The galvanizing effect that Barack Obama’s campaign has had on the South Side community is reflected in the recent organizing success of SOUL, a nonprofit coalition of congregations known as the Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation. By its own estimates, approximately 600 Chicagoland residents turned out last Sunday for its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. Local politicians graced the stage of the St. Mark United Methodist Church as they vowed to stand behind SOUL’s three main goals: uniting the CTA and the Metra to create the “Gold Line”; ensuring that the 2016 Olympics will bring positive change to the South Side; and increasing gun control and youth violence prevention in the city of Chicago.
“We will call it the Gold Line because many Olympians will ride it, and because the South Side deserves a gold medal transit system,” said Rev. Michael Russell. The Gold Line proposal aims to increase the frequency of Metra service from once every hour to once every ten minutes, running the line from Millennium Station to 93rd street. It also aims to create a new stop in Bronzeville, and the whole line will accept CTA fares. While Metra CEO Bill Tupper refuses to approve the proposal, SOUL remains confident it will succeed.
The proposal is part of the broader 2016 Community Benefits Agreement, which advocates that, if Chicago is chosen to host the Olympics, fifty percent of the construction jobs go to local residents of the South Side and that the city keep at least thirty percent of the housing affordable for original residents. Drafting of the agreement is being completed in part by state representative-elect Will Burns, and will be ready by April, in time to be presented to Chicago officials during the International Olympic Committee’s visit to the city.
At the event, Rev. Sirchester Jackson emphasized the importance of “creative and holistic solutions to violence,” such as a new gun law mandating the immediate reporting of stolen or lost firearms and educational, employment, and recreational activities for youth. “We have no future without the children, but I would argue that we have no present without them either,” she said, referring to the many youth shootings that have taken place in Chicago recently.
Rev. Booker Vance summed up the essence of the evening when he said, “We must start playing to win and stop playing to not lose,” expounding on SOUL’s continued and effective efforts to organize the “power in the pews” and achieve for its community.