Intercepted Live: Chicago Claps Back

Live from Chicago: Poet and author Eve Ewing, revolutionary educator Bill Ayers, activist Charlene Carruthers, and journalist Jamie Kalven are this week's guests.

Eve Ewing performs a poem during a live taping of the Intercepted podcast at the Logan Square Auditorium in Chicago, on October 9th, 2018. Photo: Elise Swain/The Intercept

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Donald Trump can’t seem to stop talking about Chicago. This week on Intercepted: Chicago claps back in a live show recorded in the Windy City. Poet, scholar, and author Eve Ewing, revolutionary educator Bill Ayers, activist Charlene Carruthers, and journalist Jamie Kalven discuss the murder conviction of the Chicago police officer who gunned down Laquan McDonald, the neoliberal tenure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the war on Chicago’s public schools. They also discuss the radical vision of an America without a paramilitarized police or prison industrial complex. Plus, musician Malcolm London performs and Eve Ewing reads a poem which imagines the mundane normalcies of life for Emmett Till — if he hadn’t been murdered.

Chorus: Chicago is —

Donald J. Trump: Chicago is a disaster. It’s a total disaster.

Music: Chicago is new!

DJT: Chicago is worse than some of the countries you read about in the Middle East where there — there’s wars going on. I mean, do you see what’s happening there? Is there something, maybe?

Chorus: Chicago is exciting!

DJT: Chicago’s like a war zone. Chicago is worse than some of the people that you report in some of the places that you report about every night ––

Chicago total disaster.

Chorus: Chicago is fun!

DJT: Afghanistan is safer than Chicago, OK? The city of Chicago. What the hell is going on in Chicago?

Chorus: Chicago is something you’ve just got to see for yourself.

DJT: What the hell is going on in Chicago? What the hell is happening there?

Chorus: Chicago is something you’ve just got to see for yourself.

DJT: I love Chicago. I know Chicago, and Chicago is a great city ––

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you live from Chicago, the Logan Square Auditorium. This is Episode 69 of Intercepted. It is so great to be here in Chicago.

You know this city is not Trump’s dog whistle. This is his foghorn. We know what he means when he talks about Chicago. He is afraid of black people. He is particularly afraid of black people from Chicago, it seems. And people like him should be afraid of black people from Chicago, because of the kinds of guests and performers that we have lined up tonight, people that are on the front lines of fighting for justice, not just in this city, but in this country.

Donald Trump is not an American anomaly. Donald Trump is a product of the rotten system in this country. He is an anomaly only in how he conducts himself publicly. But if you look at who he has surrounded himself with, if you look at the wars that are raging right now, if you look at the bedrock principles of militarism, economic warfare, and racism, Donald Trump is part of the American tradition. This was a man who beat 16 other Republicans in their primary and simultaneously — well, he had a little bit of help — but simultaneously defeated the most powerful modern political family, the Clintons.

And part of what fueled Donald Trump’s rise is white supremacy. It’s as clear as day. But that’s not the only story about Donald Trump. Donald Trump has given legitimacy to some of the most violent and vile people in our society and makes them feel like they’re getting their country back. What we’re going to be talking about tonight is the fight to prove them wrong, the fight to show those people who are wearing their MAGA hats and cheering Donald Trump on, but also Democrats who are not rising to the occasion to fiercely resist the threats that this administration poses to so many people.

Chicago remains one of the most segregated cities in this country. Chicago also has a deep history of resistance. This is the city that Ida B. Wells was writing from when she was writing searing descriptions of the systematic lynching of black people in this country. She is a journalistic hero and someone whose name I hope we all keep in mind when we talk about what is real journalism. It is going to where the crime is and reporting on it.

We have journalist Jamie Kalven on our panel tonight, who was one of the main people in exposing the facts that ultimately led to the conviction of a Chicago police officer on second-degree murder charges for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.

We have Eve Ewing on the program tonight, one of the most brilliant people that we have in this country right now, not just in Chicago, but in this country. The cross-section of Eve’s work is almost too much for me to handle. You know that she’s going to be writing the Ironheart comic? She is a poet, she writes short stories, mind-blowing, great fiction for young people that actually means something. She’s also a fierce opponent of the carceral state as well, and her brand new book “Ghosts in the Schoolyard” takes on the apartheid system in the Chicago public schools and asks serious questions about the neoliberal agenda of people like Rahm Emanuel.

We have Charlene Carruthers, who is one of the most bold, brave activists operating in this country today, somebody who, when she was asked to be in a leadership position, reluctantly accepted it, but has now become one of the fiercest, most intelligent and dedicated activists that we have, not just in Chicago but in this country.

And we have a man that probably needs no introduction, Bill Ayers. We got a lot of protests about — everybody was like, “Oh, Eve Ewing, great! Bill Ayers?” It’s as though Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground, was operating yesterday. I was joking, though, that this podcast is going to launch our political career from Bill Ayers’ living room. Some of you younger people may not know what I’m talking about.

We also have some incredible hip-hop music from Malcolm London, and we may have a surprise from Eve Ewing at the end of the night. So, without further ado, I want to bring on our first two guests. Charlene Carruthers is a community organizer, founding national director of BYP100 — that’s the Black Youth Project 100. That’s an organization that is primarily made up of young African Americans fighting for black liberation. She also has a new book out that’s available here for those of you want to pick it up. It’s incredible, it’s called “Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements.”

We’re also very honored to have the great investigative journalist Jamie Kalven with us. He’s one of the leading journalists reporting on the Chicago police, police misconduct, police killings in this city. His groundbreaking reporting helped to bring the shooting of Laquan McDonald to national and international attention. He also was the plaintiff in Kalven v. Chicago, in which an Illinois appellate court ruled that police misconduct files need to be public information. He’s also the author of “Working with Available Light: A Family’s World After Violence,” and perhaps most importantly, he’s the founder of the Invisible Institute.

Activist Charlene Carruthers and Journalist Jamie Kalven on the Murder Conviction of the Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke

Let’s welcome Charlene and Jamie.

Charlene, I want to ask both of you, not just your reaction — I know, Jamie, you were in the courtroom when the verdict was read in the Jason Van Dyke murder trial. Charlene, I know that you had to board a plane as you were awaiting word of what the verdict was going to be, and I just want to share with people your words when you learned of that verdict. You said, “Jason Van Dyke is found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. 16 counts [for each shot]. He shot Laquan 16 times. And still. This isn’t Justice. It’s something else, for sure. Laquan will never come back.”

Charlene Carruthers: Yeah, that’s right.

JS: When you heard that verdict you were on an airplane, correct?

CC: I was. I was on the airplane. I can’t even remember. What day was it? I don’t even know what day it was. Whichever day it was, I don’t even know where I was headed. I was on the plane, sitting in between two people, and I’m on social media, like, I log into the internet, we’re at least 10,000 feet in the air, that tells me that much, and I see someone tweet a link of the live footage, and so I click on it. I’m like, I don’t know this is gonna work, ’cause I’m on the plane, you know, airplane Wi-Fi is usually trash, so we’ll see what happens here.

And the audio comes on, and I don’t know if it took me back to 2013 when we were in that room and listening to the verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin. It took me back to 2015. It took me back to that moment when we were in the streets on Roosevelt and Michigan. It took me back to that moment when Malcolm was kidnapped. It took me back to so many moments before the verdict was announced, and I started hyperventilating on the plane, in tears, before any verdict was announced. And for me, just like when Trayvon Martin’s killer received his verdict, it wasn’t about being validated by the state that our black lives actually mattered. It was about whether or not I was going to witness another reminder of how the U.S. government operates, how the city of Chicago operates, and if Rahm Emanuel, the spineless person that he is, with a sheer lack of moral capacity and leadership skills, if he was going to get his way.

And what we witnessed is that there was a crack in the blue wall. There was a crack. And as an organizer who’s a part of the Chicago constellation of organizations — because we are a city of organizers, a city of organizations, right? — We put that crack in the wall, and it’s an opening for us to continue our work, our long-term abolitionist work.

JS: Jamie, I know you were covering this, obviously from the beginning, you were one of the people that that brought this to major public attention. I want to ask you about that trial and being in the courtroom. But first, because we are going to broadcast this around the world, remind people what happened in this case when Laquan McDonald was shot and killed — shot 16 times.

Jamie Kalven: So we’re talking October 20th, 2014. And the incident was widely reported in the media, but essentially, the police blotter was reported, the police press release. And the story was, aggressive young man lunges at police officer, police officer in defense of himself and fellow officers essentially has no choice but to shoot him. He’s shot in the chest and dies sometime later at a nearby hospital and you know, there — this is an audience of Chicagoans. We read these stories often, you know, over the years. I will just speak for myself, I’m a journalist who spent a lot of time in the neighborhoods most affected by unconstitutional policing, write about these issues, and, you know, I turned the page. Everybody turns the page.

And it was only because there was a tip from somebody in law enforcement, who remains unnamed, that I began to investigate it, and I won’t go through the, you know, entire history of the reporting. But what came out over time by way of the autopsy, civilian witnesses who had an unobstructed view of what happened, was that this young man was shot multiple, multiple times, most when he was on the ground, immobilized, writhing in pain. Ultimately, the dashcam video came out that corroborated eyewitness testimony and rocked the city and the world.

JS: Charlene, give a — give a sense of the recent history. I mean, we can go way back with the Chicago Police Department, and also the Chicago Police Department collaborating with the FBI. You had the, of course, assassination of Fred Hampton. Jon Burge, the police detective, recently died. And I want to make a point of saying, and I thank friends of mine in Chicago for pointing this out, when we talk about the crimes that Jon Burge committed, we have to remember that the Daley administration was aware —

CC: That’s right.

