2012 was, as throughout the United States, a year of deepening social movement activity in BloNo.
Last year saw the growth of several social movements in the U.S., beginning with the Wisconsin labor revolt and ending with the Occupy encampments in hundreds of cities and towns. While the Occupy movement diminished somewhat in strength this year – mostly as a result of severe police repression – 2012 saw growing social movements derive inspiration from Occupy’s non-electoral movement-building dynamic.
Challenging the Political Power of the Banks
The faith-based coalition Illinois People’s Action (IPA), based in Bloomington but part of a nationwide movement, continued working in 2012 to counteract the destructive profit-driven imperatives of Wall Street and large corporations.
The big banks – responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008 – were bailed out by the government with trillions of dollars, without conditions. Not a single top executive of the elite financial institutions has faced criminal charges for precipitating the housing foreclosure crisis. Under Obama, financial fraud prosecutions by the Department of Justice are at a 20-year low. As banks continued to pay out handsome bonuses to executives, millions of working people could not obtain the mortgage refinancing necessary to remain in their homes.
In January, MoveOn Bloomington-Normal held a protest, in conjunction with protests nationwide, calling for an investigation into the role of the big banks in the 2008 financial crisis. The activist effort pushed Obama into empowering the federal Mortgage Fraud Task Force to investigate pre-crisis financial malfeasance, announced by Obama during his 2012 State of the Union Address.
However, likely due to Obama Administration’s ties to Wall Street investment firms, the investigation quickly stalled, failing to result in a single conviction for mortgage fraud. Besides the effect millions of dollars of campaign funds could have had in determining the Administration’s priorities, Obama’s choice for Department of Justice – Eric Holder – came from a prestigious law firm that services numerous elite financial institutions. By June, Occupy Wall Street in NYC was protesting at an Obama fundraiser, criticizing the complete inaction of the “underfunded and understaffed” Mortgage Fraud Task Force.
Mike Gecan, of the Industrial Areas Foundation, summed it up succinctly: “I think what happened is what usually happens: the administration rope-a-doped. There’s no office, there’s no director, there’s no staff, there’s no space, there’s no phone.”
Activists discussed in various educational sessions how to help residents facing bank foreclosures. In a class hosted by the Common Action Free School, Jennifer Carrillo of Illinois People’s Action led a discussion of opposing unjust evictions by banks with civil disobedience tactics. In April, Illinois People’s Action (IPA) hosted with MoveOn Bloomington-Normal and Latinos United for Change a conference called the 99% Spring, where activists discussed the tactic of nonviolent direct action as an effective tool for social justice movements in confronting the overwhelming power of big business and the banks. After the conference, attendees visited the local Chase bank on Oakland Avenue, asking the bank manager to deliver a number of movement demands to Glenn Tilton, Chase Midwest Chairman.
Also in April, IPA representatives attended the Bank of America stockholder meeting, where IPA joined numerous organizations, including allies in its national umbrella organization National People’s Action, to protest the unjust policies and practices of the BofA bank. The coalition demanded that Wall Street pay its fair share in taxes, end the foreclosure crisis with mortgage refinancing of loans, and stop supporting the payday loan industry. Five local activists protested BofA both inside and outside its annual convention.
Inside the Bank of America meeting, Dawn Dannenbring-Carlson said, “I’m ready to take the fight to D.C. If the Big Banks and big corporations are going to deny their culpability for causing the economic crisis and their responsibility for helping fix it, it’s time for our government officials to hold them accountable.”
As an important part of the Illinois Make Wall Street Pay coalition, IPA had fought to insure that corporations and banks pay their fair share in taxes. The state is starved of needed revenue, while corporations dodge taxes with loopholes and give-aways. Earlier in 2012, IPA worked with allies against the multi-million tax give-away to the Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears. That campaign, unfortunately, was not successful.
Currently, IPA is working for a corporate tax disclosure law in the state – SB282, the Illinois Tax Disclosure and Responsibility Act – requiring all publicly traded corporations doing business in Illinois to disclose how much they pay in taxes. According to the Ilinois Department of Revenue, 70% of publicly traded corporations in Illinois do not pay state taxes, but currently there is no way for citizens to know what corporations are contributing.
