Together, YDSA chapters and socialists across Illinois are taking on utilities companies and winning state-wide shut-off moratoria during the pandemic #NoAmerenShutOffs
Whether it’s ineptitude or cruelty, there’s no doubt that the Democratic and Republican parties have failed to address the pandemic or provide for working-class Americans during these critical times. The challenges to liberal democracy in the form of Donald Trump have dominated news cycles across America, and for good reason. But as those who can afford to stay glued to the national headlines, the class struggle continues for the damned of the earth, the working class, the working poor, those on the brink of being forgotten by polite society and their bottom line right here in our local communities. For them and the comrades in all corners of the country that struggle against this trend of impoverishment, there is hardly any media coverage. That is the case here in the cornfields of Illinois, where an ongoing crisis has socialists of all stripes uniting under an essential demand: no utility shut-offs!
The situation is as follows: #NoAmerenShutOffs is a zero-dollar, 100% grassroots campaign against utility shut-offs, consisting of a coalition of 49 leftist organizations from Chicago to Carbondale. This includes various Illinois DSA chapters, progressive organizations, Bloomington-Normal Communist Party USA, Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Sunrise Movement, and more. The campaign targets Ameren Illinois, which is the foremost electricity company in the central and southern parts of our state. With the economy crashing and burning while the coronavirus ravages the US, I am sure most of those who read this are familiar with just how immensely important eviction and utility moratoria are for the livelihoods of a rapidly impoverishing working class, barring even the catastrophic public health crisis we are experiencing.
So it is that much more heinous when our Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, refuses to stop utility shut-offs despite having the power to do so AND with a Democratic supermajority in state legislative bodies. As of right now, Illinois is experiencing record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Profits before people
Why is this the case? The answer is simple: utility shut-offs. Without water, without electricity, people cannot wash their hands; they cannot stay housed; they get sick. This is just fuel to the fire of people traveling during the election and Halloween. The absolutely massive spike in Illinois’ cases has occurred because Illinois USED to have utility shut-off protections initially during the pandemic. But they have ended, and so now we see the fruits. At first, our campaign lead (a CU DSA member) thought that J.B. Pritzker was merely being wishy-washy on utility shut-offs because the current Illinois Speaker of the House, Mike Madigan, who is known to be extremely powerful (and, more relevantly, a complete tool of utility lobbyists), would wield his power to hurt Pritzker’s re-election prospects. Recent revelations were also reported to independent media by the campaign, revealing JB Pritzker’s tremendous conflicts of interest by tracing the stock that he owns to very same Illinois utility services that he supposedly can’t stop.
If that is not enough, a cursory glance at the quarterly financial reports reveals increased stock value during the 2nd and 3rd quarters for Ameren Corp and American Water respectively. The fact that these corporations continue to shut off utilities despite a pandemic while continuing to increase profits shows that these travesties are committed out of greed — not because their businesses were under stress. If it wasn’t for the amazing work that the #NoAmerenShutOffs campaign has done, these facts would have never seen the light of day, and countless more lives could have been lost. No major corporate media outlet would have covered this, and so the campaign had to reach out to other places where the truth was not threatened by a lobby.
At first, the campaign’s media coverage was absolutely nonexistent, and that was where UIUC YDSA contributed most as an individual organization. I remember downloading the list of my Twitter followers onto a spreadsheet, and asking people on the internet to like and RT the tweets of our campaign lead, together with him and another comrade during several-hour shifts. Literally. The online canvassing informed people and raised awareness while socially distant. And, most importantly, it caught the eye of the media and potential allied organizations. While that was how barebones our structure started off, as the campaign grew, so did our outreach to allow the press to contact the campaign through our presence online, as well as utilize the resources procured by our respective organizations. For example, another member of UIUC YDSA procured media contacts that her mutual aid network in her hometown utilized, completely separate from her time spent with YDSA, but this coalition effort allowed for such flexibility to exist. Other media outlets noticed the campaign’s outspokenness and reached out personally for details. The initial organizations that joined provided a bloc that allowed the campaign to never water-down their demands in light of allies that might have wavered under establishment pressure, and for those in Y/DSA that seek to cooperate in coalitions, this detail is essential in regards to cooperating with other organizations over specific issues-based organizing. Other members of the campaign placed pressure on their locale, and DSA chapters pulled their weight to protest the Governor’s press conferences, to speak at local governing bodies, scour legal documents, and compile data and statistics for analysis.
Spread the word and organize
Recently, we won an unconditional fifth utility shut-off moratorium extension from several major utility corporations. But we still need to stop water shut-offs (Com-Ed only covers electricity; People’s Gas, Nicor, and North Shore only cover gas; Ameren covers gas and electricity), reinstate the utilities that already have been shut off, and provide appropriate utility debt relief for these costs that have added up. But these victories could only be possible through enormous pressure, both online and in person. In order to escalate this campaign, more media presence is essential.
This is where you, the reader, come in. The video below, released by the campaign on November 12th, alone convinced the Bloomington City Council to implement ordinances that would prevent utility shut-offs. For those who read this, if your organization is involved in the effort to democratize utilities and stop shut-offs in your area, please reach out to any organization involved in the campaign! This struggle always needs more allies, and there is a long way to go. Share your thoughts on this article and the situation unfolding in Illinois on your social media with the hashtag #NoAmerenShutOffs.
Let the country know; let the world know; let the working class know the extent of the corruption and filth that has contaminated our political system. This pandemic is not over and capitalism has thrown the working class to the dogs. Let it be known that the socialist works to save them!
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