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Analysis: Our perspective on the Chicago elections

By Frank Chapman

District Councillors for Brandon Johnson.

Chicago, IL – Our perspective on the elections must be based on a sober, scientific analysis that assesses the relationship of forces in this moment in order to find the pathway forward. We believe that objective social relations in the final analysis is what determines subjective evaluations. In other words, we must take every precaution to make sure that every policy change, every tactical adjustment and firming up of our strategy is soundly rooted in a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.

There has been an emerging high tide of movement in Chicago ever since the George Floyd and Breanna Taylor Rebellion of 2020. The principal demand of this movement is justice and our movement here in Chicago has a program for delivering justice vis-a-vis our united front struggle for community control of the police.

The policy we adopt going forward must be different from the policy we had when we were building a united front against former Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her allies in city council because the mayor-elect is our ally. We must maintain our united front strategy in different circumstances with different contradictions and challenges. In precisely what ways it will be different must be informed by the facts we have and the facts we will encounter in practice (experience).

We should be flexible when working with people: struggling alongside them when we are aligned; struggling with them when they are against our goals.

The same people can be with you, vacillating, or opposing you depending on the conditions of the moment. We need to look for grounds on which different forces will work with us

A pinch of power: What do we do with it?

The phase we are in now is that of the first 100 days, which started on the mayoral inauguration day, May 15.

Our focus in this phase should be to regroup and reeducate our forces to the reality that we now have a pinch of power. The main question then is how we bring the district councilors and the new commission into the playing field with the mayor so we can quickly consolidate our gains. Now our people are in a position where we can do more effective self-organizing to bring the police under community control in terms of police conduct regulation by the Police Board and COPA and the police budget.

We must always bear in mind that the police are also the cutting edge of mass incarceration and the principal reason why there are so many wrongfully convicted people in jails and prisons. Insofar as Chicago is concerned, we know that all the cases of torture and racist frameups originated in police districts mainly on the South and West Sides. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how to use the Police District Councils and the city-wide Community Commission on Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) to put pressure on the state of Illinois to free and compensate the wrongfully convicted.

At the April 14 meeting with councilors, there was discussion about how to implement the little power we have. Arewa Winters said, “I’m not fighting anymore; I’m enforcing the law.” Others said we have this power, but the powers-that-be are trying to stop us from implementing what we were elected for.

These different views show there is a struggle to comprehend how the power relationship has changed.

There are a number of things we need to learn:

We have to gather facts and investigate circumstances. We have to learn about parliamentary procedure in city council; when there is a fight in the city council, we’ll have to organize to fill the gallery, to defend the people’s mayor.

We’re not part of the transition team, but we took part in the first expanded meeting, and we’ll take part in more of those. We don’t want to join the administration; we want to make sure the district councils do their part as a people’s voice about policing, and to put forward policy initiatives. The councils need to call meetings, find out what people in their districts think, get people in the districts engaged.

There are many extremely important items on Mayor Brandon Johnson’s agenda pertaining to healthcare, education, jobs, municipal services, youth programs, housing and homelessness. But we must stick to our role as a mass defense organization of the Black Liberation movement, the workers (especially immigrant workers) and the people’s movements in general. We want community control of the police because we believe that creates the organizing space for a democratic movement for jobs, youth programs, mental health, etc. We want community control of the police to stop them from regulating and controlling us, as a means ending police tyranny in our communities and stopping our country from morphing into a police state.

Toward that end, we need to agitate for the mayor to give the district councilors and the commission all the support they need in implementing the ECPS Ordinance, in holding police accountable.

For the district councils and the commission, there are three issues that are on the front burner: the Consent Decree, the Gang Database, and the selection of the superintendent.

Two elections and our public posture

Chicago has been a pace setter, both in the struggle for community control of the police, and more generally the Black movement and the working class-led struggle versus neo-liberal policies.

Public safety has been the main issue in the mayoral election. Objectively, there has been a rise in the crime rate in the city in recent years, although it has fallen in the past six months. The second, and principal reason is the law-and-order backlash that followed the historic protests of the George Floyd Rebellion.

While Mayor Johnson focused on a service response to public safety, he has united with the ECPS coalition. Also, polls showed that public safety was the main concern of all nationalities, but for Black voters, the second main concern was police accountability because for Black people public safety and police accountability are not separate issues. There’s the overriding issue of racist cops occupying our communities. In the words of the Ferguson rebels: “Back up, back up! We want freedom, freedom! All these racist cops we don’t need ‘em!”

