Politicos flock to Hyde Park for MLK celebration

Democratic Illinois politicians and U.S. Senate candidates pledged to support good jobs, environmental sustainability, and affordable housing legislation as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration

By Aviva Rosman

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In front of a sanctuary filled with over 1,000 people, Democratic Illinois politicians and U.S. Senate candidates pledged to support good jobs, environmental sustainability, and affordable housing legislation as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Sunday.

While most speakers focused their remarks on remembering King and supporting Haiti, both Senate candidates used their speeches to tout their resumes and tell voters why they were running.

Event attendees included Governor Pat Quinn, State Treasurer and Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Senate candidate David Hoffman (JD ’95), 9th district

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (A.B ’68, M.A. ’73), 4th Ward Alderman and Cook Country Board President candidate Toni Preckwinkle (A.B. ’69, M.A.T. ’77), and a multitude of aldermen, state senators, state representatives, pastors, and community leaders from the city, suburbs, and Gary, Indiana.

The event was hosted by St. Thomas the Apostle Church on 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, and also included performances by a dance group from Shekinah Chapel and the St. Mark United Methodist Church choir, which began the meeting with civil rights classics like “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

Speaker after speaker called on rally participants to become more involved in social justice campaigns in their community.

“The 2008 election of Barack Obama set the stage for the most important year in our country’s history,” said Reverend Patrick Daymond, of Sixth Grace Presbyterian and a member of event co-sponsor Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL). “We must move from the rhetorical posture of ‘Yes We Can’ to ‘Oh yes, we will.’”

Officials and candidates were each given one minute to speak; timekeepers with signs reading “One More Sentence” and “Stop” stood in the front row to let speakers know when time was up.

Preckwinkle, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, and other Chicago aldermen agreed to SOUL’s request that Walmart only be allowed to build a Southside store after signing a community benefits compact to provide living wages and guarantee workers the right to organize. To chants of “good jobs, good jobs,” Preckwinkle used her minute to praise “the hard work and sacrifice of ordinary people.”

Schakowsky, Hoffman, Giannoulias, and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones each committed to supporting the Livable Communities Act if elected to Congress, a bill to improve federal coordination of housing, transportation, and environmental policy.

“Being here today with all of you and seeing such outstanding organizations and real working people is an inspiration,” Giannoulias said.

Hoffman spoke next, stating that he had “been fighting against a system stacked for the powerful his whole life,” Hoffman said. “I’m very pleased to receive the endorsement from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, who called me independent and incorruptible.”

Leaders thanked Quinn for his assistance passing the Urban Weatherization Initiative, which provides $425 million for people in low-income communities to have their homes weatherized, and Quinn agreed to continue working with them to successfully implement the program.

“We have to combat a culture of violence,” said Quinn, who is also facing a primary challenge for governor on February 2. “That’s why it’s so important to use the power of democracy to take down a culture of violence and promote a culture of work.”

As the event ended, Currie and other state legislators pledged their support for a state bill to expand the sales tax base, increase the corporate tax rate from 4.8 to 5 percent, and increase the personal income tax rate from three to five percent in order to balance the Illinois budget and provide more funding for education and human services.

The event was organized by the Illinois Indiana Regional Organizing Network and its member groups Northside People Organized to Work Educate and Restore, SOUL, and the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations.