As the recent city council elections demonstrate, special interests have trumped community interests within much of Chicago’s black leadership. Whereas in the past black leaders took heroic stands on behalf of their people, today too many black leaders have betrayed their constituents for 30 pieces of silver. Currently the payoff is coming from the unions but if our leadership is for sale to the highest bidder, special interests will continue to override genuine community concerns.
Compare the present day to 1964. At that time the civil rights movement was in high gear. Protest marches, sit-ins, boycotts and extensive television coverage had begun to turn public opinion in favor of full civil rights for blacks. Even the United States Congress caught the vision and passed ground-breaking legislation. Understandably, many blacks believed we were close to fulfilling the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. The events of the day seemed to confirm the wisdom of W.E.B DuBois, who argued that “politics is the route” to freedom, equality and opportunity. Even I, a fan of Booker T. Washington, could not argue with the success of the movement. The talented tenth of our race were leading courageously and the masses were following.
However, those victories came at great personal cost. We remember Fannie Lou Hamer of Mississippi and her famous quip, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Less than a year after being brutally beaten by police she successfully challenged the Democratic Party to stop discriminating on the basis of race at its 1964 National Convention. Fannie Hamer was but one of many civil rights activists who put life and property at stake for the good of the community. Our heroes of yesterday did not seek personal gain; they sought the betterment of their people.
Today, however, the name of the game seems to be personal enrichment. We have far more black politicians than ever before yet our moral standards are at an all time low and our community growth is negligible. The current Chicago City Council election cycle offers a case study in the politics of self-interest. Although record sums were raised and spent in the city-wide aldermanic races, I have to wonder if this spending frenzy had anything to do with the genuine needs of the community. Were these races primarily about improving the failing public schools or protecting our communities or rooting out city corruption? In a word, no. In fact, several of the successful challengers were funded not by citizens of the represented wards, but by trade unions. The money pouring in from the unions – a record setting $1.02 Million was poured into a mere five aldermanic races according to the Sun Times – has turned city politics into a three ring circus, prompting one local paper to describe the city council run offs as “better than reality TV.”
As it turns out, this election cycle has been dominated by the ‘Big Box’ ordinance Mayor Daley Vetoed last year. It appears that several of the unions want to oust city council members who prevented the council from overriding the veto. This whole issue has little to do with the well being of the mostly black communities where Wal-Mart was hoping to locate. Even if Wal-Mart were to have brought in only five new jobs it would have been five more than previously existed. As it is, the newest Wal-Mart, located in the suburbs, saw and over 25,000 people – mostly minority residents of Chicago – make the trek to apply for a job. If Wal-Mart is so evil, why didn’t the unions fight it in the suburbs? Chicago’s City Council voted to further union interests rather than create jobs in the south and west sides of the city. And some black aldermen didn’t say a word in protest! It seems that some of them were hoping to cash in on the massive union campaign contributions. Thankfully, the publicity provided by WVON radio station shed some badly needed light on this subject. At the moment, political self-interest has taken the place of courage, selflessness and commitment to the community among some of Chicago’s black leadership.
The unfortunate reality is that although we desperately need changes in the City Council, we are not likely to benefit from this year’s run off. There are several wards where the dream of economic advancement is not being realized. This year, however, we either vote for the same self-serving politicians who have repeatedly ignored the needs of the black community, or for union funded lackeys beholden to special interests. Why are there not more selfless leaders in the mold of Hamer and King? It is time for alternative solutions, fresh ideas and new voices in the black community.
Lee H. Walker is president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute. He can be reached at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].