During all the debates between mayoral candidates Johnson and Vallas, public safety was never linked to the demands for justice, and even in his victory speech, Brandon Johnson didn’t mention CAARPR, or justice for those harmed by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). However, Johnson is in fact keenly aware of CAARPR’s role in the struggle for justice and objectively joined us in that struggle during the Police District Council elections. He not only endorsed our candidates but united with us in field operations. Our respective campaigns were united in action throughout this election season. We appreciate the meetings with the mayor’s election transition team. Now we must transition into the movement being a part of policy making, for that is how power is executed.

We need to remind ourselves as the movement around Mayor Brandon Johnson that there were two elections: one for mayor and city council, and one for the newly created district councils.

While not in the headlines or the focus of Brandon’s campaign, because of the urgency of the demand for justice in the Black community, we believe that our work played a key role in Brandon’s victory. We must continue to push our issues.

First, the Alliance gets credit for the historic district council elections. And of the 39 councilors (elect) that we backed, more than 36 of them endorsed Brandon Johnson.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) attempted to undermine the ECPS victory by running candidates to torpedo the district councils. We beat them on February 28.

Why? Because the Black community first and foremost rejected their attempt to undermine what we had gained.

So, we can say that we helped set the stage for the Brandon Johnson victory. And we can also say that he knows this.

The Black community then rallied to Brandon for the April election and dealt the FOP a second defeat.

To help drive home the support from the people received for the district council elections, a few facts are helpful: Councilors backed by CAARPR and the ECPS coalition garnered over 230,000 votes. Councilors in the Black wards – overwhelmingly aligned with CAARPR – received over 90,000 votes. And when combining Black wards with Latino wards, the vote total is over 130,000 votes.

Vallas tried to undo the advances made by the Black Liberation movement, but he was defeated. Looking at the increase in voting in the Black wards (below) shows that decisive motion by the Black movement put Brandon in office.

What have been the demands that agitated the mass Black Liberation movement into existence over the past decade? The demand for justice against police crimes was first. The mass movement that erupted in 2014 was focused on that, but it was on top of economic injustices: the crime of poverty, homelessness, the mortality rate. These elements were addressed prominently in Brandon Johnson’s campaign.

Johnson can’t implement his program without the Black Liberation movement, Chicano Liberation movement, and the organized working class being the drivers.

The FOP is threatening blood in the streets in response to Johnson’s election. There’s already been Black blood in the streets from the violence internal to the community that CPD aggravates. In addition, there have been police crimes, such as the murder of Reginald Clay Jr., who was shot after a foot chase. Chasing people on foot without an apparent reason to pursue is the same violation of CPD's own policy that caused the murder of Adam Toledo in 2021.

What we have proved through the district council mayoral elections is that we, united with Brandon as Mayor, intend to end both of these.

Assessing the election campaign

We saw that in the February 28 initial elections Mayor Johnson was weak in the Black wards on the South and West Sides.

But the Black wards came alive for Brandon after the February 28 primary.

The increase of Black voters in the April 4 runoff election was the biggest difference for Brandon Johnson’s victory: 46%.

Table comparing increase in support for Brandon Johnson

But that doesn’t exhaust the proportion of the impact that the Black community had in Brandon Johnson’s victory.

The general increase in votes for Johnson from February to April was 162%; but the increase for him in the Black wards was 288%!

While UWF (United Working Families, an electoral action group) brought their ground game to the South and West Sides, that can’t explain this explosion in voting. This reflects the self-organization of the Black movement.

The Alliance (CAARPR) is in an important position as the only Black-led citywide organization rooted firmly in the community that is closely aligned with the mayor.

Again, we have to continue to point out that the district council campaigns that worked with the Brandon campaign helped to root the Brandon campaign on the South and West Sides.

On May 2, 66 people were inaugurated as district councilors, an inauguration at which Mayor-elect Johnson spoke. The principal overriding theme of the inauguration was police accountability.

And in several polls about issues in the mayoral election, like the Sun Times newspaper/WBEZ public radio poll in early February, “31% of Black voters listed criminal justice reform as their top issue, with 30% concerned about crime and public safety.”

When we consider that none of the wards in the South, Lower West (Mexicano neighborhoods), or West Side districts went for Brandon in February; that Brandon's increase from February to April was 197,388 votes, and that the increased vote in the Black wards was 90,101 – 46% of the total; that together with the Latino wards, the increase for Brandon was 58%; and that the majority of the district councils candidates on the ballot in February were combining voter identification for themselves with identifying votes for Brandon – we think that the district council candidates, especially on the South and West Sides, played the decisive role in Brandon's victory.

Frank Chapman is the Executive Director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

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