Category Archives: Politics

5 Ways Chicago Transit Authority Shows It Hates Chicagoans

If you live here, you have felt it. Perhaps you’ve thought, “I have been standing on this platform/bus stop for half of my life. Why? Someone must hate me.” The answer is…someone does hate you. It’s Chicago Transit Authority. If you live in Chicago and have felt the keen sting of CTA’s loathing, then read on and perhaps find some small comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

1. Ventra

Any true Chicagoan knows that this must be the first item on this list. If you need to see proof that CTA hates us, you need look no further than Ventra. CTA inflicting Ventra on us was, for all intents and purposes, an unprovoked attack. No one hated the old system: no one was tweeting @cta railing against the Chicago Card. No one was creating parody accounts mocking the absolutely absurd functionality of the Chicago Card. The old system worked…and then along came Ventra. From bank cards being charged in addition to the Ventra card, to inexplicably nonfunctional cards, to a completely and utterly mystifying account interface online, to fundamentally clueless Customer Care employees, to hour-long hotline waits, and oh, let’s not forget the fact that you are instructed to pay cash when your already-paid-for Ventra card doesn’t work on their worthless scanner…Ventra has been (and continues to be) a nightmare. Every single day the line to board the bus is at a standstill while each person must tap their card 3-4 times before it’s actually read. Meanwhile:

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Oh, of course. We’re being double-charged when we’re forced to double-tap. Of course.

Even worse: Ventra and CTA continue to pretend we’re all crazy for not liking the new system. See this lovely exchange on Twitter:

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“which is pretty rare?” <cue uproarious laughter>

Yeah. Right. You’re not fooling anyone.

2. Bus Bunching

Bus bunching is, to the CTA, like the common cold. It seems like such a simple thing, but the CTA cannot—I repeat, cannot—find a cure. Like most Chicagoans, I waste precious time every day of my mortal life waiting. Just waiting. Staring at potholes that will never be fixed, and waiting. I live on the near South Side and catch the 29 every day, a bus which is always full of people trying to get to work and kids trying to get to school. But at any given time while trying to catch the 29, there is a 20-30 minute wait. But it’s more than just a long, empty window. It’s the fact that at the end of that long, empty window…two or three buses come all at once.

I have many questions for CTA, but here’s one: what good does 3 buses all at once do anyone? Great, the thirty people now crowded on the bus stop can now get on multiple buses. But now there are three buses all in a row at every bus stop until Congress: traffic is congested, streets are blocked, people are pissed. Why not just have the buses come every 8 minutes? Like they’re supposed to? What is happening at your depots where every…single…day this occurs? It happened when I lived on the North Side too: the 147, the 151. North Siders, you hear me. Bus bunching is a blight. But CTA doesn’t care. Which leads me to my next point.

3. Abysmal Customer Service

I’m not even talking about Ventra, because everyone knows that the dunces they have working at Ventra are a bunch of salespeople trying to convince you to use your Ventra card as a credit card too—yay corporations interfering with civil life!—and maybe attempt (attempt) to troubleshoot your nonfunctional, worthless plastic Ventra card. I’m talking about CTA. Never have I encountered more apathetic, defensive, blame-shifting grunts in my entire life. Here’s the conversation I had this morning after calling to complain about bus bunching:

Me: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”

CTA: “No.”

Me: “Okay…well can I tell you my complaint?”

CTA: <silence>

Me: “Hello?”

CTA: “Go ahead.”

Me: “Well, the 29 has been really bad lately. There are old ladies waiting on a stop with no benches waiting for 30 minutes, and then a bus comes and they can’t even get on it because it’s so packed and—”

CTA: “Give me your phone number. I’ll have a manager call you back.”

Me: “Um…okay. Here’s my number.”

CTA: “I see in the system that you already complained about this.”

Me: “Yes, last week.”

CTA: “Oh, a manager called and left you a voicemail.”

