Anthony Clark is running to represent Illinois’s 7th Congressional district, which includes much of the West Side, parts of the South Side—including Englewood, Chicago Lawn, Back of the Yards, and Chinatown—and extends far into the west suburbs. He is up against U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis, who has held the seat since 1997. Clark first ran against Davis in 2018 and lost by nearly fifty points. As the first college graduate in a working-class family, he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in criminal justice while serving in the military. Following his honorable discharge in 2009, Clark became an education advocate and a special education teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School in the west suburbs. He is also the founder of the nonprofit Suburban Unity Alliance. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What problems remain unaddressed in the 7th District?
This district is a microcosm of issues facing the nation, such as vast wealth disparities that are interconnected to historical oppression.… You have localized poverty, where you have communities that are made up of wonderful individuals who love their communities and families, like [in] Austin [or in] West Garfield Park and Englewood, that are just trying to survive. This is because the investment has been taken out of the community. Since the property tax [revenues] are extremely low, you have poverty—with poverty comes violence, and with violence comes death. It’s all interconnected.
Within our communities, individuals are struggling; property values are extremely low. We see that in our school systems. That’s why the public schools within predominantly Black and brown communities continue to close. They’re under-invested. Our infrastructure is dying. You have high levels of toxicity and high levels of pollution that disproportionately impact Black and brown people. All this ties into Black people, primarily, lack[ing] social and economic generational wealth. We don’t have property to pass down through the generations. We don’t have income to pass down through the generations. My parents did not attend college, so when it was time for me to go, they didn’t have their social generational capital to pass down to me. So you see this across the board, you know, within communities like Austin, West Garfield Park, and Englewood. Even when you go on to communities like Oak Park, you still have people that are struggling.
What do you think is the most important part of your reparations agenda in terms of achieving economic empowerment in the community?
I cannot pinpoint an issue independent of another, because all issues are interconnected. So if you look at healthcare—because we have extremely low affordable health care, it impacts employment. Employment impacts livable wages, which impacts the individual’s ability to maintain a home; then we have homelessness, and it’s all tied into the environment.
My reparations agenda is a live document that will continue to be updated and will continue to evolve. What my agenda tries to tell people is: recognize and understand within the class struggle, because Black and brown and poor people—but specifically Black people—have been disproportionately impacted by the class struggle.
My reparations agenda is essentially stating that every policy needs to have a reparations lens. So no matter what policy we’re pushing, whether it be an environmental policy, an employment policy, an infrastructure policy, or a criminal justice policy, we need to look at it from a reparation lens and identify how much money needs to be allotted to the Black community.
Similarly, part of our reparations agenda is the federal legalization of cannabis. We see it right now in Illinois. Cannabis is now legal, but we’re still seeing under-representation of Black shop owners and Black growers within our community. They’re being frozen out from the market. The individuals that benefited and profited when it was prohibited are still benefiting when it’s legal.
How is education reform part of your agenda?
Our schools, particularly public schools, are underfunded. I’m a hundred percent against privatization, but I also tell people that I don’t blame parents for choosing a charter school, because parents are desperate and they’re looking for greater opportunities for their children and their families. But because our government is investing heavily into charter schools, that’s taking the funding away at the federal level, as well as at the local level, from our public school systems. So we have to recognize how that impacts our public schools.
I think we need to recalculate the Title I fund, which allocates federal dollars to schools. We need to completely end standardized testing at a federal level across the board; that should no longer be tied in college admissions, because those are biased and inequitable. We need to, again, invest in HBCUs….All that investment will lead to improved representation of Black teachers, Black lawyers, Black doctors, so on and so forth across the board.
All teachers need at least $60,000 across the board to cover the cost of living. That’s a huge issue because I think that will lead to better teachers being retained and entering into communities. We need homegrown funding models where teachers stay in their communities. Being a teacher myself, I know that you have a lot of teachers that come from outside of the community—and I salute all teachers, they’re trying—but many of them are not able to build strong relationships with students, because the students want to see their own representation. Trust is extremely important, because in education you really can’t teach anything without having good relationships with students.
And I think we also have to look across the board while we’re addressing funding models: what is the baseline? Just like we talked about a livable wage, how we’re doing a Fight for 15, [but] that’s not enough. We really need a livable wage. What are the baseline accommodations and support every classroom in every school needs for students to be relatively successful? Because I have taught in schools where we had no computers and we could not make copies. I mean, it was ridiculous. It was like a house of sinners—that’s the school to prison pipeline. And I have also taught in schools where every student has a laptop, and you can make as many copies as you want. You have all the accommodations in the world. So I think similar to a livable wage, similar to teachers making $60,000 a year and covering the cost of living, we need to identify a baseline funding model for what amount of money every school needs to ensure that every student has a computer, [and that] every teacher has the ability to provide their classroom with the supplies they need without having to go within our own pockets to fund it.
