To the Editor:
Last week’s Fifth Ward meeting was a comedy of errors, and, like all poignant comedies, had a trace of the tragic in it.
The Jackson Park Framework meetings, which took place the previous Wednesday and Saturday, drew hundreds of people. Alderman Hairston’s ward meeting was to be the third of three of them. The room that was prepared for the evening held 75 people.
Hairston testily explained to the more-than-100 Fifth Ward residents standing outside that because of her lack of planning she had reserved the room they were using at La Rabida a year prior to the event, as if this explained anything. I felt like a family member who showed up uninvited to a fancy dinner. ‚ÄúThese reservations were made a year ago.‚Äù If that doesn’t sound like a brush-off, I don’t know what does.
Compounding matters, the crowd was told to disperse or else the police would be called. Shortly after, like clockwork, the police showed up. In various places, I have seen the Fifth Ward Office deny that the police were called and implicate the staff at La Rabida. Passing the buck, we call this.
Is it possible that the deeply disturbing implications of this development are lost on the alderman and her staff? I will assume she is not being coy and is simply missing what the big deal is. If you are called to a meeting by a person you elected and then told to leave or the police will arrive and then the police arrive, there are three immediate problems with this scenario that ultimately must be placed at the feet of said elected official:
- She called a meeting and then shut you out of it.
- She let someone threaten to call the police on you. (Remember, you are there at her invitation.)
- She let the police, whenever they arrived and however they arrived (on their own or after having been called) disperse a crowd of peaceably assembled people. Assembled because of her poor planning.
Is any of this debatable? Should elected officials have the right to call and dismiss constituents at will? Are we serving at the pleasure of the alderman? Perhaps some think so.
The worst part of all of this is that it simply illustrates, without any question, that large-scale democratic deliberative endeavors are beyond the capacity of the Fifth Ward alderman and her staff. Given the nature of the moment in which we are living, this means we have to do that part of the Fifth Ward office’s job for them. We can spend time later trying to come to grips with what this means for our communities, but at least for 2017, we must call on independent community groups to put together spaces in which we can reason together without fear that the cops will come to break us up.