Two protest leaders arrested at Grossinger Cadillac after peaceful protest... Chicago Teachers Union and allies launch campaign to return TIF money to schools
More than 250 people, from teachers and hotel workers to community activists and public school students, rallied and marched on March 19, 2011, protesting the fact that Chicago's TIF money has been going primarily to the city's wealthiest corporations, taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the public schools (and other millions from other public institutions).
For more than a quarter century, under two mayors, Chicago has generated hundreds of millions of dollars from "Tax Increment Financing" (TIF) programs that were supposed to benefit blighted communities — but most of the dollars went to some of the city's most powerful corporations, leaving the inner city communities further behind as the national and local economy weakened. The March 19 protests were aimed at bringing the truth about the TIFs to the corporate centers where the TIF dollars were directed, according to CTU sources.
In a surprise, near the end of the two-hour peaceful rally and march, Chicago police arrested two of the leaders of the march, disability rights activist Amber Smock of ADAPT and Chicago Teachers Union Staff Coordinator Jackson Potter. Both spent four hours in the 18th District police lockup two blocks from the Jenner school before they were released on their own recognizance late in the afternoon.
The rally and march were coordinated by the Chicago Teachers Union, in conjunction with a number of other unions and community groups. Among those participating were the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), COFI, Unite HERE Local 1 (the Hotel and Restaurant workers union, which represents CPS lunchroom workers), the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, ADAPT (disability rights activists, who were instumental in planning the Grossinger action, according to CTU sources), Action Now (who brought a busload of supporters), and the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare workers. Additionally, the protests included parents, students and teachers, according to a CTU press release published before the event.
The issue, according to the teachers union, was that TIFs take $250 million per year out of Chicago's public education tax dollars, a special burden at a time when CPS is claiming unprecedented deficits and CPS recently admitted that it has 160 public schools, most of them in poor communities, without libraries. "During a time of fiscal uncertainty and CPS deficits," the CTU press release said, "supporters of public education demand that all TIF surplus funds be returned to schools and that the 53.3 percent of property taxes designated for public schools no longer be diverted to TIFs."
The rally began at noon across the street from Jenner. One of the main speakers was Cook County Clerk David Orr. “There is an enormous myth that Chicago is broke," Orr told the gathering crowd, "but there is currently 1 billion dollars in TIF funds, with $500 million added annually... we need to call for a moratorium on TIFs. The wealthy say we must all share the pain, but they need to share the wealth! ...We want businesses to do well, but they don’t have to take it all!”
Another speaker at the rally, Reena Buzly [sic, Substance did not get the spelling of the name and hope we will hear if we need to update this] was a member of UNITE HERE, the hotel workers union.
She told the crowd that she works as a housekeeper at Hyatt Hotels (which has four sites in Chicago,). The majority shareholders in the Hyatt Corporation are members of the Pritzker family, eleven of whose members were listed earlier this month on the Forbes 1,000 list of the world's billionaires. “...Pritzkers are organizing to attack you teachers..." she told the crowd. "if we fight together, we’ll win. This is a message to Penny Pritzker: — ‘Yes, we can!’”
The reference was to billionaire Penny Pritzker, who has been organizing anti-union activities since long before she served as Barack Obama's chief fundraiser during the 2008 presidential election. Penny Pritzker serves on the Board of Hyatt and personally owns more than a million shares of Hyatt stock, currently valued at around $45 per share, according to union researchers. Other members of the Pritzker family own stock that currently controls roughly 70 percent of the Hyatt Corporation, and Penny Prtizker also serves as a Hyatt director. (Until recently, Hyatt tried to claim that she was an "outside" — and therefore independent — director, but that was changed in early 2011 after it drew attention in the business press).
According to numerous reports, it was the Pritzkers who influenced President Obama to break his promise to the AFL-CIO about changing union organizing laws. During the 2008 campaign, Obama repeatedly told the unions that he would support the "card check" method for organizing unions in the private sector. After his election, Obama dropped his support for card check. The action followed a communication from the Pritzkers and other wealthy hospitality (mostly, hotel and resort) owners claiming that card check would hurt their businesses.