BloNo Brings Out the Bikes
A bike movement was ignited in BloNo in 2012, sparked by the student activism surrounding a bike-to-school club at Normal Community High School.
In February, bike advocacy partners screened “With My Own Two Wheels”, a fundraiser for the non-profit World Bicycle Relief.
The NCHS school club started out by encouraging themselves and other students to ride their bicycle to school, but soon student participants were advocating for more bicycle infrastructure on the east side of Bloomington-Normal. In May, over 100 students rode to school with community leaders to draw attention to the difficulties of bicycling without bike lanes and bike paths.
The NCHS activism inspired the larger biking community, resulting in numerous efforts to improve biking in Bloomington-Normal.
The bike advocacy group, Bike BloNo, initially started to organize bicycle advocacy activities on Facebook and then began meeting to discuss how to advocate for a more bike-friendly community.
The annual Ride of Silence, which promotes safety for bicyclists on the roads, was the largest ever, drawing over 150 riders. Community activists with Bike BloNo supported a bike lane on Main Street, praising the bike lane that was deemed feasible by the McLean County Regional Planning Committee and Illinois Department of Transportation in their Main Street Transportation Feasibility Study.
Bike BloNo held meetings to discuss plans, deciding to move forward on bike lane advocacy and a bicycle-focused community cooperative. The organization spoke in favor of an east-west bicycling corridor on south edge of Normal, later persuading Normal’s town council in August to move on that project in 2013-14 budget cycle.
The Direct Democracy Project initiated BloNo Critical Mass, which in its first action supported a bike lane on Main Street, and with its monthly rides asserting the rights and safety of bicycle riders on city streets.
In just a year of intense activity, the high school students won an extension of the Constitution Trail to NCHS and Bike BloNo secured the addition of a bike corridor in southern Normal that includes bike lanes and sharrows. The movement strengthened throughout the year, with numerous groups promoting social rides, bicycle information sessions, and bicycle maintenance classes.
Peace Activists Draw Attention to Palestine
Drawing upon the work of Common Action Free School in 2011, with its series of Solidarity with Palestine classes, activists held events to discuss how to oppose Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine and support a resolution of Palestinian statehood.
In April, the Common Action Free School (CAFS) and Bloomington-Normal Coalition for Peace and Justice (BNCPJ) jointly organized a panel presentation on Palestine that drew over 30 community members. The four panelists – Josh McGowen, Dylan Hile-Broad, Bob Broad, and Rana Kunkar – shared their experiences in Palestine and provided political analyses of the occupation. Some solutions offered included community education, public pressure on politicians, and the building of a boycott and divestment campaign.
Two members of the CAFS/BNCPJ panel – Rana Kunkar and Josh McGowen – visited Palestine this year. Rana and Josh are married, and both were visiting Rana’s family living in the West Bank.
In November, Josh McGowen wrote from Palestine, commenting on the Israeli assault on Gaza as it occurred. Mr. McGowen’s article highlights the extreme authoritarian political practice of the Israeli government, which uses torture and produces political results to its liking in Palestinian elections.
Upon their return from Palestine in early December, Rana and Josh led a community discussion on Palestine, hosted jointly by CAFS and BNCPJ.
The Bloomington-Normal Coalition for Peace and Justice worked with allies opposing immoral and wasteful wars and occupation, fueled by U.S. imperialism. With the threat of a possible intervention in Iran, BNCPJ held protests and a educational class with Renegades for Peace and Common Action Free School at IWU. Dozens of BloNo peace activists attended the Chicago protests opposing imperialism under NATO, and BNCPJ and CAFS brought labor journalist Carl Finamore to BloNo to speak on the April Spring and the revolution in Egypt. Three peace groups – IWU International Studies, IWU Amnesty and BNCPJ – ended the year with an anti-war art exhibit, Windows and Mirrors lamenting war and violence, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Standing up for Immigrant Rights in BloNo
In the spring, Latinos United for Change (LUC) stepped up activity opposing the current policy of the McLean County Jail. Sheriff Emery abruptly changed course late last year, deciding to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for all foreign-born residents stopped by police officers and then hold them upon ICE request for possible deportation. The practice, called ‘ICE holds’, has had a chilling effect in the Latino community, according to Jenn Carrillo of Latinos United for Change.
McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery refused to meet with LUC on the issue in 2012. LUC – in collaboration with local coalitions including Occupy BloNo – marked May Day by protesting Sheriff Emery’s policy and the increased number of deportations in recent years. The rally began at the old courthouse and proceeded to the McLean County Sheriff’s office.
Later in 2012, LUC turned its attention to securing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Illinois, which would circumvent the ICE holds issue and bring greater security and safety for immigrant communities. With coalition partners, the group secured support for the bill from numerous Illinois politicians, and it passed the Senate in early December. The Illinois House should take up the bill in the January lame duck session.
Labor Fights Back
As the economy remains stagnant, there has been a noticeable uptick in grassroots labor struggles.
Workers have been emboldened by the Wisconsin labor uprising, the spreading Occupy Wall Street movement, and now in 2012, the Chicago teacher fightback led by the rank-and-file-oriented Chicago Teachers Union.
Rahm Emanuel, supported by the corporate “reformers”, moved forward in 2012 with the attempt to privatize swaths of the Chicago educational system. Chicago teachers fought back this year with a union-community partnership, inspiring teachers and workers throughout the country.
With a philosophy of social movement unionism and rank-and-file empowerment, the Chicago Teachers Union confronted head-on the powerful corporate assault on public education and teacher unions.
Debby Pope, veteran Chicago teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union, spoke in Bloomington to community members, as well as the Bloomington Education Association and Unit Five Education Association. Ms. Pope highlighted the union’s campaign, in coalition with community partners, for better public schools and fairness for public school teachers. Bloomington-Normal residents supported the Chicago teacher strike with activism and monetary support. Over a dozen people attended the large community rally for the teachers in September.
The Chicago teacher strike was just one epicenter of the struggle in Illinois. In 2012, numerous teacher unions went on strike, Wal-Mart warehouse workers engaged in a wildcat strike in Elwood, and government workers protested Governor Quinn at numerous public functions for his union-busting and attempts to whittle away worker pension benefits.
Business leaders in Illinois pushed forward with attempts to solve the Illinois’ financial crisis by raiding pension funds of workers. Unions of public sector workers, organized in the We Are One coalition, fought back with protests and lobby days, stalling benefit reductions and increases to the retirement age. Public sector unionists will hold rallies January 3rd and 4th, suspecting that Governor Quinn could try to pass an anti-worker pension bill during the lame duck January session.
Working for the Environment and Sustainability
The strength of BloNo’s large environmentalist community is evident on a continual basis, from the weekly farmers’ markets in Bloomington and Normal to the large Illinois Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo at Illinois Wesleyan. Added to this list of bustling activity, there were new political developments for ecological sustainability.
Local food activists, networked around organizations such as the Edible Economy and the Downtown Bloomington Farmer’s Market, started a grocery story coop called the Green Top Grocery. Still in its organizing stage, the idea behind the store is to provide healthy local food at reasonable prices and support local organic farmers. (Green Top Grocery website)
The Ecology Action Center, with over 20 years in the community, provides excellent resources for responsible environmental stewardship. This year, the EAC organized a hazardous waste collection, an extremely valuable service for the community.
Members of Vision 2020 – a local group focused on sustainability – promoted a ‘Yes’ vote municipal electricity aggregation (See Bill Rau’s article, Municipal Electricity Aggregation: Why You Should Vote Yes on the March 20 Primary.), with the twin goals of achieving lower costs for electricity and supporting wind power over polluting sources of electricity. While electricity aggregation didn’t pass in Bloomington or Normal in the April election, Town of Normal voters approved the measure in November. The Bloomington City Council resubmitted aggregation for 2013.
Vision 2020 also promoted grassroots organizing to deal with climate change and peak oil, beginning a series of lawn removal projects, promoting permaculture land use, and collaborating with Illinois People’s Action to ban fracking.
Illinois People’s Action stepped up efforts in 2012 to organize the burgeoning community opposition to fracking in McLean County and throughout Illinois.
