[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #9 in November 2009]
The “Tea Party” gatherings that have besieged town-hall meetings have denounced government abuses, and have gotten huge amounts of media attention. Meanwhile, South Side Chicago residents are, in a quieter way, also protesting government abuses: handouts to private enterprise at the expense of poor and working-class people.
An attempt at a stopgap solution to revenue shortfalls, the city’s bargain-priced 75-year lease of the entire Chicago parking meter system to a private concern is now widely acknowledged, even by Mayor Richard M. Daley, as a short-sighted fiscal blunder. The sale has resulted in an astronomical increase in parking costs, especially on streets in lower-income areas that previously had few meters or none at all. Commercial Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood is one of those areas. On Wednesday, August 5, two members of the community organization Centro Comunitario Juan Diego (CCJD) were arrested while protesting on Commercial between 87th and 88th Avenues. While reporting on the incident, a local ABC reporter had no more luck that did CCJD in getting a meeting with 10th Ward Alderman John Pope to discuss the matter.
According to the Chicago Parking Meter Campaign page on the ANSWER Chicago website, CCJD has spent much of the summer protesting the rate hikes, including an ongoing 24-hour vigil that “stopped [the] city from installing new parking meters in front of the center,” a July 29 demonstration in front of City Hall, and an August 29 petition and canvassing day. John Beachamof ANSWER Chicago points out that “the mayor’s office, secretly working on the sale of the meters for two years, never seriously considered any other bidder except Morgan Stanley.” As Beacham notes, William Daley Jr., the nephew of the mayor, is a Morgan Stanley executive. The meters are run by LAZ Parking, but the contract did indeed go to Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, which is, according to Morgan Stanley’s own press release, “a consortium led by its infrastructure investment group that is part of the Firm’s Investment Management Division.”
In August, the Chicago Park District announced that 4,400 new metered spaces will be installed in city parks. Now as ever, there is populist agreement across the political spectrum that the major obstacle to working people gaining a voice in decision-making, as well as achieving some measure of prosperity and comfort, is the collusion of commerce and government. It remains to be seen whether the South Chicago meter boycott and rebellion—or recent efforts at contesting the meters in the parks—will make enough of an impact to register even in the consciousness of their local alderman, let alone other elected officials in Chicago. But a lawsuit has been prepared on behalf of a group of taxpayers against the city, and certainly other forms of organized resistance will continue. There’s always hope that Barack Obama won’t be the only Chicago Democrat forced to give way before the outrage of people who feel forgotten. ◊