“People lack patience with the capitalist system”: Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez on government as a socialist

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Shortly after the Chicago one 33rd room alderman, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, took up her post in 2019, she helped create the Democratic Socialist Caucus in City Council, joining five other representatives endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America. Democratic Socialists now represent ten percent of the Chicago council, and the caucus led the charge to protect immigrants, prevent privatization efforts, and reallocate police funds to public services.

Halfway through his first term, In these times spoke with Rodriguez Sanchez about his radically practical view of public safety and the challenges facing socialist lawmakers.

What surprised you as a legislator?

In the daily work in the parish, you see how privileged certain communities are and the expectations they have from the government. People who have been disenfranchised don’t even reach out because they don’t even know how.

The other thing that blows my mind: the power that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has. She appoints the chairs of the legislative branch committees, so we don’t really have a lot of independence.

In 2019, you ran on reallocating funds from police to utilities. How did you continue this fight during your tenure, especially since the resurgence of the BLM?

My main legislative project was Treatment not trauma, to prevent police from responding to mental health emergencies and non-violent situations. Chicago used to have a public mental health system, but due to neoliberal policies we now only have five functioning clinics. We try to invest in these clinics and use them to provide ongoing crisis response and care.

The Lightfoot administration tried to block it at every turn. They ended up trying to make their own non-police alternative this summer, but nothing has really happened yet.

What role did the Socialists play in the fight for the new Chicago Civilian Police Oversight Board?

Carlos [Ramirez-Rosa, Ward 35] presented the first order, which was the CPAC [Civilian Police Accountability Council] one, then the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability had something similar.

It was a brutal process, because the mayor did not want to adopt what was proposed. At one point, the two coalitions came together to create a hybrid that watered down the original proposition. Finally, the mayor saw that she had no other choice.

Some of my colleagues were afraid of appearing to be too tough on crime. The mayor appoints the chairs of legislative committees, so a lot of people didn’t want to go against her. But the reality is that civilian police surveillance was very popular, and something the mayor ran over.

What did you accomplish outside of the legislative process?

To counter the idea that public safety requires more policing, we have organized events in hot spots ”where there have been violent incidents. Research shows it works to prevent further incidents. We organize neighbors to somehow make positive stroll. We do cleanings, parties, barbecues. We have also worked with outreach workers to stop the violence and make sure we reach out to those most likely to cause or be injured.

As a socialist, what sets you apart in city council?

My campaign was very intentional: we didn’t want any support from the developers or the big companies. The main power of an alderman is zoning – the risk of conflict of interest is therefore very high. And a lot of developers are gentrifying our communities and displacing the most vulnerable.

We have a participatory budgeting process and a community zoning process. We try to be as democratic and transparent as possible. We support workers every time workers go on strike.

During the pandemic, we took public pantries everywhere with basic stuff like hygiene products, food, diapers. It was a lot of work, this pandemic. But we got the job done. And I know a lot of my colleagues who have done absolutely nothing.

Right now I’m arguing with the Chicago Park District because they allowed Amazon to put a bunch of lockers on Park District property. It’s crazy. Amazon does not pay taxes. And they use our public spaces to make a profit?

How do DSA board members relate to DSA?

We work in close collaboration with the executive committee of the Chicago DSA chapter. We plan together. We try to maintain very close communication.

You are the only member of the Socialist Democratic Caucus who did not run as a Democrat. Why become independent?

I understand, strategically, why it makes sense to identify with Democrats. For me, I am from Puerto Rico. And my experiences under Democrats and Republicans living in a colony have been very similar. It would be really hard for me to say Oh, I belong to a party that has agreed with the way the United States has mistreated Puerto Rico, and also the way the American Empire has destroyed Latin America, the Middle East.

As a minority bloc of five socialists, how do you build power?

We are at least nine socialists / left / progressives doing the job and standing up to the mayor, no problem. There was friction at times, that’s for sure, because we all come from very different organizational backgrounds. And then there are others in the [18-member] Progressive caucus that we were able to count on for specific things.

Most of all, we have the grassroots support. Often it is enough to change public opinion.

Do you see your role in City Council as part of the preparation of an independent party?

Ultimately, we want a socialist society, and the only way to achieve this is to have a party organized and led by workers. At this time when the world is on fire, people are at the end of their patience with the capitalist system. The only thing we can do is make sure we come up with alternatives.


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