Standing alongside their constituents and the grassroots organizations that aided their victories, City Council’s new coalition of progressive aldermen flipped the script—they swore-in the people.
“We the people of the City of Chicago, do hereby commit to fight for a Chicago for all,” the crowd said, pledging their commitment to a progressive agenda and activism.
Chicago People’s Inauguration on June 29, at the Chicago Teacher’s Union in West Town, brought together newly-elected officials and over 12 grassroots community organizations to celebrate electoral victories and unify progressive movements.
The 2019 aldermanic elections gave way to a leftward shift in City Council, occupying the 50-seat council with six democratic socialists and bringing in new progressive politicians, like Alderman Rossana Rodriguez (33rd Ward).
The People’s Inauguration celebrated the victory of newcomers like Logan Square’s Daniel LaSpata (1st Ward), Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward), Rodriguez, Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) and Matt Martin (47th Ward), and incumbents like Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. These aldermen are progressive and movement-focused, centering on issues like economic justice, police accountability, housing justice and access to public mental health clinics.
Photos: Tom Vlodek
“Events like these are important because they remind us that it takes a collective team effort to create change,” Alderman Ramirez-Rosa said. “But it also reminds us that it’s not just the elected officials that are entering city hall, it’s all of us together.”
The event was co-organized by an assortment of interconnected activist organizations: SEIU HCII, United Working Families, The People’s Lobby, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, 33rd Ward Working Families, 25th Ward IPO, United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, 12th Ward IPO, Network 49, Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
The groups collaborated to make the People’s Inauguration a vehicle for cohesion amongst organizations and an opportunity for activists and citizens to communicate directly with their elected officials. The People’s Inauguration was a step towards solidarity amongst groups and a solidified agenda.
Drawing from neighborhoods all over Chicago, the People’s Inauguration gave local leaders the opportunity to promote their organizations. Local activists like Anthony Joel Quezada of the Community Defense Committee and United Neighbors of the 35th Ward were able to share demands for the City of Chicago and encourage continued activism.
Grassroots community organizations played a large role in the election of the new aldermen through actions like endorsements, organizing, and door-knocking. With this mobilization in mind, the People’s Inauguration worked to answer the question of what’s next for these groups and their aldermen.
“City Council has been inaugurated but it’s really us, the people, that need to be inaugurated. Own the role that each individual played in making the recent electoral victories possible,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “And understand that we are going to have to continue to fight together to get the most important victories of all–changes in policy.”
With Ramirez-Rosa and La Spata representing sections of Logan Square, this shift in City Council is specifically relevant to the neighborhood and the functioning of our own hyperlocal politics.
“I think that Logan Square in many ways is the epi-center of a lot of progressive organizing that’s happening in the City of Chicago,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “But it’s also important to understand that this change is coming from all different parts of the city.”
Accountability was stressed by both sides. The people will hold new aldermen accountable for the promises they made and the aldermen will hold organizations accountable for continued activism.
“We’re not just going to hold alderman accountable for a vote,” said Stacey Davis, Chair of the United Working Families and Vice President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union. “They’re going to hold us accountable for staying in the streets, and knocking on doors, and making sure that the need is still expressed as sharply as it was before they were elected.”
This reciprocal relationship ensures that both organizations and elected officials remain focused on their efforts to create a more equitable Chicago. Leaders urged action, reminding attendees of their initial objectives and rejecting the notion that the election was the final goal.
“Any of the electoral work that we’ve done, it didn’t start there. It’s been a manifestation of strikes. It’s been a manifestation of the sit-ins,” Davis said. “It didn’t happen because we had the best mailer. It happened because people decided to fight back. Do not go and hide in voting booths y’all.”
For many attendees, this shift offers a hope for a change in larger Chicago politics.
“I’m 69 years old. I know about old-fashioned politics,” said Magda Ramirez-Casteneda, lifelong organizer and former Board President of Pilsen Alliance. “But we have a new people, young people, who are very bright and want to give up themselves. They know the reality that exists in City Hall and want to change it.”
Chicago People’s Inauguration proved both the capacity of politicians in uplifting grassroots demands and the power in grassroots mobilization.
“We hold ourselves close,” Davis said. “This is a community and we have to remind ourselves of our commitment.”
Featured photo collage: Tom Vlodek