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Amara Campaign Launch Speech


08/28/2018 CO-Prosperity Sphere, Chicago, IL 

As-salām ‘alaykum.
Buenas noches.
Nǐ hǎo.
Bon Soir.
Ndi banyi, Ndewo nu.

Thank you everyone for coming. I’m Amara Enyia, organizer, advocate, daughter of activists, child of immigrants, problem solver and public servant, and I’m running to be Chicago’s next mayor.

Gracias a todos por estar aqui. Soy Amara Enyia, organizadora, defensora, hija de activistas, hija de inmigrantes, solucionadora de problemas y servidora público, y quiero ser el proximo alcaldesa de Chicago.

Now let’s give a big applause for our volunteers, contributors, friends and supporters.
How about all the wonderful speakers and performers we have heard from – they raise the spirit for the work that lies ahead.
I also want to thank my family – my foundation my parents for whom I owe the person I am today, and my 5 siblings each phenomenal in their own right that continue to inspire, and ground me.

Daring to step out in order to do what’s right, is nothing new for my family. From my great grandmother challenging oppression by the British on Continental Africa in the early 1900s, to my parents who – always advocates for human rights – both fought in and endured, a brutal Civil War in Nigeria in the 1960s. We are now in present day Chicago, settling first in the south suburbs where we split our time between there and the north side communities of Uptown, Edgewater, and Rogers Park to where I finally made my home – the West Side of Chicago. This is the latest iteration of a generational commitment to justice. The same fight. The same legacy.

Just like all those who came before us, we live in troubled times. Across the country and across our world, people are struggling.
Uncertainty clouds the future just as much as it does the present.

Humanity confronts social inequality unheard of since the Gilded Age.

Unemployment numbers are deceptive. They don’t count all the underemployed and those too discouraged to look for work.
Incomes for the average household have been stagnant since the Reagan Era.

Forty percent of us don’t even have $400 on hand for an emergency.

Debt of all kinds – student debt, credit card debt, municipal debt – they all constrain individuals, the economy and government.
As the wellbeing of billionaires continues to improve, the burdens of poverty flood the land.

These billionaires befoul the body politic with dark money:
They use their money to invest in politicians (you know who I am talking about) who expand their wealth at the expense of human lives, children’s health and the wellbeing of our planet.
In the face of all this, how can we get ahead as individuals, as families, as a city?

Let me tell you what you already know – If things stay on the same course, we will never get ahead.
We won’t simply receive fairness. It won’t just fall from the sky.
Will the cronies and their politicians give us a helping hand in our fights for justice?

The answer is No., No one will give you fairness – you can ask politely if you want, but the people most responsible for diminishing our schools, weakening democracy and gutting our economy will not hand out fairness or wake up to the need for fairness and openness in government, .
So, how did we get here?

The rotten circumstances we struggle against didn’t arise by accident. Rather, we are living with the outcome of a definite set of policies – a set of policies that stem from the imagination of those who hold a different set of values about what it means to serve the public – those who would rather serve themselves.

It’s the same story everywhere and in Chicago it goes something like this:

• Privatize public assets,
• Privatize services,
• Eliminate services,
• Regressive taxation,
• Police state strategies, and
• Public corruption – lots of it.

Here in Chicago, we are some of the hardest working people anywhere on the planet, yet we still fight to keep neighborhood schools in place.
We work hard only to pay higher and more abusive taxes, fees and fines as services diminish and infrastructure crumbles around us.
Is it any wonder that this administration and all of its agencies operate with virtually ZERO credibility?

How can they expect to be credible when nearly one billion dollars of our tax money has been spent to settle police abuse claims?

How can they expect to have any credibility when they are so resistant to even the mildest reforms?

How can our government expect to be credible when the only “solution” to solve our fiscal crisis has been to borrow – saddling our children with the debt of poor decisions made today?

How can our education system be credible with a pattern of destabilization, disinvestment and dysfunction that results in filthy schools, rampant sexual abuse, and a starkly unfair school system where some schools have all while others have none – forcing families to flee to the suburbs for better options.

We deserve far better – and we will get it – because we have been willing to organize and fight for it!

Despite what the professional pundits and the political class would have you believe, the basic issues are largely the same whether among teachers in Chicago Lawn, business people in Auburn-Gresham, students in Edgewater, or seniors in Austin and Jefferson Park.

