The latest chapter in my life began in a restaurant in Little Village called “El Pollo Feliz” (The Happy Chicken). I had been invited by a friend of mine from my days as a pretty notorious Chicago rapper. She was the sister of an alderman, who had extended an invitation to meet a Senator and Presidential candidate by the name of Bernie Sanders. It was a Latino outreach event and I had been following Senator Sanders for years now, inspired by his integrity and willingness to speak out for those typically considered voiceless. I remember telling my wife that I had been invited and her telling me one thing, “If you meet him you BETTER get a picture with him, since I can’t go!”
I was on a mission.
I got to El Pollo Feliz before anyone else, even the staffers. I picked a booth, one that was close, but not too close. When the first staffer came in, I offered to help move chairs and tables. I thought it would give me the chance to strike up a conversation, maybe find a way to join the campaign. More importantly, I just wanted to absorb everything that was going on.
Eventually, people started coming in. I met a gentleman and we struck up a conversation about Bernie. We made a quick agreement; if we got a chance to get next to Bernie, one of us would take the other’s picture and vice versa. Then we heard the rumbling of the crowd in this small little restaurant with maybe 40 people in it-the Senator was coming. I pulled out my phone to film his entrance and within seconds, he passed by me and I got to shake his hand. I immediately thought about that moment and what it would mean to tell my kids when they were older – that I had met the man who would be President.
Bernie spoke about income inequality and about the need for us to take part in a political revolution, fighting for social, racial, economic, environmental, and moral justice. How the 1% had rigged our politics and economy so that they stood to benefit while so many others suffered. I had watched him give the speech before on TV. I knew all of the points, tag lines, I could hit all of the notes and finish the sentences. This was different, however, because I was in the room.
As he finished his speech, I made a bee line directly to him and waited til I could speak to him. I thanked him as I had thanked his campaign manager Jeff Weaver earlier for their fight against the establishment. My newly made friend had his camera phone out just as I had my arm around Bernie. I excitedly said “quick take a picture, take a million of them,”and he laughed just as the shot was taken.
After he left, as things were winding down, I saw the local elected officials talking to each other. They seemed to be very normal, human. I had previously believed that it took a certain type of individual to be a politician. That someone elected to higher office was special, chosen to be that kind of leader. Watching them small talk, I realized that the only thing that separated them from myself was a suit and the decision to take action.
So I decided.
I went to Iowa to canvass for Bernie along with some Facebook friends, I phone banked for Bernie, I organized a fundraiser named BernFest, where I booked a venue, booked performers, reached out to speakers, had a live art auction, and made sure all of my friends -who had no idea who Bernie was – knew who the 74 year old Senator from Vermont was and what we stood for. I marched for him, I donated to his campaign, and dedicated myself to helping him get elected. When he asked us to continue the revolution after he was cheated out of the Democratic nomination by working to change our local government, I listened.
I was engaged, informed, and ignited by Bernie Sanders. That fire which he sparked led to this movement you see here, Chicago Progress.
Just as I was inspired by one man and his words, our hope is that each of you will be inspired to take action locally, whether by participating in a local event from our calendar, meeting other people and organizing for a cause, becoming more informed about your elected officials so as to make better decisions when voting, or getting the word out to others.
Change happens when we make it happen, and if checking out Chicago Progress is your first step, we thank you for that opportunity, because we will know that we have succeeded in igniting someone else’s fire.
Welcome to Chicago Progress, let’s move forward together!