What Does Emanuel’s Departure Mean for Chicago’s Progressive Movement?


On Tuesday, September 4, 2018, Emanuel announced that he was not seeking re-election, after two terms in office. The news sent shock waves as did a similar announcement almost eight years ago to the day when longtime mayor Richard J Daley announced that he was done. In the next few days and weeks, many new candidates will likely emerge. Who runs will, of course, be of great interest. But what they run on will be much more important.

We have the opportunity now to build a truly new Chicago – one not dominated by Wall Street greed, but rather one where our communities get the resources they need to flourish.  Grassroots Collaborative and others are working to build a clear, bold platform, a people’s agenda, that lays out clearly what we expect the next leadership to champion. Taking on corporate power and white supremacy is key to winning a city rooted in our diverse neighborhoods and communities – the key to what makes Chicago great.

Mayor Emanuel has been referred to by many as “Mayor 1%” – a title he has more than earned. Emanuel is Wall Street’s mayor. He made tens of millions of dollars as an investment banker and has paid it forward in the form of huge corporate handouts through TIFs, interest rate swaps, and other financial gimmicks. He’s made banks rich off of police brutality bonds. At every turn, he put developers before neighborhoods and banks before our Chicago’s school children.

The outcome of Rahm’s reign is a city which is losing it’s Black population, seeing massive displacement of Black and Brown people within the city, living through tragic violence,and becoming increasingly unaffordable for all working class people.  Bankers and billionaires want a return on their investment – they are less interested in building strong, diverse cities, in which all people can thrive.

There are lots of reasons why Rahm Emanuel chose to not pursue a 3rd term.  Key is the committed and fierce organizing done by so many such as the Mental Health Movement, Erase the Database Campaign, Chicago Teachers Union, #NoCopAcademy, and so many other campaigns and organizations.

Now we are faced with an incredible opportunity and some key questions.  There is an inherent question to ask of us in this moment – what would it look like to govern free from Wall Street control? What does governing power look like for progressives, in a climate where corporate power dominates? What is the bold, transformative vision that we are organizing for look like, and how do we build the political power necessary to ensure not only that the next Mayor runs on that vision, but can govern that vision?

There are no quick answers to these questions. The 2019 elections does give us a moment now to step forward towards this vision, but of course, this is a long-term fight. There are many strategies needed – including getting money out of politics, creating independent Left political formations, militant direct action, resourcing Black and Latinx movement building, and more. Chicago progressives must keep organizing for a bold transformative vision rooted in an intersectional analysis.


At the Collaborative, one key strategy we are rooted in is making the connections between white supremacy and austerity. For years, in the context of budget cuts at the local and state levels, organizations’ demands at protests were to “stop the cuts” – and then, when what was implemented was slightly less awful than the original threat, folks (including us) would claim victory. Or we spoke about how cuts would hurt Black and Brown people most – saying things like the problem is “disproportionate impact.” Neither of these are wrong – but they aren’t exactly right either.

Anti-blackness drives austerity – it isn’t just that Black people are hurt more by cuts, but that the cuts are attempted because of the desired harm to Black people. For example, college in the United States was actually free when it was white students attending. When the civil rights movement led to more Black students applying to college, governments began de-funding public higher education to make college out of reach for Black people, with the final result hurting ALL low-income and middle-income students.

Anti-immigrant racism drives austerity as well – the recent attacks by the Trump administration to dismantle the safety net use anti-immigrant racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric as the reasons why the government should be smaller. The ultimate goal of the right is to destroy the government and privatize the common good – and attacking immigrants is key to that final end.

What does this all have to do with corporate Democrats like Emanuel? Absolutely everything. Emanuel’s economic agenda is rooted in austerity and anti-Black racism. His first budget centered on closing six mental health clinics in communities of color, to save a paltry few million in a $5 billion annual budget. He closed 50 schools in Black neighborhoods. Unless we are doing the work with grassroots leaders around how politicians like Emanuel are moving a racist corporate agenda, it is easy for people to believe the dominant narrative that this is the only way. Political education on racial capitalism is key foundation work that precedes our envisioning and demanding the radical feminist economy we need.

Rahm’s announcement was a reminder of the need for audacious hope. Of imagining the seemingly impossible. Of strategizing with a longer arc.  Organizing brought us to this moment – and it is organizing that is going to move us through.