JS: — of what was happening, and through — just to quote the Catholic Church, my family priest is here — “Through both sins of omission and commission,” ensured that that system could carry on. But give a modern context to what black people in Chicago have been facing with police violence.

CC: So, to talk about policing in Chicago, and you can’t talk about it without talking about how the city is governed, as you mentioned, Daley, right? And the decisions that are made every single day that impact our communities. So, in the context of the time when Laquan McDonald was killed and the time when the video was released, this was in the aftermath of our so-called Democratic or progressive mayor closing well over 50 public schools, where at least 97 percent of the students who were impacted by those — the closing of those schools in one fell swoop were black students, right? And what we know at the same time is that he also closed several public mental health facilities in the city of Chicago, and we have some of the nation’s highest unemployment rates for black people. And so, we’re looking at communities on the South, West and I would even venture to say parts of the North Side, that have consistently been divested from, while the city of Chicago has been spending nearly 40 percent of the public service budget on policing.

So, what does that coin look like on a daily basis? We’re talking about nearly four million dollars a day on policing in this city, right? And so an organization called We Charge Genocide did a lot of the work to unveil that and really turn it into a narrative, a story that other organizers could pick up and run with, and really say, what else could we do with that money? What else could we do? So that’s a context, right?

This is also shortly before, or just a year or two before, right, the election of 45. Republicans and conservatives have not simply lost their minds, but they are being enabled to do all kinds of things that they wanted to do for a very long time. So, you got folks suffering, you have folks who are undocumented, both black and brown, having their doors knocked on by La Migra, people being deported, being terrorized in their communities. You have sex workers being criminalized, all kinds of — black trans women being killed — all these things happening, and you have a base of people who are like, “No, not anymore. Rekia Boyd, there will be justice for her. Our schools should not continue to be closed. We should have housing. We should have access to health care. Not anymore. We’re going to organize.”

So I think that’s what’s been happening in the city, and we’re not the first to do it. We want reparations in that same period of time, right? And that was a decade-long fight. And so it’s like this, like, juicy soup of organizing in this city, that between 2015 and 2016 — 2014 and 2016, especially — you see a heightened level of organizing that’s the result of both, right, this moment in the Movement for Black Lives, long-term organizing and these big flashpoints where young people, particularly young black folks, queer and trans folks, are organizing, and we’re making not just national news but international news. And we’re creating what I think to be a model for organizing and what it can look like, and lastly, the cost of it. Because I can’t tell you how many relationships were broken, how many people were broken, how many — how many sacrifices, how many doors were knocked down, how many people were surveilled, how many families were broken, all things in the movement work. So, just as much as we can talk about the victories of this particular moment in our organizing in Chicago, we also have to note the human cost of it.

JS: Jamie, how unusual is it for a police officer in Chicago to be charged with murder?

JK: This is, uh — [audience laughter] — this is the first such prosecution and the first conviction in half a century. And I don’t actually know that earlier situation. This may be the first time ever that a white police officer has been convicted for killing a black Chicagoan. So, you know, what happened last week in the trial is really unprecedented. And it’s complicated to talk about because the Laquan McDonald incident existed in these two different dimensions. It, you know, caused, when the video came out, other revelations about the institutional response to the murder of this child. It was cataclysmic in Chicago. It continues to reverberate. It has changed the political landscape. It has set in motion a whole set of processes. So, you know, that’s the larger public meaning of Laquan McDonald’s death.

The trial that concluded last week was really very, very narrow. It was a murder case stripped of all of that context. The only question in the courtroom, the only thing brought into evidence was, did this officer murder this young man? The verdict in the trial sort of transcends that narrowness and now becomes part of this public moment. And, you know, there was a lot of talk in Chicago and preparations for the possibility of an acquittal, a hung jury. And it was this weird mix in the public discussion of this sort of prudence and outright racism in predicting civil disorder, riots and such.

I think what was really at stake had there been an acquittal was despair, you know? It was just people not being able to entertain the possibility of meaningful change. And for lots of people, this trial — and I think it was in some ways misplaced, given the narrowness of the occasion — was the only metric of whether any progress has been made, through the organizing, through, you know, legal efforts to engage and address these underlying pathologies in our institutions. So, the verdict has given a measure of hope. A friend of mine, a fellow journalist, emailed me after the verdict came down and described it as a drop of justice in an ocean of injustice. And I think that has the proportions about right. It really, really matters. It really matters.

And when we think about alternative scenarios, we recognize how much it matters, but we don’t want to over-read it. You know, I think it defines the end of something, in terms of the Laquan McDonald case, but it’s also a threshold in terms of what lies ahead.

JS: Now, in the sort of eleventh hour of the trial, it was the defense that that raised the idea of second-degree murder conviction. What was going on there?

JK: So, you know, I haven’t —

JS: Meaning, the lawyers for Van Dyke —

JK: Lawyers, friends.

JS: — started to raise the prospect of a second-degree murder conviction.

JK: Right. They — well, the parties have to introduce that into the instructions to the jury as a possibility. So, I think, I mean, you know, one infers that they saw their case slipping away, and I think it — once that was a viable possibility for the jury, once it was known, it felt in the courtroom like everything was sort of moving that way. The table was set for that outcome. Having said that, when the verdict was announced in a hushed courtroom, and one thing that’s hard to describe about a trial like this — it’s a huge public event. And you know, numerous reporters were live-tweeting from the courtroom. Everybody’s, you know, accessing it through different kinds of media. Within the courtroom, it’s really very intimate. You know, it’s a relatively small courtroom. Apart from the press, the gallery is Jason Van Dyke’s family, some Fraternal Order of Police officials, members of Laquan McDonald’s family, some activists. It weirdly at times felt, like, almost like a wedding. You know, there are the benches and an aisle, and these families that have been brought together by tragic and appalling circumstances.

And when the verdict was rendered and the clerk of the court, an African-American woman, stood up and read the successive counts, and you know, it was referred to earlier in the conversation, in addition to the second-degree murder charge — guilty — there were 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. And they — she read through each one. “Count number one, number two.” And so essentially, each bullet was a crime. Each bullet was a crime. And in February of 2015, when I first published about this case, I titled the article “16 Shots.” When Charlene and others were organizing in the streets, the chant was “16 shots. 16 shots.”

CC: “And a cover-up.”

JK: “And a cover-up.” And to hear the — you know — and to hear the 16 shots rendered as verdicts was incredibly powerful.

JS: Charlene, do you believe that Van Dyke would have been convicted absent the political, social organizing in this city?

CC: No, I don’t think that he would have been convicted.

JK: He wouldn’t have been charged.

CC: Yeah, he wouldn’t have been charged, would just, would not have happened at all. Like, as Jamie has noted over and over again, right, people turn the page. People turned the page when Rekia Boyd was killed. People turned the page when Ronald Johnson was killed. People turn the page all the time in this city. And it was both the visual anger that was turned into mass mobilization, be it the Black Friday shutdown that we did on Michigan Avenue, be it just everything that happened that night and then everything that happened afterwards. Because remember, right, we were calling for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, the resignation of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. We wanted them all gone. So, and, we’re three for three. We’re three for three in Chicago. We’re three for three. [Audience cheers.] Right?

And so, all of those things contributed to any charge that he received and the consequent, you know, conviction. And I also don’t want to isolate it from the broader movement, right, that was happening across the country. And so we hear story after story, you mentioned Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland. Story after story after story, and it’s like, “OK.” And we’ve had some wins here in Chicago.

And so I think we should be very, very careful, as Jamie is noting, to think of this as a culmination, because it’s not. This is not our north star, just convicting police officers. That’s not our north star in Chicago. You know, for some folks and for many folks, that’s some things that need — that for a lot of folks, that’s what needs to be done along the way. It’s not what needs to be done along the way for me to think that we’re successful. It’s not my personal conviction. At the same time, I would not — my hope is that this conviction brings Laquan’s family some peace, and people who cared about him some peace, some solace. I really hope so, and I fervently believe that our people deserve so much more. We deserve so much more. So, yeah.

JS: Jamie, both you and I are investigative journalists, and I don’t want to turn this into some in-the-weeds geek-out conversation, but often, the job of an investigative journalist is to dig through the numbers and the documents that nobody takes the time to look at and try to make it plain for people, try to make it so that people can understand. Share some of the most interesting facts that you have extracted in your investigations, both through FOIA, but also working sources about the modern history of the Chicago Police and the forces that exist today.

JK: So, I appreciate the question. I mean, I think that for me, I’ve come to think about this in narrative terms. I’ve come to think about it in narrative terms. That really —

JS: That’s great for us. That’s great for all of us.

JK: Yeah, but, and we’re sort of the masters of the counternarrative. But one way of describing what happened after Laquan McDonald hit the ground — I mean, from the moment he hit the ground — is, and you know, the official narrative coalesced very, very quickly. Young man with a knife lunges at officer. Officer shoots him in self-defense.

What was required by the city to maintain that narrative? Think about it. From the first moment, civilian witnesses are being shooed away from the scene without being interviewed or getting contact information. Officers go into a nearby Burger King and commandeer the the surveillance equipment, and lo and behold, the relevant minutes disappear from the — there are a couple of witnesses who are adamant that they just witnessed an execution. They’re taken to a nearby police station, held for three and a half hours, subjected to a kind of brow-beating interrogation. That’s not to find out what they saw. It’s to re-educate them. “You can’t possibly have seen what you say you saw. We have video that contradicts it.”

