For a few hours last week, the political circus that is the party of Donald Trump and Fox News took their show to the West Side and bastardized the very notion of Black liberation.
During a “Back the Blue” rally in North Lawndale, a group of Republican Party political candidates converged on a vacant lot to unwittingly broadcast their racism to those who cared to witness the spectacle.
The lot was across the street from the Chicago Police Department’s notorious Homan Square facility, where Black and Brown residents were tortured during interrogations, according to a 2015 report by the Guardian newspaper. The police denied the allegation, but a year after the report, community activists converged on the vacant lot to protest police abuses — both alleged and quite apparent.
For 41 days in 2016, a year after the Laquan McDonald tape rocked Chicago, the activists transformed the space into what they called Freedom Square. They setup a makeshift kitchen for cooking and a small free library space for reading. Young children, yearning for direction, wandered in and out of the lot.
Freedom Square was a demonstration of the sane libertarianism and anarcho-syndicalism practiced by people like Noam Chomsky, who in a 2013 interview described anarchism primarily as “a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families, to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. Their authority is not self-justifying.”
Last week, those Republican politicians, most of whom came from the suburbs or other parts of the city, blasted Democratic elected officials like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, blaming them for the recent civil unrest. The Republicans didn’t seem to understand their gathering’s underlying cruelty and fetid indifference to human suffering. They confused the anarchy of Freedom Square with the inherent chaos that is just a projection of their nihilistic political philosophy.
Theresa Raborn, a Republican running for Congress, told an Austin Weekly News reporter that “we need to back the police” because they’re the “thin blue line between the civilized society and total anarchy,” as if Donald Trump did not exist.
Yesoe Yoon, a Skokie Republican running for a seat in the Illinois House, told Austin Weekly News that Blacks needed “a little education” and that “we have to give them a better value system, so they aren’t influenced by Marxist ideas.”
That rally reflects today’s Republican Party — populated by kooks, conspiracy theorists, authoritarians, psychopaths and sycophants who are no longer the party’s fringe but its very nucleus.
But the Democratic Party, effectively the country’s last remaining governing party, is not a much better alternative for many Blacks who don’t feel included or well represented in the party’s governance.
Earlier this month, I interviewed Joshua Flynn, a Black Libertarian who lives in Austin. Flynn is running against state Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th). He believes government is bad and the free market is not free enough, apparently.
Flynn is a former Democrat who got fed up with the party’s corruption, pointing to Toni Preckwinkle’s soda tax (which he thinks was an undue burden on residents of the West Side) and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan as some of the emblems of that corruption.
It’s unfortunate that so many Black leaders searching for political empowerment are so lacking in political education that might allow them to imagine more humane political alternatives to the current Red/Blue dualism. Too many fall for the Okey Doke.
“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the U.S. that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough,” Christopher Hitchens once said of American Libertarians.
The United States, Chomsky explains, is “off the spectrum of the main tradition in this respect: what’s called ‘libertarianism’ here is unbridled capitalism.”
Anthony Travis, who pays twice as much property tax on his South Suburban home because of a corrupt property tax assessment system run by Democrats, said the party’s corruption has also turned him away — but not toward another party. Not yet, at least.
He might best be considered an independent who is Democratically aligned. He’d like to see property taxes abolished in favor of a more equitable way of funding the government, which he doesn’t believe is fundamentally bad or fundamentally good. Taxation is necessary in a modern society, but the process should be fair, he believes.
“The key is you have to shift the burden,” Travis told me. “If property taxes are destroying your community, does it make sense to have property taxes as a vehicle or do you make a shift in how you raise revenue?”
Travis, a former ComEd worker who says he was fired by the company for trying to unionize, is an organic intellectual, a natural leader searching for a constituency outside of his party.
Meanwhile, within the party, even the biggest Black powerbrokers are frustrated and believe that if change doesn’t happen now, it may never come.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford vented about this year’s $34.5 billion budget passed by a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic governor.
“All you hear about is the $500 million we had to fight over to make sure that the human services needs [of Blacks] were addressed, but what about the other $34 billion that went out the door, that we’re constantly being denied,” she said. “There’s no equity in anything that deals with economics.”
Larry Ivory, chairman of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, who was appointed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner to be a member of the state’s Fair Practices in Contracting Task Force, constantly laments that the percentage of the state’s budget spent on contracts with Black-owned businesses is one-tenth of 1 percent.
But this striking racial inequity won’t change without a fight. Economic racism is bipartisan and those benefitting from the status quo will be united across party lines to try and defeat whatever measures are designed to upset it.
A case in point is the late Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor who was perhaps the nation’s most successful politician at radically recalibrating a government contracting system so that it tilts away from systemic racism and more toward equity.
In 1974, according to Black Enterprise, Jackson told the city’s business elite that he was “going to move forward with the expansion of Hartsfield Airport, transforming one of the nation’s busiest airports into an international hub. Then, he dropped the bombshell: 25 percent of all contracts would be set aside for minority firms.”
The blowback was swift, with some business people claiming that Jackson’s goal was illegal. Jackson, however, pushed back, telling the city’s white business establishment that it could have 75 percent of a $450 million expansion project or 100 percent of nothing, Black Enterprise reported.
“The result: Jackson increased the percentage of contracts to minorities from less than 1 percent in 1973 to roughly 39 percent five years later. In the process, he strengthened the black middle class [and] created scores of black millionaires.”
Jackson, an attorney by profession, was rewarded for his success by being blackballed once he left office. According to his New York Times obituary, “no local law firm offered him a job. Instead, he set up a local office as a bond lawyer for a Chicago firm.”
Jackson’s experience shows just how lonely it can get in the fight for substantive change, which is why coalitions and mature, disciplined political philosophies are so important. But when one of the major political parties is bat-shit insane and the other is unresponsive to our needs, what should Black people seeking systemic change through the political system do?
Any thoughts are welcome.