Blog Archive

Thursday, March 30, 2006

School News

My block of South Marshfield Avenue had a lot to brag about this morning at the Chavez LSC meeting. We can boast two Students of the Month--Junior was one of them!!--and a candidate in the hotly contested election for parents on the LSC. There are 15 candidates running for 6 spots, in a city where not every school has enough parents running to fill all the seats, let alone give people choices.

Our community race, by contrast, is lackluster--as comm rep Veronica Lopez put it this morning (via my attempt at translation), "If I vote, I win." She and Fr. Ed, the current reps, are the only folks on the community ballot. I'll go vote for them just to show that there are community people paying attention. (Even if I wanted to run, I can't due to conflicts of interest with my job.)

Anyway, School Lady from down the block is running. I was surprised to see this because she spends so much time over there I thought she was a paid employee. (School employees can't run for LSC at the school where they work, even if they have children enrolled there.) So perhaps she is a volunteer. Wow.

There are clearly some factions involved and I am trying to get a feel for the landscape as quickly as possible. I will be asking the comm reps and School Lady for their opinions as to who the best parent candidates are, even though I can't vote for them.

School Lady's youngest daughter also earned Student of the Month this month. Whoo-hoo! Meanwhile, her oldest daughter is making out OK at Richards, no bad news to report, she tells me. She also tells me there is a contested race for community rep at Richards, so I'll have to go find out who's running and find out who to vote for.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Whose Homework To Do?

I'm busted. My Spanish teacher gave me a ton of homework on Monday night and I have accomplished almost none of it. (I think I wrote no more than two sentences in one of the exercises he assigned to practice the subjunctive. Not too spectacular.) I called and excused myself from class today, pleading an event I "have to" cover tonight. I'll probably stop by, but I really need to go home and help Dawn with her homework.

Last night I got a message from Dawn's teacher at Big Picture saying she had tried to find out what Aurora has to do for her science project, but she hadn't gotten farther than hearing Dawn's friend Gladys did all the work, so Dawn's not getting any credit. Dawn also has a project to do on Madagascar.

Dawn's family moved over the weekend. Someone broke in their old place while they were moving. The thief or thieves got Joey's gold necklace, a couple of cameras, the little TV Julian watches in their van, other stuff like that. Ouch. Aurora says she doesn't feel safe in the new house now, either. I know what she means. Last night they were cleaning the old place and now they are really done being there. I can hardly believe it.

This morning I went to school with Dawn and talked with her advisor and her science teacher. Her advisor scheduled her exhibition for next Thursday so we have a week to get her caught up. Thank goodness! Her teacher was very stern with her: "I did that this time because I knew the circumstances, but next time you have to be prepared. I'm not going to do this again."

I met her science teacher and got a list of all her missing assigments. I think she has only turned in one assignment this quarter, and that is one more than Julian has managed to scrape in. Great.

The science teacher is OK with Dawn doing a project on hurricanes on her own, since Gladys already finished the one they were supposedly doing together. Since Dawn already learned something about hurricanes she doesn't want to start all over this late in the game. I can see we have our work cut out for us this weekend. My poor Spanish homework may or may not get done between taxes, Dawn's quarter of missing work and anything I can do to get Julian to pull it together. Whew.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Machine

Late last week I called one of Esther's campaign people. "What's going on?" I asked. He assured me everything was OK. I asked which precincts hadn't come in yet, and he said they were in a friendly ward (I'm sorry to say I'm unclear whether they were 3rd or 11th ward precincts). But I got off the phone with the general impression that they were precincts that would put Esther over the top.

And with one precinct left to go, here's what the Board of Election Commissioners has to say:

DEM - Rep. In Gen. Assembly, 6th
113 of 114 precincts counted
Samuel T. Bunville 1688 15.85%
Keith B. Kysel 760 7.13%
Esther Golar 4238 39.79%
Darryl Smith 3966 37.23%

Total 10652 100.00%

Spring, my lost love

No, I'm not going to quote Eliot's opening line to The Waste Land. It's not even April yet, for starters. Besides, this less-famous line hits the mark: "Winter kept us warm, covering/Earth in forgetful snow."

Now we have the gray chilling wetness of March air above the naked earth. The bare ground reveals all the trash that stayed planted under snow for the last three months, and the March wind blows it all over the streets, sidewalks and yards.

