Opening remarks from the CivicLab’s second Civic Harambee

Here are the opening remarks from the CivicLab’s second Civic Harambee which was held on Saturday, August 25, 2018:

Remarks by Tom Tresser at the CivicLab Civic Harambee, August 25, 2018

Good morning brothers and sisters!

Thank you SO much for sharing your summer Saturday and doing democracy with us today!

It has been said that leadership starts by showing up. And you all have SHOWN UP – so give yourselves a round of applause and a hearty HUZZAH!

The famous philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

My friends, as social justice activists, civic champions and community builders do WE know where we are going? Do we know how to get there?

I would like to share some reflections on the work I have done around civics in Chicago since 1990 and our collective experience at the CivicLab since 2013. I think we know a lot more than we think we know.

I would like to share:

What we want collectively
What we learned specifically
What we need to do now

From all our experience in Chicago civics I believe what we want and need, as a city, boils down to some basics.

We want more health care. We want more justice. We want more peace. We want more equity. We want more prosperity. We want the same thing for our kids that Mayor Emanuel provides for his kids. We want the same opportunities for our neighbors that the Mayor’s neighbors enjoy.

We want more public services. We want more and want these services to be excellent, accessible and effective. We want a city that works for everyone and which is a maker of opportunity – not a destroyer of dreams and a machine for fleecing the many for the benefits of the few.

These needs and demands echo across the city every day. We hear you.

As to what have we learned through our collective civic work? We’ve presented at over 150 public meetings – going back to the fight to stop the privatization of Lincoln Park in 2008, through the No Games Campaign to defeat the bid for the 2016 Olympics, through the TIF illumination Project, through the “Chicago Is Not Broke” Book Project, through the POWER Institute civic workshops right up to this morning. Over 8,000 people across 45 wards have come to these many public forums.

What have we learned about winning for justice?

I would sum it by saying – in order to win, we need a robust and sustainable infrastructure that grows leaders who are passionate, principled and equipped to fight for the common good.

The word “infrastructure” is a short-hand for describing a thriving eco-system that receives nourishment in order to expand and evolve and puts forth useful and powerful tools and methods for civic justice.

I’ve studied what the Far Right has been doing to capture power and drive policy agendas since 1990. We need only follow their methods.

My headline here is boiled down to three words.

Message. Members. Money.

We have found that in order to fight the powers that be we need a clear and compelling message of hope and renewal – of fire and light that signals what we are fighting for – who we are – and what we aspire.

In delivering that message and explaining it – we educate and inspire. We move people from bystanders to collaborators. From unengaged to engaged to members with skin the game and a say in the fight.

From there we ask for resources, money, time and commitment. We have to be clear that democracy is NOT free.

Unfortunately, decades of relying on nonprofit organizations for services and policy thinking has left the public’s power muscle atrophied. We think if there is a need, that someone – in one of these endless nonprofit organizations – will take care of it.

But I’m here to tell you that America’s nonprofits have dropped the ball on social justice and fighting for the power needed to deliver real justice in this country. We can’t rely on them and the necklace of foundations who fund them to deliver us the city we deserve. So – we need to build and support our own instruments of power for justice.

Power to get people elected to public office who are like us. Who ARE us.

We need fighters who are smart, equipped, networked and collaborative.

To sum up, what we’ve learned is this – our civic work is a short and long game. On the near side we are educating ourselves as to what Chicago is really all about. We are training ourselves to be smart and strategic champions of the common good. We are helping one another to seek local elective office and to stay engaged with our elected to school them and keep them accountable to our needs and aspirations.

On the long side we are reforming the city and innovating to create new ways of BEING a city and delivering the core services – we are creating a movement that reforms Chicago into an international beacon of justice and progressivity.

What do we do now?

First, I would articulate a call to go out from this hall that we demand MORE PUBLIC!

More and better public neighborhood schools.

More and better public parks.

More and better public libraries.

Public housing. Public health. Public transportation. Public safety. More. Better. Outstanding. Responsive to our needs and evolving as we do.

Let this be our North Star, our starting point and foundation.

Let that be an essential rallying cry for our work and to guide our thinking about policy, programs and candidate selection.

What do want? [More public!]

What do want? [More public!]

What do want? [More public!]

We want a city that delivers public services that are accessible, excellent, innovative, expansive and evolving.

We do not want our public assets privatized and sold off to the Mayor’s friends, campaign donors and future employers.

We want a city of breath-taking beauty and opportunity for everyone who lives here. We want an affordable and peaceful city where prosperity is within reach for all who desire it.

The only way to get that city is with More Public!

Which brings me to the next steps for the CivicLab.

I and Jonathan Peck and Phillip Thomas are reviving the CivicLab as a physical place.

Sine the CivicLab opened in the West Loop in 2013 we have touched over 10,000 people. We were home to 16 social justice organizations. We’ve offered over 100 workshops on all things civic to over 1,000 people. We’ve sold over 3,000 copies of “Chicago Is Not Broke” and given over 425 copies away to youth and civic groups. We’ve been asked to visit 45 wards through 130 public meetings talking TIFs and breaking down the book. The POWER Institute was launched in 2017 and we’ve done civic training to 140 people through 14 workshops.

We’ve been busy.

But it’s critical for you to know that all this was done with virtually no support from foundations or corporations. We’ve been turned down 20 times over the past four years. We’ve relied on volunteers such as myself and Jonathan Peck and many others to contribute their labor and knowledge toward making democracy in Chicago.

You should also know that the main stream media in Chicago have refused to cover the TIF work or the book. We’ve done 130 public meetings since 2013 and that work remains completely unreported by the Tribune, Sun-Times, Crain’s, WBEZ and WTTW.

So – in order to build something that has staying power – something as powerful for justice as 1871 is to commerce and technology, we need YOU to pitch in right now – starting today.

Here’s how you can join in:

The POWER Institute – People Organizing To Win, Engage & Resist – offers you a series of workshop sessions to hone your public skills in order to win for justice. Our next workshop is “Grassroots Campaigning 101” on September 19 on the South Side. You can take this workshop at 50% off the regular cost. So please make some room in your calendar on September 19, Wednesday, from 7pm to 9pm.
We are looking for board members to help us build out the CivicLab and ensure its future. If you are interested, please let me know. You can also bring us to your church, school or civic group for presentations and workshops. It’s an “each one, teach one” movement!
We are starting a membership drive to support the work of the CivicLab. You can go online right now and become a member. The URL is on the bottom of the program. There are some fun perks – but the main thing is this – we are not likely to get funded by the mainstream foundations so our support will HAVE to come from people who value our work and see the need for it going forward.

Finally, I want to tell you I am announcing the title of my second book. It will be called “More Public! A Love Letter & A Call To Action.” We will be doing a crowdfunding campaign around this project. 203 donors chipped in to make “Chicago Is Not Broke” possible. We’re going to go bigger and broader with this next book – it will have national implications and we will be seeking to train up a cadre of organizer and speakers who can do their own local education and organizing around the rallying cry of “More Public!” We will be releasing more details about the book on our main CivicLab web site soon.

The bottom line on all our work, on all the collective work of the CivicLab is this –

We seek to expand the civic imagination of Chicago. We reject the false civic narrative of scarcity and are replacing it with a mindset of abundance and civic possibility. And to that end we do research, education, training , infrastructure building and leadership development in order get power and elect people to local office who will demand, create, manage and steward MORE PUBLIC!

Thank you, now let the Harambee commence!

If you live in the chicago land area and agree with these sentiments, you can become a member of the CivicLab today. https://www.joinit.org/o/civiclab

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