History Matters: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Fight for Economic Justice

By Stephanie Fortado

Dr. Stephanie Seawell Fortado is a Lecturer at the University of Illinois Labor Education Program, providing workshops and extension programming for unions and the general public on the Champaign-Urbana campus and throughout Illinois. Before joining the University, Stephanie served as the Executive Director of the Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS), the oldest state-wide labor history not-for-profit in the United States. She is currently a board member for ILHS. She completed her PhD at the University of Illinois, where she studied African American working class and social movement history. Stephanie is currently working on her first book, with the working title Race, Recreation and Rebellion, which looks at struggles over public space during the Civil Rights Movement in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a past President, Treasurer, Bargaining Team and Strike Committee member of the Graduate Employees Organization 6300, of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and former delegate to the Champaign County Labor Council. She is currently a steward and organizing chair of the newly formed Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, IFT Local 6546.

“Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school—be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”  On the evening of April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a packed sanctuary at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. As a powerful storm raged outside, King exhorted the crowd to join him two days later for a march to support the city’s striking black sanitation workers. The members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1733 were on strike.
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Police Gun Violence: An Epidemic in America

By Salma El-Naggar

Salma El-Naggar is a sophomore at Uni High and a member of the student organization team for the local walkout and other social justice even

In the light of the recent Florida school shooting, gun violence has been one of the most talked-about topics in American news media, and America has realized that gun violence is a major issue.

Gun violence has been evident since the creation of this country. It didn’t just become an issue in 2018. We pushed it away and disregarded it as a problem until it spun out of control.

At the same time, police gun violence has recently reached its peak. Police officers are not held accountable for the lives they have taken, but instead are excused for it since they are doing their job. 99% of all the cases of police gun violence in 2015 did not result in any officer(s) being convicted for murder. In 2017, there were only 14 days when police did not kill someone. In 2018 police have killed 321 people. That means that at least three people every day have been killed by the police.
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Student Coalition Protests Gun Violence

By Annemily Hoganson, Anya Kaplan-Hartnett, Victoria Kindratenko and Emma Lowenstein.

 

Left to right: Annemily Hoganson is a junior at Uni High and an organizer of the CU-March For Our Lives. Anya Kaplan-Hartnett is a sophomore at Uni. Victoria Kindratenko is a junior at Uni; she volunteered at the CU-March For Our Lives. Emma Lowenstein is a junior at Uni. All four walked out on March 14, and were organizers of the April 20 school walkout/teach-in.

According to the Brady Campaign, on an average day in the US, seven children are killed by gun violence and 40 more are injured. Each year, around 110 kids are unintentionally killed by guns. According to a 2017 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 4.2% of kids under the age of 17 have witnessed a shooting in the past year. That’s 4.2% too many. That’s seven deaths, 40 injuries, 110 unintentional deaths too many.

We are a group of local high school students from Central, Centennial, Urbana, Uni, Saint Thomas More (STM), and Danville High Schools, who have united to fight gun violence. After the recent shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, we came together with a goal of ending gun violence in all forms, including police brutality and suicide.
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The Real War in Egypt: the Labor Struggle

By Janice Jayes

If you missed the exciting Presidential election news out of Egypt this past March, don’t be too hard on yourself: also missing it were 96 million Egyptians. Yes, a few Egyptians showed up at the polls for an exercise that faintly resembled an election, but the event was lacking a few key ingredients–like actual opposition candidates. Incumbent General-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi drove five contenders out of the race by arresting or threatening them, then allowed one opposition candidate (a member of al-Sisi’s campaign staff) to register just hours before the deadline. As expected, al-Sisi claimed a “landslide” victory with a Mubarak-esque 97% of the vote.
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GloHeart, A Displaced Lullaby: A Play on Immigration Asks Questions About Language

By Al Schneider

Al Schneider is a performance maker and theater researcher currently living in Urbana. Information about their work can be found here: alanddog.co.uk.

What are they doing here?

Dressed in plaid, blue jeans, a ball cap, and boots, a laid-off, Born-in-Beardstown, down-and-out sort scratches his head, and asks the questions we might be asking ourselves. Or maybe it’s our uncle who’s asking the questions, or our mother-in-law, our co-worker, or just somebody we heard on the nightly news. Whichever way, the protests of those who see themselves as suffering from the arrival of migrants to the United States—and central Illinois in particular—are not approached warily in Susan Parenti and Mark Enslin’s play on global and local immigration.

