The Collected Works of Dominic Gwinn

Reaching for Support

Posted in Podcast, Politics, Uncategorized by Dominic Gwinn on March 28, 2016

Chicago Protests Mayor, Police Violence

Posted in Chicago, Politics, Uncategorized by Dominic Gwinn on December 11, 2015

The following video was for Roosevelt University, and originally appeared in December, 2015

Chicago residents took to the streets in protest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department just hours after the Mayor addressed alderman in a special session in City Hall where he called for wide-ranging institutional reforms across Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Pushes for More Tech Education

Posted in Chicago, Podcast by Dominic Gwinn on November 16, 2015

Idol’s Last Gasp

Posted in Chicago, Podcast by Dominic Gwinn on November 8, 2015

Council progressives hold budget meetings to address city problems

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on October 8, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Oct 8, 2015.

Cover-Arena-Sposato-Waguespack-
Alderman Arena, Spostato, Wagueskpack.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Over 60 people gathered at the Copernicus Center last week in Jefferson Park to discuss a number of controversial city finance issues.“We are friends; we are not foes here,” stated 38th Ward Ald. Nicholas Sposato to a packed crowd at the first of two budget meetings held by the Progressive Reform Caucus this past Thursday.

“What we’re doing is saying this can’t be a budget cycle where we just look at this year,” said 45th Ward Ald. John Arena. “We have to start looking at a five-year plan for our funding, our city, and not do this as a constant crisis where we have to figure out what we need to cut, or what we need to tax just to get through that one year.”

The caucus presented a number of reforms that challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed budget that would see an increase in taxes on businesses and residents throughout the city in an attempt to pay off mounting debts to pensions and creditors. In March, the city’s bad bookkeeping caused downgrade in its credit rating by Moody’s Investor Service to Baa1, commonly known as “junk” status.

A large part of the caucus’s plan seeks to increase taxes on the most wealthy residents and large corporations. Proposals such as an alternative minimum tax on the central business district downtown, a “bad business fee” tax that would levy fines for businesses that pay less than a living wage, increased taxes on luxury goods such as furs and jewelry, as well as amnesty for penalties stemming from outstanding parking tickets, in an attempt to recover lost revenue, were met with applause.

Despite the warm reception for the proposals, some residents stressed even more stringent measures, such as Chicago resident Lisa Stringer, who called for a wage freeze on all city employees.

“I’m not saying to take pay cuts, but let’s freeze everybody’s pay right now until we get this figured out,” stressed Stringer. “I think there has to be some understanding that everybody has to have some skin in the game.”

Other residents urged aldermen that the mayor’s recent proposal to privatize 311 services was a bad idea, and that criticism against 311 operators had been misplaced.

“We as call takers know how to do our job, we just don’t have enough operators,” pleaded 311 operator Aline Coopwood. “We’re down to about 58 operators. I’ve worked two months straight without days off just to help out coworkers.”

“When you’re calling Chicago, you want to speak with someone that knows Chicago, that knows what’s going on, and can help you out with what’s going on,” Coopwood insisted. “If someone is in Japan or in California, how are they going to tell you what’s going on here?”

“It’s time for us to really get serious about looking for other ways to raise revenue. We need to fix our pension problems and make sure that our city budgets are smaller,” said 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack. “We’re also looking to reduce spending in ways that don’t hurt basic services and make sure that we have staff available to get the job done.”

Illinois is currently operating without a budget due to gridlock in Springfield, funding only the most critical programs, like Medicaid and schools, by a court order. As a result, many social welfare programs that would typically see support from the state, like childcare and assistance for undocumented immigrants, have been suspended until state legislators can reach a spending agreement.

“These are critical meetings,” Arena said. ”This is a big burden that we’re trying to resolve here. It’s all come to a head; we have to deal with this problem…We’re trying to find ways to alleviate the burden on the middle class and low-income families.”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Residents Displeased with Mayor’s Proposed 2016 Budget

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on September 10, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Sept 10, 2015.

CityBudget_Mayor-Rahm-Emanuel-at-the-town-hall-meeting-at-Wilbur-Wright-College-on-Sept.-3_Photo-by-Dominic-Gwinn
Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the town hall meeting at Wilbur Wright College on Sept. 3rd.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Residents, activists and teachers shouted and booed as Mayor Rahm Emanuel held his final of three budget meetings this past Thursday, Sept. 3, at Wright College on the Northwest Side under heavy security.

