Why is Chicago so difficult, so apathetic, etc.

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I am having a really hard time getting people motivated to do things in this city. I read about the energy, enthusiasm and creativity in other cities and I feel incredibly jealous, depressed and frustrated. I am from Chicago, I've lived here for most of my life and it breaks my heart to see the apathy and lethargy go on and on and on.

-- J.Yes (janeyes@bust.com), March 13, 2002


Also, I feel that Chicago's terrible racial, ethnic and economic polarization has a lot to do with it. It just seems that power and influence (politically, culturally, economically) is concentrated on the North side by a bunch of Big Ten graduates who infect everything and who want nothing to do with anyone from anywhere else in the city. Also, this city is huge and sprawling, geographically. It isolates us. It's also a transient place where people come from elsewhere and have zero commitment to the place - mainly, this applies to the middle-class. The working-class and poor aren't moving around too much.

-- J.Yes (janeyes@bust.com), March 13, 2002.

Yeah, but see: My parents are from the south side, I'm from the south suburbs, and that's not the complete picture. Those are just a bunch of alpha males who think they represent the whole thing, and who try to intimidate people who 'don't fit'. And of course this stereotype is very useful to 'liberals' on the north side who don't want to get involved with anything outside the immediate periphery of the Loop. Part of what bothers me is this perception that the south side, or white people on the south side, are all that. I think the fragmentation is based on *fear*, which is a matter of illusion rather than reality.

The south side is, like, 2/3 of the city if you look at a map.

I mean, my community has something like 13 gay bars.

I don't like saying that things 'just are' that way, because it's kind of accepting that things can never change. Whereas I know that there are a lot of people who need to be reached out to, and the whole thing can change. A lot of people feel oppressed by that macho hard hat stuff that people think is the only story. I mean, when I was a kid, I learned about Saul Alinsky from people at my church who were studying his methods. You can't change it just by saying 'it's just that way.'

-- J.Yes (janeyes@bust.com), March 13, 2002.

The polarization is by design. I used to work with a lot of guys from the south side and it was so funny...'Chicago ends at 22nd street.... north of there is just lawyers and queers.... it's not even america again until you get to wisconsin'.. they'd say stuff like that all day long. It was so ridiculous. These two 'poles' have radically different personalities... it's true. The south suburbs are 'God's Country'. Beverly and all that. It's so funny.

The machine has all the brain cells on the north side tied up with money,Real Estate and non-profits. In the south side is the extreme poverty and then that's contrasted there with the heavy traditional white vote.

Sick thing is. It works for daley.

I think there is a lot going on in town. But people can't get together. Any time anything gets going that's really beautiful it get's co-opted by the same old tired leftists that have their hands in everything, but who are ultimately tied to the rhetoric leftists in the Democratic party. so it's all tied up.

But it's very comfortable for all parties. i mean everyone goes home at night and has a meal in a well built old building. Except the homeless of course. But we can ALL toss them a bagel when they get too loud.

-- (catch@all.com), March 13, 2002.

i'm not saying 'it's just that way'... but they are pretty scary guys...

-- (catch@all.com), March 13, 2002.

who cares anyway?

-- apathetic (apathetic@whocares.com), March 18, 2002.

LOL at the Beverly comment-- you hit it right on the head. I grew up there, I know all about it.

I don't have solutions to offer, just commisseration. Chicago IS really lame compared to a lot of places. Considering that it's the 3rd largest city in the US, there is very little going on here. I lived in the UK for a few years and the activist scene there is tremendous-- lots of direct actions, squats, community organizing, demos. It was disappointing to come from a place like that back to a place like Chicago, where there is very little going on.

I wish I had a solution. The problem is so big though, it's way beyond a quick fix. There have been some good points made about why this city is the way it is, but I wish I knew how to change it.

-- Jen (jennn325@hotmail.com), March 18, 2002.

I've noticed that's the general sentiment around most places around the country (my town sucks,) and i've lived in a variety of different environments. People's discontent with their hometown is what causes them to flock to the "meccas" like Frisco, Eugene, Portland, and these days Philadelphia. If only people would realize if they would stay put they could accumulate the numbers to emulate the other cool shit going on in other cities. I'm a recent transplant to Chicago and compared to other places i've seen, chicago has its shit together. and then again, compared to OTHER places, it's not very well organized. let's put chicago on the map. mike - edelweisspirate@aol.com

-- Mike p. (edelweisspirate@aol.com), March 18, 2002.

Mike P.-- I appreciate what you're saying. I guess it is all relative-- there will always be someplace worse, right? ;) I'm sure it's true that the grass is always greener on the other side and that people tend to complain about their hometown-- but the thing is, I think Chicago really IS lacking in comparison with other places I've lived. Especially for a city this size. I never felt the frustration that I often feel here in other (even smaller) cities I've lived in. I have done organizing both here and in other places and it's much more difficult here. That doesn't really happen here. I think the point made about the racial and economic polarization is right-- and the city is SO big and spread out, it makes it difficult for things to come together.