Here’s a screenshot of my phone:

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Guess what, CTA? No, a manager never called me back. No, they didn’t leave a voicemail. See? My voicemail box is empty. So what are we supposed to do when we have a complaint or a grievance against CTA? Well, some people might take to social media, but CTA’s Twitter often seems to be run by what appears to be a petulant teenager. See, the Twitter account runs fine when they’re just reporting outages, service disruption, etc. But when they actually have to interact with customers who are complaining? They take the apathy you experience when you call them on the phone and add a pinch of defensiveness and a sprinkle of subtle sarcasm. Tweet at them. You’ll see. If you like being treated with contempt and thinly-veiled indifference, tweeting at @cta is the hobby for you.

4. Cattle Cars

I have been told a story by different people a few times in my lifetime: a story about public transportation in Japan and how there are guys that stand on the platforms with sticks to shove people into the subways to fit more people into the crowded cars. People always tell this story with a kind of amused awe: “can you believe they do that over there?” and no one ever really knows if that little tidbit is true or not. But this story always annoys me, for two reasons. 1) It’s racist. “Oooh look how weird and intense Japanese people are!” and 2) Do you really think that is not your life here? Okay, there are no people with sticks shoving people into train cars, but every day riding a bus or a train in Chicago during rush hour (and often outside of rush hour) is like transforming into a heifer for thirty minutes of my life. It might as well be a mosh pit. A combination of delayed trains/buses, route cuts, and not enough actual vehicles in the city creates the cattle car effect: people are smashed against one another. So forget riding CTA if you’re claustrophobic in any way, but cattle cars lead to other problems too.

Sexual harassment. Violence. Theft. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve witnessed/experienced taking advantage of the tight train situation in order to cop a feel. Same with people taking stuff from people’s purses, pockets, backpacks. And as for violence: well, people get pretty testy when they’re forced to be pressed against a stranger’s usually-odorous body for long periods of time. “Waiting for signal clearance”—those dreaded words— means you’re not even making any progress in your trip: you’re just cuddled (standing) with a stranger for no reason. Tempers flare. Fights erupt. It happens all the time.

But does CTA care? Who do you call when you’ve just been crammed into a train car for 45 minutes, had your ass groped, and your wallet stolen? CTA? Ha. You must have already forgotten #3 on this list. Go back and reread that. Short answer: They…don’t…care.

5. No Change

No, I don’t mean that they won’t make change if you’re paying cash. (Which, speaking of cash: you’re out of luck. Ventra wants to be credit card dependent. And your fare increases if you don’t use Ventra and continue to pay cash.) What I mean is that nothing has changed. Unlike anything else, where there are complaints, outcry, protests against a company and apologies are made, processes are tweaked, Ventra and CTA just dig in. One of the complaints about Ventra (mentioned above) is that, unlike the old system, you can’t tap your wallet in order to scan your Ventra card without your bank cards also being charged. This complaint has been made since the initial roll out, with Ventra reps promising to look into the problem. But now, this is what you get as response when you ask Ventra about it:

They have no intention of making a change: not about Ventra and not about anything else. The onus is on Chicagoans, like it is for everything else, and the ripples of CTA’s ineptitude extend beyond delays. The fact of the matter is, that CTA’s refusal to find solutions for the problems they are charged with creating every single day in Chicago leads to things more problematic than delays. Kids can’t get to school on time. Adults can’t get to work on time. The elderly and disabled are forced to wait (often at stops without benches, and often in bad weather) for up to 40 minutes in some parts of the city. Groping and sexual harassment increase. Theft increases. Anger increases.

