DSA’s Work To Build A Better Northern Illinois Continues In 2021
Updated: Jan 15
Good morning and happy New Year to the good people of Rockford and Northern Illinois! As we head into a new year, we thought it fitting to share with you our thoughts and resolutions as a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. It is our long term goal to continue to organize around a DSA backed policy agenda (both locally and nationally) as well as support allies who share our vision of transforming this city with bold, worker led political action that seeks to return power and wealth back to the hands of the city’s working class where it rightfully belongs. The burdens placed on workers by the hands of the elites nationally- and mirrored here locally - must be challenged dramatically and at all levels and levers of power. Drawing our inspiration from the long history of American socialist politics as well as local comrades who, since May 2020, have waged a relentless struggle against the crushing brutality of the police state and our economic system, we now hope to make our mark here in Northern Illinois and beyond.
Once a thriving industrial metropolis, Rockford has for the past 40 years seen decline made worse by the failures of its corporate friendly leaders. For most Rockford residents, maintaining a quality of life comparable to one’s parents or grandparents now means working longer hours for the same (or worse) pay with ever diminishing benefits and protections. Where the leadership class of the city could once rightfully claim “We are the Screw City,” the experience of many workers here is simply getting screwed over by economic and political decisions they have little say and less control over. Paying homage to Rockford’s industrial past may make for great public relations, but behind closed doors, the ideology of austerity rules the day. Even something as basic and essential as a public library does not escape the gaze of the austerity hawks who plan on closing two branches in lower income communities of Rockford in the weeks ahead, replacing them with a “mobile” library whose usefulness is largely symbolic and an effort to placate the outraged. Not surprising, those who load the austerity gun often are quite selective in their targets. For example, the massive upgrades to City Market over the last five years (much to the excitement of downtown real estate moguls) demonstrates how there always seems to be money and enthusiasm for projects that help the business class of Rockford, yet when something as fundamental as a library or school gets shut down, the outcry from our city leaders is often nonexistent. Furthermore, these decisions are often arrived at with limited public input, and obfuscated objectives.
Part of the reason city leaders can get away with such actions is that there is a general agreement between both political parties that the private interests of a select few stakeholders must be considered first before those of the general working class public. Public scrutiny and transparency is further obfuscated by our shoddy legacy local media who do very little to question the inherent contradictions of the economic system and how it operates locally, or the values of our political elite who serve it so dutifully. Working class voters who are concerned about their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and who would like to challenge this arrangement have virtually no public officials they can count on here to stand by them. Simply put, we are trapped between the crushing realities of a terribly unjust economic system and the political and legal realities given life to protect it.
Both parties have a vested interest in appearing to fight for working families while offering very little that might make for meaningful change for them. While we condemn the GOP for its brazen assaults across a whole strata of issues ranging from worker’s wages, unions, immigration, women’s reproductive health, and the environment; as well as their support for extreme nationalism, the carceral state, and the military-industrial complex, we cannot let the Democratic Party establishment off the hook. Often resting on the laurels of by-gone programs like the New Deal, and Great Society, the Democratic Party continues to parade itself as the champion of working families, civil rights, women, and immigrants, while at the same time undermining each of them via the adoption of economic and legal policies promoted by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. More often than not, supporting a Democrat as of late -both here and nationally- has meant that class politics are sidelined while corporate business interests are elevated and fortified. Worse yet, instead of offering real material analysis and proposals, we get platitudes and empty promises that do very little to make any meaningful dents in combating systemic inequality. Sadly, policy ideas for things such as economic renewal (such as they exist) are often at the expense of working people, not for them. Rockford is no exception to this.
As members of DSA, we think it’s time to challenge the political establishment here in the city, and although we acknowledge the serious limitations to electoralism as it currently exists, we wholeheartedly believe that we can no longer sit idly by while Rockford’s entrenched political class calls all the shots from behind closed doors and with little public input. It is an arduous road ahead but we believe we must confront this foe on the available terrain in front of us. As such, we will fight to give people real electoral alternatives by embracing candidates who share our desire to fight for actual material benefits to the working families of the city. In some instances this may require us to operate from within the ranks of an established party structure, in other instances we will have to work totally independently of it. In any case, we do not seek to just be a “better” version of some antiquated party; we seek the creation of people powered alternatives to the current status quo.
It needs to also be said that while Trump has been defeated electorally, Trumpian populism has proved to be a far more powerful weapon than corporate Democrats have the capacity to deal with. If the Democratic Party does not take seriously the efforts to radically transform the country by returning power to the people, they will find themselves totally discredited and discarded by the working class of this country. Although Joe Biden was able to win key battleground states to achieve a sizable electoral victory, Democrats lost ground in the House and may be unable to capture the Senate (pending the results of the runoff Senate elections in Georgia). All this despite a run-away pandemic, surging income inequality and economic uncertainty, and the tremendous energy of a politically engaged youth seldom seen in the last 50 years. At a time when public support for programs like Medicare for All, tuition free college and trade school, debt forgiveness, protecting the environment, and reining in the police state is at an all time high, the Democratic Party seems to be running in the opposite direction on almost all fronts. Rather than offer meaningful policies that could win back lost voters, or bring on a new generation of eager participants, party insiders are clearly more interested in appeasing the super rich who control the stock market and making sure their left flank remains tranquil or hopelessly divided.