We all know, and there’ll be another trial in a matter of weeks of officers who were at the scene, did not fire — probably many of them were as appalled as any of us would be by what happened — who go back to the station house and conspire to falsify records and provide, you know, reinforcing statements. Up the chain, you know, over time, once the case becomes visible and journalists and media organizations are FOIAing for the video footage, the administration is stonewalling, the press not engaging, ultimately a five-million-dollar settlement with the family, conditioned on not releasing the video — all of that was in the service of this false narrative.

But over time, as Charlene evoked, not just in Chicago, but nationally, the pressure is building, the pressure is building, the pressure is building. And I think one way of thinking about what happened is, for reasons — some of which we understand and some of which remain mysterious — that machinery blew up. You know, and if they had released the video earlier, that wouldn’t have happened. But ultimately, it was under such pressure, and so it just blew up. And I think what’s revealed by that — I understand, you know, the focus on the mayor, Anita Alvarez. And those are necessary, just like the conviction of Jason Van Dyke is necessary to go forward and have some semblance of justice. But we’re talking about larger systems in which there are all sorts of actors including, to a very high degree, the media and other, you know, civic actors. And so, it was just diagnostically important to sort of understand that larger machinery and how it works.

And because this sort of — I’ve come to the view, out of this experience, that it wasn’t a cover-up in the conventional Nixonian sense of, co-conspirators knew they did something wrong, and they compound the wrong by suppressing information about it. I wish it was. That to me is a sentimental narrative. This was a machinery, that, you know, makes black lives disappear and has worked countless times before. They had every reason to expect it would work this time, and for complicated reasons, it came crashing down. And that has created the opportunity that continues to exist in Chicago for really meaningful change. We’re talking about fundamental racism in key institutions, foundational racism. And it’s a heavy lift. The process is just beginning, but we — you know, that crack is widening.

JS: Jamie, both you and Charlene are going to join us again later in the program. But before you depart this part of the program, Charlene, I wanted to ask — you write about the Chicago model. Explain what you mean by that and if it will spread across the United States.

CC: Oh! [Laughs.] I laugh about that because I just think about all my friends who are Southern organizers who would scoff at the idea.

JS: Well, you call it the Chicago model, so — [Laughter.]

CC: I do.

JS: All right, rep your city.

CC: You know, historian Darlene Clark Hine talks about black Chicagoans as “Southern Northerners” and “Northern Southerners.” You know? And you can hear it in the way I talk. My grandparents are from Mississippi. And when I talk about the Chicago model, I’m talking about what it means to organize in a city where it is — we approach our work through — it’s intergenerational organizing, meaning it’s not just young people, it’s not just older people, but we’re sitting at the organizing table together. It means to contend with labor unions, with major faith-based institutions, right, be it the Nation of Islam, be it the Catholic Church, be it various Christian churches across the city.

It means to contend with the Democratic Party machine. It means to contend with people — like, when we worked on that campaign to oust Anita Alvarez, we’re talking about a citywide effort here. Right? And not everybody is actually aligned politically. We just happen to agree on one thing. Right? And so, our model is one where we don’t all have to agree in order to win, and where we deploy intense relationship-building, and we do local work that’s globalized. So I can’t think of a single mass mobilization or even small mobilization in the city where we weren’t talking about Palestinian liberation. I can’t tell you one that hasn’t happened, you know what I’m saying? [Applause, cheers.]

It ain’t just a bunch of folks in solidarity with Palestine, but actual Palestinians. Right? When we have actions, these are mass mobilizations about decolonization, about anti-war, anti-military, all those things, right, anti-imperialism. And we could be talking about the killing of Rekia Boyd and it will scale up to that. You know? And so, that’s what’s so unique about this place. We go hard in, like, 10-degrees-below weather.

JS: Charlene Carruthers and Jamie Kalven, you’re both going to join us later on. Let’s give it up for them. [Applause.] We’ll see you guys in a little bit.

You know, one of the commitments we made when we started doing this show right after Donald Trump’s inauguration was that we wanted to give a platform for creative people, for artists, for musicians to also be able to tell their stories. And we’ve been honored to have so many brilliant musical guests on our program, people who are about something. And part of the political reason that we made that decision is because, when you live in authoritarian times with authoritarian leaders, one of the things that authoritarianism wants to strip out of society is the creative voice, the voice of people that lift our spirits, or challenge us, or show us a sense of community and togetherness, or challenge us to be fiercer in our resistance, or challenge us never to let the authoritarians take our ability to laugh or to smile away from us. And our musical performers tonight are very much rooted in Chicago, but also rooted in those same political ideas.

He’s called the Gil Scott-Heron of this generation by Professor Cornel West. Malcolm London is an internationally recognized Chicago poet, activist, educator and musician. He also runs the largest youth open mic here in Chicago. He sees art as the intersection between justice and poetic imagination. Here is “Black Power Ranger” Malcolm London with Erick Mateo and Franchika Abbey.

[Musical performance by Malcolm London with Erick Mateo and Franchika Abbey]

Malcolm London: I owe everything that I am to this Chicago community. I believe redemption is the holiest thing that we can offer each other. And I’m just so very grateful to Chicago, to black women, to black queer people, and to this stage, and to these artists, and to the communities that I serve. My name is Malcolm London and I’m a poet, and a recovering addict, and a recovering misogynist black man. And we’ll be back later, but this is Franchika Abbey and Erick Mateo.


JS: Franchika, Malcolm, Erick, thank you very much for sharing the music with us. And Malcolm, thank you for being so blunt and outspoken, including about your own history and your own past.

Author Dr. Eve Ewing and Educator Bill Ayers Discuss Activism and Chicago’s Public Schools

I am so excited to bring on our next two guests. I said earlier that I think Eve Ewing is one of the most brilliant people that we have, and I am — every time I look at, like, her resume or her bio, I’m blown away. I want to borrow one of her degrees one day to just put it after my name. But Eve Ewing, when I first saw, or first read, the collection of poems and short stories and drawings, “Electric Arches,” I was so blown away by the diversity of the stories, the scale and also the unshackled imagination that Eve teaches us all about with her work. She also is an incredible scholar.

Please join me in welcoming. Dr. Eve Ewing. She is a sociologist of education, she’s a writer from Chicago, not far from here. In addition to “Electric Arches,” her brand new book, which I encourage everyone listening to pick up, is called “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side.” And it examines school closures and the vital role that schools should play in communities, but also the story of what has happened in Chicago. And in addition to also writing the forthcoming Ironheart comic for Marvel, she’s also an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service [Administration] — can I borrow some of these credentials? Okay, all right.

Eve Ewing: Yeah. I’m actually a bot. Yeah.

JS: I mean, if we could produce many Eve Ewings —

EE: I have an algorithm. [Laughter.] Thank you so much.

JS: And joining Eve — you know, it’s funny, when we were booking this show, I was sort of feeling like maybe we were getting punked, because all of these people, like, not only knew each other but are, like, friends, and have been in the struggle together. But it was pure coincidence, people. Our next guest is William Ayers — Bill Ayers, known to the community here. For a long time, he was the distinguished professor of education and senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bill Ayers has written a number of books, both about political moments, political struggles, his history as a resister during the Vietnam War, but also has spent — and the Bill Ayers that I actually have gotten to know just a bit has been someone who spends most of his time working with young people, working on anti-racist organizing, working with people who want to be real educators. He is a guy that for decades has has stood there. You know, the great, late Jesuit priest Dan Berrigan used to say, “Don’t just say something, stand there.” Bill Ayers has done a lot of standing, in a good way. His books include “Teaching Toward Freedom,” “Fugitive Days: A Memoir,” “Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident” and “Demand the Impossible!: A Radical Manifesto.” Please join me in welcoming Bill Ayers.

I have a lot I want to talk to both of you guys about, about Chicago schools. But picking up on where we left off with Charlene and Jamie, I just want to get your reactions to the Jason Van Dyke second-degree murder conviction and what it means. Eve, we’ll start with you.

EE: Sure. First, thank you for that extraordinarily generous introduction. I almost got shy and ran away.

JS: That would have been terrible. I would have been chased out of here.

EE: That would have been bad, that makes for bad radio. So, I have a lot of reactions. I guess one thing I want to say that hasn’t been discussed so far this evening is to think about the many, many ways in which Laquan McDonald was failed by the adults in his life and by the systems that were supposed to protect him and care for him — failed him as a child with a disability, failed him as a child moving in and out of the system, failed him in his educational experiences.

And so, in many ways. I think that, you know, Jamie used this metaphor of, a lot of us turn the page. And as somebody who used to be a teacher in Chicago and as someone who just knows a lot of people, for me often times when I see those headlines, the first thing I do is is scan, right? Is this somebody that I know, is this a young person that I know? And the sad fact is that on that night, any number of children, any number of young people in the city could have been Laquan McDonald. And there are many, many others like Laquan McDonald whose names we may never know. And so the question is, before they get to that crucial moment that’s a moment of life or death, how are we already failing them? And how do we need to step up the systems in this city, so that they are not martyrs of our failure?

And the other thing is how quickly he was blamed and criminalized for his own death, right? Black people are always put on trial for our own murders. It was almost jarring sometimes — I think the media did a good job of referring to it as the Jason Van Dyke case, right, to remind people this is who’s actually on trial. But the ways in which his childhood was attempted to be stripped away from him so many times, and for him to be portrayed as a brute and a monster, all those things kind of came to bear. And I think that that has a lot to do with the kind of work that Bill and I do and the role that schools have to play.

