By Caleb Dunson
In the 1960s a young man from the west side of Chicago transformed Black, Puerto Rican, and white gangs into political organizations that sought to build the kinds of community institutions the city refused to provide. They established free day care centers, free food pantries, free breakfast programs, free clothing programs, and free community health clinics across the west and south sides. They challenged the hegemonic order imposed by Chicago’s machine politics, openly opposing the corrupt Police Department and building support among the city’s working class. Fred Hampton and the Original Rainbow Coalition exposed the weakness of the old Daley regime, and forced the establishment to respond through violence to stop them.
Mayor Richard J. Daley and his allies at newspapers like the conservative-leaning Chicago Tribune characterized the Rainbow Coalition as violent and criminal, a movement which required a forceful response to be defeated. Of the Coalition, Mayor Daley said, “These criminal gangs extort money from businessmen and also from school children. They burglarize, assault, rob, rape, and murder…They seek to cloak this criminal activity under the guise of social involvement and what they advertise as constructive endeavors.” This character assassination eventually turned into an actual assassination, that of Fred Hampton, done by the FBI and the Chicago Police Department, which effectively ended the Original Rainbow Coalition.
It would be another 15 years before another Rainbow Coalition was formed, and that one propelled Harold Washington into office. And from Mayor Washington onward, the city has been largely controlled by the Democratic machine. The result of this has been the development of a city so profoundly unequal, segregated, and over-policed that the creation of a new Rainbow Coalition has seemed almost impossible at times.
And yet, nearly 60 years after the rise of the Original Rainbow Coalition, and 40 years after the political movement that carried Harold Washington to office, we once again have the opportunity to build a new Rainbow Coalition. The city has been eager for this chance, the chance to send to the fifth floor a mayor that will demand better for the parts of the city that aren’t awash in cash and opportunity. That is what’s at stake in this election. The promise of investing meaningfully in communities long ignored by city government, in giving neighborhoods on the south and west sides the opportunity to create institutions that center equity and humanity rather than ruthless capitalistic growth. With this election, we can set this city back on the path started by Fred Hampton and lead the city in a truly democratic, community-centered fashion. We can do this by electing Brandon Johnson for mayor of Chicago.
Now it must be acknowledged that electoral politics only offer a limited opportunity to create the transformative, liberating change many of us seek. But this election is certainly a step in the right direction. At the very least, it is a chance to reject an unimaginative, dangerous vision of Chicago, one guided by a desire for punishment and domination. By rejecting Paul Vallas at the ballot box, we reaffirm our desire for a new set of politics, hopeful and not cynical.
So I am asking that everyone who can vote today, vote, because it is no exaggeration to say that whoever becomes mayor will determine how the city will look for decades to come. And while we still have the chance, we should return that power to the people.
Paid for by Chicago Votes Action Fund.