Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Chicago: talking TIFs to the people

Posted By on 11.07.11 at 06:00 PM

The other day I get a call from Jon Kurinsky with Occupy Chicago—wants to know if I'd be willing to lead a teach-in on tax increment financing.

I'm like—are you kidding me? Hell, yes! I'm the world's biggest ham—it's hard for me to resist any opportunity to take the stage. Especially one where I don't have to get dressed up.

Plus, TIFs are one of my favorite topics—right up there with the Bulls, Bob Dylan, and movies from the 1970s.

As a matter of fact, I just saw Cotton Comes to Harlem—for the 337th time. Don't you just love the opening scene where Melba Moore sings "Black Enough" . . .

But, back to TIFs . . .

I've talked about TIFs in all sorts of locations—coffee shops, diners, board rooms, church basements, Park District field houses. And I've talked about them to all sorts of people: Libertarians, Tea Partiers, lefties, even an aldermen (what up, Mr. Mell?).

One time Mick and I brought the show to a crowd of drunken hipsters in a near-north-side club. Toughest house I ever worked.

But Saturday was the first time I talked about TIFs to a crowd of people on the street. Michigan and Congress, to be exact—in the plaza next to the statue of the horse.

Thank goodness it was a pleasant afternoon. As much as I love talking about TIFs, I'm not sure I'd love talking about them in the rain.

I'm kind of new to the Occupy scene, so Jon explains we might have to do the Human Microphone thing.

That's the one where the speaker talks and the guy ten feet away repeats what he says and the guy ten feet away from the second speaker repeats what he says and so on and so forth until the message has been conveyed to the far regions of the crowd. Like a giant game of telephone tag.

Considering how hard it is to understand and/or explain TIFs, I can imagine things going a little like this . . .

Me: So they take the EAV and freeze it . . .

Second Speaker: So they take the DDT and squeeze it . . .

By the end of the repetition, TIFs may actually make sense. Lord knows, they don't make sense any other way.

No worries. Jon gives me a megaphone. They call it the People's Megaphone. God, I love that megaphone. It's all I can to resist the urge to do the closing background bit from "Indiana Wants Me."

"This is the police—we have you surrounded. Please come out with your hands up . . ."

A whole bunch of people show up—they ask a ton of good questions. Totally take my preconceptions and turn them upside down. I was expecting a bunch of young white guys with dreadlocks. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But I get all kinds of people—young and old.

Out of curiosity, I ask how many own property. About two-thirds of the people raise their hands.

See, right there's the whole problem with preconceptions and social stereotypes—they're usually wrong.

My bad, everybody.

Everyone was really respectful. If they didn't like what I said, they lowered their arms. But they didn't interrupt. If they liked what I said, they raised their arms.

I'm happy to say that most arms were in the air. But, really, I never found anyone who liked the way we do TIFs in Chicago, except for our mayors, of course.

Speaking of mayors, I'd like to give a shout out to Mayor Emanuel, who resisted the temptation to have all of us thrown in jail. I know that's a strong temptation for this mayor to resist.

In fact, the only police officer I saw was one patrolman. Looked like he agreed with everything I said. Or, as they say elsewhere in the Reader—I saw you nodding . . .

Of course, I shouldn't social stereotype police officers anymore than activists. Most of them—especially the older cops who have been around awhile—have got to know this TIF stuff is B.S.

But that's a topic for another time.

What I really want to do is thank Occupy Chicago for inviting me to their teach in—I got both arms raised high.

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