Rather, GloHeart, A Displaced Lullaby makes a point of provoking a conversation around immigration which is sticky and requires its audiences to remain thoughtfully present throughout. Based on the book Global Heartland: Displaced Labor, Transnational Lives, and Local Placemaking by University of Illinois Professor Faranak Miraftab, GloHeart takes its questions from Miraftab’s analysis of a meat processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois and its recruitment of migrant laborers. “What brings these diverse people to this part of the country?,” Miraftab asks in the introduction to her book. Pork slaughtering is neither easy nor pleasant work, and after Oscar Mayer closed in the 1980s over disputes with its unionized workers, the plant—subsequently under the ownership of Cargill, and now owned by JBS USA—was able to reopen without a union, and with far lower wages.
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Air Pollution in Champaign-Urbana

By Jacquelyn Potter

Why Should We be Concerned?

Our most immediate necessity for life is breathing.  It’s the process of taking in life-giving substances and releasing metabolic by-products; therefore, clean air is vital for survival.  It’s only when substances are introduced artificially that this process becomes degraded.  There are hundreds of air pollutants; some of the common types include: particulates from industry and agriculture that are linked to cardiopulmonary diseases, especially fine particles at 2.5 um (micrometers) or less; heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and chromium from power plants, industry and agriculture, known to cause brain damage, cancer, autism and birth defects; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like toluene and benzene, formaldehyde, chloroform and methanol produced by industry and known to cause cancer, neurological, developmental, immune, cardiopulmonary, gastrointestinal and reproductive problems; phosphorus used in electronic, plastic and agriculture industries is linked to skin ulcers, renal malfunction and arteriosclerosis; and nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide produced in petrol and metal refining, power plants, vehicle exhaust and agriculture are linked to cardiopulmonary diseases.
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IMC Co-founder Danielle Chynoweth Wins McKinley Social Justice Award!

By Public i editors

Danielle Chynoweth, IMC co-founder and current Cunningham Township Supervisor, won a 2018 Social Justice Award from the McKinley Foundation. She donated the $500 award to the Public i. We extend our deepest gratitude to Danielle for supporting the Public i! At the awards dinner on April 7, she accepted the award and gave the below one-minute speech. Congratulations Danielle on all your amazing work to make CU a better community!

I only have one minute, but
she sleeps just down the street, in a storage unit,
and she calls one day to tell me how lonely she is.
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ICE on Main Street: Undocumented Immigrants Arrested in Urbana

 

When Juan showed up for work one morning at Siam Terrace on Main Street in downtown Urbana, two men were waiting for him in the parking lot. They were dressed in plainclothes, but wearing guns on their hips. They asked him his name and put him in handcuffs. Juan had lived in Urbana for eight years, but this was to be his last day. He was picked up by two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and sent to a remote jail in Southern Illinois to await deportation proceedings.

A year ago, Urbana proclaimed itself a sanctuary city, but ICE agents are coming through town to sweep up local immigrants without challenge. We often hear in the news about ICE raids in big cities, or along the border. But in Midwestern towns like Champaign-Urbana, ICE is expanding its presence, a sign that the war on immigrants is intensifying under President Trump. Indeed, in 2017, arrests of undocumented people went up by 30 percent. According to obtained documents, last year ICE visited Champaign County on 28 different days, on some days going to several residences.
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The Sad Closing of Milo’s Restaurant

The social life in Urbana is not going be the same without Milo’s. It was much more than a restaurant. It was a gem of a social institution, a place where one could go, whether alone, as a couple, or as a group, and know that you would have the pleasure of seeing other friends and neighbors. The warm greeting from Jane when one walked in the door, the pleasant service at the table, and the fine food made it a unique place. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate that. And Milo’s was very good to the Public i, having been one of its original sustainers.

But in our sadness over Milo’s demise, we are pleased that owners Jane and Obdulio will be able to live their lives with much less stress. We wish them a very happy and healthy future, and do look forward to seeing them as friends and neighbors for as long as they remain in Urbana/Champaign. And we thank them profusely for having given so much pleasure to our community.

The Editorial Collective of the Public i

 

 

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History Matters: Remembering Two “Dangerous” Labor Union Women

By Stephanie Fortado

Dr. Stephanie Seawell Fortado is a Lecturer at the University of Illinois Labor Education Program, providing workshops and extension programming for unions and the general public on the Champaign-Urbana campus and throughout Illinois. Before joining the University, Stephanie served as the Executive Director of the Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS), the oldest state-wide labor history not-for-profit in the United States. She is currently a board member for ILHS. She completed her PhD at the University of Illinois, where she studied African American working class and social movement history. Stephanie is currently working on her first book, with the working title Race, Recreation and Rebellion, which looks at struggles over public space during the Civil Rights Movement in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a past President, Treasurer, Bargaining Team and Strike Committee member of the Graduate Employees Organization 6300, of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and former delegate to the Champaign County Labor Council. She is currently a steward and organizing chair of the newly formed Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, IFT Local 6546.

We are living in the midst of a rising wave of protest politics. From Black Lives Matter and the Women’s Marches to protests for immigrant’s rights, environmental justice, gun control and fair working conditions, people are taking to the streets.

