Ordinary Chicago Residents Need to Learn How to Complain

June 13, 2024

The time for Chicagoans to grumble is long overdue

The time for Chicagoans to complain not only is here, but it has been here for a longtime. Yet, few Chicagoans do. 

Oh sure, there are the full-time protesters, the pro-Palestinian crowd, "bike mafia," and many others. Because they are loud and persistent these group shave the ears of public officials, particularly the far-left members of the Chicago City Council. And they know how to complain. 

However, ordinary Chicagoans need to learn how to play the same game: Be persistent and firm when complaining, but also polite.

William F. Buckley, the founder of The National Review and arguably one of the most important public intellectuals involved with the modern conservative movement, was a prolific writer. Surprisingly, one of his most widely read essays was not about politics, but about the need to speak up.

In his essay titled, “Why We Don't Complain” Buckley wrote of his discomfort on relatively mundane matters, such as his suffering while watching a movie at a theater with the film out of focus, as well as sitting in an overheated railroad car. His impulse both times was to complain. 

"But notice that no one did. And the reason no one did is because we are all increasingly anxious in America to be unobtrusive, we are reluctant to make our voices heard, hesitant about claiming our right; we are afraid that our cause is unjust, or that if it is not unjust, that it is ambiguous; or if not even that, that it is too trivial to justify the horrors of a confrontation with Authority; we will sit in an oven or endure a racking headache before undertaking a head-on, I'm-here-to-tell-you complaint. That tendency to passive compliance, to a heedless endurance, is something to keep one's eyes on -- in sharp focus."

Chicago's problems, which include widespread carjackings, assaults, burglaries, and of course, murders, are far from mundane. Crime is part of the cost, whether it is financial, mental, or physical — of living in Chicago, so goes most residents’ reasoning. This, however, is a terrible way to live. 

For those willing to see reality, the sidewalks in Chicago’s commercial center are strewn with garbage. The business operators ignore the trash under the reasoning they did not create the mess.

And it is not as if Chicago’s taxes are low.  As Buckley asked: “Why don't we complain?”

Others do, constantly.

That “bike mafia” is pressuring the state, which has jurisdiction over Lake Shore Drive, to add bicycle lanes to a redesign of this beautiful road, even though there is a fabulous bike path, free of cars, adjacent to the Drive. 

Nonetheless, it is safe to say that, at best, few Chicagoans care about bike lanes on Lake Shore Drive. Most Chicago residents prefer the Drive the way it is, albeit with fewer potholes, of course.

Even louder are the pro-Hamas protesters. They convinced Chicago's City Council, with Mayor Brandon Johnson supplying the tie-breaking vote, to pass a meaningless resolution calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Not only did that vote do nothing to make Chicago better, it also has not helped Gaza either. Worse, one of the key sponsors of the cease-fire resolution, Alderman Daniel La Spata (1), knew it was absurd. Yet, Mr. La Spata continued to devote an inordinate amount of time to seeing the passage of the measure.

“Do I believe that the words that we speak today, how we vote today influences directly international policy? I don’t. I don’t have those illusions,” La Spata said on the day of the cease-fire vote. “But we vote with hope. We vote with solidarity. We vote to help people feel heard in a world of silence.”

But La Spata, who, by the way, is in thrall to Chicago’s bike mafia, wasn't elected to serve in a world parliament. La Spata was elected to serve the interests of Chicago’s 1st Ward. 

La Spata was far from the only alderman to admit the quiet part out loud on the Gaza Resolution. During a guest appearance on the progressive podcast, The Ben Joravsky Show, Alderman Nicole Lee (11) looked back at the resolution vote and confessed to the host: “We were never going to solve Middle East peace at the City Council of Chicago.”

The screaming minority has the ears of most of Chicago's alderpersons. The time has come for the City Council to prioritize the city’s most acute needs.

Which needs?

For starters, hiring more police officers, cleaning up Chicago’s streets and sidewalks, fixing Chicago’s abysmal schooling system, and cracking down on criminality on the CTA.

As for the conditions on the CTA, many ordinary Chicagoans have expressed their anger about their daily experiences on Chicago’s public transportation system. Riding CTA “L” cars and waiting for trains and buses can be an alarming experience. Assaults and robberies of passengers on the transit system have become the norm. However, in a meeting this week with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, Mayor Johnson said the CTA was “moving in the right direction” and hinted because CTA president Dorval Carter is black, race might have something to do with widespread criticism of his leadership over CTA.

Wrong. At the very least, though, Johnson knows Carter is unpopular with CTA riders.

Let's move on from “Why don't we complain?”

Because we need to complain.

Again, be polite but firm. E-mail your alderperson, or call. Show up at their ward nights and public meetings. At public meetings, demand concrete results, not just feel-good nonsense of the sort that La Spata spewed last year after a shocking daylight alley assault and robbery in Bucktown that was caught on videotape.

But let us not stop with Chicago.

Since the COVID-19 lockdowns, expressways surrounding Chicago have been covered with graffiti. That the graffiti remains sends a clear message to visitors driving into the city: Chicago does not care. Well, that's not quite accurate, because expressway graffiti removal is the responsibility of the Illinois Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, Governor J.B. Pritzker constantly brags about his recruiting efforts to bring businesses to Chicago.

Pritzker is obviously laboring under the delusion the business leaders he is courting to support a possible bid for the White House overlook widespread graffiti on the Kennedy or Eisenhower expressways. Talented executives notice problems like that. Think of a messy desk.

Pritzker believes he has already hit a hole-in-one with quantum computing because that emerging industry needs enormous amounts of water and Chicago sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. Milwaukee, too, shares the lake with Chicago.

Then again, perhaps residents are correct about the graffiti menace. Chicago — meaning ordinary Chicagoans — clearly do not care. However, if Chicagoans complained effectively enough — in this instance to their state legislators and to the governor — expressway graffiti would be removed.

Chicagoans need to think locally, act locally, and complain locally. And Chicagoans need to stop living like a conquered and subdued people.

Moreover, they need to stop electing out-of-touch dopes who waste time on Gaza resolutions. It is up to you, to use La Spata’s words, to ensure that our public officials do not live “in a world of silence."

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