Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

It's not Rahm Emanuel's fault that Chicago is divided

By Jim Lasko
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jim Lasko differs with opinion piece blaming Mayor Rahm Emanuel for division in Chicago
  • He says Emanuel inherited a city already deeply divided between rich and poor
  • Lasko says the mayor has to do best he can to cope in a flawed political system
  • He says it's a mistake to oversimplify Chicago's problems and blame them on one person

Editor's note: Jim Lasko is the artistic director of Redmoon Theater in Chicago. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not creating two cities, despite Kevin Coval's view in a recent opinion piece about the series "Chicagoland" that's airing on CNN.

There have been two cities here for a very long time. In fact, Chicago differs very little from other major metropolises in the United States in demonstrating the disturbing and growing gulf between the wealthy and the poor.

Emanuel is no more the creator of that problem than Coval is the creator of a tradition of fighting it. This is the city of Jane Addams and Studs Terkel. This is the city of the Haymarket riots. This is a city with a long heritage of leaders and fighters, people who found new ways to bridge the divides in an effort to dismantle a corrupt and unfair system.

This is not about an individual. This is about a broken system and the best ways to try to repair it and its ill effects.

Jim Lasko
Jim Lasko

Many of those leaders hailed from the privileged class, using their disproportionate cultural and economic resources to fuel their fight. (I flatter Kevin and me by placing us within that group.)

On the night when Emanuel was found on a swing rather than at poetry readings by Englewood youth, he was participating in another well-established and problematic tradition: soliciting money from the wealthy to support social causes unsupportable through the political system.

Specifically, Emanuel was lending his cultural clout to my organization, Redmoon Theater, and its efforts to create free public programming in some of Chicago's most underserved areas. He was lending his support to The Great Chicago Fire Festival, a new signature event for Chicago that seeks to create a platform for underheard voices and overlooked stories.

Kid demands mayor 'talk to the people'

More pointedly still, rather than meet the Young Chicago Authors poets from the Englewood neighborhood, Emanuel was in another neighborhood, Pilsen, helping to raise money for a Redmoon event, which features Young Chicago Authors as a core partner. Take last summer, when Redmoon and Young Chicago Authors partnered to create public poetry and drumming events in a dozen overlooked and neglected public parks. This effort, too, demands private fundraising.

Put the mayor on a swing, sit him on a platform and serve him expensive treats, drag him from this group to that for a photograph. Like walking around patting young black kids on the head, as Coval says he does in Episode 4 of "Chicagoland." This is part of the job. As he wrote in the opinion piece, Emanuel is not an educator or a mentor. He is a career politician, and this is his work: stumping for causes.

Emanuel has been in office less than three years. He inherited immense budget problems featuring an unimaginable pension debt.

He walked into a long history of social and cultural neglect, to say nothing of our flailing national economy that is exaggerating already untenable economic disparity. He is also a lifetime politician in a system that is utterly broken, where the only way to get into a position of political power depends on a preternatural capacity to raise money.

Let's not oversimplify the problem or demonize some single person as its symbolic head, as though we could lop it off and send the problem to a hasty end. These are complex problems with complex solutions that demand collective and productive engagement.

The first step may well be forming unexpected coalitions, such as artists and the politicians whose job it is to represent them, their interests and those who want to hear from them.

I'm all in.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT