By Mimi Harris
Most of you who know me know that I’ve been raising hell in the streets, one way or another, for most of my life. But last Wednesday, May 23, was the crème de la crème for me, and I’m so exhilarated by it, I want to share it with you.
Dressed to the nines, and after two days of intensive, exhausting preparations, I attended (with about 30 others) the annual meeting of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a shareholder. Late last year the “Merc” received a huge tax break from the supposedly bankrupt state of Illinois. The tax break — a form of corporate welfare — officially goes into effect in July and will cost the state an estimated $77 million per year, though this number will depend on the CME’s profits (which have grown at an average rate of 19% annually for the last 30 years!). Over the next decade, that will cost us – you and me, folks – a billion dollars, easily.
Meanwhile the rest of us are expected to suffer through huge cuts to childcare, Medicaid (I, myself, will no longer get the help I need for medication), mental health facilities, state parks, as well as job and pension cuts. Sadly this long list goes on. And on.
At the CME shareholder meeting, the Board of Directors, including financial columnist Terry Savage, and the executives were there to vote themselves raises. After all, they made nearly $2 billion in profits just last year. (So why do they need a tax break?) Their last CEO retired at 50 with a golden parachute of millions. I’m still working, at age 80, because I have to, and paying my fair share of taxes.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The Merc was also awarded $15 million in TIF funds to redo their bathrooms and conference rooms. The Stand Up! Chicago coalition, bless their hearts, delivered a golden toilet to them. That evidently helped them to do the right thing: they relinquished their rights to the TIF funds.
It was so gratifying last week to be in the room with them and speak truth to power and see them cringe. For the landsmen (kinsmen) I saw among them, I had a special private message that I was able to deliver to some — that their behavior is a shanda (a scandal, shameful, humiliation for our people)!
Most of you, maybe all of you, even if you are very comfortable, are part of the 99%. I encourage you to act like it. After all, if Stand Up! Chicago got them to return $15 million in TIF funds with a golden toilet, think what else we can do! In my view, our country is at stake.
For me, this action was a blessing and I am thrilled to have been a part of it!
-Mimi is a veteran organizer, a Board Member of Arise Chicago, a Board Member of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and an active participant in Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Organization of the NorthEast, and the Social Action Committee of Emanuel Congregation.
For more photos from the action, check out the Arise Chicago photo album on Facebook.