JS: Bill.

Bill Ayers: Well, I think that the way the three other folks have talked about it is exactly right. What we can’t let happen is make this moment get reduced to the fact that there was a video, or the fact that some lawyers did some work, or the fact that even that some journalists did some work. The reality is, without the movement on the ground, none of this would have happened. And it’s the movement that moves things forward. So, we can talk about elections, we can talk about, you know, people doing good work in their places, but without a social movement, without people mobilized on the ground, nothing moves forward.

And that you can — a quick glance at history will tell you that Lyndon Johnson passed the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, but he was a cracker from Texas and he was responding to fire from below. That’s true of Roosevelt, it’s true of Lincoln and you can go right back. So, let’s never lose sight of the fact that if we don’t mobilize people from below, we get nothing. That’s our job. We have sites of power we have access to: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces. The White House, the Pentagon, the Supreme Court — these aren’t our venues –– these are not where we have, you know, access. So, I think that’s the critical issue that came up.

The other thing I would say, echoing Eve to some extent, is that we had a mayor who closed over 50 schools, who’s now proposing to build a $95 million police academy. And the movement that Charlene has referred to again and again is a movement that’s going to work to stop that, and we have to all join that movement. Hashtag #NoCopAcademy. If there’s ever been a recipe for social suicide, it’s close 52 schools and open a police academy. That’s social suicide. So, we have to make it not happen.

JS: You know, Eve, on Monday night, Donald Trump, as he often does, brought up Chicago. And he was he was saying, oh, there’s got to be stop-and-frisk. And at the same time you have a bona fide white supremacist as attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who added in a speech that he gave in front of of sheriffs — it was not in his prepared remarks — but emphasized the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” [sic] of law enforcement officers in the United States. Given the way that the rhetoric now matches the policies in a way that is somewhat unusual — it’s not unheard of, but it’s out there, very much in the open — what about the way that Chicago is used by Jeff Sessions and Trump and huge swaths of people on social media, but in this country who are supporting Trump and cheering this on — the way that they use Chicago as a sort of stand-in for what they’re really talking about?

EE: You know, there’s a saying that my people have, which is, “keep my name out your mouth,” right? It’s an African-American proverb. Another African-American proverb is, “don’t start none, won’t be none.” Right? And so, Donald Trump knows not of which he speaks. And, for those who are not students of very recent history, there was an attempted rally here a few years ago, right? Chicago said no. Chicago said, “not today,” right, “don’t come over here talking all that.” You know, that’s not what we do. And the thing is, you know, we are not coastal elites. You know, we are as cosmopolitan as we may be, we’re still a little Midwestern fly-over town of very regular people. We’re a working-class city, you know?

And I think as such, and also speaking from the perspective of a black Chicagoan, we’re always going to be used to people either ignoring us or talking about us in a way where we don’t see ourselves, and that’s old news. It happens — it’s being deployed right now in a way that’s especially vicious and especially visible. But if we spent time worrying about what other people say about us, we would never have the time to do the kind of good movement organizing that people have already talked about this evening. And so, I really don’t worry myself with all that.

The one thing I will say that does concern me is that I think Donald Trump is very easy to paint as an extremist, or this is an extreme view. But I’ve written about this — and I don’t remember, maybe you and I talked about last time I was on the show — that I actually think a lot of this fearmongering is something that is very palatable and very acceptable to average white liberal people across the country, including Chicagoans, right? And so, Jamie mentioned earlier, there was this bonkers fearmongering, bizarre fearmongering that was happening before the announcement of the verdict, that was just so transparent and so sick. The city was sending out these alerts and bulletins telling people to go home. They were busing in CTA bus-fulls of police, probably getting zillions of dollars in overtime, right? For what, right? This fear of a black monstrosity, right? And it was so — it was so evident.

And that is something that you don’t have to be Donald Trump to get behind that. There’s a lot of regular white people in the city who get behind that, and not only that, they get behind it in the name of the people that they supposedly are concerned about but are actually fearful of, right? And it’s a really masterful way of co-opting the language of concern, of civil rights, of safety, as a means to police and control black people, right?

And I’ll give — concision is not my strength, but I’ll give two really short examples of this. One is this rhetoric around policing. “We need more police, we need more police,” right? The homicide solve rate in Chicago is, like, 17 percent. OK. And the most policed neighborhoods in the city, we still see replications of the same problems and the same violence. I always ask people, “do you think Lincoln Park is safe because there’s a lot of police there? Do you see cruisers going around in Lakeview all the time and in wealthy neighborhoods?” No, that’s not how that works. And I think that that is just the kind of rhetoric of safety that is appealing to people and that is used to control people.

And then the second example of that is, there’s a columnist in town who I won’t name, but who wrote a couple of years ago about building a wall around some of these really dangerous neighborhoods, right? And that is something that a lot of regular people can get behind, in the name of saying, “Well, we need to protect the good people and keep out the bad people,” without understanding that the quote-unquote bad people are also our cousins, our students, our grandparents, our sisters, our neighbors, our friends, right? And they, too, have a place in the city. The question is, what are we giving them to make it a home worth living in? [Applause.]

BA: Beautiful.

JS: Bill, you recently wrote an essay on patriotism, and I just want to share part of that and then ask you to sort of riff on it. You wrote, “The tools to become a patriotic internationalist are everywhere — humor and art, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the urgent thrust — and the rhythm is always the same: open your eyes and look unblinkingly at the world as it really is; be astonished by the beauty and horrified at the unnecessary suffering all around; dive into the wreckage and swim as hard as possible toward a distant and indistinct shore; doubt that your efforts made enough difference, and rethink, recalibrate, look again,
link arms with others across the globe, and dive in once more.”

BA: Damn.

EE: Who wrote that?

BA: I wrote that?

JS: Did Eve write that for you?

EE: He taught me everything I know.

JS: This you know, and maybe later we’ll talk a little bit about how you launched Obama’s political career. [Laughter.]

But I mean, you have stuck at this and, you know, a lot of your contemporaries would say, “Oh I didn’t sell out, I, you know, I bought in.” People get burned out in movements, we all struggle with that a lot. How do you keep going? But this moment where you have Trump in power — and the journalist Allan Nairn I think put it best. He said he yanked the Republican oligarchs kicking and screaming back into power. And I don’t know if a President Rubio, or a President McCain or any of these people would have been able to accomplish what he did with Kavanaugh. I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. The tax plan. I mean, Trump has been excellent for — and I like what Eve’s saying too we shouldn’t even talk about, they all are extremists. This isn’t — he is not an anomaly. But he is sort of the Trojan horse for the institutional radical right wing in this country organized under the auspices of the Republican Party. But this moment that we’re in, compared to all of the other moments that you’ve experienced politically with various commanders-in-chief in office in your lifetime, Bill.

BA: Well, I think you captured it very well in the beginning of the show. I mean, this is not an anomaly. This is an American reality. And I think anyone who was shocked, you know, and still hasn’t recovered from this election, doesn’t know the country we live in. The white supremacist base for this kind of thinking is always there. What Trump has succeeded in doing is consolidating that base to a degree that I’ve not seen in over 50 years. I mean, the last time I — the last rally, you know, Eve mentioned the UIC rally where Trump was denied. Incidentally, the mass media reported that as, you know, somehow Trump decided not to come because Chicago police said it would be too dangerous. The reality is that I got a phone call the week before that rally from a former student who said, get a ticket to get in.

A fascist rally depends on an adoring audience. We had 6,000 of the 8,000 tickets in our hands. [Laughter, applause.] So, I was in. I was inside. And that meant that he couldn’t have an adoring crowd, and he stayed in Cleveland. We kept him out, and we did it through organizing. And that’s the kind of thing that I think we have to remember. But he has organized that white supremacist base, consolidated it, and it’s living in the West Wing. That’s a very serious problem that we’re facing, it’s a reality that we’re facing. But it’s important to remember that it’s not brand new. It’s always there. I also think you know your question and your comment about Chicago as a metaphor — it’s very important to remember that we — one of our stances has to be, nothing about us without us. You know that we are Chicago and that Chicago is also Charlene and Eve, and also Gwendolyn Brooks, and also Richard Wright and also Ida B. Wells. So, this is Chicago, too, and we have to deploy our own metaphor, our own meaning for that.

A quick word on the issue of patriotism that you read — you know, it’s been a theme for a long time of mine that when you think about organizing, you know, we think about it in concrete tactical terms, strategic terms. But it’s very important to know that there’s a rhythm, which is easy to state and excruciatingly difficult to enact. And that rhythm is, you cannot be an activist or a good citizen or a good resident or a moral person if you don’t open your eyes. Not once, but again and again. You have to see the world for what it is. You then have to be astonished at both the beauty and the pain that’s in that world. You have to act. And then you have to doubt or rethink. If you don’t doubt, rethink, then you’re assuming that the world that you see, the world that you define, the political moment that you name is somehow static. But it’s not static.

You’re not the same person you were a year ago. The struggle is not the same as it was a year ago. The political moment is not the same. So, we have to keep our eyes open and keep that rhythm going. Open your eyes, pay attention, be astonished, act, doubt, continue. [Applause.]

JS: Of course, the education secretary now is Betsy DeVos —

EE: Still? Have we checked? Anybody on Twitter? [Laughter.]

JS: Yes. She has her armed security around her. She may step into a public school later with, like, Erik Prince, her brother’s mercenary army perhaps guarding. But when you have someone like that, I mean, it reminds me of when Ronald Reagan mistook his secretary of education for the elevator operator, because just to give you a sense of how important education was to the Reagan administration. But when you have someone like Betsy DeVos who, you know, it was often said that she had never been in a public school. Technically, she was once in a public school, which somehow her PR people decided to dig that up and start throwing it at people. It probably was better to leave it at she was never in a public school. But, you know, and so, someone like that who is kind of clueless billionaire with a Cruella de Vil streak to her, that’s easy to resist. You know, you said, oh, my — it’s just in the same way as Trump. But Rahm Emanuel here in Chicago —

EE: I like where you’re going with this, Jeremy. I like it. Go on.

JS: I just have to say his name, there doesn’t even need to be a question. Rahm Emanuel, Chicago schools, Eve. Take it away.

EE: Boy. You know — there’s a lot of competition. I think Betsy DeVos is a strong contender for least qualified member of the Trump cabinet —

JS: That’s a bold assertion because there’s a lot of —

EE: I’m out here. I’m out here on Front Street. I’m making claims. I think that there’s evidence to suggest that that’s a feasible argument. I think that like so many other things that we’ve talked about, right? Our theme here in this conversation is kind of emerging as, Trump makes visible a through-line that precedes him and is deeper than him and goes beyond him, which is what facilitates his ascent to power. Right? And what he actually makes easy is he almost makes it easy for some people to have plausible deniability, to be able to say, look over there at that really bad guy, and turn attention from a lot of the things that they’ve been doing for a long time.

So, Betsy DeVos is terrible. Yes. She is uniquely terrible, perhaps. But actually, many of her policies, the things she advocates, are the culmination of a lot of policy that was very popular across the aisle for a long time, including during the Obama administration and far before that. Right? And, you know, her policies and her way of thinking about public schools are the logical kind of zenith of an idea that goes much deeper, which is the idea of — I hate to say the word, but neoliberalism, right? This is a neoliberalist idea that our role is to choose schools in a marketplace, that it’s not that we have rights to education, but that we are to fight for education like customers and consumers, that schools are to compete against each other, that we are to incentivize that competition. And if you lose, so what, right? And so on and so forth.

And that idea is very popular among Democrats and Republicans. And it’s popular because it ties into a myth of American meritocracy and hyperindividualism that is pervasive across our culture. Right? And so, and what that myth permits, is it permits us to remember that education is — to quote the Bible — it’s about the least of these, right? It’s about every kid. It’s not just about kids whose parents want to fill out a lottery to maybe get into a good school, or parents whose — kids whose parents did the research, or kids whose parents had the money to move into a certain school district. It’s supposed to be about every kid, right? Kid whose parents are struggling with addiction. Kids who are wards of the state. Kids who are poor are also supposed to have a great education, and that’s not supposed to be like shopping for cereal in the cereal aisle, where you look at the box and see, you know? And that is something that is a long groundwork that has been laid for a long time, and some of the architecture for that groundwork has been laid in this city and was taken to Washington, D.C. with great success. And so, Betsy DeVos actually had I think a pretty easy job of stepping in and just amplifying what was already there.

JS: Share with people part of what you are writing about and getting at in “Ghosts in the Schoolyard.”

EE: Sure. Since you mentioned writing, I want to take the opportunity to say that Bill and I were once in a writing workshop together.

BA: And every couple weeks, it was great.

EE: Yeah, and we shared drafts of writing. And I just want to say that because Charlene talked about intergenerational organizing, and Bill has been like a play uncle to me for years. So, I really appreciate him. So, “Ghosts in the Schoolyard” is a book about schools to help you understand race and racism. Or, it’s a book about race and racism to help you understand public schools, depending on where you’re coming from. So, the book is about the 2013 public school closures, which were in Chicago, which were the largest mass public school closure in American history. Fifty schools were closed –– 49 elementary schools, one high school. And the students who were impacted were, by and large, black students.

Not only that, but of the schools across the city that had majority-black students and majority-black teachers, one in four of those schools was closed. And lots of black teachers lost their jobs. And that matters because Chicago actually historically had a very strong core of black teachers, which is important because nationwide, 82 percent of teachers are white — 82 percent of public school teachers are white. And that’s not what our student body looks like.

JS: That’s at all levels?

EE: That’s at all levels across the country, K-12 public school students nationally in the U.S. That’s from the National Center for Education Statistics, for those who want to check my math. And so, really, what many people began to accuse right away, which was the writing that was on the wall, was — this was not just about these schools, or about the buildings being empty, or being under-enrolled or about the schools not being academically successful. Many people said this is part of a broader pattern of displacement. This is part of a broader strategy of making the city uninhabitable for black people — right? — and you’ve seen the headlines. Chicago has lost — we are hemorrhaging black people. We have lost so many people and so much population loss in the last several years.

And so, what the book does is basically, it’s me using history and stories and interviews to really explore this question of the role that race and racism played in the policy decision. Spoiler alert: It was racist. This is a racist policy decision. But part of what I’m trying to do in the book is to really talk about how history and context illuminate that, and that it’s impossible for us to talk about this contemporary policy without looking at the history and context.

And the other thing I’m on the low, like, trying to do with the book, is to give people an accessible vocabulary for talking about what racism means and what racism is. And when I say this is racist and somebody else says no, it’s not, I don’t have a racist bone in my body, or no, it’s not, that wasn’t my intention, or no, it’s not, it just happens that all these kids were black, and the schools happened to close — to give us a more robust language for talking through that, which I hope is useful to people. So, I really tried to make it a book that anybody could read and enjoy if you’re an academic or a teacher or a student. So, yeah, that’s what it’s about. It’s very sad. It’s kind of a downer. [Applause.]

JS: Bill, we have seen — and I know this has been the case in this city with Chicago teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union striking — we saw the West Virginia teachers striking, and you definitely have, I think, a higher level of awareness of what it means in a society when teachers are not treated well, when schools are defunded, when segregation, whether it’s official policy in writing or based on other white supremacist policies that have long been entrenched. But given what Eve just said and also this other part of the reality, that you see increasingly teachers sort of joining the broader struggles — and it’s not just about their wages or their conditions. In many of these cases, you’ll hear teachers articulating a much bigger vision of why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s not just “we want more money.” I don’t think that’s always the case, but we definitely have heard that, particularly coming out of West Virginia.

The role of organized labor — and it seems like there’s a resurgence. A lot of young people in media, for instance, they’re organizing unions again. You have Democratic Socialists of America now pressing at the margins of the Democratic Party to sort of do an inside-outside strategy. But it does seem something is happening in this country, and there’s some new ideas, but there’s also a return to some of the old organizing principles.

BA: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. Just to pick up, though, where Eve was in this, the corporate school reform agenda which she referenced, which was embraced as you said by Democrats and Republicans, also by the New York Times, the New Yorker and Fox News, let’s not forget it’s been — and by foundations as well as hedge fund managers. And it rests on three legs, and it has to be named. The corporate school reform agenda rests on the idea that the collective voice of teachers is irrelevant. It should be smashed or ignored. It rests on the idea that education will be reduced to a single metric, a high-stakes standardized test. And it rests on the idea of selling off the public space to private managers and corporations.

This is the meaning of corporate school reform for the last three and a half decades. What’s remarkable about Chicago Teachers Union five years ago is that when they went out on strike and they fought Mayor Rahm Emanuel, not to a standstill, they put him on his back and they won. And they did it by fighting for education as a human right — education as a right that every child has, simply by being born and being here. And so when, you know, they were required by law to negotiate nothing but wages and benefits, and if you went to any of those rallies in downtown Chicago during that week, everyone was about saving public education. Everyone was about arts in the schools, and nurses in the schools, and social workers in the schools. It was a fight for public education, and it wouldn’t have been successful had it not been for community people and teachers fighting together.

That was the model for West Virginia. No one in this room has ever heard of a statewide teachers’ strike, because there’s not been one. Suddenly we’ve seen four. What the hell is going on? What’s going on is exactly the coalition of teachers, community folks, parents, and students standing up together to fight for public education as a human right. Look up Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says every child in the world has a right to an education. Doesn’t say anything about test scores, or about charter schools, or about jumping through hoops to get an education.

You mentioned Eve’s excellent book. I want to mention a book I read, so you don’t have to, and that’s Arne Duncan’s new memoir called — [Laughter.] — and it’s called “How Schools Work.” It’s got nothing to do with how schools work. It’s, you know, you can’t find a single policy prescription or a single description of how schools work. What you find —

JS: For people who are not from Chicago, just explain briefly, Arne Duncan was Obama’s education secretary and before that was superintendent —

BA: So, he was for eight years Obama’s secretary of education. And as Eve indicated, Arne Duncan and John King, the two secretaries of education under Obama, paved the way for Betsy DeVos. And I think she’s uniquely, singularly awful. But I think it’s foolish to pretend that Arne Duncan and John King didn’t also embrace the idea that education is a product to be bought at the marketplace like a refrigerator or a stove. And they put that forward, and they fought for it. So, Arne’s book, you know, the subtitle is “An intimate insider account of success and failure by the longest-running secretary of education,” something like that.

JS: Riveting stuff, it sounds like. Memorable.

BA: But in any case, it fails the test of good memoir, because he doesn’t learn anything. [Laughter.] He doesn’t struggle to learn anything. What he does is apologizes for eight years of running the nation’s schools and four years of running the Chicago schools. And every time he mentions a self-criticism, which he does about a half a dozen times, he ends up deciding that the real problem was a failure to communicate. And it reminded me so much of Cool Hand Luke, where, you know, where the the fascist captain keeps talking to the prisoner, and every time they have a contentful disagreement, the captain says, what we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s what Arne says, again, and again. So, the problem with “Race to the Top,” the problem with Common Core, the problem with the resistance to standardized testing is he failed to communicate properly so people can understand.

