Kina Collins. Illustration by Shane Tolentino.

Running for Congress in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District is Kina Collins. The Weekly spoke with Collins about her plans if elected, her race against seasoned incumbent Congressman Danny Davis, who was elected in 1996, and much more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Describe the communities of the congressional district that you intend to serve if elected.

IL-07 stretches from the western suburbs. From Westchester [to] Oak Park, River Forest, and then we have the entirety of the West Side of Chicago [and] all of downtown, Chinatown is encompassed by our district, and then it swings out to Bridgeport, Bronzeville, and West Englewood.

What do you think are the top three issues faced by the constituents in the district you’re running for? 

The top issues are gun violence and public safety—making sure that we elect a common sense gun safety candidate is really important to the voters in this district.And health care: we actually have the largest life expectancy gap in the nation. If you live in Streeterville, you live to the age of ninety; if you take a thirty-minute car ride to the South Side of Chicago in West Englewood, your life expectancy drops to sixty. We know that that is because of the social determinants of health, which are things like not having proper housing or living in a food desert. Gun violence is a public health issue. The final thing I would say is relief and recovery from this pandemic. People want to elect someone in this district who understands that we need a strong local economy, and that we need to get relief and recovery for families as this pandemic continues to rage on.

How would you address these issues if elected?

What’s really important is that we include the voices of those who are most impacted by these issues. And so, making sure that I’m fighting for those federal resources to bring dollars back to the district to invest in things like violence interruption programs, [giving] people access to things like mental health services, make sure that I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with housing advocates and those who are housing insecure, and fighting for affordable housing here in the district. We’re laser-focused as a campaign on making sure that once I’m elected, we focus on racial, gender, and economic justice for working people in our district.

Abolition is constantly discussed when addressing how to prevent harm, and some of these models include defunding the police, reallocation of funds toward various community resources, and so on. Do you plan to incorporate these types of ideas? 

I think it’s important that we have this conversation around defunding the police, because it has become an echo chamber for Republicans and the GOP to make Democratic cities, and just cities in general, all across the country into the bogeyman—this work that a lot of abolitionists are doing. The facts are that the Chicago Police Department has never, ever, been defunded*, and that is the fact for a lot of police departments across the country. But what has been defunded is housing, education, health care, the things that raise the ability for us to have a quality of life that is sustainable. I live in Austin. How is it that Austin has some of the highest police presence in the city, and yet, we still have some of the most crimes and shootings that happen? This is not working for us. We need to make sure that we’re putting policies that work for everybody in the district.

I want to advocate for those dollars [going] towards actual prevention instead of reaction. We’re asking police officers to serve as mental health counselors when people are calling in and having mental health crises, and then it ends in a catastrophe because [police] are not equipped to do that. We want to make sure, once again, that the investment is in prevention and not reaction. It’s in treatment, not into trauma. And so a lot of our communities that have dealt with these disparate outcomes and that have not received the resources that they need, are being re-traumatized because, really, the budget is going towards policing, and the facts are that you cannot police poverty away. 

One of the ways that we have really centered economic development in our campaign is talking about transitioning into a green and just economy. That means investing in urban farming, because a lot of the neighborhoods in IL-07 are food insecure. It means making sure that we are putting trades and vocations back into schools so that people are prepared to work in a green economy—which by the way, in the next decade, is projected to generate $23 trillion. So that is a lot of money that is going to be generated from green technology and green energy. And we want to make sure that not only are we improving the health and the wellbeing of our communities, but we’re also making sure that the folks who get those jobs are the ones who have been most impacted by environmental racism and traumatized in our communities.

You’re known as a gun violence organizer and activist. What would you do to address gun violence in Chicago while in Congress?

When I speak about this issue, I’m speaking from the context of being a survivor, witnessing a murder in front of my childhood home, knowing the victim and the shooter. And the truth is, that bullet was flying long before anybody pulled the trigger—I tell people that all the time. When we deal with public school shutdowns, when we deal with the evisceration of our mental health services: that is the bullet flying. How are we investing in prevention instead of [responding] after these tragedies occur? 

