Been away this summer? Here’s what you missed in Chicago news.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is in contentious negotiation with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and may go on strike this fall. The district has faced an ongoing budget crisis in recent years and numerous school closings — particularly in African American neighborhoods— under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was elected this spring, emphasized CPS reform, including the possibility of an elected (rather than appointed) school board, during her campaign.
The last contract with the union expired June 30. The most contentious issues now in negotiation are staffing: teachers are demanding that CPS increase the number of social workers, counselors, and nurses in schools, something Lightfoot initially promised but has since backed down on. Her first budget proposal was released August 19, and while it increases funding to some schools, it does not include funding for the promised support staff. The CTU is also asking for a 5% raise each year for the next three years, and for no increase in healthcare costs. CPS is only willing to offer 2.5%.
One issue the CTU and CPS agree on is sanctuary schools. They demanded that no Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents be permitted to search schools without a warrant, and CPS, in keeping with Lightfoot’s sanctuary city promises, agreed.
If there is no contract agreement by September 26, the CTU says it will go on strike. The last Chicago teachers strike was in 2012.
Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides reproductive healthcare across the U.S., announced this summer that it would be withdrawing from Title X, a major source of its funding. Title X is a federal family planning program, which until now has provided millions to Planned Parenthood. In February, the Trump administration tightened Title X requirements severely, including effectively preventing any medical professional with Title X funding from referring a patient for an abortion. Planned Parenthood, rather than comply with this “gag order,” withdrew from Title X in August.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois will lose $3.5 million in funding, which is about 10% of their total budget for the state. Jennifer Welch, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told WBEZ the of the risks for Illinois patients: “Last year, our organization served more than 70,000 patients at our 17 health centers around the state … It’s especially important to people in Central Illinois, where Planned Parenthood is the only Title X provider for six counties in Central Illinois.” Birth control and STI testing and treatments will become more difficult for people Central Illinois.
Planned Parenthood is still open across the state. Donor contributions have closed the budget gap for the next year. “I’m not certain what happens after that,” said Welch.
The Fight Is On In Lincoln Yards
The Lincoln Yards developments are an ongoing flashpoint for debates on urban planning and corporate tax subsidies. Planned for the former industrial zone on the North Side, the project is a $6 billion real estate redevelopment. Plans include new skyscrapers, parks, apartments, condos, offices, and retail. A sports stadium was also proposed, but has since been scrapped in favor of more public parkland. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported the project, touting it as a job creator and future tax revenue source. The project would be funded by the city’s Tax Increment Funding (TIF), money typically allotted to promote investment in underserved communities.
In order to improve the surrounding infrastructure and support the new megadevelopment, Sterling Bay is seeking TIF funds of around $2 billion. Locals object to this use of city funds. Chicago City Council approved the project in April while protestors demonstrated outside City Hall.
Amisha Patel is the head of the Grassroots Collaborative, a community organization that is fighting the development. She told WBEZ, “We are creating brand-new, shiny neighborhoods in a city where there are so many neighborhoods crumbling and disinvested in.” Groups like hers want city funding to be directed towards existing communities instead of corporate-funded megaprojects like Lincoln Yards.
A group of plaintiffs, including Patel’s collective, is suing the city for misuse of TIF funds.
2019 marks the centennial of the brutal race riots that swept Chicago in 1919. From July 27th to 30th, white Chicagoans rampaged through black neighborhoods, attacking people and setting houses on fire; the riots left 38 people dead, 537 injured, and thousands of African American Chicagoans homeless. The conflict was sparked by the drowning of black teenager Eugene Williams, who was stoned by a white mob for swimming in an area of Lake Michigan that was considered “whites only.” Tensions had been rising for several years: Chicago’s black population was growing rapidly thanks to the Great Migration, and the white backlash was frequently violent. Other cities had eruptions of racial violence in the same summer.
A hundred years later, commemorative projects and programs were held across the city all summer, including speeches by public officials and programs at cultural centers. Artists Jefferson Pinder and A.J. McClenon, who have traveled the country commemorating the riots, organized a large-scale performance piece on the anniversary of Williams’ death. Almost 100 swimmers floated in Lake Michigan, holding hands, in remembrance. Other projects are ongoing: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project is fundraising to build memorials, with inspiration from Germany’s Holocaust memorials.
Redlining comes in many forms. One revealed only last year is parking tickets: a ProPublica Illinois investigation found a punitive system of fines that lead to impounded cars and suspended licenses. They also found these policies disproportionately impact low-income and black city residents. Tens of thousands of residents have lost their licenses and many have been driven into debt or bankruptcy. In July, Mayor Lightfoot announced reforms to this system, including more affordable payment plans and reduction of some late penalties. “We know this hurts black and brown families the most,” Lightfoot said in her announcement.
The proposal has been fast-tracked to City Council, but will likely not be voted upon until September.
For one magical week in July, the eyes of the nation were drawn to Humboldt Park on Chicago’s West side, where a small but mighty reptile was discovered loose in the lagoon. Chance the Snapper, as the alligator was christened by popular vote, avoided capture for several days. Crowds of spectators gathered on shore to watch “Alligator Bob” search on his canoe. Bob, a volunteer who preferred not to give out his full name, is a member of the Chicago Herpetological Society. After several fruitless days, the city flew an expert up from Florida, a state containing more alligators. Expert Frank Robb captured Chance after a 36-hour chase. He (the alligator) was found healthy and unrepentant, at 5’3” and over 30 lbs. He has since been rehomed in a Florida wildlife sanctuary.
The gator’s namesake, Chicago artist Chance the Rapper, released his first full-length album in August. It received mixed reviews.