I bet I pick up more trash in March and April than any other time of the year. And it's all sodden, muddy and prone to fall apart into soggy shards at the first touch.

When I was a little girl in Wilmington, Delaware, there would always be a day in March that was warm and wet. You could smell the earth warming up and the promise of flowers, soon, soon. Back then, I loved spring. This weekend I remembered why. I went home to visit and there were five grape hyacinths and two daffodils in my mother's front yard.

This morning, the traffic circle at Marshfield and 50th has some bulbs peeping out of the ground, but it will be weeks before they flower. Even at 48 degrees there's no promise of spring in the air. Nothing but the gray chill that lasts until May.

It's the worst season of Chicago, bar none. And nothing makes an ugly Chicago neighborhood look uglier than spring.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

One Big Win, One Still in Doubt

First, not on the electoral front--Dawn's dad got his job back! He went back to work yesterday. They also won back pay for the week they were suspended from their jobs. Whoo-hoo!

And, I'm sorry to say the jury is still out on whether my pal Esther Golar gets to keep her seat.

Here's what the Sun-Times had to say a few minutes ago:

District 6 Updated: 3:38 p.m.
78.9% of precincts reporting

Darryl Smith 3,245 38.6%
Esther Golar 3,240 38.6%
Samuel Bunville 1,332 15.9%
Keith Kysel 583 6.9%

So I take it that purchasing the services of Joe from Coleman's office was too expensive. And I take it I must have misheard his turnout for Pat Bailey. Maybe he said 4400. Maybe I was high from the glue on the envelopes.

Esther's campaign manager, a nice Irish guy, assured us last night that she had it in the bag when John Daley called to tell us the 11th ward results, where she picked up over 1000 votes and trounced the opposition. The CM opined that even if the other wards were close contests, this would be enough to take her over the top. Well, there's still about a quarter of the precincts yet to come in and the 11th has failed to keep her on top. Ouch. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Primary Day

Well, when I went to Richards High to vote this morning, my friend the Democratic judge told me I was about the 10th person to vote. He said about 50 percent of the eligible voters turned out in the 04 general election (that's comparable to national, right??), but as usual with a primary they expect a low turnout today. Polls close in less than half an hour.

I've decided somewhat against my better judgment to go ahead and tell you all about my experiences with Esther Golar's run to get elected to her currently appointed seat as state representative in Illinois' 6th District. Esther has been active on the Neighborhood Housing Services board, which is how I know her. When our previous state rep. Patricia Bailey, was found not to be living in the district, she was forced out and Esther was appointed to replace her. That happened since the new year, I believe. So now Esther is running for the seat.

In a boring primary, her race has been pretty live. Originally there were seven candidates, but at least three dropped out. The only ones I've heard much about besides Esther are Darryl Smith and Sam Bunville. The buzz I heard (if I recall right, so this is rumor) is that Smith is allied with Englewood activist Hal Baskin, who has run for alderman unsuccessfully a couple of times. Rumor also has it that he has ties to some less than savory groups in the hood but I think everybody slings those allegations around at election time and I don't know the truth or falsity of it at all.

Esther is the only candidate I'm aware of who has personally made an appearance in our part of the neighborhood. This is something I'm pretty concerned about because I feel like our part of the world is neglected by most of the aldermen who have pieces of it, since their main bases are to the east in Englewood, Woodlawn, etc. Esther, who doesn't speak Spanish, put in time at two Spanish-language Masses this month to be introduced to congregations where we have no idea how many voters there are. (That's true in the black churches, too, but for different reasons.) Anyway, it was clear to me from the git-go that she was my candidate in this race.

So I've been doing some volunteer work for her in my spare time--mostly stuffing and addressing envelopes. I was in the office the weekend before last during an interesting strategy session with the get-out-the-vote guy from Alderman Shirley Coleman's office. He explained that he's interested in making sure there's as high a turnout as possible in this election, even though aldermen aren't in the race this year, because high turnout means a challenger would need more signatures to get on the ballot the next time she has to run. He apparently delivered over 44,000 votes for Bailey in the previous election and was confident he could pull off the same level of support for Esther.

"Let's see how much they charge us," said one of Esther's advisors after he left. I have no idea what the price tag was for that. Esther had some backing from other pols--from being around the office I know state Senator Rickey Hendon sent some cash her way from his war chest--and a friend who checked the campaign finance database informs me she had the big bucks in this race, which didn't surprise me. For once I'm not fighting the machine.

