Gun Violence Prevention Advocates Rally for Congressional Action

By Emily Gray Brosious | Published at Gapers Block | Aug. 22, 2013

Demonstrators gathered Wednesday evening at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago to rally for gun violence prevention. The event, which was coordinated by volunteers with Organizing for Action, featured activists and community members who spoke out about the harmful consequences of gun violence and called on Congress to take action and support commonsense gun violence prevention legislation.

Chicago demonstrators demand tighter gun-control legislation. | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious
Chicago demonstrators demand tighter gun-control legislation. | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious

Here in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn recently passed a law requiring background checks on all gun sales. “While this is a great step in reducing guns entering the illegal market, we need a strong national law to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” said Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Carolyn Murray, who lost her 19-year-old son when he was fatally shot on November 29, 2012 in Evanston, said it’s time for everyone to stand up against gun violence and urged a united front–clergy, parents, politicians, and police–to “end this senseless killing of our kids.”

As tragic gun violence continues to shake our communities and the country at large, the need for national, comprehensive gun control has never been more obvious, organizers explained. Polls show that a majority of Americans now support tighter gun control measures, and demonstrators agreed that Congress must seize this opportunity to pass gun violence prevention laws that keep guns out of dangerous hands and make our neighborhoods safer.

Carolyn Murray, who lost her 19-year-old son to gun violence,  urges a united front to “end this senseless killing of our kids.” | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious
Carolyn Murray, who lost her 19-year-old son to gun violence, urges a united front to “end this senseless killing of our kids.” | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious

Demonstrators want to know what it will take for Congress to act on gun violence prevention. “If the will of the American people and the voices of the families affected by all these tragedies aren’t enough, what will it take?”

As one community activist, Victoria Jordan, put it, “If we can’t trust the people we vote into office to fight for us, who can we?”

Beyond implementing crucial gun violence prevention laws, Pastor Michael Neal of

Glorious Light Church spoke of the need for an integrated approach to curbing gun violence. “We must not settle for a simply reactive approach to the problem,” he said, “We should look holistically at the various ills that have caused this violence. Then, we who are able have a duty to consistently be active, serving, and supportive of the programs that bring life.”

Why Did Chicago Police Attack ALEC Protesters?

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Aug. 13, 2013 

Thousands of activists, union and faith group members, and concerned citizens rallied outside the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago this past Thursday to protest the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose 40th anniversary conference was being held inside the hotel.

Demonstrators picketed around the block for about an hour, then gathered at a soundstage to hear speakers including Rev. Jesse Jackson address the crowd. Closing remarks from a Chicago Federation of Labor representative thanked the Fraternal Order of Police for protecting the crowd and asked everyone to leave. A majority of union members, many from out-of-town, did leave at the CFL’s request. However, a smaller group of anti-ALEC activists and citizens stayed put to continue on with the protest.

It was at this point that police began moving to break up the crowd, pushing and using barricades. After a brief standoff with activists chanting on one side of the barricade and police standing on the other side, police opened the barricade and surged into the crowd, knocking protesters to the ground. The commanding officer, Alfred Nagode, was seen repeatedly striking an activist in the face and head. Several others were beaten by police officers before a handful of arrests were made.

Aaron Cynic, an activist and writer at Chicagoist on hand at the anti-ALEC protest, witnessed police rush the crowd seemingly unprovoked. He said the beatings and arrests appeared to be targeted and pre-planned.

Laura Sabransky, another activist and anti-ALEC protester reports very little communication from police before they rushed the crowd. They did not get on a bullhorn ordering people to leave.

“Specific individuals were secretly selected as targets and attacked,” David Orlikoff, an anti-ALEC activist and member of Occupy Chicago, alleges.

Orlikoff, himself, was targeted and arrested about half an hour later while he was leaving the protest. As he walked along the sidewalk on the south side of Monroe, an officer snatched him from behind, pulled him into the street, cuffed him, searched him, and took his phone.

“I was completely taken by surprise and shocked and had no idea what was happening to me,” Orlikoff recounts.

He was not informed of his rights, and when he asked why he was being arrested, the arresting officer said it was for something he had done earlier, but would not elaborate. He was eventually charged with misdemeanor battery.

