The champagne hangover had hardly settled from the Election night fêtes when the President-elect reminded the enthusiastic masses that the “change you can believe in” had nothing to do with shutting down the American Empire or veering the Democratic Party in the direction of its workers’ roots. Rahm Emanuel, a day after winning re-election to Chicago’s 5th district, was the first appointed to the new administration: something that probably came as no surprise to this veteran of the Clinton White House.
Rahm accepted the offer, thus abandoning a district as soon as it had renewed his mandate at the handsome cost of $1.88 million: a pretty hefty campaign coffer given the lack of any viable opposition in either round of election. And so it goes in the American Congress, where 90% of elections amount to a check mark next to the guy with the right party next to his name, though somehow millions of dollars get shuffled around each time.
Emanuel continued the 5th district tradition of being a dirty scoundrel: preceded in time by current Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Dan “the felon” Rostenkowski prior to that. To date, the grassroots has been unable to pierce through and at least claim the district for a decent congressman a la the other Chicago reps Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky.
Emanuel was groomed by the Clinton crowd, where he worked to trumpet welfare reform, the Crime bill, the continued Apartheid in Israel, and the American-led massacre in the Balkans. Upon taking control of the 5th district, he picked up where Rockin’ Rod left off with the Iraq War: Blagojevich voted to authorize it and Emanuel was one of its biggest supporters among Democrats. He continuously voted to fund this imperial crusade that has bankrupted the American worker, in spite of the fact that his district is a classic midwestern amalgamation of workers and immigrants.
When Emanuel was announced as the recipient of Obama’s first political prize, I was sitting in the Wolf Trap Motel in Vienna, Virginia on the outskirts of the Washington, DC sprawl. I was in town visiting friends and doing a little freelance translation work while taking in the insider’s insight to the election. Just two days prior, I drove to Manassas and watched Obama’s last rally before the election: the “Yes we can” chants were still ringing in my head as I watched Wolf Blitzer babble on about how Emanuel was a dangerously partisan choice by Obama. The corporate spin machine was bouncing off the walls of the motel room and intermingling with the headache from the rally chants.
My mind was beginning to numb, and so I shut the tube off and walked to the adjacent Mexican restaurant for dinner with my Alaskan belle. We split an order of steak fajitas and chatted about the direction of the country: I imagine we weren’t the only people chewing on steak and chatting about politics on this beautiful fall afternoon in the beltway.
I then decided to casually announce: “You know what? I think I need to go back and show Obama-Emanuel what we can do! I got people on the north side of Chicago! Lots of them! And I am pretty sure they want some substantive change that we can all believe in.”
A few phone calls later and the campaign to elect Matt Reichel to replace Rahm Emanuel in Illinois’ 5th district had begun. Before leaving town, I filed with the FEC and began combing my friends and associates in the political world for people that are ready to push forward with a grassroots campaign in Chicago. We then spent a few weeks ironing out details, and “testing the waters,” as they say in beltway parlance.
After surveying the district and the list of party hacks likely to vie for this seat, I can say with a marked enthusiasm that we are ready for the challenge posed by the election. In visiting churches and community centers in the district, I have talked to numerous people who delivered essentially this message: “The good news is we got rid of the bastard!”
However, this will only remain a good thing if the 5th district’s revolving door of crooks, liars and creeps is jammed shut.
Rahm might try to slate someone, and I would say that the early favorite is state rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who has begun raising money with an online candidate announcement. Another possibility is machine alderman Patrick O’Connor: the man who served me through the boyhood years and has submissively sat at Daley’s right hand all the while. Other names being thrown around include Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and Deb Mell, the daughter of the legendary machine aldermen: the man whose first name is Alderman and last name is Mell.
This is all fantastic news: the more the merrier! Let the hacks divide the establishment endorsements and money, while my grassroots campaign pushes forward door-by-door all the way to victory in 2009. We will be vigorous in our operation: not leaving any stone unturned as we gather petition signatures, canvass the district, visit community functions and dinners, and ask the people of the 5th district to get behind the democratic wing of the Democratic party.
Some will find this announcement a bit surprising, given my penchant for criticizing the Democrats in particular and electoral politics more broadly. I tend to be more of a social movement type, not easily attracted to a Democratic Party that has readily sold off its constituents to big business.
However, I’ve also grown a bit fatigued of being told that progressives must wait on the sidelines while all power is given to the “pragmatic and centrist” among our ranks. For most of the last five years, peace activism has been relegated to the backburners as the imperial bloodbath has gained ground: the massacre deepening in Iraq and Afghanistan while spreading steadily into Pakistan. All the while, progressives have been working for the single biggest monolith of a candidacy ever, ultimately winning one for the trendier of the Wall Street candidates.
Aesthetic change has now arrived in Washington, but little of any substantive value will come of it unless we can amp up the chorus of opposition in the Congress and on the streets. We absolutely must give a voice to those who have been silenced: the champions of peace living in the Empire, the defenders of liberty facing an increasingly totalitarian society, and those who need to be bailed out, but instead have had to watch corporate criminals rob us of all the funny money that the treasury dreams of printing up.
After nearly five years of relatively movement-free politics in the U.S., I couldn’t endure sitting by and letting this seat be swallowed up by the DLC/Chicago machine monster that has called it home since the districts were re-drawn in ’90. I could not bear seeing some Chicago crook start calling his or herself a “progressive” in order to get elected! This appears to be what Feigenholtz is doing, and was most certainly the stunt pulled by Emanuel and Blagojevich when they were initially elected: “Oh don’t worry! I’m a progressive aka I believe in abortion!”
Instead, we shall offer a genuine progressive voice: a voice for an end to the greater Middle East war and occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a voice for an end to the offensive saber rattling towards the Iranian government, a voice for universal single payer health care, and a voice for the repeal of the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act and FISA.
When we gain some steam, the machine candidates will undoubtedly decide to fight dirty against our campaign of principle. They will denigrate me as a peace activist nut and try to convince the district that they must support someone who is willing to drop cluster bombs on Afghani schoolchildren in the name of freedom. They’ll use their friends at the Tribune and Sun-Times to paint me as a crazy Leninist who needs to be taken down for his radical views about providing government funded universal health care just like the rest of the developed world. They will say I am too inexperienced because I haven’t yet held any position where I was required to compromise my values in order to support a machine of war and imperialism.
They might even criticize me for living in Paris for nearly 4 years: to which I will say that international experience might possibly be a good thing for a congress that seems to have no qualms about allowing the president to murder innocent civilians throughout the globe with little to no congressional oversight. Maybe what we need is someone who has interacted with the world, learned another language and culture, and is ready to bring the United States back into the world community.
One thing is for sure: the nation needs more principled people in positions of power. The Dems once soothed the ailing masses with talk of a “New Deal,” but these days progressives have been stuck with a raw deal. They are disparaged in the mainstream press, treated as uncompromising fools by the party hacks, and made to sacrifice their belief system to vote for substance-free candidates in the name of aesthetic change.
And so let’s show up at the ballot box one more time, in a place where our efforts will sting the establishment in a particularly prescient fashion! Together, I know we will prevail in stealing this seat away from the crooks that have called it home for far too long. The machine candidates are going to divide the established endorsements and money. Meanwhile, we will march along as a candidacy of principle, securing the votes of those who refuse to be bought or bossed by the Clinton/Daley/Emanuel wing of the Democratic Party. As progressives, I know we can hold our head high and secure victory in Illinois’ 5th district.