Updated: July 1, 2012 12:08PM
Six hundred bucks. That’s what “the other Chicago” wants. For a start. That magic number came courtesy of a bus tour for journalists last Friday. I got on board as a welcome escape from the frenzy around the NATO confab, which blessfully ends today.
We spent a sunny morning in 99 percent territory, Little Village and Back of the Yards. Residents there were eager to lure us away from our obsession with protests and police. They wanted to talk about everyday people with everyday needs.
The tour was sponsored by the Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of 11 advocacy groups. As our van rattled along pothole-filled neighborhood streets, activists pleaded for mental health services, new parks, safer spaces.
“Long after NATO is done, these are the realities and issues that will remain,” said Amisha Patel, the collaborative’s executive director.
We found one reality that remains in the basement of La Villita Community Church, where the Chicago Youth Boxing Club serves 120 youths. The club is a safe haven for kids in gang-plagued Little Village and Lawndale, where half of the residents are under the age of 25. Boys and girls go there every weekday afternoon to box, blow off steam, and get help with their homework.
Pastor Victor Rodriguez stood by the regulation-size boxing ring, chuckling as he described the after-school action. “Controlled chaos,” he said. The basement gets sweaty, smelly and noisy. It is also a safe haven that “saves lives.”
The NATO Host Committee plans to spend about $14 million on parties, dinners and public activities, according to news reports. “It’s not fair when we hear the numbers of money that’s going to be spent on wining and dining,” Rodriguez said. “It seems almost sinful.”
Just $600, Rodriguez said, would pay for “at least 4 speed bags and a dozen sparring gloves” to outfit his young athletes this summer.
The NATO visitors will be dropping much of that $128 million as they dine and party at the city’s glittering hotspots. Rodriguez sent them a message: “Some of the people that they are going to be serving the delegates and stuff are people to have to go back to neighborhoods that are unsafe, where there is violence.”
The activists argue that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who helped raise at least $36 million to fund the NATO events, must do more for the neighborhoods.
The summit will inject more than $128 million into the city’s economy, said a spokesperson for the mayor, Tarrah Cooper. “The mayor has worked to make our government more effective, deliver better services at a more competitive price, and open government to the public.”
The “Other Chicago” tour was targeted at the 2,500 journalists who were expected to cover NATO. Yet, despite weeks of pitching, only 19 journalists showed up for two tours, Patel told me. Most of them were from local media outlets.
It took a once-in-a-lifetime international summit to get a bunch of our own reporters to visit the other Chicago. That’s the real sin.