Ana Guajardo. Illustration by Vivian Jones

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In September, Ana Guajardo, a long-time immigrant and workers’ rights organizer from the Southeast Side announced she would enter the race to replace 10th Ward Alderperson Susan Sadlowski-Garza who is retiring after two terms. Guajardo, who co-founded Centro de Trabajadores Unidos (CTU) or United Workers Center in the Southeast Side, announced her candidacy at a rally hosted by Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García who endorsed her. Sadlowski-Garza is holding a fundraiser for Guajardo this month.

Guajardo told the Weekly some of her proudest accomplishments include organizing to win union contracts, helping workers recover millions in stolen wages, launching women-led worker cooperatives and organizing efforts to provide meals, rent, and funds for people struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Guajardo is also an adjunct professor of community organizing at Loyola and has helped organize massive immigrants rights marches and rallies. So far, Guajardo’s only opponent is Óscar Sánchez (who the Weekly also interviewed in this issue).

The municipal election will take place on February 28, 2023.

What motivated you to run for 10th Ward Alderperson? What’s your background and experience?

I recall when I lived on 91st Street and Burley Avenue, having a love and passion for my community. After my parents decided to move out of the 10th Ward, I always hoped to move back to the community. I began to get involved in 2006 during the immigrant rights marches after leaving Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 3 and shortly moved back. In 2007, I saw how Jays Potato Chips Company filed for bankruptcy and left their workers with nothing. It was then that I began to organize and co-founded Centro de Trabajadores Unidos with amazing and passionate leaders. 

I have always wanted to contribute to the 10th Ward at a different level. During the Bike-4-Justice where I rode my bicycle over 1,500 miles from Monterrey, Mexico to Chicago I did a lot of reflection and soul searching and knew once I rode up to our community center that I needed to do more but at a different level. I believe I am the candidate for the job and know that everything I do will come from love and compassion for residents. I have devoted twenty years of my life to organizing for just and humane policies and advocating for the rights of low-income marginalized workers.

What roots or connection do you have to the 10th Ward?

Prior to my birth, my parents lived in the Bush community and moved to 91st St. and Buffalo Ave. when I was born. I attended J.N. Thorp Elementary School. I joined the Illinois Army National Guard and received my B.A. at Chicago State University majoring in political science with a minor in business administration, was a MacArthur Scholar and attended the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs where I received my M.A. in Public Policy. 

I currently reside in Vets Park (Slag Valley). Before moving back to the 10th Ward I was organizing for immigrant rights against the Sensenbrenner Immigration Bill, H.R. 4437, which criminalized anyone and everyone that provided any assistance to immigrants. I was heavily involved in mobilizing buses from the 10th Ward, northwest Indiana and the south suburbs to pressure elected officials against the anti-immigrant legislation and pushing for just and humane comprehensive immigration reform. 

Shortly after, I was assisting workers from the Jays Potato Chip Company that laid off over 400 workers who had as many as fifteen to forty years working for the plant. It was through this work that we decided to start a non-profit organization that would focus on protecting the rights of our communities and assist in labor, immigration and education. Immediately after we formed the organization, I was nominated by the board as the volunteer executive director. I remained in that role for one and a half years before coming in as paid staff. 

I worked as an organizer with SEIU helping janitors win a union contract against the largest cleaning company in Indianapolis, as well as restoring anti-worker firings. I took the lead in passing the Access to Religious Ministry Act in 2007 and introduced a worker cooperative bill in the State of Illinois that grants worker co-ops the ability to register as an Illinois Worker Cooperative Act (IWCA) business. I played a key role in passing an amendment to the Illinois Wage Payment Collection Act. I brought parent mentor programs to six schools in our 10th Ward and allocated over $250,000 funds to our community through the program. And through our civic engagement program, we have assisted over 250 residents in becoming citizens.

What are the biggest issues residents are facing in the Southeast Side that you hope to address?

Employment: I have learned firsthand that Southeast Side residents need good-paying jobs. Far too many are unemployed or underemployed. We need to foster jobs with dignity and ensure that those working are not faced with dicrimination or victims of wage-theft from exploitative employers.

Public Safety: As a community we must create a holistic understanding and investment in public safety for all by understanding the root causes of poverty and the resulting consequences. We need new strategies that invest in long-term solutions, build trust in our communities, and give first responders the training and resources to serve. 

Clear air and clean water: The 10th Ward should be a place where residents feel comfortable and safe living and playing. There are a wealth of beautiful areas, from William Powers State Recreation area to the reclaimed Big Marsh Bike Park. We need to continue to remediate our brownfields and former industrial sites to improve the health of the community and restore the ecological diversity of the Southeast Side. I will actively engage with the Illinois and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that our neighborhood is proactively addressing pollution concerns. We also need to ensure that as development comes back to the Southeast Side, that it is building on the principles of a green and closed loop economy.