“We’re outraged; we feel robbed. We feel left out,” commented Rousemary Vega, a Humboldt Park resident and CPS parent who angrily chastised the mayor earlier in the evening. “The mayor’s saying ‘tough decisions,’ and the tough decisions are just him saying he can’t cut from [his] people, the North siders; so [he] takes from the areas that are already suffering from violence and poverty.”

The mayor’s proposed budget would see homes valued at $250,000 pay an extra $500 per year, as well as $7.17 tax on smokeless tobacco products, and $1 tax on popular ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Currently, the city of Chicago is facing a $500-million budget gap, leaving many weary that the city may not be able to pay its bills or pension obligations to police, fire and rescue workers. The city’s financial woes are only growing as Chicago Public School is to balance its own separate $6.4-billion budget.

“This will be, obviously, difficult. And I don’t underestimate the difficulty. That’s why it’s going to be done in the most fair and progressive manner,” said Emanuel.

While only a few speakers spoke of Dyett High School protesters, which dominated the first two meetings, special education teacher Sarah Chambers shot back at the mayor after it was earlier announced that Dyett would reopen as an art school. “What that tells me is that the black students of Chicago can shuck and jive for the city of Chicago, but they can’t create green technology innovation.”

“Usually the mayor does not listen, so I think we need to keep going at him and pressuring him. He especially doesn’t listen to people who are at schools on the South and West sides. We’re in an all Latino school. Basically, they ignore us,” said Chambers, who talked to EXTRA after making her public comments. However, during the interview, members of the Chicago Police Department asked her to stop speaking. “We cannot hurt our schools, and our students with disabilities. We have special education for a reason and we need to fund it.”

“He wants to put on this show for the city,” said Vega, “but I just believe that this was another fake. Rahm doing a ballet [dance] around his responsibilities…The one thing I wish people would take away is that we need to stick together. We are the city of big shoulders, and I need them to understand Rahm’s shoulders are not big enough for the job.”

The mayor’s final budget is expected to be made public Sept. 22.

This post is also available in: Spanish

 

City officials and community hope to create more immigrant friendly Chicago

Posted in Politics, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 27, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 27, 2015.

Immigration_NEW_Alderman
Alderman Carlos Rosa announced the establishment of an Immigration Policy Working Group which seeks to analyze and reform Chicago’s policy towards illegal residents.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

In an effort to create a more immigrant friendly city, Chicago Aldermen Carlos Rosa, Susan Sadlowski Garza and Ricardo Munoz announced Tuesday that they have begun working on a comprehensive immigration plan for some of Chicago’s most disenfranchised residents.

The Immigration Policy Working Group, composed of 14 different non-governmental and community organizations, will be working with the aldermen, as well as Mayor Emmanuel, to craft legislation around a six-point plan that will increase support for pro bono legal representation in Chicago’s immigration courts and to amend the city’s “Welcoming City” Ordinance so it applies to all residents.

The Chicago City Council approved the “Welcoming City” ordinance in 2012, which was designed to protect undocumented immigrants from being unfairly detained or deported and protects undocumented immigrants from being held for immigration authorities, unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or are being sought on a criminal warrant.

Rogers Park Ald. Joe Moore sponsored the original “Welcoming City” ordinance and said it was designed so immigrants will not be afraid of deportation when they report crimes to police.

The proposed amendments to the ordinance would ensure consistency between municipal and county policy, create more access to multi-lingual emergency services, establish a municipal ID for all Chicagoans, make deferred action relief programs more accessible and affordable to communities, and improve access to city services for immigrant victims of crimes and rights violations.

“Two years ago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated that he is committed to making Chicago the most immigration friendly city in the United States,” stated 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Rosa. As the Chicago Immigration Working Group, we share that commitment, and we’re excited to work alongside the mayor to fulfill that goal.”

Many aspects of the new plan, according to Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are modeled after similar efforts recently enacted in New York, such as a city ID that identifies individuals without necessarily requiring a fixed address. This can result in increased wages, and helping undocumented residents along the path to naturalization or simply purchasing medication.

