An Encouraging Look Back
Sometimes it can feel like elections don't matter that much. The problems are too big, I can't do anything about the national-level things that get all the news coverage, local leaders have such a small scope, and even when some good ones get elected, they often seem outnumbered on City Council. As I've been looking around campaign websites this season, I've been encouraged by the work many progressive alders have highlighted.
They have clearly worked in a coordinated way to make changes to how ward-level decisions are made that allow more transparency and community control. This is most clear in the coordinated efforts to institute community-driven zoning processes and participatory budgeting for ward menu money.
They are knowledgeable advocates for their wards and have not let coming into office disconnect them from the communities and organizing groups that brought them there.
They have begun to make their public safety campaign agendas into realities. Multiple wards now have non-police crisis response teams that are beginning to demonstrate that alternatives to policing are possible. Additional funding has been moved to violence prevention and mental health programs to help address root causes of violence.
They have managed to bring new affordable housing to their wards, as well as an accessory dwelling unit pilot which may have long-term positive effects.
They've shown they aren't just idealist activists, getting into the details of constituent services and ward infrastructure and handling them well.
They've increased bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
They've taken community groups and cooperatives seriously as part of thriving communities, with mutual aid groups, block clubs, housing coops, and others getting mentioned as key partners.
They've addressed pressing ward-level issues that they didn't expect coming into office, in ways that have made tangible differences in the community. For example, Maria Hadden said, "The combination of record-high lake levels and the strong storm season of 2019-2020 led to unprecedented lakeshore erosion in our lakefronts. With the continued loss of 1-2 feet of shoreline with each storm event, I led the city’s rapid response efforts securing one million dollars in funds for our ward to provide shoreline stabilization, protecting three of our parks, and helping to save housing along the shore. My efforts advocated for Chicago, too, ensuring the federal dollars funding a three-year study will produce long-term plans for the last 8 miles of unprotected shoreline, including the entirety of our ward."
They've passed citywide ordinances like the Welcoming City Ordinance that make a difference.
They've worked in coordination with grassroots coalitions to propose specific policies that will bring progressive ideas into policy reality, and progressive organizing in Chicago has recruited strong candidates and coordinated communication and platforms so that progressives in the newly elected council will be ready Day 1 with enactable policies like the Just Cause Eviction ordinance, the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, and the Treatment Not Trauma ordinance.
Alder Carlos Rosa was reelected in 2019, and the class of new progressive alders that was first elected in 2019 looks headed towards reelection, which has given progressive groups space to target even more wards (including some much less progressive ones) and expand this group in 2023,
Local leaders really make a difference, even if it is not always in city-level policy. Alders have so many avenues to make change and impact their communities, these elections really matter. They are at a scale where the people involved are people you can know and influence, and the elections are small enough that you can often make a difference to the outcome. These elections are worth your time! Keep learning, voting, and speaking out!