Video: Chicago mayoral election through the eyes of a veteran activist

By Thomas Yau

On a cold Tuesday morning, 70-year-old Prexy Nesbitt goes from door to door to canvass votes for mayoral candidate Jesús “Chuy” Garcia.

The veteran activist, born and raised on the West Side of Chicago, is a strong critic of incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“He changes his color and his tune according to where he is…. The only people he cares about is the one per centers,” he said.

This is not Nesbitt’s first encounter with politics.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched into Marquette Park in 1966, Nesbitt was part of the security detail. When Nesbitt, a former high school football player, failed to intercept a rock that was flying toward King, he remembers the civil rights movement leader saying “You big old football player, you can’t even catch a rock,”

In the late 1980s, he was also a special assistant to late Mayor Harold Washington.

For Nesbitt, this mayoral election carries a lot of weight.

“I think we are at a real important crossroad in the United States, but especially in Chicago between whether this city continue just to serve the rich and powerful, or whether we can really get the city to be available to poor people that aren’t millionaires,” he said.

Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, who knows Nesbitt since she was three, is often impressed by the man’s passion.

“When Prexy is working on this campaign, we hadn’t been talking a lot recently. And he like calls me one day, and he’s like Rachel, I’m gonna go door knocking, do you want to go door knocking with me?”

Although he has a lot of disappointments over the city’s politics, Nesbitt thinks that there have been positive changes over the years by people’s participation in politics.

“It’s a much more open system today…. I can remember time when this system shot down people,” he said. “In my ward on the West Side, we elected an independent alderman…. The following Saturday after he have been elected, he was shot to death in his office.”

He was talking about the 1963 murder of Benjamin Lewis, the city’s first black alderman.

Now with Garcia enters a runoff election with Emanuel in April, there seems to be a bigger chance for changes.

“I haven’t lost the hope in the ability ordinary people to learn things and to get involved to make change. It takes a process. It takes a long time. My parents raised me to be a long distance runner, not a sprinter,” Nesbitt said.

Photo at top: Prexy Nesbitt wears a badge to show support for mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. (Thomas Yau/MEDILL)