“Chicago is a place that’s always understood itself to be a city of immigrants,” said Ana Guajardo, executive director of the south-side based Immigrant Worker’s Project / Centro de Trabajadores Unidos. “With a mayoral promise to make Chicago the most welcoming, a city council dedicated to equal treatment for all of our residents, and leadership from the community itself, we are ready to not just follow the examples of New York City and other places but to be a leader in best practices for immigrant integration at the local level.”

Chicago is currently designated as a sanctuary city, and does not allow local law enforcement or municipal authorities to ask about a resident’s current legal status. Sanctuary city policies have recently come under scrutiny from federal officials due to President Barack Obama Administration’s mandate that immigration authorities should not pursue non-violent undocumented immigrants.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby girls burn competition

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 20, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 30, 2015.

The Icebox Derby girls 2015. Courtesy of Dominic Gwinn | EXTRA
The Icebox Derby girls 2015. Courtesy of Dominic Gwinn

With fans, parents and local leaders cheering, and the Blue Angels roaring high above the city, this past Saturday, the second annual Icebox Derby Challenge was won by team Flaming Zing.

An academic and engineering competition for young girls with an interest in science, technology and mathematics careers, the race saw 30 girls ages 13 to 19 build and race electronically-powered cars made from recycled refrigerators around a pop-up track at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Sponsored by ComEd, and in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, the 30 girls were arranged in teams of six. Each team was paired with engineering mentors from ComEd, as well as local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

Instead of lounging around, the girls spent their summers learning how to work as a team while building their 48-volt derby car, complete with functioning lights, power indicators and gears.

“Each week, we found it easier to bond and goof around,” remembered Carissa Lehning. “The first week, we were kind of shy around each other; the third week we were caught dancing on video. It’s just about having fun.”

The race, comprised of three heats, required the girls to utilize the skills they learned throughout the build competition. After each lap, teams switched drivers after completing an academic exercise, such as assembling a bicycle, creating working circuit boards, inflating tires to their correct P.S.I., and calculating miles per hour based on gear ratios and links in bicycle chain.

Each girl was awarded $1,000 towards a scholarship, with the winning team receiving a trip to a technology and innovation camp at Chicago technology start-up incubator, 1871, as well as new MacBook Air laptops.

“The whole idea behind this is to raise awareness of STEM,” commented ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “Give the girls a hands-on experience project so that they can really take it out of the classroom and apply it. We hope that creates more excitement… There are no losers. They all walk away with a great experience and some scholarship money, and we hopefully sparked an interest in an opportunity in STEM.”

“At the end of the day, I get to say I built a race car out of a refrigerator,” said a gleeful RaMaya Johnson of the team Royal Burn. “Not every girl gets to do that, so I’m proud of that.”

Her mentor, Sabeen Admani, a student at Northwestern University majoring in Robotics, was drawn to the competition because of her own experiences growing up with her father and two brothers. “My Dad always tried to include me. Everything they were doing he let me do too, but I knew a lot of the girls didn’t have that same experience, so I wanted to give them that.”

“It’s been the most wonderful experience for all of us,” beamed Frances Lehning, the mother of Carissa Lehning. “It’s nice and wonderful what the kids have learned; they’ve had hands on experience… It’s not a bad way to spend the summer at all!”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Logan Square residents divided over Ald. Moreno’s approach to affordable housing

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on August 6, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 6, 2015.

Protesters argue in front of Ald. Moreno's office. Photo by Dominic Gwinn | EXTRAProtesters argue in front of Ald. Moreno’s office.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Dozens of protesters clashed in Logan Square this week while calling for 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno to pursue more aggressive affordable housing options in the neighborhood.Moreno has supported big development projects like the “Twin Towers,” a multi-building apartment complex across the from the California Blue Line station, which some residents say will lead to mass displacement of longtime residents. Because of this, organizers from Somos/We Are Logan Square, a community group of residents concerned about the increase of large-scale development in Logan Square, organized a rally against Ald. Moreno on Tuesday evening in front of the alderman’s neighborhood office.

However that group was soon joined by Moreno supporters, though smaller in number, who marched ahead of Somos/We Are Logan Square shouting slogans like, “Moreno amigo, el pueblo esta contigo,” (“Moreno, my friend, this town is with you”), while holding signs up in support of transit oriented development projects, or T.O.D.’s, like the “Twin Towers” project.

