day-to-day basis against the big banks.”  Their goal is “nonviolent mass organization to fight the greed and corruption of the top 1 percent and restore democracy in America.”

Redmond said the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing is representing the tenants in a lawsuit.

The rally starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 29, at 5960 W. North.

From there the groups will head to a housing resource fair at IIT’s Herman Hall, 3241 S. Federal where they’ll talk with homeowners seeking mortgage modifications.

“We want to see how many homeowners get modifications,” said Willie J. R. Fleming of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a core group in Occupy Bronzeville, which is part of a nationwide Occupy the Hood movement.

“There are a lot of resource fairs going on since the collapse of the financial system, but we still have millions of people losing their homes,” Fleming said. “We want to see if this is a real solution or just a dog and pony show.”

They’re laying plans to occupy foreclosed homes as well as blighted commercial spaces, which they want to turn into community centers, he said.  (This is a tactic that’s worked in Boston, Mark Konzcal writes at New Deal 2.0.)

Meanwhile Occupy Chicago is regrouping – and exploring options to lease indoor space — since the city turned down the group’s request for a permanent location on Thursday, spokesperson Sugar Russell said.

They could use a space for teach-ins and trainings, as well as a place to warm up, she said.

But she notes that their current location at LaSalle and Jackson – in front of Bank of America, across the street from the Federal Reserve – is not without its significance.

That’s especially true since last week, when anonymous regulators leaked to Bloomberg that the Fed was okaying BOFA’s shift of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary that’s insured by the FDIC – over the FDIC’s objections.

The FDIC’s deposit insurance fund finally turned positive in June, now amounting to just $3.9 billion.  A failure by troubled BOFA, which no one seems to be discounting, would require the FDIC to go to Congress for a bailout, possibly several times the size of TARP.

As Robert Reich argues, the situation shows the wisdom of the Glass-Steagall Act, which (until the year 2000) kept investment banks seperate from government-insured commercial banks – and underscores the need to break up “too big to fail” banks.

MSNBC senior editor James Carney calls it “outrageous” that BOFA is “obviously exploiting government backing for profit.”  Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil says it reinforces the popular impression that the Fed “puts big banks’ interests above those of ordinary taxpayers.”

More from Yves Smith, William K. Black, and most bleakly, Christopher Whalen.  Locally only ENews Park Forest seems to have noted the story.

And more attention is coming.  On Monday, National Peoples Action and the New Bottom Line Campaign will launch an online campaign to press BOFA to stop financing payday loans.

“Big banks like BOFA borrow money from the Fed at less than 1 percent interest, then lend that to payday lenders at 3 percent, who then turn around and lend money in our communities at 400 percent or more,” according to a note from NPA.

Elsewhere, the anti-corporate Adbusters magazine, which initiated the call to occupy Wall Street in September, is urging a global day of action Saturday in support of the “Robin Hood tax,” which is what they’ve dubbed the financial transaction tax.  That idea has gotten some attention in Chicago locally, with a modest proposal from Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group (see previous post), but it’s a very live issue for the G20 Summit that convenes in Cannes on November 3.

There it’s backed by the governments of France and Germany as well as the European Union, which recently moved to adopt a continent-wide tax on speculation.  It’s being blocked by the Obama administration.

“Let’s send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3 trillion easy money that’s sloshing around the global casino each day — enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world,” Adbusters writes.

“It’s obvious you have no idea how to get us out of this economic mess you put us in,” the magazine tells the elite. “So now we are telling you what we want: a radical transformation of casino capitalism.”

The tax would not only raise as much as $400 billion a year and offset the effects of the global crisis, which has thrown 60 million people into poverty worldwide, according to Oxfam America; it would target the spit-second computer-generated speculation that leaves the world’s economy so unstable.

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Progressives to meet https://www.newstips.org/2011/10/progressives-to-meet/ Fri, 14 Oct 2011 20:42:58 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4833 Miguel del Valle and Delmarie Cobb are calling a meeting of local progressives Saturday to assess the new political situation, which seems to be shifting daily. It’s Saturday, October 15, 2 p.m., a NEIU’s Center for Inner City Studies, 700 E. Oakwood.

A panel discussion will feature Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader, Toussaint Losier of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Phil Jackson of the Black Star Project, and electoral organizer Rebecca Reynolds.

“The political landscape in Chicago has shifted beneath our feet in the past year,” del Valle told Extra. “Progressives–those who believe in and work for progress for all Chicagoans–must now look around at our new circumstances and reevaluate.

“What are our biggest challenges–both as a movement, and as a city? How can we ensure that our voices are heard, louder than ever, in the halls of power? Those are the questions we hope to address at the forum on October 15.”

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Peacemaking: From West Bank to West Side https://www.newstips.org/2011/10/peacemaking-from-the-west-bank-to-the-west-side/ Wed, 12 Oct 2011 20:58:24 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4813 When he was on the West Bank with a Christian Peacemaker Team in 2005, Chicago organizer Elce Redmond realized the problems people faced there were similar to those faced by people back home – and solutions might be similar too.

Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition, will give the opening keynote for CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress, Thursday, October 13 at 8 p.m. at Evanston Reba Place Church, 533 Custer.  The congress runs through Sunday the 16th.

In 2005, Redmond’s team was providing “peaceful accompaniment” for Palestinian schoolchildren who faced bullying and attacks by adults (“they were mostly from New York,” he says) living in Israeli settlements there.  “I was struck that the same situation happens on the West Side of Chicago, kids trying to get home from school and facing gangs and violence.”

Back home, Redmond began organizing the Austin Peaceforce, with parents and community volunteers trained in nonviolent strategies who are deployed to defuse conflicts and prevent violence.  Today they have a regular presence in Austin schools, including parent patrols after school.

Another parallel emerged a year later, when Redmond went with CPT to Iraq.  There they provided help to relatives trying to get information on detainees.  “Mothers, wives, children contacted us to find out where a person had been taken and what the charge was – if there was a charge,” he said.  CPT members were constantly visiting places like Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib.

“We found lots of people who were just rounded up for the sake of rounding up someone,” he said.  “For many there were no charges – so many of them weren’t guilty of anything, other than being of Arab descent.

“The same thing happens on the West Side and South Side of Chicago, people are rounded up and simply because of where they are and who they are, they are associated with certain gangs and criminals.”

Redmond says he was impressed with the courage and steadfastness of both CPT members and residents of conflict zones.

Founded in 1986 at a retreat center in suburban Techny, CPT trains people in violence reduction strategies – which often involve “getting in the way” — and has sent teams to Haiti, Bosnia, and Chiapas, Mexico.

Other keynotes during the Congress will be by Angelica Castellanos of Colombia, Fathiyeh Gainey of Palestine, and Mohammad Salah of Iraq.  PCT has long-term projects in all three countries.

CPT opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement now under consideration in Congress, saying it “threatens to exacerbate the ongoing human rights crisis in Colombia.”

The group cites its Colombian partners as saying the pact “will continue to impoverish small-scale farmers, expand economic mega-projects that cause environmental destruction, and undermine labor rights, all of which will contribute to further displacement of millions of Colombians.”

 

Related: Community Organizer Visits Baghdad, Newstips 2005

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