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Kreinberg’s Back: Police Riots, Fairs and Olympics

Lew Kreinberg’s back in town, and it’s like he never left.

The veteran organizer, rabble-rouser, and troublemaker is still irrepressible and reflexively provocative. Eight years ago he retired from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the organization he co-founded in 1964, and moved to Mississippi.

“Katrina blew us out,” he says, and health problems followed, but now he and his wife are living in the South Loop, “the best address I’ve ever had,” and he’s back at JCUA as a volunteer.

At the moment what he’s exercised about is the upcoming reunion of Chicago riot cops sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, celebrating the “thin blue line” that saved the city from “anarchy.”

“I was there,” he says. “It was cops hitting citizens in the head, smashing their heads like watermelons.

“You know what Governor Kerner’s commission called it? A police riot. You can’t spin a police riot. That’s not a proud moment in Chicago’s history. That was people’s heads getting smashed. It’s shameful.”

Chicago Copwatch and other police accountability groups have called a counterprotest of the FOP event for 6 p.m. Friday at Ashland and Lake.

The Fair and the Olympics

We asked about the current controversy over the Olympics — and what insights there might be gained from the successful campaign by community activists led by Kreinberg 25 years ago to stop a planned 1992 Chicago World’s Fair.

The fair was stopped “because of the transparency that was forced by the [Chicago] 1992 Committee,” he said, referring to the grassroots watchdog coalition he helped put together.

The World’s Fair Corporation “came in saying trust us,” he recalls. “They said they had it covered” — no public funds would be needed.

The first analysis showing the world’s fair could actually (indeed, easily) lose money was presented in The Neighborhood Works, the magazine of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, by editor Thom Clark based on Kreinberg’s research.

Subsequently, local foundations backed 1992 Committee research projects exploring the dangers of displacement and diversion of infrastructure spending and poking big holes in Fair Corporation projections of attendance and job creation.

When the fair planners rejected any discussion of alternative sites, it was clear that their real agenda was greasing the skids of development for their “new town in town.”

Cotton Candy

“It’s a hard thing, taking cotton candy out of the mouths of citizens,” Kreinberg said. “Nobody is against the Olympics, nobody is against a Worlds Fair, unless it’s some kind of nut like me who thinks the city is already overbuilt, who talks about limited growth.

“We made it clear that the money being spent on the world’s fair was money that would not be available for the needs of the neighborhoods. There’s only so much money. It’s a game of subtraction.”

They also made it clear that the fair was likely to lose money; after that, the debate was over who would pick up the tab. Mayor Harold Washington, a skeptic who replaced fair booster Jane Byrne, finally said that he was wildly enthusiastic about the idea — but the city could provide no financing, and would even have to charge the Fair Authority for the cost of police and other public services. When House Speaker Mike Madigan came out against state funding on June 20, 1985, the fair was declared dead.

While the world’s fair was the project of a group of business leaders who had to then enlist the support of elected officials, the Olympics seem to be the intiative of Mayor Richard Daley himself, who has marshalled business and civic support for his dream.

Back then there was a far more free-wheeling political environment — a City Council briefly freed from its role as rubber stamp and a feisty movement of community organizations, fresh from the principled confrontations of the civil rights movement and subsequent struggles.

Back then a broad grassroots coalition — nearly 50 groups joined the Chicago 1992 Committee — united around broad accountability concerns, and local foundations supported them; even major nonprofits on the official Fair Review Council began asking serious questions.

Today a small group, No Games Chicago, is organizing in explicit opposition to the Olympics, while groups in affected communities press separately for better benefit packages.

Back then there was also a deficit in the city’s budget — though nothing like the financial tsunami facing local government right now, with the state and city, schools, parks and transit all facing “doomsday” projections with big service cuts and layoffs, at the very moment the Mayor breaks his promise to limit public financial exposure to Olympic debt.

Kreinberg suggests paying particular attention to the Olympics budget. “Cost overruns are where these people make their money,” he points out.

“‘Trust me’ is a phrase that is always used in Chicago. Trust me, you’ll get affordable housing on Maxwell Street — but it will be for our relatives who don’t need it, so they can sell it and make money. Trust me on parking meters….This child of the Boss has not given us any reason to trust him at all.

“Trust — you have to earn it, you don’t proclaim it.”

Chicago 1968

A group of young activists and artists is planning to stage a reenactment of  Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention demonstrations — minus the violence — tonight, Thursday, August 28, at 5 p.m.

Organizers have located transcripts of speeches and performances by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Tom Hayden, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Abbie Hoffman, and Bobby Seale, and participants will deliver them, with musicians recreating Chicago ’68 performances by the MC5, Phil Ochs, and Peter, Paul and Mary.  Veterans of ’68 including Don Rose and Tom Palazollo will give remarks.

In their own reenactment of 40 years ago, the city has declined to give the event a permit; they’ll gather anyway at Balbo and Columbus.

Elsewhere, Monroe Anderson recalls being the one of the first journalists attacked by police in 1968, and Laura Washington interviews Don Rose and Marilyn Katz for In These Times; she asks if there’s anything they would have done differently:

Rose:  “The only thing in retrospect is, it would have been better to have teased out some of the police spies in our own organization.  As it turned out…much of the violence [by demonstrators] was perpetrated by police moles.  I suppose if we’d been more vigilant about who might be the moles and traitors among us, it might have been different.”

Katz:  “I regret nothing…. If there was a mistake in 1968, it was by the Democratic Party.  If they had embraced the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, they would have won.  It was not the demonstrators that caused the failure of the Democratic Party to win, it was the failure of the Democratic Party to look at the emerging movements and know that was where their future was.  That failure…has hamstrung the Democratic Party from that moment until today.”

Meanwhile, Rick Perlstein‘s new book “Nixonland” has a couple chapters on the ’68 convention — particularly good on the abuse of antiwar delegates inside the convention (their signs and literature weren’t allowed in; at one point Chicago police actually entered the convention to eject an antiwar delegate) and how the whole thing looked to television viewers in their homes.

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