Chicago mayoral election: Progressive Brandon Johnson against reactionary Paul Vallas
Chicago, IL – Brandon Johnson’s campaign for mayor of Chicago held an event at Saint James Community Church on Chicago’s South Side on Thursday, March 16. The event was organized by United Working Families, a movement group behind Johnson.
The purpose of the event was the launch of the offensive to win big on the South Side, the part of the city with the largest Black population.
Johnson was not well known across the city before he announced for mayor. The South and West Sides of the city were mainly won by outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Two weeks after the February 28 general election, in which Lightfoot came in third behind Vallas and Johnson, polls showed Johnson with support from 63% of Black voters, with pro-cop candidate Paul Vallas only getting 18%.
To overcome the advantages Vallas has with rich donors and among white voters, in the words of Frank Chapman, Field Organizer of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), “The key to victory for Brandon in the runoffs is unity within the Black community and unity between the Black and Latino communities.”
The atmosphere in the church was lively and optimistic as people of all ages waited for the event to begin. Jerk chicken, beef and veggie patties, and fried plantains were served as people mixed and mingled. The church’s electric stairlift was in constant use, shuttling numerous elders and handicapped attendees up two flights of stairs to the sanctuary. The joyful atmosphere was a stark contrast from Johnson’s press conference earlier that morning in which professional hecklers, paid by the Vallas campaign, caused a disturbance and accosted elders.
Over 150 people packed inside the dining room and then the sanctuary. The group was mostly Black, but Latinos and some Asians and white folks were also in attendance. Speakers included organizers, survivors of police violence, students and clergy.
Parish Brown, a South Side organizer, started by telling the crowd about his experience during the bitter fight to stop the city from closing 50 schools on the South and West Sides. He said the four-year struggle culminated in a 34-day hunger strike, “And guess who was a part of that fight?” The audience shouted “Brandon Johnson!” without missing a beat.
Brown went on to detail how he also became involved in the fight to open a Level 1 trauma center on the South Side after his brother was shot. He said, “I remember seeing his blood on the pavement. And it’s people like Brandon Johnson who got involved in that fight to get a Level 1 trauma center, which we have today!”
A South Side small business owner who grew up in Cabrini Green Projects stood up and told the story about how Brandon Johnson changed her life as her seventh-grade teacher in 2007, “with his dreadlocks full of wisdom.” She talked about how he taught them about a range of history topics from Somalia, the Incas and Aztecs, the Great Depression and even public housing. “Mr. Johnson gave us a sense of belonging and listened to us, making us feel loved and respected in his classroom. When he becomes mayor that is exactly how he’ll make the residents of Chicago feel as well.”
Later, participants were split into groups according to their region of the South Side. In the breakout groups, everyone had a chance to say why they were supporting Brandon Johnson and to collectively discuss ways to get him in office. In the breakout group from streets in the 6000s through the 8000s, David Lincoln of CAARPR spoke about being tortured by two cops as a teen. He said, “We need to elect Brandon to help hold the police accountable, working with the district councilors.” He said we can’t have Vallas, because Vallas thinks the cops “already have too many restrictions.”
A woman from the Southeast Side breakout group cited Brandon’s participation in the ongoing fight for housing justice in Chicago as proof of his dedication to the people and as the reason for her support. Other participants in her breakout group were attracted to the campaign by Brandon’s plans for economic justice and his summer youth employment strategy to increase public safety. As the group nodded in agreement, Julio Miramontes, a Latino resident who ran for District Council on February 28 summed the discussion up by saying, “We’re trying to build a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition so at the end of the day it’s not just Brandon up there. We could have progressive aldermen up there, progressive state reps, and one of them could be us.”