Englewood Chicago, ACORN Chicago, local politics

Chicago’s Englewood Charts the Limits of Local Political Power

Ideas and Issues
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May 3, 2021

New Orleans

In ACORN’s heyday in Chicago, the heartland of our greatest strength was in Englewood on the South Side, whether it was local issues or flexing our political muscles.  As proof of that power, we elected Ted Thomas, the chair of ACORN’s Chicago board as alderman in the 15th District and then were able to elect Toni Foulkes, the ACORN Association board delegate to replace him in the 15th, where she was also able to win election in the 16th once there was redistricting.

Englewood traverses four or five districts of the fifty in Chicago, so no one alderman can bear the blame or take the credit for conditions in the community, but that doesn’t mean that the shoe doesn’t still pinch when I read about a story about the continuing pain and lack of progress there. Life expectancy in Englewood is only 60 years, while some miles up the road in a whiter shade of pale, than the largely Black and brown neighborhood, residents can expect to live to 75. Even thinking about all of the campaigns, and even the wins, that still hurts.  Toni Foulkes for example was the author of a Chicago ordinance effort for paid sick days, so it’s not like health and well-being were not critical to our concerns.

Linda Williams, the author of the piece, has family in Englewood and tells the story of her family moving out to Denver to break out of the neighborhood.  The real theme of her piece is the limits of local power when so many of the problems are due to collateral damage of federal policies, which very strong local organization and effective political representation locally can’t undo at the grassroots level.

We fought and, in some ways, won the battles against redlining in coalition with a ton of other organizations, but that didn’t mean that the impact of denying mortgages to nonwhite families didn’t leave permanent scars that still haven’t healed.  We fought, even recently, contract and other rent-to-own schemes, but that doesn’t change the fact that as estimated by one study $3 to $4 billion dollars was pulled out of Black Chicago communities, like Englewood.  We fought for and in the trenches on community boards for schools and in coalition with the teachers’ union, but that doesn’t mean that, as populations shifted, schools weren’t closed, including in Englewood. We fought for living wages in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean that our members necessarily were able to find jobs that paid more.  In so many of these campaigns, our members, our leaders, and the organization itself felt like we were at the vanguard, but in retrospect given the national and even global impact of governmental and financial policies perhaps we were fighting on the rearguard.

Part of this is the case for reparations and the kind of high dollar, deep impact policies and proposals we’re finally seeing from the White House under President Biden.  It’s also an argument for ACORN’s efforts to nationalize so many of these local and even neighborhood campaigns in order to try and fight the battle at that level.  It’s a painful vacuum still and one that ends up, as it does in Englewood, as a life and death matter.