But just to know what the reality is, when he came back to Chicago after 12 years of running schools, he couldn’t find a single public school to send his kids to. So, he sent his kids to a school — and I don’t blame him — he sent his kids to a school with a full arts program, small class sizes, a third of the tests that Chicago public school kids have to take and a unionized teacher corps. So, he knows what’s good, but for the rest of us, you can send your kids to a school with no arts program, with no nurse, no counselor, and endless standardized testing. That’s hypocrisy at the highest level. Don’t read the book, but I wrote a review, you can read that. [Applause.]

EE: Thank you for your sacrifice.

JS: You really took one for the team there, Bill. Eve, we only have a few minutes left in this segment of the program.

EE: You shouldn’t ask me anything, then.

JS: No, I want to pass the mic to you on this. I got a bunch of emails from people when we announced that you were going to be on the show, asking me to just ask you how you ended up doing all the stuff that you do. [Laughter.] No, but it’s one of my favorite things to do in this position where you ask people stuff, is like, how did you end up who you are today? Share some parts of your life.

EE: That’s the question? Oh, wow.

JS: Yeah. How did you end up being Eve Ewing that’s sitting here right now?

EE: Oh, gosh. Well, I was born seven hundred years ago on a planet far, far away and my people — no.

JS: Someone is going to write that down, and then they’re going to bootleg it, here’s a new Eve Ewing story.

EE: I am from space. No, I think that — okay I’m going to get, like super cheesy. I’m going to get unapologetically cheesy. You know, I’m a product of my environment in the best and worst possible ways. And so, I grew up, I came of age in Chicago in the ’90s. Right? And so, that means that I had a front seat in the history of a lot of the violence and the corruption that we’ve talked about today. And I saw — I grew up in Chicago public schools. And so, I learned about schools being unequal when I was 11 or 12 because I saw how my brother was treated. I saw how my friends were treated. I remember being a kid and reading about Jon Burge in the Chicago Reader — right? — and reading Jamie’s work, coming of age. And so, I grew up at kind of the height of this terribleness, at the same time surrounded by the resources of the brilliant, loving, caring, ferocious people who seem dedicated to the end of the day, till the sun goes down, to fighting these things.

And I was so blessed and so grateful to have so many incredible mentors, both people that I have the chance to know personally, people like Bill, and then people who, you know, I’ve admired from afar and now kind of get to know, like Jamie, and people who inspire me every day, like Charlene. And so I’m just really grateful to have — as many terrible things as I’ve witnessed and seen in my comparatively short life, I have three times as many wonderful people who make me feel like we can maybe possibly do something about it. [Applause.]

JS: What’s the first piece of fiction you remember writing?

EE: The first piece of fiction I remember writing — I wrote a short story called Santa’s New Suit. And I was seven years old, and I won the statewide Illinois Young Authors’ competition. And my story was about Santa deciding that he’s tired of wearing the same outfit all the time. And so, he goes out and he steals a Bulls hat, some Jordans, and a bikini from somebody’s house, and starts, like, delivering gifts, and everybody’s horrified. He’s like, oh, I should just be Santa again. And I also Illustrated this book and I also bound it with yarn myself. And I won the statewide story competition for public school students, and I was supposed to go down to Springfield and get my trophy, and I had a T-ball game that day. And so I didn’t go. And that’s the story of how I gave up a writing career to become a professional T-ball player. [Applause.]

JS: Final question before we bring Malcolm back on for another performance. Give us a preview of what you’re going to do with Ironheart, the Marvel comic.

EE: Oh, I thought I was going to be off the hook, and Bill was going to get the final question, because I just had to tell my whole life story.

JS: I’ve got some stuff for Bill later, but go ahead.

EE: So, Ironheart, for those of you don’t know, her real name is Riri Williams. And she is a black teen girl genius from Chicago who builds a suit, initially replicating the Iron Man suit that Tony Stark built and then eventually has, like, a new version of the suit, and she has really cool powers, and it’s part of a team called Champions.

And I think that really what I want to do is — you know, I grew up loving comic books. And what I always say is that people don’t love Captain America or Hulk or Spider-Man just because of what they can do in terms — as superheroes, right? They love them because of the conflicts of who they are, right? People love Peter Parker. People love Bruce Banner, right? And so I really see my job as taking this character that was created by other people — and I’m very grateful to kind of take on the mantle and say, who is she, and why does she do what she does, right? And she’s also a really awkward teenager that doesn’t really have any friends. And so, I’m kind of enjoying, like, giving her the embodiment of trying to figure that out. But mostly I’m just incredibly, incredibly grateful to be able to write a character that’s so much like somebody I would have loved to see on the cover of a comic book when I was a kid. So, I’m just grateful.

JS: Well, I think everybody’s probably looking very forward to that.

EE: Thanks, it’s November 14th.

JS: November 14th it comes out. Eve Ewing and Bill Ayers are going to come back momentarily to wrap up the discussion with Jamie and Charlene. Yeah, you can go ahead and chill for a minute. Please join me in welcoming back to the stage Malcolm London, Black Power Ranger, Franchika Abbey, and Erick Mateo. We’re very fortunate to have not just their musical talent, but also at the very end of this, I think we’re going to get a surprise from Eve Ewing as well. I don’t think she’s going to rap. I don’t think she’s going to necessarily —

Malcolm London: She can rap, though.

JS: I’m sure. I don’t doubt it for a second. Malcolm London, everybody.

[Musical performance by Malcolm London with Erick Mateo and Franchika Abbey.]

The Panelists Discuss a Vision of America Where Police and the Prison-Industrial-Complex Are Abolished

JS: So, to wrap up this evening, we are going to invite back onto the stage all four of our guests for tonight, and as they’re setting up the chairs, I just want to say that my father is here tonight. He is from Hyde Park, from the South Side of Chicago. My mom is here, she’s from Aurora, Illinois. Somehow they chose to raise us in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I apologize. But — and I could be wrong about this, you know, Eve gave her sources, but my source is just growing up in Milwaukee — I believe that there is a Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, but not a Chicago Avenue in Milwaukee. I think that’s correct. [Scattered boos.] Okay, I don’t need to get booed for that.

No, but it’s, you know — as I was listening to Eve do a very truncated description of how she ended up being who she was and being a product of the the ’90s, I, too, remember as a kid in Milwaukee hearing about the police shooting of an African-American man named Ernest Lacy. And I remember when I was in eighth grade, the Jeffrey Dahmer murders broke out into the public light. And, you know, a lot of people don’t remember the core fact about what happened in the Jeffrey Dahmer cases. He was systematically murdering black men. That was the overwhelming majority of the people that Jeffrey Dahmer murdered. He also murdered a Laotian kid named Konerak Sinthasomphone, and he had actually abducted him and raped him, and tried to drill a hole in his head. And Konerak got away, and he went and miraculously found Milwaukee police officers. And the police officers radioed back, because Dahmer had convinced them that that was — this young boy was his lover. And the police officers used a slur to describe him, and they released him back into the custody of Dahmer, who then went and and killed him.

And growing up also in a very segregated city, Milwaukee, you have a choice to make. All of us have a choice to make as we come of age — do we want to change what has made us who we are, the circumstances around us? Or are we going to become part of either the silent masses, or those that are actually actively working to uphold white supremacy, or injustice, or economic injustice, or war? And I think all of us also, to one degree or another, always have to give thanks to our families. And so, I just wanted to thank my mother and my father for making me who I am and being here tonight. So, Mom and Dad, thank you very much. [Applause.] They also brought the priest that baptized me, Father Bill Vanecko. I may need to do some confession since I’m in town, but, okay. Yeah, I know you didn’t wear the monkey suit, so, that’s cool. You were always dressing in civilian clothes. That’s what we love about you. All right, please — sorry. I’m really — okay, you know, he’s that kind of a priest. Okay, it’s all right. It’s okay. Please join me in welcoming back Eve Ewing, Jamie Kalven, Charlene Carruthers, and Bill Ayers.

JS: So, we’re going to run through as much as we can in the moments that we have together, but Bill, I do want to start with you to put you in a little bit of a hot seat. I believe we have some video we’d like to show you. No, it’s not old video of you, don’t worry. But I do want — you know, I remember when — the first time that I met you in person was actually the day after the 2008 election when Obama had won. I was in Chicago doing some speaking, and I was sitting in your living room, and I remember vividly how Reverend Jeremiah Wright and how you were both used by the Republicans, by McCain and Palin, but also the perception — and I’ve never asked you about this — that you also were kind of kicked under the bus by the Obama campaign and at times even Obama himself. But for people — you can respond, just hold on a sec — for people that maybe don’t remember this, I just want to show people how Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign used Bill Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Sarah Palin: I was reading today a copy of the New York Times. … Today, I was reading my copy of the New York Times. … I was reading my copy of the New York Times the other day. Okay? [Boos.] And I knew you guys would react that way, okay. So, I’m reading the New York Times, though. And I was really interested to read in there about Barack Obama’s friends from Chicago … friends from Chicago… friends from Chicago, as the New York Times reported. Turns out … turns out … turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers … is a man named Bill Ayers. [Boos.] Was a domestic terrorist. … He was a domestic terrorist. … He was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that quote … quote … quote … launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol.

