Reclaim Chicago North Chapter holds a monthly Drinks and Discourse event to provide an informal space to discuss politics, share ideas, and get to know one another. This month’s Drink and Discourse event, which took place at Fritzy’s Tavern, discussed the topic of “Infighting, who are we fighting and what are we fighting for?” Reclaim leaders Jessica Creery and Andre Vasquez opened the discussion with their thoughts on identifying and overcoming negative infighting and how to embrace the type of positive debate that advances the progressive agenda.
“To know if infighting is creating a positive effect, you have to consider the intentionality involved. Does it come from a place of jealousy or scarcity or about ownership of ideas, or does it arise from a genuine sense of sharing ideas and broadening our perspectives,” Creery said.
As she wrote in her recent Facebook post on the topic of infighting, “Individual ownership of ideas is a way to gain social and economic capital, even on the left, if not especially on the left. It makes sense that this fighting over ideas occurs more on the left. Liberals want to broaden their knowledge and enjoy new thoughts while conservatives prefer consistency and tradition.”
Regarding the scarcity of resources that often leads to negative infighting, she wrote, “Compounded with the manufactured scarcity of resources, money, time, and people who often feel too overworked, overwhelmed, and too busy dealing with own personal crisis to join movements. This leads to stagnation and frustration in the movements we’re trying to create.”
Creery also talked about the importance of inclusion and reaching out to those who have counter beliefs: “There’s nothing wrong with a good, constructive argument.” Many who attended the event agreed that when infighting leads to attacking one another, energy is wasted that can be used towards fighting the system and winning on legislation.
Creery then opened up the dialogue with those in attendance, asking them to consider when infighting can lead to positive results versus toxic results. The crowd cited the following ways toxic infighting can become negative: When progress is halted; when groups are splintered; when groups are left vulnerable to be divided and conquered; and when solutions are not found. Participants agreed infighting produces positive results in the following ways: When conversations bring up voices not generally heard; when it broadens perspective; when it challenges assumptions; when it allows a safe space to share ideas; when it provides validity and support; and when it leads to accountability and solutions.
Vasquez then addressed the crowd, “We may not agree on every issue, but we must keep an eye on the prize. We can’t fall asleep at the wheel or we’ll get another four years of Trump.” He talked about the importance of engaging local officials and taking an active role in local politics. He spoke about the many ways Reclaim serves as an educational source for community members to learn about the political process and what’s needed to build a successful movement. He encouraged participants to attend the monthly Reclaim meetings “where an analysis of what’s going on in our local communities takes place. We develop action plans to address the many issues.” Another way of opening dialogue among neighbors is through Reclaim’s many canvassing events. ”In an era where no one talks to neighbors, going door to door consulting with people and finding out what they’re interested in is important so we know what issues we need to address.“ He also discussed the importance of attending Campaign Leadership School, which is sponsored by Reclaim Chicago and The People’s Lobby along with other local organizations, in providing community members with the tools needed to build a movement to elect a progressive majority to public office.
Attendees then broke into groups to discuss questions on the topic of infighting: What groups or issue movements do you find critical of and why? Are there certain things you can do differently to change them? In response to these questions, Josh Wagoner of the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago who was attending his first Reclaim meeting, said, “I feel the disagreements between the Bernie and Hillary factions have led to positive change within the Democratic party. Social issues had fallen behind as neoliberalism took over the party, and Bernie brought social issues back to the forefront. The party had moved too far to the right and it needed to get back to its roots of caring about labor and minorities. Unfortunately, it seems as if the message has not sunk in yet with the establishment. I feel positive that progressive action is happening locally. I hope it works its way to the top.”
On the question of whether there should be a litmus test for members of a group or candidates in general, Jackson Paller, an Evanston resident, answered, “There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate. Bernie wasn’t perfect. Yet he was a conduit for issues on a national level. The core of his campaign was it’s not about me, it’s about us. It’s up to us to continue his movement.” Others cited examples of when the left may disagree with a concept, but they could be out of touch with local communities. A member of a breakout group used the example of when “lefties” complained about Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s support of an increase in police as part of his mayoral platform when instead he should of been credited for being responsive to neighborhood requests for such an increase.
Breakout groups also addressed the questions, Are we fighting any individual people or groups of people? If so, do they have more or less power than ourselves? Brit Holmberg, of Chicago, who also was attending his first Reclaim event, said, “I see how much of the city budget is allocated inappropriately. For example, a large portion of the city budget is spent on policing instead of on our school system. If the police were held more accountable to citizens, it would improve the relationship between the community and the police, and the budget could be directed to the policies and programs that make a more equitable city for everyone. It’s a shame we can’t trust those who are supposed to serve and protect us. I see so many social services, agencies and schools closing. Our state colleges and universities are suffering. First and foremost, we have to come together to vote out Rahm and Rauner.”
Many participants expressed concern that progressive candidates will have a hard time winning against big monied candidates such as Jay Pritzker or Governor Rauner. Although many agreed groups like Reclaim are important to counter these feelings and provide hope for a more progressive future.
On the topic of how shared ideas and goals can be a positive aspect of infighting, Dwain Borders, who recently moved to Chicago from South Carolina, and who was also attending a Reclaim meeting for the first time, said, “I came to commune with my neighbors and meet the people I live near. Solidarity and shared goals are what will get us the results and policies needed to build and sustain a vibrant blue collar middle class. I moved here from South Carolina, so I feel like I know Republican priorities firsthand. I’m looking to be in the company of others who are interested in righting the politics towards a prosperous future.”
Attendee Dylan Souza, added, “I’m frustrated with the current political system. Reclaim provides a very productive outlet for me.”
Reclaim Chicago North Chapter’s next monthly meeting is on September 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, at the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 N. Lincoln Avenue, in Chicago. In addition to the monthly Drinks and Discourse event, Reclaim holds a public meeting every month to discuss important issues of the day, and to review projects and develop plans related to these issues.