On Nov. 24, more than 200 people came to Lake Street Church to see “Inequality for All,” the documentary featuring Robert Reich. The screening had been so well publicized by peace and justice committees and other organizations – the Unitarian Church of Evanston, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, St. Nicholas Parish and Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA) – that some people were turned away because of fire regulations.
People watched attentively as Mr. Reich outlined how the middle class in this country has been undermined since the late 1970s. Graphics showing the stagnation of wages for middle-income people while the incomes of top executives skyrocketed were particularly telling. Mr. Reich showed how periods of prosperity for all parts of the population coincided with reduced inequality, union growth, increases in educational opportunities, and higher tax rates on the very wealthy. His anecdotes provided some moments of humor in what was a very sobering presentation.
Rev. Steve Van Kuiken took a number of questions and comments from the audience. David Borris, president of CAPA, invited everyone to a special MLK public meeting titled “Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King’s Radical Vision for Economic Equality,” to take place at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 19 at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church at 8235 South Shore Drive in Chicago. Information and registration for this meeting are available at iiron.org/MLK or thepeopleslobbyusa.org/MLK.
As people departed, petitions supporting a progressive income tax in Illinois and handouts providing information about the Trans-Pacific Partnership were distributed.
A smaller group met on Dec. 7 to share their reactions to the film, give reports from regional organizations and offer proposals for Evanston. The comments centered around the causes and effects of the current disparity in income: The current situation is not an inevitable result of impersonal forces; it has come about through concerted efforts by the 1 percent and the corporate elite. “These efforts have affected all levels of government. Income disparity is really power disparity”; “the public needs to take back control of the political process”; “we need to do something now because conditions will only get worse”; and “we need to put both our money and our feet into campaigns to produce change.”
Sheila Culkin of Democracy in Action Chicago (DIAC), described the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement being negotiated by trade representatives from 14 nations and corporations. She said the agreement, if passed in its present form, would enable corporations to sue nations (and internal units of government) based on claims that internal laws and regulations diminished their profits. The Obama Administration is asking Congress for “fast-track authorization,” which would preclude a detailed examination of the proposed agreement. DIAC is working to persuade Congressional representatives to vote against fast track.
Andrew Rowlas described two other DIAC initiatives, in conjunction with Fair Economy Illinois. They are proposals requiring publicly listed corporations to provide information to the public and the legislature on their actual income tax payments and the tax provisions they use to calculate their tax liability and opposition to the newly proposed regulations for fracking, on which the Department of Natural Resources is currently holding hearings.
Sharon Sanders of the Coalition to Reverse Citizens United described recent successful efforts to get the Illinois legislature to pass an advisory resolution calling for the reversal of the Citizens United decision.
Toni Gilpin and Ginny Holbert suggested creating an Inequality Agenda for Evanston, and developing a list of major changes in City policy that would reduce inequality here. The agenda could become a basis for organizing widely and for bringing proposals to the City Council and even supporting candidates for the council, based on their support for the agenda.
Dale Griffin (on behalf of the Community Renewal Society) described some of the issues CRS has been working on, including a campaign for a progressive income tax in Illinois; petitions were circulated. Contact Dale at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The group plans to meet again at 2 p.m. on Jan. 11 at Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St.