The number one thing that I don’t think enough people are talking about on the federal level is the supply side: gun manufacturers in this country are giant corporations that profit off the illicit and illegal gun trafficking that happens. And that’s what we see here in the city of Chicago. I think the reason we never really see accountability for these gun manufacturers is because they’re often white, male and wealthy. These are not what America has projected as the perpetrators of gun violence, but really these gun manufacturers are the problem. I’ll give you an example: sixty percent of the guns recovered in crimes in the city of Chicago are coming from out of state, and mostly from Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi. 850 guns that were recovered from crimes last year in Chicago could be traced back to one gun shop in Indiana. One. You can’t tell me that accountability can’t be had, because not only is it negligent, but we need to find out how it is that this particular gun shop is always the common denominator for the crimes that are happening in the city of Chicago. And so on the federal level, we need our congresspeople to get some political courage to take on the gun lobby, which is a multibillion-dollar lobby, and they need to put regulations and start holding these gun manufacturers and these gun shops accountable. I’ve taken particular umbrage with this because growing up on the West Side, you see the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) crackdown on gangs, which are mostly young Black and brown men in these communities, and they get the book thrown at them. The question that I always have is, how did they get the guns in the first place? We need to make sure that accountability is happening across the board.

It can’t just happen here in the city of Chicago, which is why I’m running for Congress. It’s because the legislation that is put forward, congressionally, has to be comprehensive. It’s not just for the state of Illinois—I always tell people, we don’t have a single gun shop or shooting range in the city of Chicago. So when we see Republicans and people talking about Chicago when these mass shootings happen, it’s like, we have never created gun violence for your state. But states that are Republican-led, like Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, have created so much gun violence here because of the illegal guns that are getting trafficked into our city. It’s a double standard. We know that it’s a red herring, they see young Black people here in the city of Chicago, and that that is what they want to focus on. 

What would reparations look like to you?

I think that reparations are necessary. I support reparations for American descendants of slaves. I support reparations for education, housing, obtaining land, making sure that it serves as a great equalizer [for] our ancestors building this country for free. I think that we have to be more full-throated about the conversation of reparations, because it’s not a typical platform that many people in many districts talk about. But it is something that argument could be made for, for sure. Right now, as it currently stands, there’s a huge racial wealth gap in the United States of America, and that wealth gap is not just about income that people get from their jobs. It’s about the level of debt that Black folks have in this country, student loans, housing inequity and many other issues—medical debt is one of the number one ways that people go bankrupt in our country. We’ve seen reparations happen in the United States of America before for Japanese Americans after the internment camps; that was definitely owed to them, it was a wrong that needed to be righted. I think that there’s a strong case and an argument for Black folks here in the United States.

Congressman Davis is sometimes known as a moderate progressive, you’re running to his left. What are some issues you see with Davis, and how do you differ or plan to address them? 

Congressman Davis has been my representative since I was five years old. It was not an easy decision to run against him, but it’s a necessary decision. When we’re seeing Roe v. Wade being gutted, when we’re seeing the climate crisis—not coming but it’s already here—we don’t just need somebody to vote party line, we need somebody who’s gonna stand shoulder to shoulder with the people in this district, and really across the country, on these issues. Also, Congressman Davis accepts corporate PAC money as campaign donations. That’s something that we refuse in this campaign. I’ve actually out-fundraised Congressman Davis in this primary cycle, and I haven’t accepted a dime of real estate developer money or corporate PAC money; so you can raise the money, it just takes a little bit of elbow grease to get it done. And it takes political courage to turn down these corporate lobbyists when they write you a check. 

Congressman Davis actually missed more votes than [almost] any Democrat sitting in the Illinois congressional delegation**. So when people ask me “what’s the biggest difference in our voting record gonna be?” it’s going to be that I actually show up to vote. 

Describe your past interaction, if any, with Congressman Danny Davis?