In fact, I'll be at the campaign office tonight to watch the returns. My buddy the Dem judge, who put in more time for Esther than I did, may not be there, though. He's been up since 3 a.m. and there were some snafus getting the new balloting system to work, so he's not sure how long he'll have to stay after the polls close. Gotta say I'm not too fond of the new ballots--no privacy since they are so big and the judge watches you scan it into the machine. I just hope it read properly.

Now that I live in a ward with low turnout, I wonder how closely the alderman's office looks at the returns. Will they be able to tell a north lakefront independent moved into the ward and didn't follow the alderman's sample ballot? Probably. I wonder if that will exacerbate the trouble with getting the streetlights, garbage,, etc. It's like living in a time warp down here. But at least I don't think anybody was voting often...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Slam Dancing for Jesus

That's what we were doing at Su Casa last night. Every Sunday around 8 p.m., workers and the occasional visitor (like yours truly) get together for prayer and reflection. Sometimes it's quiet and candle-y, but last night was basically a sing-a-long.

We sang a bunch of spirituals. Stephanie has a great voice for them. Mark knows quite a repertoire and had us all going. We did a few Taize chants because they're easy. One person was rather wedded to a hymnal and the rest of us were trying to pry us out of that into whatever common songs we all knew by heart or could pick up quickly.

I learned three new ways to sing "Amazing Grace," including to the tune of "Gilligan's Island." I dare you to try it yourself. I think it also works with that great 70s hit, "Peaceful Easy Feeling," which is truly hilarious!

Former St. Francis worker Mary Kay Brennan, who was visiting (yeah!) requested "Finlandia," highly appropriate the night after the peace march in Chicago.

And we wrapped up with the big finish of "Lord of the Dance" which got Mark on his feet doing something between Irish and Russian dancing, which rapidly evolved into Mark and Stephanie slamming with the occasional assist from me, despite the tendonitis in my left foot. Hey, you can always hop on the other one!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dawn's Dad on TV

Well, given that Dawn's dad got interviewed on cable TV yesterday (Azteca, a Spanish-language cable channel), I guess I'll out him. Juan Garcia spoke on Azteca yesterday and had his mug splashed all over Univision and the front page of this morning's Hoy (the Tribune's Spanish-language daily paper). If you see Hoy today, he's the guy on the left in the back wearing a green t-shirt and jacket and helping to hold up the banner.

Juan and his coworkers have found themselves a kick-ass lawyer, Jose Oliva, from the Interfaith Workers' Rights Center, and they held a press conference yesterday. They have a meeting with company management today, who were quoted in this morning's Hoy saying this all came from "a misunderstaning between supervisors and employees" ('un malentiendo entre supervisores y empleados." They have a meeting with management right now (started at 12:30 p.m.). Let's hope this all gets settled and everybody goes back to work.

Last night I went by the Garcia's old place (the apartment) and sat down to watch the telenovela Alborada with the missis. Juan came in later with a 12-pack of Corona and two bags of Mexican baked goodies to celebrate. They had taped the Univision afternoon broadcast so I got to see him standing in the back.

We're having dinner at my house on Saturday night, featuring Mexican-Irish chili. That would be chili with green, red and orange peppers in it! Let's hope it's a "you got your job back" celebration. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More March & Fallout

The good news about the march was that somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people showed up. That's the police and the organizers' estimates, respectively. Usually splitting it down the middle gives you something about right, so let's say 300,000 folks showed up.

Now here's the bad news. Dawn's dad may be getting fired over it. He and all the other folks working at the factory went Friday, despite being told Thursday night that anyone who went would get the axe. No one has received official termination letters yet. It sounds like the official company staff, including Dawn's dad, may be able to stay on, but the company wants to dump the day labor folks who were working there and chose to march. The company employees are saying they won't stay unless everyone gets their jobs back. I don't know how this will shake out, but it was pretty rough sitting with Dawn and her parents on folding chairs and large buckets in their new house, with dust all over the floor and white paint drying on the walls, wondering whether they're going to be able to make the mortgage payments.

