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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > How to Beat City Hall

WASHINGTON– If you believe “you can’t fight city hall” look into the activities of two citizen groups who disagree. Citizens Action Program (CAP) needs no introduction in Chicago. At age four it’s a household phrase in the Windy City. Since 1970 this group of citizen organizations, supported with the tiny dollar contributions of several thousand black and white Chicagoans, has a full time staff and many volunteers who are exposing scandals and corruptions of business and government. After releasing the facts to the public they apply a relentless pressure for reform. Dedicated to the rare doctrine of self-government, CAP is also determined to end the practice of politicians who advance their ambitions by turning the middle class against the downtrodden.

CAP has forced big polluters like U.S. Steel and Consolidated Edison to start toilet training themselves and reduce their destructive shower of environmental violence on people’s health and property. It tackled with significant success the preferential property tax shenanigans infecting the local assessor’s office which gave windfalls for major steel mills and large office buildings and race tracks and thereby denied revenues to city school budgets. The small property taxpayer was subsidizing the big property tax underpayers.

CAP held its second annual convention in late March with 2500 participants at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago. Many were elderly people vigorous with a renewed spirit of civic involvement and action. Although people were dealing with the serious business of trying to make Chicago straight and livable, they were having fun just the same. Absent were the afflictions of so many powerless Americans–alienation, disillusionment, boredom and lack of civic self confidence. They didn’t have all the answers but they knew that if they really believed in a democratic society, they had to spend the time and energy to find some of them.

CAP’s objective for this year was emblazoned in large letters from the balcony: SAVE THE CITY – SAVE THE NEIGHBORHOODS. Members outlined the following action program:
– Stop “redlining,” the cynical practice whereby banks
doom neighborhoods to slum status by cutting off mortgage money.
– Stop FHA-financed panic-profiteering which has resulted in over 2400 boarded-up homes blighting Chicago neighborhoods.
– Channel a billion dollars into needed efficient mass transit instead of letting the money be spent for Chicago Mayor Daley’s cherished cross-town expressway.
– Fight street and white collar crime through a voter education drive aimed at unseating Chicago’s leisurely criminal court judges who work a short day and create long court delays.
– Cut back fuel prices which expose Chicago’s schools and the elderly to serious economic pressures.
– End exorbitant drug prices that would allow pharmacists to use inexpensive generic drugs instead of identical but far more costly brand name drugs.

CAP believes in developing effective strategies to pursue its goals. For example, to prevent the “redlining” practices, it launched a city-wide drive to persuade people to close their accounts in the banks that refused to invest in the communities where they receive the majority of their deposits. At the convention people pledged over three million dollars in diverted deposits to aid the drive.

CAP also emphasizes to its members that success requires organization, planning, canvassing, telephoning, and getting the facts out to the people. What it is saying in effect is that citizenship must be skilled, creative, and ever more basic in its reforms.

The prominent author, Studs Terkel, told the convention: “Chicago is in a fight for survival – and that’s what the CAP convention is all about.” Citizens who wish to learn more about CAP’s energies and programs should write to the Citizens Action Program, 2200 N. Lincoln St., Chicago, Ill. 60614 for more information (Next week the Georgia Power Citizens Project and its accomplishments).