By Sidnee King
“I hate City Hall, it’s the devil’s den,” said 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor at a recent live podcast taping.
As election season ramps up, the conversation on what ideas, policies, and people are truly electable becomes more critical at national and local levels. This discussion was the central component of the first taping of a live podcast series, Unelectable, the product of a partnership between Black Youth Project 100 and Chicago-based podcast AirGo Radio.
Taylor laid it on the line for the series aimed to engage Chicago voters in deep-dive candor about Chicago politics and the electoral process by inviting city leaders who have made waves in the political sphere. The inaugural taping featured two women behind organizing efforts that captured the entire city’s attention over the last year: Taylor and Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacey Davis Gates.
Taylor took on City Hall and the fight for a Woodlawn community housing agreement as she spoke to attendees that packed out The Silver Room, a black-owned boutique at the corner of East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue.
AirGo hosts Daniel Kisslinger and Damon Williams began the meeting by inviting the crowd to grab a mic and share policies they believe would be beneficial to Chicago’s population but seem ‘unelectable.’ Williams said the hope for events such as this is to create community forums to flush out their thoughts on “impactful issues dismissed as being too big or unrealistic by mainstream media.”
The conversation touched on a range of controversies from universal healthcare to housing as a human right, something Taylor spoke about passionately as her ward is presently battling with the city for more affordable housing protections.
Taylor criticized fellow aldermen for their inactivity on ordinances for low-income housing proposed by community organizers last year. She cited her own experience before she entered the political arena. As a Woodlawn resident, she said she felt underappreciated by the officials that represented her neighborhood and has vowed to engage 20th Ward residents in a way that respects their concerns and their tax dollars.
An example of this is the weekly open office hours that Taylor hosts at the aldermanic office on South Wentworth Avenue every Thursday. She also gives her constituents her personal cell phone number– which she shared with attendees at the end of the event.
The rookie alderman is a professed “organizer first,” who never saw herself as an elected official. But now that she has a seat in city hall, she says she’s fighting for people in Woodlawn to be able to stay because she doesn’t see herself as any different from the low-income residents in her community.
Gates also touched on affordable housing, which was a controversial topic during the CTU’s strike negotiations between the Chicago Board of Education and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Last year, critics admonished CTU leadership for requesting resources for homeless students in its list of demands, but union leadership didn’t back down on the issue.
During the panel discussion, Gates was adamant that a student’s housing-security is directly related to education, and educators should not be told that it’s not in their job description to be concerned.
“Don’t apologize for it,” she said.
Gates also encouraged the attendees to continue to organize around the changes that they had earlier expressed they’d like to see in Chicago.
This wasn’t Black Youth Project 100’s first time partnering with Taylor or Gates. The organization aligned itself with Taylor and the coalition sponsoring the proposed community benefits agreement with the Obama Foundation in hopes of preventing rent and property tax hikes that could displace close to 40% of Woodlawn’s residents when the Obama Presidential Library opens. BYP100 also supported CTU in its teachers strike last fall.
Photo at top: AirGo hosts Damon Williams (left) and Daniel Kisslinger (right) open the floor to discuss electoral politics in Chicago at the first taping of their ‘Unelectable’ series. (Sidnee King/MEDILL)