So, when I am asked why I want to be Mayor and when people ask you why you are part of this campaign, we can give them this simple answer:
Because we believe City government must work in the interest of the people of Chicago. We believe in People Power.

That set of policies I mentioned that has done so much damage – it’s really a school of governance, economics and ideas – and it goes by the name of neoliberalism.

That neoliberal philosophy looks like:

• Half-baked ‘big projects,’ while potholes gather and grow
• Plans to put the City billions further into debt on terms only a banker could love

To set good financial terms municipalities have to ensure banks receive regular payments, transferring income and wealth from taxpayers through the government into banks and bondholder accounts.

Any threat to those payments, the rating goes down, interest goes up and more tax dollars go to the banks. That’s what I call a rigged system.
Of course, we have an answer – a public bank. Imagine -a bank whose allegiance is – not to profit – but to the public.

A Bank of Chicago will allow us to finance our own projects without paying a fortune in tax dollars to private banks in contrived fees and service payments. It could actually generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.

We believe in an inclusive economy that can reverse decades of stagnant incomes and the continued decline of far too many communities – an economy that actually builds generational wealth from the ground up and rebuilds the fabric of communities. That’s why I propose making Chicago the number one city in the country for cooperative economic models – worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, housing cooperatives –enterprises that are democratically owned and operated, that build community ownership and wealth- for a Chicago that is inclusive, thriving, and strong, This is the vision for our future.

I find interesting the silence of this administration on the fact that Chicago is the number one city for population loss for three years in a row, and there has been absolutely no effort to bring people back. While some may believe that this is not “their” problem – that perhaps the ones leaving or pushed out are not the ones we want anyway, I say this: There is both a moral and a fiscal imperative to restore our population.

Morally – the ravages of displacement caused by lack of affordable housing must be stopped in its tracks, lest generations of Chicagoans find themselves forced out of their neighborhoods.

Morally, we must end the knee-jerk short-sighted responses to violence allowe to proliferate in our neighborhoods by actually committing to addressing the root causes of violence – access to mental and behavioral health services, elimination of public health hazards like lead and manganese in our water and soil, economic investment, housing and so on.

Morally, if we value all of our communities – as our city claims– then we will not turn a blind eye to entire communities lost – 250,000 black residents in the last 15 years. The silence of this administration bespeaks the moral bankruptcy of its policies.

For those who are, perhaps, unmoved by the moral imperative, there is a fiscal imperative. Simply put, the size of our population determines the size of our revenue. Fewer residents results in fewer tax dollars – in particular, property tax dollars that are the city’s primary source of revenue. But not only that! As a systems thinker, I think about the exponential effects of population loss on other sectors – on our small business sector. What I know is this: A shrinking population means fewer patrons for our small businesses- vacant homes mean no foot traffic to support local businesses – which means fewer tax dollars from the business community. It also means fewer people employed, thus more people struggling to make ends meet – even as they face an onslaught of fines fees and increased taxes from the city that have driven many to turn to bankruptcy as their only option.

A shrinking population means less revenue – and that affects ALL of us – from the Magnificent Mile downtown to the “Blacknificent Mile” on the City’s South Side – 79th Street,

Addressing the crux of our city’s financial problems starts with acknowledging that we actually need our people to stay right here in our city. The question for us is, what reasons shall we give them to stay?

We will give them:
• Access to affordable housing across the city – where people have the option to stay in their neighborhoods even as neighborhoods change
• We will champion the use of community benefits agreements for development projects so that communities have a say in how their neighborhoods evolve
• We will implement structural fixes to our city’s finances – like a Public Bank, expanding our economy with cooperatives and other models that build individual, family, and generational wealth
• We will clamp down on corruption by strengthening the Inspector General’s role and creating a culture of transparency, openness and collaboration both among city departments and between city departments and our communities.
• We will make sure that Chicago Public Schools ends the practice of destabilization, inequity, and using school boundaries to perpetuate segregation across the district – where we have a school system where our children don’t have to be warriors in a fight amongst adults – where young warriors like Jakil and. William – who ran with me in Englewood – don’t have to spend their last high school years fighting to keep their school open.
• We will create a city where a level 1+ school – National Teachers Academy, is not closed solely to serve the interests of wealthier, politically connected families with access to the mayor.
• We will create safer communities by dedicating a percentage of the police department’s budget to creating and institutionalizing block clubs as part and parcel of our community. Where instead of spending $95 million on a police academy, we actually invest a larger percentage of our budget in the things that build people up – not just the methods for locking people up.
• We will create a new culture in Chicago – one that is not based on fear: Where people fear retribution if they dare to speak out.
• We will build a city that prioritizes civic engagement – not one that cynically relies on low voter turnout to preserve incumbents.

