Women Against the Machine meets on January 4... Major efforts in wards across the city against the 'Machine'

More than 120 people, standing room only, were crammed into the Jane Adams Hull House, on January 4, 2014, for the "Women Against the Machine" forum. This event was organized by the group "Women Organizing Women" -- Rousemary Vega, Carolyn Brown, Shannon Anne Carter, Cassie Creswell, Karen Fraid, Carolina Gaete and Mary Fahey Hughes. Sixteen female candidates for alderman were part of the event. "Candidates make politics personal," according to the organizers.

Some of the women who participated in and organized "Women Against The Machine" on January 4, 2015. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Featured were women who were challenging incumbent Democratic alderman in many wards. Participants included Ronda Locker Ward 1, Anne Shaw Ward 1, Stacey Pfingsten Ward 2, Tara Baldridge Ward 8, Olga Bautista Ward 10, Sue Sadlowski Garza Ward 10, Maureen Sullivan Ward 11, Guadalupe Rivera Ward 16, CM Winters Ward 21, Juanita Irizarry Ward 26, Tammie Vinson Ward 28, Zerlina Smith Ward 29, Irma Cornier Ward 31, Tara Stamps Ward 37, Dianne Daleiden Ward 40 and Denice Davis Ward 46. Amara Enyia, former mayoral candidate who has put her support behind Alderman Bob Fiorettia in the mayoral race, was the moderator.

Mayoral Candidate Bob Fioretti and Alderman candidates Tim Meegan and Byron Sicgho were in attendance. Rousemary Vega of "Women Organizing Women" opened the discussion with a list of challenges the female alderman candidates are facing and the claims utilized against them by the Machine (including unions that utilize "electability" as a criterion for support). "You're not strong enough, your age isn't right and you don't have enough money," she said, reflecting some of the pretexts being used against the women challengers as she narrated the situation.

Moderator, Amara Enyia, who had gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot, explained why she withdrew from the mayoral race to support Alderman Bob Fioretti's Mayoral campaign. She said, "There are not enough women in politics because they are the ones that are working. They are the backbone we need in the house and City Council. Let's support them and knock on doors with them!"

Bob Fioretti spoke to the Women Against the Machine forum on January 4. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Ronda Locke, 1st Ward candidate, described how her alderman voted to close two police stations and a mental health center in the ward, then went on to have a Christmas party in the closed facility. She said that he told her one of his proudest moments was closing Chicago public schools. She said that he blasted the Chicago Teachers Union on Fox News and took money from developers and contract owners that don't help communities.

"Keep incumbents below 50%".

She talked about her ten years as a community advocate, and her experience in business and marketing. She is for an elected school board, improving city services and political activism.

The litanies continued:

Stacey Pfingsten, 2nd Ward candidate, is running to fight for an elected school board, reopen mental health clinics, and to confront environmental issues and climate change. "Bring back the department of environment", she said.

Olga Bautista,a 10th Ward parent, pledged a commitment to a safe and healthy environment for children and communities, a sustainable plan to revitalize communities and community reorganizing to harness the power of the people to impose their will on city hall.

Sue Sadlowski Garza, on the ballot as a candidate for alderman in the 10th Ward, described her Ward as a "forgotten entity." The ward is burdened with used steel plants and "pet coke." Sue is an "Area Vice President" (on the Executive Board) for the Chicago Teachers Union and a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) Steering Committee. She told Women Against the Machine that she has spent 27 years a fighting for the rights of working families and comes from a long line of family unionists.

"There will be no rubber stamped Alderman. I have stood up and will continue to stand in the 10th Ward. Sue said to Olga "And when I'm elected I will make you environmental chair." The camaraderie, support,and mutual respect was evident throughout the conversations. "Chicago politics has been an arena long dominated Abu men. In my Ward specifically, we see this with the incumbents blatant disregard for women: hiring a known sexual harasser straight off the city's 'Do not hire' list. It's refreshing to see women stepping into the forefront",

Maureen Sullivan, 11th Ward, University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) area talked about this being a "historic election" because it s the first time they are electing an Alderman Ian this Ward and she is the first woman to ever get on the ballot. She is a 4th generation Bridgeport and one of the founders of the Bridgeport Alliance. Guadalupe Rivera, 16th Ward has taught for 9 years in her ward and lived there for 15 years. She worries about the safety of the children on the streets and aid the parents have enough money and homes to go to. "Chicago politics are a spoiled cupcake and all we've done is add additional frosting. That doesn't solve the real problems. We need to retake the way we work and change our infrastructure to really see any. Change". "We have to work against the machine for community development and affordable housing".