Could you talk about your pledge to #EndPoliceViolence? How is policing an issue that remains unaddressed in the 7th District?
We know that the relationship between communities and police—predominantly in communities of color, Black communities—is fractured. The relationship is not positive, it’s an us versus them mentality. The police violence that exists needs to be tied directly to gun violence. Our police departments are currently militarized. But across the nation, we don’t have a civilian oversight committee to better hold police departments accountable.
I truly believe that, at the end of the day, the institution of policing is racist. You don’t have to be an individual racist cop to perpetuate and support our racist system. If we look at history—I’m a history teacher—the police were founded to protect the property of wealthy white individuals. And we know in the 1800s, slavery was property. Today, because oftentimes we’re not looked at as human beings, this notion still exists. But instead of keeping us on the plantation, we were placed into the criminal justice system and put into prisons—where we make the government money.
There are policies that award the police military-grade weapons and military-grade vehicles. That’s why you see areas like Ferguson, where police are riding around in tanks and armored vehicles—seemed like they’re prepared to go to war against people who they are supposed to protect and serve. It’s a huge issue. We need to close those loopholes that allow police departments to get their hands on military-style weapons and military-style vehicles. There needs to be training implemented nationally to address and hopefully eliminate any biases, as well as uncovering [biases], because we have so many police officers that in their private lives are part of organizations that do not believe in the humanity and the empowerment of all individuals. We need to get better.
We need to have strong civilian accountability models at the top of every police department. Police departments need to move from an us-versus-them mentality to a community policing mentality, where they are focused on building relationships. Similar to teaching, we need to have homegrown models across the board. We need to have more individuals from the community policing their communities.
But beyond abolishing policing, we need to have individuals that are policing who truly care about their communities and truly are connected to their communities. They should truly understand the people they are serving, because the us-versus-them mentality will never work. The militarization of police departments will never work. And we continue to see a lack of accountability when police officers are killing Black and brown individuals and poor individuals on a yearly basis.
What issues do you agree or disagree with Danny Davis on?
There’s a difference between surviving and fighting for revolution. I thank Danny Davis for his service, but it’s impossible to say that he cares about the people in our district or that he is a fighter. When you look at the district, when you look at the vast disparities that exist, we can’t blame that on the Republican Party. This district is extremely blue. This is a D+38 district, a Democratic stronghold. So we have to look ourselves in the mirror. Essentially, what happens is, he sits back and places party first, and is invested in maintaining the status quo. What does the status quo look like? There is divestment in communities in which young individuals are not voting. He particularly depends upon the older vote and the church vote.
But what are we doing? We’re out there fighting, we’re pushing for revolution. We’re saying that low voter turnout is no longer acceptable. We’re saying that the divestment in our communities is no longer acceptable. We’re saying that we’re not going to wait for someone else to fight for Medicare for All, or climate change, or housing as a human right. We’re going to fight. We’re going to work building coalitions with these wonderful organizations across the district, hand-in-hand with other fighters, and push forward. In 2020, we have to have the courage and the boldness to take the community and the party to where they need to be. And that’s the difference. Danny is meeting the community where it is to survive. We have the boldness and courage to take the community to where it needs to be because we believe in revolution.
As for now, progressive leftists and socialists are an emerging force in the Democratic Party. How do you see that shaping the party in the next ten or twenty years? What does it mean to have a huge presence of Democratic Socialists of American (DSA) in the city council of Chicago?
I think we’ve already seen changes across the board. The Sun-Times just endorsed our campaign. We have six DSA representatives in the city council. We’re building strong coalitions that place the needs and the wants and desires of working-class people before corporations, before developers, and before party. We’re placing people first.
I believe what we’re doing is bringing the Democratic Party home. You cannot be centrist or moderate, working with a right-wing party that is not invested in empowerment of the people, because if you’re centrist and moderate, that’s not empowerment. That’s the system just surviving. That’s just accepting this is the best that is going to be. We’re no longer accepting that as a wing of the party. We’re pushing the Democratic Party further, with that revolutionary mindset to where better is not good enough. Simply not having Trump in office is not good enough, because Trump is a symptom, not the root cause of the systemic issues that we face. We need to address the root cause issues, and we need to truly empower and place people before party.
What we’re telling individuals is, again, within class warfare, within the class struggle, let’s come together. Let’s unite despite our differences, bring our differences, represent our differences. But let’s unite and attack this class issue that exists. And that’s speaking to people across the aisle, even individuals that may consider themselves conservative. They may not be able to relate to anything but poverty, but because they do, they’re starting to understand what currently exists at the other end of people saying that your issue exists because of a Black person, your issue exists because of a brown person, your issue exists because somebody is undocumented—no, that’s not true. Our issue exists because of capitalism that’s built upon oppression. And we have to speak truth to power.
Yiwen Lu is a politics reporter for the Weekly. This is her first piece for the Weekly.