Over the last 40 years, corporate friendly Democrats in our region have worked to tilt our foundations towards the landlord class, corrupt financial institutions, multinational corporations, and enclaves of exclusivity. They have been successful largely because their chosen ideology works aggressively, yet furtively, to make sure any alternatives to the prevailing order are blocked, marginalized, or as we saw last summer-- crushed. Local politicians have parroted the cruel logic of late stage capitalism and embraced the corporate bottom-line-at-all-costs mentality. This logic rearranges the material world to the benefit of a few but sells it as pragmatic and expansive progress “forward” being both “inclusive” “diverse” and “accessible.” Moreover, our free time (such as it even exists) is now increasingly devoted to preserving a status quo that enthrones the few at the denial of the many. While there have been moments in the past where the Democratic party once was a voice of “the people,'' many professionals of the party have spent the better part of the last four decades greasing the tracks for soulless and morally bankrupt corporate suits and middlemen to gut America’s (and Rockford’s) beating industrial heart, fracture and starve its working class institutions, and tie up the radical promise of working people with debt and no way out. While ideological alternatives to carpetbag capitalism have been few and far between locally, they did appear last summer following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. With local activists placing an increased spotlight on the historic systemic racism in Rockford, the city’s own oligarchy moved quickly to mobilize the police state on their behalf and put an end to any protest. Even mild acts of civil disobedience such as temporarily occupying a crosswalk was enough to warrant brutality, mass arrests, and felony charges. Worse yet, these violations largely went unchallenged by the city’s so called progressives and the institutional power they represent.
What these politicians fail to realize then and now is that the threat comes not from young people waving black flags in the city’s streets, but rather from an embrace of an economic system that continues to erode our middle class and which does next to nothing for poor families –even during a raging global pandemic that has exposed systemic inequalities in every facet of our lives. For this reason, we embrace the politics of class struggle and see it as the way forward in building a powerful multi-racial working class movement, one that promotes solidarity between all the hardworking people of Northern Illinois and elsewhere. Any politics that does not aggressively fight to put the interests of working people above those of millionaires and billionaires or the politicians who enable them should be condemned and reconstituted by folks willing to make demands on power. What would it mean to have a political body in the city willing to push back against the demands of capital and the select king makers of the area? How might things change if instead of a “top-down” approach, the struggle of working families was the basis of policy? While local officials do not have the power to pass expansive programs like Medicare for All, they do control the purse strings of the city and can use tax dollars for community backed projects that make our region a great place to live. Imagine for instance a mayor and city council fighting for people centered projects like tenant owned building cooperatives or invested in community owned and operated spaces like gyms, gardens, workshops, or safe and well equipped childcare centers accessible to all who needed it. What kinds of things might be possible if coalitions of workers and their families were mobilized so that political power structures had no choice but to yield to their demands? None of these ideas or demands are radical, impractical, or unrealistic; on the contrary, they represent really some of the most basic services any city or state should be providing for all its residents. As members of DSA, our vision is one where city officials actively serve their communities by bringing together different groups like union tradesmen and tradeswomen, service workers, truck drivers, gig workers, students, part time workers, white and blue collar professionals, the under-employed, and the unemployed; this united front could act as a shield wall against the corporate interests that control our country and bring back power into the hands of the many. We know such coalitions are possible having experienced them first hand in the city over the past year-- such as on May 30, 2020 when a group of local activists led one of the largest marches in the city’s recent history, and inspired an entire new generation of people to fight for a better world. Even our own series of rallies in defense of the U.S. Postal Service (including one on Labor Day) were led by union workers, public educators, students, and activists, showing once again the promise of solidarity politics and the possibilities it reveals. This is the true power of solidarity oriented, worker led politics, and this is the real reason both parties are terrified to see it unleashed here and elsewhere.
We know this is a brutal struggle ahead and taking on the monied interests here and elsewhere will require uncomfortable truths acknowledged about ourselves and the city we live in; it will depend on the real input of the people who work everyday to keep this city afloat, and it will absolutely require a coalition between groups who perhaps have been totally opposed to electoralism and those who have been fearful of opening the Pandora’s box of class politics to unite as one. We cannot continue to sit it out and keep working class electoralism off the table; that strategy, we believe, only benefits the rich and those who serve them. We do not tread lightly across this no-man’s land and do not underestimate the almost impossible task at hand. However, we remain steadfast in our commitment to change and our belief that especially here in the Midwest, seemingly impossible barriers will crack like rusted bolts against the power of marching feet and hearts full of fire.
Rockford, on this New Year’s day, we see a future where working people of all races and all backgrounds can not only say “We built this” but can proudly proclaim “This is ours to enjoy!” A better world is within reach. We hope you join us to fight for it.
Happy New Year, solidarity forever!
-Northern Illinois Democratic Socialists of America