NATO Summit Tour Takes Journalists to the South Side (Part I)
Dahriian Espinoza, economic development specialist for Enlace Chicago, speaks to journalists during a stop of the "99% Tour" at Chicago Youth Boxing Club in Little Village.
What do Chicago neighborhoods have to do with NATO?
According to leaders of local community organizations, the answer is a lot.
“Sixty percent of our federal tax dollars go to the military,” said La Villita Community Church Pastor Victor Rodriguez. “In Cook County alone $9.8 billion will go to funding the military and wars. That’s a lot of money that could be spent on youth, on addressing the violence and gang wars in our own neighborhoods.”
Rodriguez along with other community leaders and residents of Little Village and Back of the Yards spoke out against the city’s investment in the NATO summit as part of the Grassroots Collaborative’s two-day “99% Tour.”
Organized to inform local and national journalists of the city’s misplaced priorities by hosting the NATO summit, the first day of the tour took journalists first to the Chicago Youth Boxing Club, a Little Village nonprofit youth development sports program run by Rodriguez.
The program, according to him, helps keep neighborhood youth off the streets and provides a place for them to keep busy between the hours of 3 to 8 p.m.
“I can say with certainty that the gym here makes the difference in whether many of these kids will stay off the streets or be out there and get killed,” he said.
Despite the success of his program, Rodriguez struggles to find the resources to fund the needed boxing equipment. He said a mere $600 would allow him to buy a dozen sparing gloves for the program.
However, instead of taxpayer dollars going toward funding neighborhood programs such as the Chicago Youth Boxing Club, he said, they are used for events such as NATO.
World Business Chicago (WBC), the company hired by the city to raise funds for the summit announced in late March that it had raised $36.5 million for NATO-related costs, including $14 million for parties and social functions.
Pastor Victor Rodriguez of La Villita Community Church runs a youth boxing club in Little Village and a says a mere $600 will allow him to buy a dozen sparing gloves for his program.
A key point for raising the funds, according to the city, was to refrain local taxpayers from putting up any money for the event. However, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative Amisha Patel says taxpayers have already subsidized the summit by previous government subsidies given to NATO’s corporate donors.
Some of those donors include United Airlines, which received over $31 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF), Boeing, which received $24 million in property tax breaks and city grants, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which got a $9.8 million property tax break.
“If a corporate company raised $14 million for parties, why can’t we organize to ask for an adjustment from those private sectors in neighborhoods around the city which will have a more profound effect than an event that will last a weekend,” she said. “Here we have $14 million—that’s a lot of champagne, a lot of caviar—if we had even a fraction of that money and those resources in these neighborhoods it would make huge impact.”
The second part of the tour took journalists to Back of the Yards, where one of the 12 mental health clinics closed by the city once operated. The clinic was one of two mental health clinics that provided Spanish-language services to its patients.
According to N’Dana Carter, a consumer of mental health clinics and an organizer for STOP, since April 9, the date of the clinic’s closure, 18 people have been hospitalized for conditions such as anxiety and attempted suicide. Others, she said, have begun to cut themselves again.
Carter believes $14 million would be more than enough to keep mental services available to those in need.
“It would cost $3.3 million to keep all 12 public mental health clinics open,” she said. “Add another $3 million and we could have all the drug assistance programs, we could have more therapists, social workers and psychiatrics.”
Both Carter and Rodriguez plan to join NATO protests this weekend, along with other residents and community leaders of both neighborhoods.
“Grassroots leaders are the global majority. People and families should come first, not corporate and military interests. A global city takes care of its neighborhoods,” said Patel.
The “99% Tour” will continue tomorrow and will take journalists to the neighborhoods of Englewood and Brighton Park to address the foreclosure crisis in the city.