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Chicago -- An Extraordinary Time In My Life

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I spent four years in Chicago in the early sixties as a student at the University of Chicago.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Those four years in Chicago were an extraordinary time for me and very much shaped my worldview and what I wanted to do with my life.

I should also say that while the University of Chicago was and is one of the great higher education institutions in this country, the truth is that I learned a lot more off campus than I did in classrooms.

As someone who came from a working class family, Chicago provided me, for the first time in my life, the opportunity to put two and two together in understanding how the real world worked. To understand what power was about in this country and who the people were who had that power. To learn a little bit about the causation of wars; to learn about racism and poverty and other social ills.

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My years in Chicago gave me the opportunity to become involved in the civil rights movement, in the labor movement, in the peace movement and in electoral politics experiences that significantly shaped my life.

As a student at the University of Chicago, I became involved with a civil rights organization called the Congress on Racial Equality -- CORE -- one of the leading civil rights groups of that period.

Now, some of you may not know this, but in the early 1960s, the University of Chicago owned segregated housing.

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Being audacious young people, black and white, our chapter of CORE wanted to expose that unjust housing system. And so our CORE chapter sent white couples and black couples into the university-owned housing to pretend to look for an apartment. And you can guess what happened.

When the black couples showed up, there were just no apartments available. But a few hours later, when one of our white couples went in, somehow, mysteriously, they would have their choice of apartments.

After documenting this clear pattern of racial discrimination, the students in CORE demanded the university desegregate its housing. When they refused, we staged one of the first ever civil rights sit-ins in the North, forcing the university to acknowledge the situation and to consider serious policy changes.

While what we were doing here in Chicago at the time was significant, it came nowhere close to what young people our age were doing in the South in groups like SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. We were protesting but they were putting their lives on the line, and some were getting killed.

In 1963 I, along with a busload of other students, took a 600-mile ride from Chicago to Washington, D.C. for what remains in my mind as an unforgettable day. We went to the nation's capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the great leaders in American history. I had the honor of being there to hear him deliver his now-famous "I Have A Dream" speech, and that was a day I have never forgotten.

That same year, we knew we had more to do in Chicago.

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It had been nine years since the Brown vs Board of Education decision, but the school officials in Chicago had still refused to meaningfully desegregate the city's public schools. Black schools were overcrowded and underfunded, with many students forced to share chairs and desks. Meanwhile, a report at the time found over 380 white classrooms were completely empty.

But instead of putting black children in those empty classrooms, the school officials decided to put old trailers on the black school grounds. We called them "Willis Wagons," after the Chicago school superintendent of that time, Benjamin Willis.

These trailers were a monstrosity. Students would boil in the heat, and freeze in the cold. They were infested with rats. They were an insult and a disgrace and the community fought back.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)
 
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Chuck Nafziger

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Gotta laugh at ancient Bernie using "paddy wagon" without capitalizing Paddy since Paddy is a racial slur referring to an Irishman. What a jerk!

Submitted on Saturday, Mar 23, 2019 at 5:53:15 PM

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Steven Mitchell

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Reply to Chuck Nafziger:   New Content

Actually, it is only perceived as a racial slur if it is capitalized. Most people who use the term - and many people do - use it in the context of what it means now, not what it meant 100 or 150 years ago, when the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy of New York City, Boston and Chicago originated the term and applied the phrase to the Irish immigrants they looked down on. You may want to update your use of the term, rather than point out unintended, unimplied and misperceived disparagements.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 24, 2019 at 5:07:14 AM

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Chuck Nafziger

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Reply to Steven Mitchell:   New Content

I have both Bernie and the term pegged well. I grew up in inner city Chicago and witnessed the racism from the 40s to the 60s when I was able to get out. Having lived there amidst the most amazing and startling in-your-face racism, your words seem very naive. Everyone understood the term.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 24, 2019 at 7:15:56 AM

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Steven Mitchell

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Maybe back in the 1940s, 50s and 1960s everyone did understand the term that way. But words and their meaning do change over time and for you to not understand that is not only close-minded, but much more naive. Anyone born after 1950 does not think of the term "paddy wagon" which, if you look it up in an online dictionary or on Wikipedia, as being synonymous with the Irish as you allude to its origins, but instead conceive it as a police van or wagon. Its current usage simply means police van. Bernie is using the term, in the context that his younger audience would know the word, which is a police van. It is also why he used the word in lower case - because that is how we know the term. While I am familiar with the etymology of words, there probably aren't 1 million people alive in the U.S. knowledgeable in the use of it, who would think of the phrase with the usage you purport it to be...

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 24, 2019 at 9:02:48 AM

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Richard Pietrasz

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Reply to Chuck Nafziger:   New Content

I reached the age of knowing about racial slurs, and at least some the slurs I knew and even knew which ethnic group they belonged to. At that time, I lived in a small town in suburban Boston, mostly middle class with few above that, and more people below that living in places most people knew little about. (One was a former summer resort around a pond, which had been converted to year round residences, and one was not even marked on the map where many of the residences were tar paper shacks.)

I was born 1955, so you can figure the years.

It was rare to hear those ethic slurs, at least among the people I knew or encountered, and I never heard paddy outside of St Paddy's day, a celebration all at least acknowledged and most observed at least in some way, and the term paddy wagon references the fact that in northeast US cities, many Irish hit the mainstream of the US middle class (albeit lower middle class, but a definite step above where they were before, in economic and social status.) I do not know another common term for the vehicle.

It seems to be you have a very strong anti-progressive and anti-Bernie attitude.

Submitted on Wednesday, Mar 27, 2019 at 7:21:52 AM

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Steven Mitchell

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Bernie Sanders, thank you for consistently being you... and standing for the same principles that you have grown into...

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 24, 2019 at 9:45:52 AM

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Reply to Steven Mitchell:   New Content

An ode to a coward and a Judas goat, leading the progressives to traps and dead ends.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 24, 2019 at 4:28:59 PM

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Richard Pietrasz

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Reply to Chuck Nafziger:   New Content

Sanders may be a coward about size of the military budget, and his stance about basing F35 bombers in Burlington VT, which threaten the local population with the high crash rates of military aircraft with insufficient fleet flight hours to have worked the bugs out, and are positioned to threaten primarily Quebec and secondarily other parts of Canada within range. He is certainly not a perfect progressive, whatever that is, but he is the most prominently progressive US politician by far in my lifetime.


I have to ask, are you secretly just another right winger trying to remove credibility of Sanders, like Daily Kos does?

Submitted on Wednesday, Mar 27, 2019 at 6:47:27 AM

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BFalcon

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You are mistaken.

Submitted on Wednesday, Mar 27, 2019 at 8:11:07 PM

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Reply to Chuck Nafziger:   New Content

So, what is your idea of progressive? Do you consider Donald Trump a progressive?

Submitted on Friday, Mar 29, 2019 at 1:30:52 PM

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