While both Moreno’s supporters and the Somos/We Are Logan group had the same message of increasing the supply of affordable housing, their differences collided in front of the alderman’s office where heated shouts and shoving drew the attention of onlookers and police.

“My street used to be populated with families,” commented Logan Square resident and Somos/We Are Logan supporter Justine Bayod Espoz. “I used to know all the little kids on our block, you’d see kids playing outside all the time. If you come to my block now on a Sunday afternoon you won’t see anyone on the street. The rents have increased exponentially in this neighborhood…We have two or three developers sending us letters a week asking us if we want to sell our property.”

Kyle Smith was on the street watching the two groups march in front of the alderman’s office on Tuesday. He’s with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that studies urban economies and environments, and said one thing he’s seen across the city, including in neighborhoods like Logan Square, is the loss of housing units.

“There’s been a movement away from rental towards ownership, and buildings have been torn down, converted. Two flats converted into single family homes, balloon frame homes being torn down and replaced with fewer units on sight,” said Smith. “I think that everyone agrees that gentrification is a major issue, and I think the real way to address it is, one, to add more units to the housing supply through something like T.O.D., and also focus on preservation activities on the side streets.”

Meanwhile Noah Muskowitz, an organizer with Somos/We Are Logan Square, reminisced about the daughter of a tenant he recently worked with in an attempt to avoid their eviction.

“During the course of the eviction, when she was afraid she was going to have to go to a different neighborhood, her grades dropped to a C,” said Muskowitz. “That’s a huge emotional impact for a child. It’s not just, ‘Oh, you have to move’, it’s the displacement of communities that they’ve spent their entire lives supporting. Their access to child care, their access to resources, and when you displace that it completely ruins someone’s life.”

Muskowitz added that he thought it’s incredibly disingenuous for Moreno to act like he’s fighting for neighborhood residents facing displacement when he’s part of the problem.

In response to the protests, Moreno’s office released a statement Wednesday morning saying that the alderman was, “gratified to learn that a group of 1st Ward residents saw fit to express their support for his proactive and substantial efforts to provide more affordable housing opportunities in the 1st Ward.”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Chicago teachers rally to protect schools from deep cuts

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on July 30, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Jul 30, 2015.

Photo by Dominic Gwinn | EXTRA

Chicago teachers are holding their breath once again as the cuts to the education budget begin to trickle out of City Hall, leaving many educators struggling to adjust before the new school year.

The rally came on the same morning as Fitch Ratings, a credit-rating agency, lowered Chicago Board of Education’s rating to BBB, more commonly referred to as “junk” status.

“These cuts are unjust; our children have paid enough,” stated 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa at the rally. “We’ve gone through 50 school closures,. We’ve seen thousands of teachers laid off. We’ve seen cuts to sports and after-school activities; we’ve seen cuts to music and the arts, and now we’re being told that our children and their families are going to have to suffer through more cuts.”

Hector Gonzalez, a bilingual teacher at Kelvyn Park High School, has been teaching at the school for 10 years, but now he’s worried about what could happen next. “We used to look forward to a raise, and now we don’t even have that. Now, who knows if some of us will even have our jobs? I used to say every year, right before my students would leave at the end of the year, ‘I’ll see you next year.’ I honestly was afraid to say that this year because I’m afraid I might not be there.”

Amongst the shake-ups that are causing the ire of many teachers and parents are cuts to handicap student programs, the shifting of school start times and the closing of bus stops for selective student programs. Schools have also been forced to cancel after-school activities, as well as reconsider supplies while enrollments continue to decline in public schools throughout the city.

“We’re going to have to tell kids, ‘I’m sorry; I know you want to stick around and do all these extra things, but we just don’t have them this year,’” commented Gonzalez when asked about after-school programs. “We just can’t afford to pay people for coming into our building to help our kids.”

“We always make it work, somehow,” remarked Jackie Charles, a fourth grade teacher at Darwin Elementary. “I would rather spend my own money on my students than have them not have what we need at the time, and I think that’s how most teachers operate. Schools get by year after year, and we do the best that we can, but I think people are starting to say the best that we can is not good enough.”

This post is also available in: Spanish

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