TammieVinson, 28th Ward, is a CPS teacher and CTU member. "We need people who care and are willing to fight". "The democratic machine is so ingrained in Chicago politics that incumbents feel a sense of entitlement which makes public. Service secondRy to patronage. These people are only. In office to trade favors with big business at the expense of the people who vote in the wards. Elected officials should feel responsible for people who need the most. We need people who are tied to poor and working communities in office who understand the level of disenfranchisement we have felt for too long".

CM Winters, 21st Ward, is a college librarian, parent and Grievance Chair of Local1600. "Alderman must be able to read! Currently some Alderman are voting on ordinances they haven't read" . "We can do better when we expect more. I see Chicago politics At some major democratic crossroads between some thing really fantastic and something really awful. The onus I s on us to ensure this turns o it to be something really fantastic. There is no excuse not to get it right".

Juanita Irizarry, 26th Ward, has lived in Humboldt Park for40 years. She's worked in communIty organizing and development. "Women are very underrepresented in Chicago politics, just as we are in all of American politics. As for Latinas, there I s not even one of us in Chicago's city council at this time. Our communities, our families will be better represented when more women are in a position to bring our perspectives and concerns to the halls of power. As I learned from the Harvard Kennedy Schools' Women and Public Policy Program which trained me, female elected officials tend to bring mo re energy and attention to issues that concern women and families and they inc spire to her women to participate actively a In the political aProcess. That's what we need in Chicago". "There are no neighborhood schools in Humboldt Park.

Zerlina Smith, 29th Ward, was challenged by being a single mom who got her GED and went to cosmetology school and became a home owner. "This is a pile of women who started from the ground up". She is a member of Action Now and disturbed by the disinvestment in schools evidence by the school closings. "I will not sit back and let another school close! I'm go ing to works for so risking people. I'm educated by books and the company I keep. This is a great panel of strong women and we are going to win!" "Chicago politics is out of touch with reality in black and brown communities. This is why disinvestment has gone on too long and why Im fighting for those living in the 99.9% community".

Irma Cornier, 31st Ward, won her petition Monday. She has been a member of the community for 20 years and plans to work for the homeless, to provide resources for children, economic and youth development. Her Ward has a 46% narcotics rating and 30 different gangs. She is the only person in her family to have a degree. Tara Stamps, 37th Ward,was raised by activist Marion Stamps. She said aberrant a woman is not enough and " the sister (current Alderman) is a rubber stamp Alderman who voted on policies that cripple our people. For bad people to succeed, good people have to do nothing. If anybody's going to take something back you've got to know its a woman!"

Dianne Daleiden, 40th Ward, is running against Pat Connor. "It's about time women established a political agenda in Chicago for all. I have an agenda; fully funded public schools, neighbor health and mental health clinics and slow down privatization. She has experience as a social worker and substitute teacher. "Our agenda needs to be for working people. We need activism and involvement and I will support other women after the results are in February 24. Denice Davis, 46th Ward, is a 30 year Chicagoan. She was the Chief of Staff of Helen Schiller and worked in the Aldermanic office. "I know how city hall works and I'm sick of the same old same old. The Alderman again rid of 3 buildings that housed people with no income. Now they are Latvians under the Wilson bridge.". She is in favor of affordable housing and resources for kids. Armara Enya, the daughter of activists, is a west sided and has 6 degrees. "Every person is born with power regardless of race or agenda". "I took all my educations do rearing and worked

In city hall under Mayor Richard Daly. "I understand the systems from inside by watching how the machine operates. We need to empower people to advocate for themselves. They never talked about Austin when I worked in city hall". Amara said that some people hold her age, 31, against her and reminded us the Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech when he 38. She lives in East Garfield Park. "At first, I ran for mayor. I knew I was qualified and had experience. Some of our most fearless revolutionaries are young because they have the energy. We have new ideas and new perspectives. If we don't create an environment for these women we will continue to regress. You can tell the status of a community by the progress of its women. This is about those (women) coming after us. Chicago has only one female mayor. Only 16 women Alderman in a council of 60. There are only 2 women in state wide office. This shows how important a threat women are because we're on the right side of issues.

