Activists and city residents packed the Chicago Temple Building on Wednesday evening to push back against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's fiscal policies, which have led to budget cuts and an ongoing state budget impasse.
Tracey Abman, associate director of AFSCME Council 31, kicked off the night with a spirited attack on Rauner's administration, particularly targeting his decisions on how to allocate state funds.
Abman said the state is "broke on purpose," adding that Rauner is the reason why the state is broken. The audience erupted into a chorus of boo's at the mention of the governor's name.
"He's proposing another budget for next year with even more budget cuts, never mind we don't have one this year," said Abman.
She went on to say that while Rauner is slashing the budget in areas that hurt most Illinoisans, he's shielding and "coddling" the rich.
"He never asks rich people or big corporations to pay more," said Abman. "He's hurting Illinois families and students because he won't ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share."
A younger member of the panel, Todd St. Hill of the Black Youth Project 100, said the U.S. has worked against minorities since they arrived, and what we are seeing in budget cuts today is the legacy of said racism.
"In American society, cuts to things like Medicare, housing, mental health services, and public education has a damaging and often traumatic effect on black and brown people," St. Hill said.
St. Hill then drew a correlation between the need for state and city workers to fight back against Rauner and the need for young minorities to fight back against police brutality. He called for the defunding of police, saying the funds should be reallocated to other state and city services, eliciting thunderous applause.
In one of the most stirring speeches of the evening, Darren Martin, of the Chicago State University Student Government Association, told the audience about school classrooms that use textbooks that are up to 10 years old.
To illustrate how these dated textbooks can adversely affect a student, Martin referenced Pluto as an example of the perils of using old, outdated school books. Recently, it was determined that Pluto isn't actually a planet proper, but a dwarf planet, meaning there are only eight planets in our solar system.
"What if you're reading a book that still says Pluto is a planet, and you're asked how many planets there are," asked Martin. "Some students may still say nine. That's a travesty"
Another young activist, high school senior and Chicago Student Union member, Nidalis Burgos, explained how she mobilized students in her school to perform a walkout protest using social media.
"This walkout was against not only the budget cuts at the school, but at budget cuts across the state," said Burgos. "With this, we showed the unelected Chicago school board, the governor, and the mayor, that we're not going to sit down and do nothing."
The final speaker, Karen Lewis, received a standing ovation as she took the stage.
Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said that Rauner treats the state like a hedge fund, making cuts without regard for who may be affected.
"They go in and they turn companies around by stripping out their assets," explained Lewis. "Privatizing their workforce, if they even keep them. That's the way these people think."
Rev. Jesse Jackson also attended the event, and spoke to Progress Illinois about the effect the budget cuts have had on the public.
"The one percent has provoked anger amongst the bottom 99," said Jackson. "People are not going away until there is some democratizing of our economy."
In an attempt to look on the bright side of a grim situation, Jackson noted how hard times have a way of transcending racial and cultural barriers.
"We all look amazingly similar in the dark," said Jackson. "We're fighting for the light together."