It seems that with every protest, there quickly comes the chorus of nay-sayers, the “not now” crowd that rises up to warn that such action for social justice is not only untimely, but possibly even dangerous.

Calling protestors “dangerous” is nothing new. Consider the histories of two of the leading figures of the US labor movement, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and Lucy Gonzales Parsons. Both women were declared dangerous in their day.

Mother Jones

The lives of these two women share some striking similarities. Mary Harris Jones was born in Cork, Ireland in 1837. Her family came to Canada and the United States when famine swept their homeland. She moved to Memphis, where she found work as a dressmaker. She married a union man and iron molder, George Jones. The Jones family fell on hard times when, after the Civil War, an economic downturn caused rampant layoffs among workers in the city. Then, in 1867, yellow fever ravaged poor and working class sections of Memphis and claimed the lives of George and all four of their children. In the wake of this unfathomable personal tragedy, Jones came to Chicago, where she opened a dressmaking business with a partner.

Her work gave Jones a window into the great disparity between the poor and wealthy Chicagoans. In her autobiography, she wrote, “We worked for the aristocrats of Chicago, and I had ample opportunity to observe the luxury and extravagance of their lives. Often while sewing for the lords and barons who lived in magnificent houses on the Lake Shore Drive, I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking along the frozen lake front … My employers seemed neither to notice or care.”

But Jones noticed and cared. And a few short years later, when tragedy struck again and she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire, she turned to the growing movement of working people building in Chicago. As her involvement and stature in the labor movement grew, she took on the mantle of “Mother” Jones. She spent the rest of her life crisscrossing the nation, fighting for the rights of miners, child laborers and other working people until her death in 1930.

In 1902, Mother Jones was arrested for her work organizing mine workers in West Virginia. At her trial, the West Virginia District Attorney argued, “There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign, crooks her finger [and] 20,000 contented men lay down their tools and walk out.” Of course, peace and prosperity did not reign in West Virginia coal country and the miners were far from contented. But the reputation of Mother Jones as the “most dangerous woman in America” stuck.

Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons was another woman who worked in Chicago as a dressmaker, meaning she too saw first-hand the great gulf between the haves and the have nots in that city. Parsons was born into slavery in Texas. An African American, Native American, Mexican American woman, she fell in love with a white man, Albert Parsons. He too was a union man, a member of the typographical union. Lucy and Albert moved to Chicago to flee the persecution faced by an interracial couple in the postbellum South and in search of new opportunities. There they became involved in the labor movement, and Albert served as the editor of the newspaper The Alarm, one of the leading newspapers for working people in the city. Lucy was a regular contributor to the paper. On May 1, 1886, Lucy and Albert were at the head of a march of workers down Michigan Avenue, part of a national day of action for the eight-hour work day that saw more than a quarter-million workers take to the streets across the country. Three days later, when a bomb went off at a worker’s rally at Chicago’s Haymarket Square and several policemen were killed, Albert was one of eight men who were blamed. He was executed by hanging despite the lack of any evidence tying him to the bomb. After her beloved Albert’s death, Lucy continued to stand up for the rights of working people until she died in 1942. Because of her radical organizing and writing, Parsons came to be known by the Chicago police as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”

Both Mary and Lucy experienced a depth of hardship and personal tragedy in their lives, including famine, disease, slavery, fire and the death of those they loved most dearly. These fires of tragedy forged in these two woman a steel of determination and a sharpness of will to confront those who would prop up inequality and injustice. In other words, it made them dangerous.

Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons exemplified the profound importance of unwaveringly speaking out against injustice. Mother Jones travelled tirelessly to support workers, and wherever she went, she spoke her mind. In one speech she declared, “I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.” Another time she explained, “There is something wrong in our social make-up, when we make criminals out of the youths, put them in jail, hire wardens and guards and pay them to take care of them and tax the people. Your whole system, my friends, is wrong.” Mother Jones named injustice where she saw it, and there is power in such naming.

So did Lucy Parsons. She once said, “Passivity while slavery is stealing over us is a crime.”  She was not speaking abstractly. Lucy Parsons had experienced the brutality of slavery first-hand. It is a word she chose to use often in her speeches and writings about the exploitation of working people, and especially the exploitation of women. She was issuing a warning that passivity can allow exploitation to grow. She was exhorting us to action.

Both Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons were considered dangerous because they were willing to transgress what were considered the acceptable lines of behavior for women of their day. Every time Lucy Parsons gave a speech on a street corner, every time Mother Jones visited a mining camp, these were dangerous acts. And because of these acts these women endured prison more than once. They knew the potential consequences of their actions, and yet they acted anyway.

If we want to be dangerous like Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons, we must get out of our comfort zones and show up where the most vulnerable are fighting for their rights. And right now we could use more dangerous people.

This article is adapted from an address given at the annual Mother Jones Dinner in Springfield, Illinois on October 14, 2017.

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