For example, in DC and San Francisco and New York there have been fairly large, successful Reclaim the Streets demos over the past few years...why has there never been one in Chicago? There was one in Naperville last year I know, but never in the city proper. Somehow it just doesn't happen here.

I hate to gripe though. It's counterproductive because it just feeds into the feelings of apathy....I want to inspire people, not depress them! It's too easy to sit back and reminisce about the good old days and how much better it was somewhere else. I feel like this city has so much potential, I just wish I (and other people) could tap into it.

-- Jen (jennn325@hotmail.com), March 19, 2002.

People in Chicago LIKE being under control. They like the sense of Big Brother. There are freedom minded people, but those ranks are so infiltrated with wannabee big brothers that they can't get anything done. The DEAL is what rules chicago.. even in 'radical' politics.

-- dd (dd@dd.com), March 19, 2002.

i think mike p. made a good point. i am new to chicago as well. i had always fealt that the large city i grew up in was aching with apathy and other problems, yet i came here and some individuals pointed out some positive sides to the old city. of course, being here, i have noticed some positive sides in Chicago which my home city was lacking. you must build upon the strengths.

personally i have not been in Chicago long enough to have opinions why it is so apathetic.

maybe repression very much scares people.


-- derry (snegretis@yahoo.com), March 19, 2002.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. It's part geographic, part cultural. We also get lots and lots of people who live here for a few years...and leave. No commitment. The neighborhoods and parts of the city don't seem to be in good communication with each other. We don't have a good network of alternative media that can spread news from one part of the city to another.

There is a cultural conservativism about Chicago that I think has a lot to do with the way information and ideas circulate in the city...

Recently, I talked to some people from the 'burbs who were pissed off about Bush. But they were talking about how exciting it is that 'protesting' is back in style, etc., and I thought, 'where on earth have you been for the past five years?'

Also, it's just this Midwestern cultural thing - people tend to be very prosaic, they tend to stick to formulas and do things the same old way. There are some bullshit 'populist' notions to the effect that to do something creative is 'elitist', that the 'masses' won't get it.

Even people who think they're doing something different...I'm not going to name names or anything, but...they've been making those damn puppets and walking on stilts for more than thirty years now, it's time to come up with some new stuff. I mean, cities like New York and London - they're just in a better position for circulation of ideas. Lots of art and cultural institutions and things there.

People say they don't know what the solution is. Well, I've been here for most of my life and I've seen bad times and good times here. Good things happen when people bring their own excitement and energy to others. You just have to go out and do something, even if it's just you and two other people, and not sit around waiting for the chosen date of mass action. Another thing is that people have to not be afraid to do things in communities outside of the traditional zones, like Wicker Park. I do see some cliquishness in activism that disturbs me - I don't think that people realize that they're doing it, but they are.

-- Jane Yes (janeyesxx@bust.comxyz), March 19, 2002.

And I agree, Jenn - that always baffled me. Why a Reclaim the Streets in Naperville but not Chicago? Although I think it's great that Naperville has one.

-- Jane Yes (janeyesxx@bust.com), March 19, 2002.

It's my personal view that there are several reasons for our collective inability to get people in Chicago to act in the face of a war without end and increased domestic repression here at home. There seems to be a real lack of creativity when it comes to responding to emergency situations. An example being plans by one of the two ant-war coalitions to hold an emergency rally at the Federal Building when (not if) the U.S. starts bombing another country. This is not a very creative response when innocent lives are being lost. During the Vietnam War, people from Chicago dyed the Chicago River red----not green and blockaded the Eisenhower Expressway which let to a series of similiar actions across the U.S.. Those were creative & dramatic responses to carnage by the U.S. government. There is nothing wrong with mass marches but the left has got to "up" our level of creativity in regards to protests.

Every city that I'm familiar with also has the same problem that we in Chicago have with meeting being packed by leftist sect parties and their front groups to get the outcome THEY desire. It might be rather interesting if someone called these forces on this tactic and asked those reprresenting front groups just to id themselves honestly.

It sad to say but after a long time in "left"/progressive circles, I'm very depressed about the current state of the affairs in Chicago.

-- (dare2struggle@aubDinension.com), March 19, 2002.

At that 400-people anti-war meeting, we all had to come up with one action, and there were some really good ideas there. But none of them were done, because the anti-war coalition(s) were basically either dominated by hoary old socialists or the ecumenical types. Also some people who were stuck in the sixties. You know, the same old folk songs and candlelight vigils and all of that crap.