What I’ll say is this: Democratic Party leadership has made it a point in this primary to make it very clear to me and the voters in this district that they do not want me to win this seat. We saw that when Speaker Pelosi came into the district and stumped for Congressman Davis, we saw it when Hakeem Jeffries came into the district—he’s, I think, the fourth most powerful Democrat in the House—to fundraise and stump for Congressman Davis. This is a slap in the face to Black women. Black women have served as the backbone to the Democratic Party. We are not the pack mules of the Democratic Party, we are the competition. And so the message that Congressman Davis’s campaign is sending to me is that not only am I not welcome into the party, but they will pony up resources to stop me from entering the party through leadership. I’ve also just seen so many people in positions of power endorse Congressman Davis in his campaign; Mayor Lightfoot endorsed him, Governor JB Pritzker endorsed him, and the Speaker of the House endorsed him. And the question that I have for Congressman Davis is: if you have this much power, and you can call these people to fight for your reelection, why do we still have schools closed down on the West Side of Chicago? Why are we in a food desert? Why is there lead in our water? You are calling in the wrong political favors. People in the district are tired of how the only time we see leadership, especially in the Black community, is when it’s election time. The petition that we’re making to the voters in this district is that they deserve year-round public service from their public servant, and not just during election time. So the interaction that I’ve had with his campaign has been a disheartening one, because if you’re really for the people, then be for the people at all times, not just when you need their vote. 

What are things that define you as a Chicagoan or an Illinoisian? 

I’m from 290, period! I’m from the West Side, born and raised. I think what really defines the energy that I’m trying to bring into the national space around the city of Chicago is that the young people who grew up in this city, we grew up with a lot of heart and tenacity against all odds—especially if you’re a young Black person who grew up on the West Side or South Side of the city of Chicago. They should know, this isn’t just an electoral fight, this is a street fight. This is important to so many people in the community who just feel so unheard. 

I think the biggest indicator that I’m from Chicago is, one, I tell everybody it’s the best city in the world, and two, it’s just the swag and the way we carry ourselves. We’re not goin’ for none. You’re just not going to tell us “no.” I definitely think my organizing background and organizing spirit is a true indicator of the grassroots spirit here in the city of Chicago. My need and want to be held accountable by the people in this city is also a strong indicator, in my opinion. 

Also the last thing I’ll say is the strongest indicator is that I eat Uncle Remus, not Harolds. Period.

Any other thoughts?

Bans Off Our Bodies, period. One of the most disappointing things that happened in this primary cycle was Congressman Davis defending R. Kelly. A lot of victims actually live in our district. When he illegally married Aaliyah, it was in Maywood, that’s in our district. The young girl who was in the child porn case in 2002, she was from Oak Park, that’s in our district. This man said that Chicago will welcome R. Kelly back with open arms. Young Black women, trans folks and non-binary people continuously get erased around sexual assault, and I think it ties into the conversation of Bans Off Our Bodies. We’re seeing a lot of men legislate how to control the bodies of people who can get pregnant in this country. And it’s not about the sanctity of life—because if it was, why are we banning abortions before assault rifles in this country? 

For Black women and for Black people who can get pregnant, [Roe v. Wade] isn’t just about contraceptives and abortion; it’s literally about whether we live or die. We know that Black women are six times more likely to die while giving childbirth in Illinois, and three times more likely to die throughout the country. This is a policy choice that is being made by current leadership. They could not touch Roe if they wanted to, because it’s been constitutionally affirmed by the Supreme Court for the last fifty years. This is the issue that they decide is the pressing one they want to overturn? It makes absolutely zero sense. So I support eliminating the filibuster in the Senate and moving forward to codify Roe and the Women’s Health Protection Act on the federal level. We could do that tomorrow if they wanted, and they are actively making a choice not to do it. And like I said, this is not about the sanctity of life, because two classrooms full of fourth graders were gunned down with an AR-15, and they’ve done nothing. So if you cared about the lives of children, then you would do something—we see that here in Chicago every weekend. If you cared about the lives of children, you would do something. 

* Editor’s note: While funding for CPD has in some years decreased, most notably by less than $60 million in 2021, in general the department has received more funding year after year.

** Davis has missed over 1,000 votes, second in Illinois only to Bobby Rush, who has missed over 2,900.

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Chima Ikoro is the community organizing editor for the Weekly. She last wrote about disparities Black women face in politics and government.

 

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