Infrastructure and transportation: We need to bring more resources to public parks, libraries, schools, etc to ensure that we have safe spaces for constituents to engage with each other and foster community. I also will fight to improve the transportation system on the South Side. The Red Line extension can be a major boost to the far South Side, but only if we ensure residents have reliable connections to the new stations. I’m also a firm believer in improving the cycling infrastructure. As a cyclist myself I know that we need to improve our roads to accommodate cyclists as well as new low-carbon transportation options like electric scooters so that residents can safely have a variety of transportation choices aside from cars. 

The Burnham Greenway and its extension are exciting developments, but I want to ensure that the 10th Ward is connected to safe non-vehicle transportation options that provide both recreational as well as commuting options aside from the car-centric development that has characterized the far South Side. Additionally, I would like to see how we can bring back the shuttle idea that the late South Chicago chamber executive director, Neil Bosanko, had to transport people from the South Side to the East Side and Hegewisch.

Redlining to Greenlining: While redlining was a discriminatory practice whereby banks, businesses, brokers and even the government systematically denied financial and other related services to certain neighborhoods based on race or ethnicity, it is currently illegal. Unfortunately, the destructive legacy of disinvestment caused by redlining is still with us today.

I propose we move to the idea of Greenlining. Where lenders would replace their redlined maps with maps that now have a Greenline drawn around minority neighborhoods. This Greenline will signify their intention to invest and provide access to capital for residents and businesses located there. Lenders who commit to intentional Greenlining practices will finally be able to free their institutions from the stigma associated with redlining. The lenders who practice and engage in Greenlining will be at the vanguard of reimagining, along with all of us, what our neighborhoods can truly become with access to fair and equitable investments. Now is the time for all lenders to demonstrate their commitment to the Greenline movement by pledging to make intentional and equitable investments in us and our communities. 

What kind of interactions or working relationship have you had with outgoing Alderperson Sue Garza?

Through my work at Centro de Trabajadores Unidos we have worked with Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski-Garza on issues of immigration such as the ICE raid at Route 66 Pizzeria, labor campaigns, workshops, spreading awareness about the need to build a community center and dispersing PPE gear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she connected CTU with labor unions who to this day have been helping to volunteer labor for the construction of our community center.

How will your organizing background contribute to the ward if you’re elected?

I prioritize building relationships with leaders, residents, key stakeholders, grassroots and “grasstop” allies. During my decades of organizing, I have always been intentional in ensuring that there is unity among everyone. We must all put aside our differences and work together for the betterment of our community. I know from experience that the best decisions are made when there are many voices at the table. Organizing has taught me how to expand the conversation and engage people for change, a tool that will be important to help me advocate for residents of the ward and the entire city when I am on the City Council.

As (one of) the farthest area(s) from City Hall, how would you help your constituents feel included in government?

I believe in transparency and partnership. I would love to see town hall meetings and events where I hear directly from as many people as possible to have a better understanding of the needs of the community and be able to advocate for them in City Hall. I am also committed to allocating a portion of the aldermanic “menu” funds each year for participatory budgeting. I’ve seen how previous projects have found needs that otherwise might remain unknown to the City and Aldermen, such as the desire for neighborhood identifiers. I also believe in the process helps educate residents to make a more informed electorate and promote democracy.

How do you plan to address environmental issues that have affected the area?

The first thing we need to do is be proactive versus reactive, that’s why we need to inform folks about what is coming to us and engage early with the Illinois and U.S. EPA. Any new developments must meet the most current and stringent environmental regulations to promote long-term sustainable and green development. I know that protecting our environment and health requires partnerships and collaboration.

My experience as an organizer and advocate will help me engage a wide range of advocates and experts. We need to ensure that the companies that come in do not harm our environment or risk our health. I want to engage our local universities to help study the high rates of chronic illness on the Southeast Side and improve the healthcare ecosystem to make accessing health resources easier for our residents.

What are your thoughts about the current immigration crisis and how would you respond to that as an alderperson?

While immigration is a federal issue, there are some local things that impact us. I will ensure that the voices of our immigrant brothers and sisters are heard in City Hall and that we remain a sanctuary city. I also plan to meet with our police department to ensure that the safety of our community members is a priority. I plan to ensure that workshops are conducted by our allies and partners to educate residents of their rights. I also will work on furthering the Rapid Response Committee to include others in ensuring that we can communicate effectively when there is a dire situation of ICE presence.

Update, October 6, 2022: Post publication, this story was updated to reflect Sadlowski-Garza’s fundraising support.

Alma Campos is the Weekly’s Immigration editor

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