Now, this is not a man who sees America as you and I see America. We see America as a force for good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism. Yes. USA! USA!

BA: That was amazing.

JS: Yeah, I’m sorry if all everyone in this room had been satisfied with themselves for forgetting that Sarah Palin existed. But Bill, the way that both you and Jeremiah Wright were discussed in that campaign and used — I want to give you an opportunity to respond to what I said earlier, but first, what is the real story, the actual truth of your relationship with Obama?

BA: Well, he called me a guy around the neighborhood, and I would say yes, he was a guy around the neighborhood. Barack was a guy around the neighborhood. We knew each other, people in Hyde Park know each other. So, we never shared a milkshake with two straws, that I remember, so it wasn’t that kind of relationship, but we knew each other, and you know, we were friendly. I would say that. But the reality is, you know, one of the things — first of all, you said I was thrown under the bus. That’s the only place I’m comfortable, is under the bus. [Laughter.] So, there was no problem with that. But the other thing that this doesn’t highlight is that Hillary Clinton was the one who brought that narrative to bear. So, let’s not forget that when this was picked up by McCain and Palin, it had already failed for Hillary Clinton.

And when it came up — it’s kind of remarkable — but I had a seminar with my graduate students at my house in April 2008. And when the seminar wound down and we were cleaning up the dishes, and somebody turned on the TV. And I was bored with it, but it was the Stephanopoulos debate between Obama and Hillary Clinton. And at one point, Stephanopoulos asked Obama, what about Jeremiah Wright? You know, he’s said such-and-such. And he says Jeremiah Wright’s from a different generation. And he says, what about this other guy Bill Ayers, who bombed the Pentagon? And, you know, what about your friendship with him? And Obama went through a whole thing, about I’m an English teacher and a guy around the neighborhood. But what was remarkable was that my students all fell on the floor when Stephanopolous asked that question. One of my students turned to me, and he said, “That guy has the same name you have.” [Laughter.]

And some other — someone else helpfully pointed out, that’s because we are the same guy. But it was — you know, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t devastating for me. I mean, I’ve — you know, it just wasn’t that kind of thing. The other person you should add to that narrative of — because Hillary Clinton started the narrative with the idea that Obama is a charismatic — obviously brilliant — young guy, we don’t know much about him. So, let’s look at his friends. And it was Jeremiah Wright first, me second, Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian activist and an important figure in Chicago and now in New York City — and Rashid was part of it, and Father Pfleger was part of it. So, you know, it was, let’s look at his sketchy friends and the whole sad tradition of guilt by association. We weathered it, we survived it. And, you know, under the bus is where I still am. So, cool.

JS: Charlene, I wanted to ask you, going forward, I mean, you cited some of the victories that have been produced by social movements, political organizing. You talked about Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel, and obviously, we were talking about the conviction of Jason Van Dyke. As you have worked at the grassroots, mobilized here in Chicago, but as you say, thinking nationally and globally, what lessons have you learned that you can share with people coming of age politically who — maybe the whole reality they’ve known is living in a post 9/11 world. Or this is the first presidential election of their conscious lifetime that resulted in Donald Trump taking power. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from doing the work?

CC: Yeah. So, there are so many things. And my publicist and my editor would be, like, “You should say your book.” I talk about it in my book. I spend a bunch of chapters talking about the things that I’ve learned, like, the really big lessons, in “Unapologetic.” And amongst them is to go big and be bold, because what’s happening right now is this idea that there’s a set of rules, and if we follow them, we can create the kind of change we want. But all the rules are out the window. And so, we have a choice right now, about — do we just want to bring the rules back, or do we want to actually create new rules? Do we actually want to accept that the government as it is, from the Electoral College to the power of the president has, to how people are elected into office is actually OK? Or do we want to say that we want something radically different? And that’s what I’ve learned, is that the call for the abolition of immigration — of ICE — right? — the call for the abolition of prisons and policing, those are not new calls. Well, ICE, that call is new, because ICE in and of itself is a newer agency, but the call —

JS: The principle is not new.

CC: The principle is not new. Organizations like Critical Resistance — I mean, we can go really far back to Harriet Tubman or any of those other people who have been calling for the abolition of systems that cage our people, that are various systems, various iterations of slavery. However you want to think about it — right? — it’s not new. And so, I’ve learned that we’ve got to keep pushing. Keep pushing these big bold ideas, and at some point, they won’t necessarily be considered the biggest and the boldest ideas, but we’ll have ideological supremacy. And that’s what I want. I want that. I want us to have, like, a certain level of supremacy, that we should live in a world where all children have access to quality, free public education. [Applause.] Right? That should — I want that to be the law — like, the way of the land. We should all live in a world where universal health care is guaranteed for everybody, affordable housing — and, where safety is actually considered the domain of the community and not the domain of prisons or police. I get a lot — as many handclaps for that? You know, like, all those things.

And the idea that those things are possible are just as big as the ideological supremacy of capitalism that it holds — right? — of patriarchy, of anti-black racism. Those things hold deep — that police keep us safe. Those big ideas reign supreme, and I believe that in our work we have to say that they shouldn’t be supreme, and we should keep working and working until they are bigger in the popular consciousness of people. And I’m not talking simply about a populist movement. I’m sure that we’ll get some people excited, that that’s what I’m calling for. What I’m calling for is deep organizing, deep power shifts and deep transformation of how resources are used, and deep transformation in the kinds of relationships we have with each other, and the land that we live on. [Applause.]

JS: You know, one of the brilliant people we’ve been honored to have several times on this show I know is a friend of several of you here tonight. But, Mariame Kaba is a prison abolitionist. I mean, she’s — like Eve and Charlene, she is many, many things, but you know, she is —

CC: She’s amazing.

JS: Yes, she’s amazing. She’s a prison abolitionist, and she has become, like, a people’s historian of the carceral state in this country, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the history of prisons from Mariame. And I encourage people to check out all of the work that she’s doing. She also has a new children’s book out that deals with incarceration —

EE: Called “Missing Daddy.”

JS: Called “Missing Daddy.” I wanted to ask you something, based, though, on listening to Mariame’s speeches and also interviewing her, and any of you can take a crack at this. Can you can you imagine a system that does not include a carceral state? Can you imagine a system that doesn’t include police as we understand them today in our society? And if you can imagine that, what does it look like?

EE: You know, I think that if we weren’t able to imagine that, I don’t think any of us would be doing what we’re doing. I don’t think any of us would be able to get up every day. I think that — you know, I used to think, I used to worry that some of the comparisons between chattel slavery and prison and the carceral state — I used to worry that those things were hyperbolic or that they were not quite right. And I think that there are ways, like any analogy or any comparison, that it’s not quite right. If you have been inside a prison, it is very, very hard to walk out not believing in your core that this is the modern incarnation of slavery. I mean that with no rhetoric. I mean that with no — that’s not me as a poet. That’s me as a person who’s been inside a prison.

And the first time you see black men walking in chains knowing that they are going to live the rest of their life and die inside a fortress. That is not pretty. It’s not like Orange is the New Black, right? This is a dungeon. This is a cave. It’s very hard to walk out of that and not understand that this is the history that our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents tried so hard to teach us about, because schools weren’t teaching us. And I think all the time about the fact — because I’m a reader and a writer as my profession, I think all the time about the fact that I live in a country where it was against the law for my ancestors to read and to write on pain of death.

And the reason I bring all this up and I’m talking about slavery is because the entire foundation of American society was built upon the bedrock of this institution that is no longer. And so it is impossible for us to articulate with the level of detail what it looks like to live in a world without prisons to the same level of detail that we can articulate what it looks like to live in a world with them because we’ve never seen it. But once upon a time, people in this country had to ask each other to imagine something that they had never seen, which is a world in which this thing that was the entire foundation of capitalism and social society and politics and all these other things, the very fabric of our nation, was built on this thing. And people like Frederick Douglass had to say, “But you need to imagine something else, because human lives are on the line.”

And so I think that it’s very hard for us to say. Well, you know, it’s not like putting together Ikea furniture — right? — like, imagining a post-prison state or a post-police state, but we have to imagine it in small pieces, nevertheless. And we have to believe that it’s possible. And to me, it looks like doing what Charlene said, which is, trying to live out that politic in small ways every day and to be relentless and uncompromising that this is something that can happen.

CC: So, I first learned about, like, abolition of the prison-industrial-complex from then-19-year-old Asha Ransby-Sporn. And, I just hadn’t heard of it. This was about five years ago when we started BYP100, hadn’t heard of the idea. And so, I think it’s important for us to break down at least what I understand prison abolition or abolition of the prison-industrial complex to mean. It is one that we can live — it’s a long-term campaign in which we do the work of dismantling the way that we deal with conflict, harm and violence, and move it from one where we deal with it with punishment and more violence to where we deal with it in radically different ways, right? And where, yes, it’s about dismantling things. But the abolition that I believe in and understand is that we actually have to build the alternatives.

So, I’m just going to go straight to it and just go straight for the jugular, because you’re probably asking yourselves, what do we do with the rapists and the murderers? What are we doing with them now? What are we doing with them now? They’re — one may argue that they live in the halls of the United States government, and they’re making decisions over our lives. [Applause.] So, in the city of Chicago, I want in the city of Chicago and I want across this country that if my car is stolen, I want my car back. That’s what I want. I don’t want you sitting in county and my car being somewhere else. If I’m in the middle of a mental health crisis as we know has happened here in this city, people have been in the middle of a Quintonio Green and Bettie Davis [sic], I believe is her last name —

EE: Jones, Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier.