Our campaign is a campaign committed to engaging the disengaged and connecting with those whom others overlook because they don’t fall conveniently within the “most likely to vote” category.

For us, a win is not just one person getting to sit in the office on the 5th floor of City Hall. A win is restoring respect and legitimacy in our public institutions, increasing civic engagement, and creating an environment where every single person is able to realize their fullest potential.

The truth of the matter is that we must fight for the future that we want.

I’m reminded of a story told to me by a wise older mentor of mine. It was the story of Caesar and The Rubicon. In 49 bc, on the banks of the Rubicon – a small stream in Italy, Julius Caesar faced a critical choice: According to the law of the Roman Republic, any provincial governor leading troops across the border back into Italy would be declared a public enemy. It was, quite simply, an act of war.
In short, if Caesar chose to cross the Rubicon, there would be no turning back. It was an agonizing choice – the choice of certain death, or an uncertain future.

Chicago, we have reached a crossroads.

We must make a choice. The die has been cast. It was cast when our current mayor decided that ignoring entire communities was acceptable. It was cast when 16 shots into the body of Laquan McDonald was a mere political inconvenience to be covered up by this mayor and his administration. It was cast when this mayor continued the policies that cannibalized our neighborhood schools, leaving families with fewer quality school options.
The die has been cast.

I say to you all, Chicago, we have fought too long and too hard to turn back. For me, for us, there can be no retreat, and no surrender. We must cross the Rubicon. We shun death for an opportunity at a better life on the other side.

But we must not be afraid – fear is the biggest tool used by those seeking to maintain the status quo. Fear is a tool to distract. It is a tool to dissuade. It is a tool to destabilize and paralyze us – to keep us from recognizing the power that we have to create a future that reflects our values – values of justice. Of equity. Of Fairness. Of Our shared humanity.

Our Love for Our Great City must surpass our fear of the future – I believe there’s a passage in the Bible that says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out ALL fear”.

We fight for this city because we LOVE this city – every neighborhood, every enclave, every resident from the guys in the boardroom to the guys on my block.

So therefore, we move boldly into our future – but we do not go alone. We advance carrying the banner of the ancestors that paved the way before us. A banner that spans across time and space. A banner of justice in a fight for the ages.

It is a banner that was held by our beloved Mayor Harold Washington. A banner that was carried by Jane Addams at Hull House, By Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., By Fred Hampton, by the trailblazer SoJourner Truth. By Malcolm X, by Harriet Tubman, by our City’s great founder, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. It is a global banner in a global fight for the greater good of all and for the sake of humanity.

In this fight, there is no retreat, no surrender. No retreat, no surrender. Only a commitment to actualizing our highest ideals. Only a commitment to integrity. A commitment to unity. A commitment to justice. A commitment to equity. A commitment to love.
It is time for new ideas. For problem-solvers, not politicians. It’s time for a new vision for Chicago.

It’s up to us to make sure that five years from now, 15 years from now or 150 years from now, Chicago remains a proper city for individuals, families, communities and businesses. A place fit for all our children, built in the image and honor of the best of our ancestors.
I cannot do this without you. To paraphrase the African proverb, ‘the only way we go far is if we go together’. Another proverb says, “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build barriers.

We must build bridges across neighborhoods. Across ethnicities, across socioeconomic groups, across ages. We must build bridges, intergenerational bridges, strong bridges –the times we are in demand it.

• Every handshake counts
• Every conversation counts
• Every flyer counts
• Every precinct counts
• Every penny counts
• Every vote counts

That is our strategy to bring a new day forward. Powered by people, we have a unique opportunity, and maybe our last chance.

I hope you will join me in this fight because we’re in this together.

All People. All Voices. One City.

Thank You.