I pitched the story to a reporter friend of mine (won't say which one yet) and am trying to get to a labor lawyer. I think if the company really wants to fire them they can, but I'm hopeful that a bilingual lawyer could put the fear of God in the management and shelve the whole dispute. If any of you readers have any leads on advocates who could help, please post. I've sent an email to a buddy at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, but you can imagine they are swamped with organizing stuff now and who knows when I'll get a response. Thanks for any tips.

Friday, March 10, 2006

This is what democracy looks like! Esta marcha hoy!

March Update

The English language news media in Chicago is finally catching on that this will be a big deal. My colleage and I went to the gym this morning and she saw a spot on the local news showing the route--from Union Park at Ashland and Lake, down to Jackson, then across Jackson Boulevard eastbound to Federal Plaza.

Buses are coming in from all over the Midwest. Organizers have no idea how many people will show--estimates are ranging from 50,000 to 500,000. It's a warm, sunny day, so I'd bet high.

Rosa called this morning. They're going. Junior and his bro are calling in sick to school. I bet half the kids at Chavez call in sick today. Big Picture students are allowed to leave early to go if they have a note from their parents. Dawn is supposed to call me at the office when she gets to Federal Plaza. I may jump on the Green Line at lunchtime to ride past the park and get a look at the crowd from above.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Persuading the Man

I can't remember if I posted this to the blog before, but for a while I've been kind of wondering what I'm doing down here in Back of the Yards. I read about the young college kids who moved into Uptown back in the 60s to organize the poor white Appalachians there to fight The Man. On the one hand, I'm not so down with the "I'm here to organize you" mentality. On the other, they had a vision of where they were going, and sometimes that's a good thing. After months of stumbling around, I was feeling like I lacked purpose.

Well, thanks to Rep. Sensenbrenner and his heinous anti-immigration bill, I no longer lack purpose in my neighborhood. Dawn called me last night to ask if I would help her write a letter to the management at her dad's factory, asking to let the workers off on Friday afternoon to attend the pro-immigration march. So she came over and we worked out a first draft together. Her dad called in the middle of it saying that the floor manager had threatened to fire anybody who didn't show up for work on Friday. She told him the story I heard from Little Village, where a group of workers volunteered to come in Saturday at regular, not overtime pay, to make up the lost time. They may hold that idea in reserve as a Plan B strategy.

Anyway, Dawn and I wrote a very polite letter in which we pointed out the bill would increase penalties on employers who hire undocumented workers (i.e. possibly hit the employers in their wallet) and requested a chance for the workers to make their views known publicly. I don't know that it will have any effect but I'm really happy to be able to lend some of my talents to a project they organized, instead of trying to get them to do something that was on my agenda.

Projections for attendance at tomorrow's rally and march are up to 100,000. I think that would be the largest demonstration here in my 16 years of residence. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Suspected Drug Drop

You know, I'm a real idiot when it comes to spotting drug activity. For all the years I have spent in rough neighborhoods, I'm really not too clued in to what the guys on the corner are actually doing. I remember I was out on the West Side one day a few years ago and a young man walked up to me and said, "Blow? Blow?"

"No thanks," i said, and kept walking. Honestly, I had not the faintest notion what he was asking me. I thought maybe he wanted a blow job and couldn't figure out for the life of me why he thought I might give him one.

It took a few days for the slang to register. "Oh, blow!" I thought to myself on the bus. "Powder cocaine!! I'm a white lady so I don't want rock. Perhaps I want blow."

I have very occasionally seen money change hands, but have never actually seen the stuff out on the street. Still haven't done that, but I lurched a few steps closer last night.

Ironically, I was on my way home from Chavez Elementary, where a yellow legal paper stuck to the fence proclaimed: "CAPS Meeting Canceled." As I walked down the block south of the viaduct, I saw a huge black pickup truck blocking the street. One African American man was bent down and sticking his hand up against the door of the house like he was putting something there. Another one was on his cell phone on the sidewalk. I nearly ran into him for staring across the street (smart...not!)

"Hello," he said. Quite politely. Not in the least intimidating.

I kept walking very fast, head fixed straight ahead. Yes, I did call 911 when I got inside. Probably should have called the district tactical officers. I may yet.

Alberto told me last night he's seen that black truck around, too.

