People’s Summit “Solutions to Big Money and Political Corruption” Panel Introduction by Andre Vasquez

On June 10, 2017 I moderated a panel on Solutions to Big Money and Political Corruption at the 2nd annual People’s Summit. The following is a transcript of my introduction.

My name is Andre Vasquez and I have the distinct honor and privilege of being the moderator for this discussion.

I am a community organizer with Reclaim Chicago, an organization formed by National Nurses United and the People’s Lobby, as well as the Executive Director of Chicago Progress.

A year and a half ago, I didn’t even know what community organizing meant, exactly. Since that time, inspired by Bernie Sanders, I have knocked on doors in Iowa, phone banked, led a 5000 person march, organized a fundraiser during the primaries, appeared on Chicago Tonight during the DNC convention, and trained as an organizer with Reclaim Chicago which has in itself changed my life. In April, I along with many others, protested in front of the White House and stormed the Heritage Foundation. I was also on stage at Rise Up, The People’s Action Founding Convention with Bernie, where I along with dozens more, committed to running for office in the next 2-5 years.

I am a husband and father of two, and my wife and I are in this fight because we refuse to leave our children with a world worse than the one I grew up in.

As a first generation citizen, my family, who migrated from Guatemala and I were made to feel like outsiders. I knew that I didn’t have the same opportunities or education that others had and I couldn’t even fathom being part of the political process.

But what I did know was that I was getting cheated out of the chance to maximize my potential. And I know now I’m not alone.

If you are an immigrant, Muslim, a woman, a person of color, Native American, someone from the LGBTQ community, the working class, those who can’t find jobs, those in need of healthcare, students with overwhelming debt, if you care about the future of our planet…..basically the 99% of us, then you know that you are being cheated too.

The wealthiest 1% have exploited our government and use it to their own benefit at our expense, while our people suffer and die. And that ain’t right.

From left: Law professor and former political candidate Zephyr Teachout, Kai Newkirk of Democracy Spring and 99Rise, and Nomiki Konst of The Young Turks.
From left: Law professor and former political candidate Zephyr Teachout, Kai Newkirk of Democracy Spring and 99Rise, and Nomiki Konst of The Young Turks.

What we in this room understand is that government is our rightful vehicle for change and it has been taken from us. The Republican Party has stolen that vehicle to commit crimes against humanity, our environment, our global community and our future in the name of profit.

Establishment politicians who call themselves Democrats have taken that same vehicle and crashed it into a ditch with their failed strategies and advocacy of incrementalism rather than actually fighting for us. They are either too far removed from the actual suffering of people or have willfully decided that putting personal profit over us is acceptable.

Either way, we need to take the keys and navigate our own path of progress by making sure that the people who run for office are representative of their community and held accountable by it. Resistance is not enough, it is time for us to Reclaim our government, from dogcatcher to Donald Trump.

So how many people in this room plan on running for office in the next 2-5 years? Put a hand up! How many organizers are here in the room! Shout it out!

Great! We need more of us to!

Because of the very effective hijacking of our government by corporate interests, the millionaires and billionaires have only grown bolder. Now they don’t want to just BUY politicians, they want to cut out the middlemen and BE the politicians.

If you need proof of that just look at how our Governor’s Race is shaping up. Here in Illinois, our own little mini Trump, Billionaire Governor Bruce Rauner, hasn’t produced a budget since the day he took office and two of the candidates currently challenging him are from the 1% as well.

You can look at our Millionaire Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who thinks the way to incentivize our students to go to college is by holding their High School Diplomas hostage. In Chicago, that’s what our Mayor thinks progress looks like.

Is that what you think Progress looks like?

Or you can look at the current resident of the White House, our American Embarrassment, Donald Trump.

The election of President Trump, however, has created an opportunity for all of us. It has awakened a sleeping giant and created this movement moment where millions of people are hitting the streets to say that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

We know what we want.

We want money out of politics, healthcare for all citizens, tuition free college, workers to have a livable wage, the wealthy to pay their fair share, and a government that puts the priorities of its People and Planet FIRST, not last.

We want social, racial, economic, and environmental justice and we won’t settle for anything less, EVER.

The day after President Trump’s inauguration 250,000 of us gathered at Grant Park as part of the Women’s March. Millions more marched across the country. How many in this room marched that day?

In Chicago, 250,000 of us were out there, feeling angry, confused, and scared, but also feeling the urge to do something. It is in our self-interest to take that emotion, that energy and turn it into PEOPLE POWER. Imagine 250,000 people fired up and focused on how to change our local government.

Imagine the political pressure we could exert.

All of our voices, along with those of our newly awakened neighbors need to come together as one to end this corporate owned pseudo democracy once and for all. But how do we do that?

Today, we are fortunate enough to have three guests on this panel who are all taking on Big Money in Politics and Corruption in their own ways, whether that be running for office, working within the democratic party, utilizing media, or taking direct action/using civil disobedience.

So today’s panel provides a unique opportunity for those of us who have just become engaged in the political process as well as those who have been organizing and are now in this post Trump era, where rather than having to find people to organize, there is now a flood of them, with different levels of engagement, analysis, and different perspectives. So let’s compare analyses and discuss what some of the solutions are so that we can work towards them together.

After all..the political revolution is not only possible, it is here, it is now and it is us.


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