CC: LeGrier. See, I got all the names wrong. Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones. Quintonio was in a middle of a mental health crisis. Who do we call when that’s happening? Most people can only call 911. I want to live in a world where mental health crisis response teams respond to that. [Applause.] You know, that’s what I want. Not the police. They’re not trained to do that. It’s preposterous. And you get in a car accident in Chicago and you need a report to take to your insurance. You have to go to the police department to get a report. Can’t we go to somebody else to do that?

So, it’s about all of those things, y’all, and so I wanted to hit it on the jugular and then also just talk about in real plain terms what we mean when were talking about abolition of the prison-industrial complex.

JS: Thank you, Charlene.

BA: Few quick points. I’m leaving tomorrow morning early to go to Buffalo to visit David Gilbert, the biological father of my son Chesa, who’s been in prison for 38 years. And this is to Eve’s point. I will leave there tomorrow weeping because I always do. And the emotion is, why can’t I take him with me? Thirty-eight years. And I want to take all the guys with me, you know, it’s just such an emotional — you know, it’s not a metaphor, and I think Eve and Charlene are absolutely right on that.

I first learned about prison abolition from Angela Davis and Erica Meiners and Mariame Kaba and others. And the first time I said it out loud, I was giving a talk to students at the University of Pittsburgh. And I said we should abolish the prisons. And the first question was, “You’re kidding, right? I mean, that’s a metaphor, right?” I said no, I think we should actually abolish the prisons. “What about the first question. What about Jeffrey Dahmer?” You know, that’s what is always said. “What about that murderer?” I said, okay. One prison cell. And I’ll throw in George Bush. Who else? That’s two, you know?

So, you know, you’re in this position where instead of saying two and a half million — instead of saying, you make a mistake, you must be punished, you go to prison, that’s what the answer is — instead of starting there, you don’t start with two and a half million people locked up. You start by saying, where can we dismantle this, one by one? And the answer lies in the kind of society that would be — that would foreground education, mental health, drug treatment, good jobs or guarantees of income. The kind of things that would make our society humane would do away with the need for prisons, for mass incarceration.

What happened in the last four decades is not natural. It’s unnatural. It’s planned. It’s dehumanizing of all of us. And we live in a place where just a mile from here, black men and brown men are living in cages. We should all freak out about that and do something about it.

CC: And women and girls and children.

JS: The reality where we are right now, with not just the Chicago police but police forces across this country, is that they — there is very entrenched power and a lot of firepower. There is an increasing paramilitarization and militarization of the police. You know, the Pentagon and Homeland Security have this program where the the weapons of war and the hardware of war, that are used in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, are now coming back to the United States and being deployed around the country. And we saw that in a very visible way in Ferguson, for instance.

But this is a trend that has been exploding over the past 20 years, where the police now all look like SWAT teams, or they all look like SEAL Team Six is coming to, like, deal with a shoplifter. And Jamie, with that reality, and with the power of the Fraternal Orders of Police, and now having Trump constantly — he doesn’t talk about the military as much as he talks about the police. The police is sort of the constituency that he is aiming his message at. From all your years of investigative journalism on the particulars of police misconduct or abuse, how do you even begin to take on the work that Charlene and Eve and Bill were just describing?

JK: Yeah. I appreciate the question and I deeply appreciate the abolitionist energies, because I think they have expanded a sort of imaginative space and actually have posed, as with their cop academy — #NoCopAcademy — a set of very immediate and concrete allocation questions about where we put our common resources. I think the challenge — and, you know, several of us have touched on this — is, how do you build the path? And how do you make sure that you don’t miss occasions that may be smaller, more incremental, but might save lives in the short term. And I think, you know, we face that challenge strategically every day in this work.

One thing we haven’t mentioned tonight, and maybe not everybody is aware of it. But today the Department of Justice — and I always insist on calling him by his full name, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, to evoke the tradition that he acts out of — announced that the United States Department of Justice is going to intervene in the consent decree case in Chicago on the side of the police union to oppose police reform in Chicago. Now, let’s put that into perspective. There was a 13-month investigation. I think arguably the most intense, thorough, searching investigation that the DOJ has ever undertaken of a police department, under the Obama administration, issued a report on the eve of the inauguration of Trump that found egregious pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing, unconstitutional use of force disproportionately affecting people of color in Chicago — hugely documented, you know, definitive.

Basically, what our government is saying right now more explicitly than with tweets and with, you know, offhand remarks, is that the only effective policing is unconstitutional policing. The only effective policing is to continue to violate the constitutional rights and human dignity of people of color in the city. So, we have a fight on our hands. And, you know, several people have mentioned the kind of unmasking of white supremacy that has happened in this administration, not just the clownish aspects of it, but the deep institutional character of it. This is a fight we have to win. And it’s really being, you know, defined. I think it’s also not an accident of timing that this DOJ intervention comes several days after the Van Dyke verdict. This is completely related. So, that’s also the assertion by the government of the United States of America that what we saw depicted in that video is appropriate policing, constitutional policing, justified.

So, you know, we’re in a space right now, and I think there are tremendous energies to take this on. There’s an opportunity. And there’s something — I don’t want to say invigorating — but something clarifying and even bracing about being able to really see the character of what you’re contending with. So much of this — talk about false narratives — has been kind of hidden and obscured and called by other names. Now we’re dealing with the thing itself, but we have to rise to this attention — this occasion — and really, I think all of us, elevate our games to be worthy of this historical moment. It’s an opportunity, but there’s a lot at stake, and there’s no guarantee that things don’t get significantly worse.

JS: Well, I want to thank all of our guests and thank you as well. And thank you, Logan Square Auditorium. I’m honored to be sitting with all of you tonight, and I really appreciate the wisdom of all of our guests. Let’s hear it for Charlene Carruthers, Jamie Kalven, Bill Ayers. Eve Ewing has accepted our request to do — to close the evening out tonight by performing a piece of poetry. Is it from Electric Arches?

EE: It’s not. It’s going to be something else.

JS: Oh, all right. So, we’re going to bring a stand out there. I want to thank a couple of people as we’re getting this set up. I really appreciate the hard work and the dedication to organizing that goes on for the Third Coast Festival. Thank you so much for making us a part of this. Emily Kennedy, who actually in addition to being an organizer at Third Coast, often does the transcripts for this show — and I say her name usually in our credits, but she worked with Maya Goldberg-Safir to organize this event. Also, Johanna Zorn, Rebekah Silverman, Isabel Vázquez. Adam Yoffe, thank you very much for live mixing and recording this show. John Geary and the Logan Square Auditorium, thank you so much. Also, my colleagues Thomas Crowley, Kate Myers and Rodrigo Brandão from The Intercept. And I’ll do my normal credits in a moment, but first, I hand the stage completely over to Dr. Eve Ewing.

EE: Thank you all so much, and thanks again for coming out to my neighborhood, Logan Square, Chicago, Illinois. Jeremy asked me to choose a poem that would fit the conversation this evening. And so, I was like, oh, maybe I’ll read something new, or maybe I’ll read from the book, but I decided to read a poem some of you may know. And it’s a poem I wrote on the occasion of what would have been Emmett Till’s birthday, and I wrote it because I was thinking about the long, mundane life that he never got to have. And I think as we all remember Laquan McDonald, and as we ask ourselves the tough question of what justice could look like in a city that for so long has been so unjust, it’s a good occasion for us to remember another boy whose life ended when he was very young, and to ask the question, what if he just got to be old?

This poem is called “I saw Emmett Till this week at the grocery store.”

looking over the plums, one by one

lifting each to his eyes and

turning it slowly, a little earth,

checking the smooth skin for pockmarks

and rot, or signs of unkind days or people,

then sliding them gently into the plastic.

whistling softly, reaching with a slim, woolen arm

into the cart, he first balanced them over the wire

before realizing the danger of bruising

and lifting them back out, cradling them

in the crook of his elbow until

something harder could take that bottom space.

I knew him from his hat, one of those

fine porkpie numbers they used to sell

on Roosevelt Road. it had lost its feather but

he had carefully folded a dollar bill

and slid it between the ribbon and the felt

and it stood at attention. he wore his money.

upright and strong, he was already to the checkout

by the time I caught up with him. I called out his name

and he spun like a dancer,

looked at me quizzically for a moment before

remembering my face. he smiled. well

hello young lady

hello, so chilly today

should have worn my warm coat like you

yes so cool for August in Chicago

how are things going for you

oh he sighed and put the candy on the belt

it goes, it goes.

EE: Thank you so much.

JS: That does it for our live episode of Intercepted. Thank you to our partner Haymarket Books for being here with us tonight. This show is only possible because of a very hardworking team of people. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and the Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, who I’m going to ask to come up here. Jack D’Isidoro is our producer. Leital Molad is not here today, she is our executive producer. That’s Jack D’Isidoro. Laura Flynn is our associate producer. Where are you Laura? Oh, there you are, Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixes our show. Emily Kennedy often does our transcripts. Our music, as always, is composed by DJ Spooky. Thank you very much, Chicago. Thank you to the Logan Square Auditorium. And thank you for being an incredible audience. Have a good evening. everybody! Books of all the authors are back there. I think people are going to stick around to sign some of them, as well. The signing will be up here by the books back there, and you can loop around there. And if anyone wants to call Bill Ayers a terrorist, they’re gonna have to deal with me — no. Thank you, everybody.

Top photo: Eve Ewing performs a poem during a live taping of the Intercepted podcast at the Logan Square Auditorium in Chicago, on Oct. 9, 2018.

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