Not Illegal, Not Obnoxious Either

Re “It’s Not Illegal to Be Obnoxious: A community activist is jailed after speaking 20 seconds too long at a Plan Commission hearing” by Ben Joravsky, September 11

I was there. Peter [Zelchenko] was not out of line. In fact, I didn’t even know he was arrested until the conclusion of the meeting, because I didn’t hear any noise in the back of the room. I heard no shouts. No obscenities.

The only obscene thing was that anyone in favor of the field was allowed to speak about how great soccer is. Nobody is denying the benefits of soccer. I want my kids to play soccer, too. And they would have been able to—in that exact spot, on grass—were it not for the attempt to privatize it.

However, the minute anyone got up to speak in opposition, we were reminded that the so-called hearing was only in regard to adherence to the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and that all our comments should be specific to that.

Of course, after our last admonishment to that effect, the meeting concluded with members again waxing poetic about soccer.

We all love soccer. That’s not the point. The double standard is.

It was really shocking to see that someone in this day and age could be arrested for simply calling it like it is.

Soccer Mom

Shame on the city. The Park District did a clout-drenched deal with the Latin School. It got found out. Citizens protested the privatization of our parks. They objected to the wealthy private school getting priority service while public schools go lacking. The city faces $400 million in deficits, the Park District face cutting 300 staffers, but yet there is money to serve the Latin School’s athletic needs. The citizens organized against overwhelming odds and got a small victory for the rule of law—only to have the process mocked by the charade of a Chicago Plan Commission proceeding where its arrogance could not suffer to be even mildly challenged. Peter was expressing what many have felt—certainly what I have felt—but the commissioners could not bear to be scolded and so Peter was arrested. Peter has taken all this in with a remarkable even temper and good humor but his treatment adds a chilling effect to the already burdensome task of calling this corrupt administration to task. Who is going to pull together the next grassroots effort to stop corruption? Will you?

Park Champion

On to the baseball stadium in Humboldt Park, the dog race track in Skinner Park, and the velodrome in...


The Spirit of ’68

Re “The Real Action in ’68” by Michael Miner, August 28

We forget that it’s not politicians but the people organized into social movements, putting pressure on those politicians and political leaders, who change and improve the world. Could you imagine the civil rights movement achieving any success without civil disobedience—without the sit-ins, without the Freedom Riders, without Rosa Parks (whose action was carefully planned in advance and carefully executed together with Martin Luther King and his organization, and who otherwise would have just gone to jail without any notice by the media or anyone else like so many outraged blacks acting on their own before she did), or without the marches.

Robert Kennedy did, in fact, incredibly, admonish the civil rights workers for using civil disobedience and told them to limit their expressions of outrage to voting. Of course the trouble was that blacks couldn’t register to vote. In general the Kennedy administration provided very little help to the civil rights effort. They feared too much alienating the southern Democrats who made up a large part of the Democratic Party and whom the Kennedys felt they needed against the Republicans and whose eventual defection sent the Democrats into a tailspin they have yet to come out of.

Thus the most liberal, leftist U.S. president since WWII was not John Kennedy, not Lyndon Johnson, not even Jimmy Carter but... Richard Nixon!

Among the other leaders of the Mobe (or “Mobilization,” as the committee which planned and organized the Democratic Convention demonstrations was called) were Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and David Dellinger. Hayden and Davis were founding members of Students for a Democratic Society, whose founding was based on Alinsky’s principles of participatory democracy (even though Alinsky, later, shortsightedly repudiated them) and whose first national project was the civil rights movement of the “Freedom Summers” and such in the south. (Abbie Hoffman went down and worked with them too, although he wasn’t SDS).

A major issue of the convention in addition to the war in Vietnam was the selection of delegates to the national conventions. Delegates were not elected by the voters in primary elections back then but through backroom deals and power brokering, particularly in the south where the “good old boys” selected one another and left the African-American population completely unrepresented.

Thus was born the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which, in defiance, elected its own delegates and sent them to the convention. It was their march that the Mobe march was seeking to hook up with downtown that day, a union that the police, wittingly or not, almost succeeded in violently preventing.

That convention was the last in which the delegates were not elected by the voters in primary elections. It would be hard to argue that this reform would have been implemented had it not been for the actions of the people in the streets at the convention. (Remember, had it not been for the tactics of the police those would have been peaceful demonstrations.) Also, had it not been for the actions of the people in the streets in the U.S. in general (climaxing, perhaps, in Chicago that summer) Nixon would not have ended the war in 1973.

History tends to give credit for the great changes and advances in society to political leaders who more often than not do the right thing very much in spite of themselves.

The people and those who organize them and spur them on, those who are really responsible for bringing the changes about, like Hoffman, Rubin, Hayden, Davis, Dellinger, and others, rarely get the credit they deserve and are often reviled. History is usually written from the perspective of the powerful and the powerful tend to hate troublemakers and rabblerousers.

Mark Saulys