You know what one of the 'Trots' once said to me? "I think that sometimes we can be too creative." They think that "the masses" are not going to "understand" that. I agree that they need to be called on their crap, because some of those people have come to meetings and completely dominated. Nodding politely and indulging them like a bunch of babies just isn't gonna cut it. Sometimes I think that their real guiding light is Freud, because their favorite tactic is projection "you really don't want to stop this war, do you?"

I'm thinking of starting a brainstorming thread for creative actions. Any ridiculous idea you've had that you've been afraid to share.

-- Jane Yes (janeyes@bust.comxx), March 19, 2002.

I haven't travelled that much, so I'll accept your thesis that Chicago activists are somehow frozen. I think apathetic is the wrong word. People care but are challenged by past experience of police brutality or red squad machiavellian dirty tricks. I went to an anti- war event at the Art Institute last October expecting a packed auditorium. the weather was rainy but not bad. The place wasn't even half full.Nessie, the California commentator on the secret history of Scamerica, not long ago remarked that the only successful antiwar coalition must be a leftwing-rightwing coalescence. In other words, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is not an advocacy of fascism, it is a acknowledgement of realpolitik. Think about this.

-- Steve Mitchell (kogunde@inwave.comyour email), March 19, 2002.

I like the idea of a seperate area for creative action ideas but the problem is that very few of the people "involved" in either anti-war coalition appear to be utilizing this great site. You're comment about the "Trots" is on target and the same is mostly true for the RCP/WWP/ etc.. They exist solely by "using" issues/causes to grow their own ranks and advance their own agenda. The religious forces like 8th Day and AFSC appear to mean well enough but the folk songs/prayers are not going to attract very many people to enlist in the struggle. There are vast numbers of people that could be brought into the struggle if "we" were creative and didn't have forces manipulating issues for their own organizations political agenda.

PS: I apologize for the wrong e-mail add in my first post & the typos. I've been up since 3:30 am ! I need sleep.

-- (dare2struggle@subDimension.com), March 19, 2002.

I'd be interested in a thread on creative actions. Maybe we'd inspire each other a bit.

-- Jen (jennn325@hotmail.com), March 20, 2002.

By the way, Jane Yes, I think you made a good point when you said

"Good things happen when people bring their own excitement and energy to others. You just have to go out and do something, even if it's just you and two other people, and not sit around waiting for the chosen date of mass action."

I can admit that I have sat around on my butt before waiting for someone else to come up with ideas. This is a generalization, but I think that activists often get caught up in a sort of glamorous vision of what their activism should be-- people envision huge mass actions and whatnot-- and forget that smaller, more community oriented, less dramatic action is really important too. I am the first to admit that I have been guilty of this type of thinking. It's hard to break out of that mold.

Numbers are important, of course, and large, extremely visible mass actions are vital. But the small things we do to put our beliefs into action are also important and necessary. This is something that I have started thinking about more and more, recently.

-- Jen (jennn325@hotmail.com), March 20, 2002.

there can't be too many political magazines... things you just xerox and lay out all over the place... that's just good ol'fashion d.i.y. spirit. you don't need a ton of people to do that and you don't have to invite or tolerate trots/machiavellians. people will read what you have and then contact you when they like it... the next thing you know you have a collective.

-- rob (cananwil@panax.com), March 20, 2002.

yeah, i struggle with all this too. i can tell you i hate having energy stripped into one or two very predictable directions. i think the best thing is to just try all sorts of ideas out, and see what seems to be working. i miss that sponteity i had when i was with a few bunch of people, and we didn't know all the history, and no one thoght we would amount to much, and we just tried all sorts of things, and it was a big old rush every time we tried something. now we do all this analysis before-hand, and you got these total asshole control freaks sapping everyone's energy, and its not fun. but it can be! good golly almighty! lets make it fun again, spirit moving, fired up, tell it to the mountain fun. sometimes think we can all do our various ideas, and then come back and tell everyone about them. someone from Depual did that on indy media, and that was cool.

power to the goodness. power y'all power. just do your shit. my shit would be, um lemme see, well, just talking to people on the street. there's that my grand idea. yours?

-- (buster@fu.com), March 21, 2002.

Well, I went onto Indymedia, and I saw that St. Louis had a bigger anti-Bush protest than we did. Shame, shame.

-- J.Yes (janeyes@bust.comxx), March 22, 2002.

Jane-- that's sad, but I can believe it. At this point I am beyond being surprised. Most places have bigger events and demos than Chicago.

-- Jen (jennn325@hotmail.com), March 22, 2002.

during the gulf war we used to shut down lake shore drive. the first night it was with a large crowd... after that we did it over and over again with just a handful of people.

-- me (me@me.com), March 25, 2002.

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