For activists, the work never ends. And for Logan Square-area politician Delia Ramirez, the work has already started—long before her job does.
This past weekend, Ramirez took the unusual step of holding a community-input meeting nearly nine months before she’ll take office.
Not three weeks ago, Ramirez claimed victory in the Democratic primary election for the open state representative seat in the 4th District. In November’s general election, she’ll run unopposed (no Republican’s running). But she won’t take the oath of office until January.
In spite of that, Ramirez welcomed 40 to 50 Fourth-District residents to the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (2753 W. Division St.) April 7. With the event, called “Building a 4th District for All,” Ramirez’s team aimed to keep real constituents’ concerns in the candidate’s mind.
“We want to make sure that she is continually supported by us and [is] also held accountable by us,” said Lori Torres-Whit, who introduced the event. Whit, a lifelong 4th-district resident and Chicago Teachers Union member, helped recruit Ramirez to run. “Coming together as a community allows Delia to know what our priorities are,” Torres-Whit said. “How do we make sure that our fight is her fight?”
The meeting is the first step in an effort to create a community-powered advocacy group linking Ramirez and the district, Torres-Whit and other speakers said. Ramirez stressed the event had to come now, before the energy from the campaign petered out.
“It was so important to bring people together immediately after the election,” she told LoganSquarist. “It’s going to define how I set up the office—I want to make sure that it’s people-centered, district-centered.”
Constituents Talk (and Scribble) Back
To help define those issues, the event asked attendees to tell Ramirez, 1) Which issues they wanted her to champion, and 2) How they would partner with her.
Participants scrawled out their ideas on Post-It Notes that they pasted to the cultural center’s walls. Logan Square activist Rob Reid, who worked on Ramirez’s campaign, led the feedback sessions.
“There are 100,000 people in our district,” Reid said. “Delia’s a great listener, but she’s only got two ears… That’s why they invented Post-It Notes.”
Issues raised at the meeting ranged from fully funding public schools to rent control to property taxes. All of those suggestions garnered cheers when Ramirez read them off. Some of the notes called for more ambitiously progressive goals, like state-owned banks, “100 percent renewable green energy and infrastructure” and marijuana legalization.
The yellow slips of participatory democracy also called for criminal justice reform, a progressive income tax and universal healthcare.
Ramirez acknowledged both the energy in the room and the blue-sky ambition. “We have a really progressive agenda here,” she said, to chuckles. “It’s going to take a lot more legislators getting elected.”
Suggestions for partnering with the candidate included quarterly newsletters, a community advisory board, and good old-fashioned door-knocking and marching.
Hugo Olvera, a CPS teacher, said he came to the event because he thought Ramirez would fight for schools.
“I was very excited to hear she was running, and I expected her to help fund schools,” Olvera said, who was born in Logan Square and teaches at James Otis World Language Academy (525 N. Armour St.). “I wanted to come because it’s a good way to get prepared and hear from people who want to help out.”
Other Candidates Join In
Ramirez won the 4th-Distrtict Democratic nomination in a race against three other women: attorney Alyx Pattison, community organizer Iris Millan and civil-rights attorney Anne Shaw. Two of those opponents—Shaw and Pattison—attended Saturday’s event.
Shaw recommended that Ramirez include language access for immigrant groups and mental healthcare on the issues board.
“I want to give an acknowledgment to some of our leaders in our community … who also ran in the fourth district race,” Ramirez said. “It was an honor to run in a race where it was four women from the community running to fight for our community.”
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for the 35th Ward, also lent his voice to the gathering. In a characteristically impassioned speech, he told the audience that Ramirez would get a lot of advice in office.
“There’s going to be lobbyists pulling her this way; there’s going to [Speaker of the Illinois House] Mike Madigan pulling her that way,” he said. “And then there’s got to be you.”
The group the attendees could form will help keep those other voices from unduly influencing the representative, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“This organization that I hope you’ll eventually be founding is not an end unto itself,” he said. “It’s a means to an end.”
For her part, the newly nominated Ramirez said Saturday’s turnout already convinced her that the community group would work.
“You being here today is a testament to what the Fourth District is,” she said. “You showed up today to demonstrate that it is only through collective action that we start redefining how elective office looks.”
Ramirez promised the crowd that her campaign would turn the feedback from Saturday’s session into a report, released by May. More events will come in the future, too, she said, including one in the fall to help build her legislative agenda.
She also announced a listening tour, in which she planned to speak with community groups. The campaign wants to hear from groups who’d like to take part in that tour, she said. And, given the sometimes-low level of public knowledge about state politicians, Ramirez said she was open to educational events, too.
“We got the question over and over, ‘What does a state representative do?,'” she said. “So we have work to do.”
If you want to share issues that you hope the candidate will address once in office, the campaign welcomes additional feedback. You can reach Ramirez via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Facebook. Comments that come in via those channels will go into the report, too, Ramirez said.