The first issue discussed was the main challenges of running for Alderman. Zerlina Smith is running as a grass roots independent. Her challenges include engaging people to believe change is possible, lack of resources, and no money. She had to get an attorney to get on the ballot because the incumbent challenged her petitions. She became a fan of Karen Lewis and had to get 300 affidavits including CORE, SEIU and CTI. Sue Garza said "Karen inspired me to run. The time is now!" She has 4 grown children. "Life takes you down a path". Sue is the daughter of the steelworker. "I knew it was going to be hard". She grew up in union halls and on p picket lines. "I believe my opponent is scared of me. He's not the son of a steel worker. I am. We're going to change that 16 to 50!"

CM Winters talked about the challenge of corralling of resources and emphasized"every little bit helps. You know who's not helped. Every movement has started with a crazy idea". Her dad was a sharecropper. "I challenge all of you to get behind someone. It's your time and your money. Our challenge is resources. They (incumbents) are threatened by us". Amara too emphasized the importance of financial support. She talked about education in Chicago. "The role of education has played in your decision to run. Tyra Stamps talked about privatization which locks whole families in poverty. "The worst thing you can do to a people is not educate them". School closings are the epicenter. Rahm closed 50 schools. "This city has closed over 100 schools since the 1990s." These schools were in black and brown communities. It started in 1996 with vouchers. "We need to let young people into this fight". She talked about economic disparity, educational apartheid and what are we planning to do once we get there. "This is not an economic crisis it's a priority crisis". Typical Chicago politics, one Alderman was mocking Alderman that wanted an elected school board then, he jumped on board for an elected school board. Denise Davis talked about uptowns diversity and how their Alderman caters to a certain class and group of people. Stewart School was just redone then they closed the schools with no fight from Alderman Caplan. His agenda in October 2013 was to write a letter to Barbara Byrd Bennett to have Decateur Classical move into Steart. He went to the Decateur LSC and promised the TIF money. Decateur Classical is a selective enrollment school. Guadalupe Rivera, teacher, said that her ward has a 50% poverty rateA higher than the rest of Chicago. "Kids and adults, undocumented, need GED, citizenship, English, after school programs and chances for jobs." 70% of the kids going to CPs live below the poverty line. Tara Baldridge supports and elected school board. She talked about her community being split from the city and within themselves. There are limited educational resources. "Our children are the future. We must provide the resources to make the children strong in spirit and mind. Amara talked about CPS wanting 100% students college bound yet some jobs in the community require skilled labor. "CPS continues to cut vocational education. We must invest in workforce development so students have options; jobs, college, education that prepares kids for life after school. College is not for everyone but paying your bills is". Bob Fioretti got up to share his support for the women candidates. "Nothing is going to be rubber stamped in my administration". He talked about looking forward to working with this group when he is elected.

The issues of education and jobs was a repeating theme throughout the discussion. Tammie Vinson talked about Austin High School which now consists of three small schools and Westinghouse which is selective enrollment. The South Lawndale Community is not being built for neighborhood jobs. In Tammie's ward, Alderman Irwin got everyone kicked off the ballot so he is running unopposed. Tammie is planning on running as a write-in candidate.

Another questions asked of participants was "What will you do for civic engagement in your community?" Sue Garza replied "My school no longer teaches history because it's not on the test". She and her supporters knock on lots of doors and discovered lots of distrust. They are working to engage young adults. She got 27 kids to sign up for her campaign. "We've got to get people engaged again". Tara Stamps talked about the Common Core Standards and elementary history. "They are testing our kids into stupidity. Who makes money off all these damn test? We have to push back. Democracy is pushing back. We have to have bilingual programs, art, music, drama and full wrap around services. All the candidates emphasized this wasn't just politics but it's personal. When you close schools, disinvest in neighborhoods, close mental health clinics and don't have jobs available for those who need them, it's a personal issue for every single person and politician. The room was as packed at the end as it was at the beginning. Those few who had to leave due to other commitments did so reluctantly. There were plenty of male supporters in the room as well as children and young people getting a current events civics course on the spot. As one man said "There's a lot of testosterone in this room, his friend corrected him and said "I think you mean estrogen". This is a hard working group of home grown candidates who are determined to make Chicago a safe, equal environment for all people regardless of color, race, finances or political clout.


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