All of the marchers understood the basic outlines of the complex TIF reality by the time the noon rally had ended and the march began.
The protest had begun with the rally and speakers across from the Jenner Elementary School at 1119 N. Cleveland. The site is inside what used to be the notorious Cabrini Green public housing project (but what is now a gentrified extension of the city's wealthiest community, the "Gold Coast").
Following a march up Clybourn Ave, the second phase of the protests began a mile west of one of the properties owned by the Pritzkers (the Park Hyatt on Michigan Ave) and ended six blocks from the $10 million mansion owned by Penny Pritzker on N. Orchard St., two blocks south of Lincoln Park High School.
The march up Clybourn Ave. took the marchers past one Chicago public schools (Near North Career Magnet High School) which the Board of Education has kept closed while it manipulates the schools in the area to further the gentrification policies of local developers and the billionaire families who live north of North Ave. (While CPS has kept Near North closed, the Board has attacked the Carpenter Elementary School a mile to the west, forcing Carpenter to accept the "Ogden International High School", which is currently pushing out the elementary school, while the high school building on Clybourn goes unused and CPS officials pretend it doesn't exist.)
Speakers at the rally, which began at noon, included Cook County Clerk David Orr, 25th Ward Aldermanic candidate Témoc Morfin, representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union and Unite HERE (the hotel and restaurant workers union), and a large number of community organizations, including the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and the Grassroots Cooperative.
Following a march up Clybourn St., the group walked into the Bank of America offices at North Ave and Halsted, where they presented their TIF problems to the local branch manager.
After Bank of America, the group went to the nearby Grossinger Cadillac dealership, which CTU research had shown received $8 million in TIF money to develop its five story dealership building at Dayton and North Ave in one of Chicago's most expensive communities. (The $10 million mansion of Penny Pritzker is less than a mile to the northeast of Grossinger, in a community that has been "gentrified" in a way that has happened in few places in the entire country over the past quarter century). The blocks that now host Chicago's "Billionaires Row" were once working class homes on small Chicago lots. During the gentrification period, which began during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and accelerated during the 1990s, Chicago's wealthiest families would buy three, four or five lots and then tear down all the homes on the lots and use the expanded land to build the 21st Century mansions that now occupy the area. The irony of putting TIF money into that community was one of the reasons why the twin corporate targets of the march were selected, according to organizers.
Challenging the city's claim that TIF money was being used to help development in "blighted areas," the protesters pointed out the paradox of more than $8 million in TIF money going to Grossinger, half of which would have gone to the city's public schools.
The arrest of Jackson Potter and Amber Smock inside the Grossinger Cadillac dealership came as a surprise to most of the protesters, but not to some who had been observing the police gather.
"Waiting outside Grossinger's luxury auto store, I saw the store manager spring red faced to the nearest police officer. He screamed in the face of the officer, 'I want them all out, and I want them all arrested,'" teacher Katie Hogan told Substance. "His face was contorted and spit flew out of his mouth while he screamed. I asked him if he really thought it necessary to arrest a bunch of teachers and cafeteria workers peacefully rallying at his dealership. He turned and snapped at me, 'Yes, I don't care, I want you all out, now.' I asked him if his children go to school with a library. He wouldn't reply but went running to the next police officer he saw."
A union activist and CORE member, Katie Hogan teaches at Chicago's Social Justice High School, where Jackson Potter served as union delegate before becoming staff coordinator at CTU following the CORE victory in the May and June 2010 CTU election and runoff.
While most of the protesters left following the return of the march to the Jenner school, comments kept coming in from an inspiring day.
"It was inspiring seeing the CTU march with such a diverse body of induviduals and organizations. It was a prime example of Social Justice Unionism," Adam Heenan, a Chicago high school teacher and CORE member, told Substance. Like many of the leaders of CORE, Heenan works full time teaching and is doing regular work on CTU committees, where he also serves as a convention delegate to the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.