Take Back Chicago! for jobs, education, and housing

“We’re here to end corporate welfare,” said Rev. Booker Vance, in front of Chicago’s City Hall as the third day of Take Back Chicago! got underway on Wednesday. Rev. Vance and about 75 members of the Take Back Chicago coalition are demanding that money in the city’s tax increment financing funds be spent on public works projects that improve blighted neighborhoods, city services, and public schools instead of on grants to corporations where most of the money now goes.

Take Back Chicago, a week-long series of demonstrations and events, is a project of about 20 community and labor groups that are trying to refocus the city’s priorities on jobs, education, and housing. The biggest event so far took place on Monday when about 7,000 people gathered at five different locations, then marched to the Chicago Art Institute where members of Futures Industry Association, a trade association of financial speculators, were taking a break from their annual Chicago Expo.

As the five streams of marchers merged, they shouted “Shame, shame!” to express their rage at the speculators who caused the 2008 economic crisis that resulted in job losses, foreclosures, and other misery for the working class. “They got bailed out, we got sold out,” chanted the marchers.

“People are mad as hell at these financial organizations that wrecked the economy, that caused this whole mess,” said Catherine Murrell, a spokeswoman for Stand Up Chicago, a community/labor coalition and Take Back Chicago partner, to the Herald -News. “They broke the economy; they played with it like it was a toy. It’s something you teach your children — you break it, you pay for it.”

The marchers were also demanding a meaningful job creation program at both the national and local level, relief from the foreclosure crisis caused by the massive unemployment caused by the financial crisis, and real improvements to public education.

On Tuesday, Take Back Chicago! focused the housing crisis caused by predatory lending practices of banks and the financial industry, which bundled shaky loans and used them to create new financial instruments like collateralized debt obligations, whose values eventually crashed and took down the US economy.

Action Now, a grassroots community organization of working families, gathered trash and debris that has accumulated in foreclosed homes owned by Bank of America, put it in trash bags, and delivered the bags to a Bank of America branch at Adams and LaSalle. While supporters marched outside, five women, ranging in age from 55 to 80, took some of the bags inside and dumped the trash on the floor. Bank of America had the five women arrested.

Banks that foreclose on homes are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the properties until they can be sold, but in many Chicago communities, owners of foreclosed homes have done little to maintain the residences. “Since Bank of America will not go to our neighborhoods and clean up their vacant properties, Action Now members brought the neighborhood to them,” read a statement on the Action Now website.

Other protestors gathered at the Hyatt Regency where the Mortgage Bankers Association was holding its annual convention. Speakers blasted bankers for their role in creating the recession and for turning their backs on people suffering from the effects of the recession.

“We’re talking about communities being divided and destroyed by what’s going on, and we’re finding now that even though corporations are profiting, it’s not trickling down to our communities,” Rev. Vance said. Sixteen people who decided to stay and began setting up tents in an alley near the hotel after the larger group left were arrested for trespassing.

Thursday, the focus will shift to jobs. Stand Up Chicago! recently released a report outlining a program for creating 40,000 jobs in Chicago.  Money for providing these the jobs would come from A $0.25 speculation fee, to be paid by both buyer and seller of derivatives contracts, which will generate nearly $1.4 billion per year in direct funding for jobs.

“Our city is facing a massive jobs crisis, one that requires direct and targeted job creation,” the report says. “Our jobs plan will not only provide 40,000 Chicagoans with living wage, full-time jobs matching their existing skills and experience, but will also serve as an investment in our communities, making them safer, stronger and more vibrant.”

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