Orlikoff says police animosity towards anti-ALEC protesters was obvious throughout the incident. Nagode, who he describes as a “hot-head with a flaring temper,” was heard repeatedly chastising protesters for being ungrateful that they had even been allowed to walk and chant. Once inside the police wagon, he witnessed police deny medical assistance to another arrestee, a female teacher, who was having a medical emergency and begging for the inhaler inside her bag that had been confiscated. Inside the jail, he heard police verbally berate other anti-ALEC arrestees.

So what is up with this violent police crackdown on protesters at Thursday’s demonstration? To understand the police response, it is necessary to understand what anti-ALEC activists were there to protest.

For those unfamiliar with the group, ALEC is a tax exempt 501 (c)(3) organization made up of legislators, corporations, and foundations that works to promote conservative, free market, limited government ideals. It does so by drafting model bills and pushing them in state legislatures though its legislative members. ALEC’s impact on public policy goes well beyond simple lobbying. In effect, unelected corporate representatives have actually finagled positions of power within legislatures akin to those of elected representatives.

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, has criticized ALEC as a “collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators,” waging a “savage assault on democracy.”

The group boasts around 2,000 corporate members and 300 legislative members across the country. Their model legislations include right to work laws designed to do away with minimum wage, laws to create tax havens for corporations and wealthy interests, laws to push public funds from public schools to private charter schools, laws to prevent class action lawsuits from being filed against corporations and employers, laws to repeal mandated worker benefits, laws to eliminate pollution regulations and environmental protections, laws to increase for-profit prison operations, and numerous others. The controversial “stand your ground” law is also an ALEC brainchild.

Many believe that Chicago police cracked down on anti-ALEC protesters because their message directly defies the pro-business agenda of political players calling the shots in this city, chieflyMayor Rahm Emanuel. Mayor Emanuel has notoriously embraced many of ALEC’s conservative policies pushing to expand privatization and corporate reach within the city.

Cops do snatch and grab arrests to repress individuals engaged in activities confronting the legitimacy of the dominant hierarchy, Orlikoff explains. Charges distract from those activities. Police target organizers and individuals involved with the activist community, attack them, and arrest them on made-up charges to undermine the viability of political movements. Its easy for police to do and makes it much harder for protesters to get back on the street without risking harsher punishment.

Because police are the “frontline foot-soldiers” of the existing power structure, Orlikoff laments, “Anything that challenges that existing structure elicits a dangerous response from law enforcement.”

Of course, historically and presently, repressive police tactics are nothing new for Chicago’s activist community. From the first round of Occupy Chicago mass arrests back in October of 2011, to mass arrests surrounding the NATO Summit in May 2012, to last week’s anti-ALEC protest crackdowns, the Chicago Police Department appears to have a nasty habit of targeting and violating the constitutional rights of protesters based on their proletarian political beliefs.

Chicago Rail Workers Strike Against ‘Unfair Labor Practices’

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Aug. 5, 2013

Rail Service workers at Bedford Park-based Mobile Rail Solutions walked off the job this past week and are picketing at Union Pacific’s Global 1 location in Chicago to protest recent firings, which organizers say were motivated by the workers’ push to unionize.

According to Chicago IWW, from July 26 through July 29, management at Mobile Rail Solutions, which operates specialized trucks to service locomotives in rail yards around the city, illegally fired three workers and is threatening more firings in retaliation for workers’ active unionizing efforts and recent OSHA filings.

The firings came just a month after Mobile Rail workers moved to organize under the Industrial Workers of the World Union, seeking redress for workplace safety and competitive wage and benefit issues.

In response to the company’s alleged union busting tactics and refusal to reform unlawful workplace practices, workers resorted to organizing an unfair labor practices strike to protect their livelihood and their right to vote for union representation. They are demanding a meeting with Mobile Rail’s general manager to address workplace safety violations, stop the illegal firings, and reinstate the three fired workers.

A majority of Mobile Rail workers have come to the picket line and organizers expect the strike to halt locomotive servicing at the company. IWW Mobile Rail Workers Union says work stoppage will continue until someone from Mobile Rail management meets with them. In the mean-time, workers have set up a strike fund at Indiegogo.