BloNo environmentalists first became alarmed in 2011 when an Iowa gas company, Hines Production LLC, sought to ease special use permit rules for fracking operations on county land. The current rules stipulate that a public hearing be part of the process, an element of community accountability that the company sought to avoid in the future. Over 100 people attended a screening of the Josh Fox’s award-winning documentary Gaslands, organized by the Ecology Action Center and Vision 2020.
This past year, Illinois People’s Action teamed up with local environmentalists to start a grassroots campaign opposing fracking.
IPA representatives attended McLean County Land Use Committee meetings to discover that committee member George Wendt was again calling for easing county special use permit rules for oil and gas companies. IPA organized a large community presence at the September Land Use Committee meeting, with over 70 people in attendance.
Given the environmental dangers that come with fracking, Illinois People’s Action spearheaded a Ban Fracking campaign, both in McLean County and throughout Illinois, joining forces with Food and Water Watch and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment. Movie screenings were held in numerous local churches, and a large community accountability meeting – attended by over 150 people – educated both McLean County board members and the public at large on why a ban was needed.
In the weeks following IPA organizing on the issue, the national and statewide Chamber of Commerce began pushing hard in favor of fracking in Illinois. The McLean County Chamber of Commerce invited Matthew Koch – a prominent Chamber of Commerce spokesperson for the oil and gas industry – to give the keynote address of its annual Economic Vision luncheon. Then, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce published a pro-fracking report, written by ISU economist David Loomis.
In late 2012, IPA and supporters responded to the full-court press of the gas industry. Bill Rau published a critical analysis of the Loomis report, asserting that it is more fantasy than fact. IPA also visited the McLean County Chamber of Commerce to ask its leaders for a hearing on the dangerous consequences of fracking. Charlie Moore, CEO of the local chamber, agreed to give IPA a hearing on the issue.
Building BloNo Social Movements
Larger and stronger social movements, sustained for the long term, will be crucial if we are to curb the growing power of big business and the banks.
The economic system is in crisis. Economic inequality between the 1% and the 99% only gets worse, endangering the very possibility of a democratic society.
Characteristic of the stagnation endemic in the post-2008 economy, corporations were only able to sustain profitability on workers’ backs, primarily by relying on the greater productivity of increasingly lean workforces, while at the same time hoarding trillions of dollars in cash outside of productive investment. Unemployment remains high, and wages stagnant. Without a strong, democratic labor movement, we will continue to lose ground to the ruling big business elite.
In their quest for corporate profitability, corporations resume with even greater ferocity the strategy of plunder: both of public resources and the natural resources of the planet.
In the last few years, corporations have looked upon the public provision of education as potential source of profit, and have also tried to raid pension plans of workers to resolve financial crises caused ultimately by economic stagnation. To counteract these trends, the Chicago teachers demonstrated the power of a union that bases its strength on members’ activism and community partnerships.
The fossil fuels industry continues to push for dangerous resource extraction practices, polluting our air and water with the intention of profiting from every last drop of oil and lump of coal, all the while opposing the development of alternative sources of energy. A grassroots environmentalist movement, one that is radically democratic by bringing together people around issue campaigns and which connects to other struggles, is necessary to confront the power of the fossil fuel industries.
Historically, social movements – independent of political parties attached to big business – are what have won progressive changes, as with the militant labor movement of the 1930s and the Civil Rights movement. There is hope that, through the building of grassroots social movements, we can challenge the 1%’s power.
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 “F the Banks to Confront Obama at Campaign Fundraiser in NYC”. Press Relations Working Group, New York City General Assembly, Occupy Wall Street. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
 Smith, Yves (April 18, 2012). “Yet Another Obama Big Lie: Mortgage Fraud Investigation Not Even Staffed”. Naked Capitalism. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
 “Local IPA Leaders to Attend Bank of America Shareholder’s Meeting” Illinois People’s Action – Press Release. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
 Corporate Accountability Issue Page of Illinois People’s Action. Retrieved December 26th, 2012.
 Ford, Mary Ann (August 22, 2012). “Normal to consider east-west bikeway”. Pantagraph. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
 Schlenker, Charlie (May 1, 2012). “Immigrant Rights Group Protests in B/N”. WGLT (Online). Retrieved December 24, 2012.
 Jackson, Denise (December 5, 2012). “Senate Gives Green Light on Driver License Bill”. CINews.com. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
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