Monday, March 06, 2006

La Lucha Continua

about immigration, that is. The Archdiocese has a big campaign on to encourage elected officials to find more just solutions than building a wall on the Mexican border. They are not explicitly supporting the Kennedy-McCain bill, but pro-immingration analysts pretty much agree that that is the best proposal out there right now, from what I hear. It creates a guest worker program and provides additional visas to reunite families separated by immigration status. Here's what Ted himself has to say about his bill:

Anyway, yesterday there were big card campaigns going on at Holy Cross and St. Joe's. Unfortunately, they weren't the most highly organized. The college kids at Holy Cross are taking over this weekend to make sure people know who their US Congressman is, and not just to send them to Luis Gutierrez, who already is on their side of the issue. I think I'll have to do this for St. Joe's because more of us probably live in Dan Lipinski's district. Someone other than me had heard about Democrats voting for the nasty Sensenbrenner bill in the house, that would build a wall and criminalize anyone who helped an undocumented immigrant. The story was that some Dems who supported the bill (Lipinski and even Jan Schakowsky-ouch!!) did so knowing it would die in the Senate and getting some Republican votes on some project of theirs in return. The nuance I picked up last night was that this vote was supposed to insulate them from right-wing heat. Well, now they've pissed off at least some of their base instead. Oops!

There's a big march on Friday, which organizers hope will be at least as big as the one last summer (see July posts). So at least 40,000 or more.

Political Doings

It's primary season in Chicago and the 6th district state rep race (mine) is hotter than most this year. Our former state rep, Patricia Bailey was forced out of the seat when it was discovered she didn't live in the district. I think I mentioned before that the person appointed to take her place is someone I know from Neighborhood Housing Services.

So, State Representative Esther Golar (D-6) has at least three challengers, none of whom I'd ever heard of before. Her campaign office is around the corner from my house, so I've been in to address envelopes, etc. While I was there Saturday, Esther herself came by in the middle of the afternoon, after a morning of door knocking. Within five minutes, she was mopping the white-tiled office floor.

"We've got to keep this looking nice," she said.

I teased her. "Esther, how many state reps do you know who mop their own office floors?"

"Not many," she said with a smile.

The Return of Mr. Married

Yep, he's back. Now he's a couple of blocks north of the train tracks. I was walking up to Holy Cross Church on Saturday when he came out of his new front door.

"Hello," he said. He looks a lot older in just a few months. That tends to happen. When bad things happen to families around here and they get poorer, they tend to move east of Ashland or south of 51st. Mr. Married y familia did the latter. He works in construction, under the table, so sometimes he has a lot of work and sometimes he doesn't. Guess he does now. They just moved in their new place a week ago, he told me.

"Where are you going?" he asked me.

"To Holy Cross. There's a party," I said.

"See you."

I plumb forgot to try to show off the Spanish I have acquired since he left. Probably just as well. And definitely just as well he's a few blocks north.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Retro Ash Wednesday

Fr. Emil said Mass this morning at St. Joe's. He's the new priest from Poland who is Mr. Miracle in our parish since he actually speaks all three languages. He's Polish, learned English, and came here straight from six months of language study in Spain, if I recall correctly.

It was a larger crowd than usual this morning, with better representation from all language sectors, and a special guest appearance by two Catholic Workers, so I even had people to sit with. The only people I expected to see and didn't were the guys from Port Ministries. My buddy Joseph was there with his sons but I didn't get to go peace him because they kept the peace so short.

Peace was short because we had imposition of ashes in addition to Communion. Here's where the retro part comes in. As a post-Vatican II Catholic, I've always received ashes from a priest who dug his thumb in the ash and then marked the sign of the cross on my forehead. Today, Fr. Emil put little mounds of ashes right around everyone's hairline. I'd never seen it done that way before.

In the office ladies' room later this morning, one of my colleagues told me that in fact that is the very old-school way ashes were imposed pre-Vatican II. But that was usually for men, since women wore veils. Women got the thumbprint cross on the forehead, men got the pile of ashes in their hair (or on their bald spot, as happened to Joseph). Now that we don't have to wear veils, I guess in Poland everybody gets them the same way.

By the way, I also got to eat an awesome kolacky, probably homemeade, in the St. Joe's rectory after 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday. For those who don't know, kolacky is the name of a Polish Fat Tuesday treat. It's basically a doughnut dusted with powdered sugar and filled with jam, often raspberry. I'm often skeptical of raspberry jam-filled doughnuts, but this jam was not too sweet and tasted like some real fruit went into it way back in the beginning of the process. If I couldn't have a beignet, a kolacky was probably the next best thing!

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