You see, what CTA doesn’t realize is that their behavior doesn’t just mean a bad train ride. It means a bad start to the day. Take one look at the Twitter account @ctafails and you can see the negativity that begins from the moment Chicagoans step onto the bus stop in the morning, which is then reanimated when they’re trying to return home at night. The CTA website reports that on an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken on Chicago public transportation. When you fail even a fraction of those customers, interrupting their days, ruining their commute, making them late to work, what does it mean for the morale of a city? This makes me think of an article I read recently on Salon, “The Troubling Reasons Americans Are So Depressed.” In it, the author discusses “learned helplessness” and how Americans, due to corporations and call center hold times (among other things) are becoming depressed and angry because of the amount of our lives we spend waiting on hold, waiting in line, and (I add)…waiting for buses. The helplessness, the author says, is the helplessness of those who are resigned to the indifference of the institutions we depend on.

What else can we do? I’m not sure. Rant in blogs like this? Perhaps. I see the helplessness that the Salon author examines in his article. I feel it. What do you do when the buses won’t come and you’re late to work and you can’t afford a cab and you call customer service and if someone answers (if they answer) they don’t care and no one ever calls you back and nothing ever changes?

It’s funny…the CTA Twitter account recently tweeted this article: Public Transportation Shapes Where Millennials Decide to Live, where I found this stat: “54 percent of the participants said they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around.”

Careful, Chicago. You might just be the city we’re moving from, not the one we’re moving to.

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Justin Bieber, Trayvon Martin, and Kittens

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Today Sharon Osbourne said this. Gather ‘round, children, and let me tell you why it’s bullshit.

Justin Bieber, to date, has spit on his fans, smoked marijuana, and urinated in buckets in public—on camera. You know who is to blame for these acts? Justin Bieber. You know who is not to blame for these acts? Black people.

Sharon Osbourne is an idiot for a multitude of reasons, but the glaring one here is this: implying that Justin Bieber’s bad behavior is somehow the result of black culture’s influence and not the result of, oh, I don’t know…unchecked white privilege, unchecked arrogance, poor parenting, limitless financial resources, armies of Yes Men, and well, a shitty personality, is not only deeply ignorant, but deeply racist.

Prepare yourself for a list of rhetorical questions:

  • Why is bad behavior associated with blackness?
  • Why are faceless, nameless black boys held accountable for the actions of a young, white, male celebrity?
  • Why does Sharon Osbourne “feel bad” for this asshole of a kid?
  • Why does Sharon Osbourne associate “bad boys” pissing in a bucket with blackness? Is this something that “bad black boys” do? Piss in buckets in public? Nah.

I can’t help but be reminded of the public’s reaction to the possibility that Trayvon Martin had been smoking marijuana on the night that he was killed. He was transformed into a dangerous, drug-running addict: a 17-year-old hurricane of chaos and violence. No one said he was lost. No one said he was a “little kid with a huge dream,” “cute,” trying to be a “mean boy” but “mean as a f*cking kitten.”

Why is Justin Bieber a kitten? Why was Trayvon Martin not?

Sharon Osbourne says Justin Bieber is lost. If he is, it’s not from following a map penned by black youth. If Justin Bieber is lost, it’s because he’s followed the path laid out for him by privilege, entitlement, and white supremacy.

Maybe he can be found. But I tell you what’s not going to bring him back to humanity: excusing his bullshit actions and blaming black boys. I can tell you that for sure.

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One White Woman Looking At Another White Woman

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I have been angry for days. For those of you who follow me on Twitter or know me personally, this comes as no surprise. But this has not been my usual anger––the daily anger that is generally bubbling under the surface as a result of reading the news, reading comments by trolls, witnessing and experiencing microaggressions, battling internet racists, etc.––but a tight wire in my heart that has been clanging since the verdict was read, since 5 white and 1 Hispanic woman in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty after he stalked and murdered a boy of seventeen.

I watched every second of the trial. I seethed at Don West. I cringed at the 911 tapes. I cheered for Rachel Jeantel. And the whole time I felt my hope struggling with my pessimism, heard myself say “These bastards will probably let him walk,” while being conscious that I was saying this in an effort not to get my hopes too high. But they were high. Even in the face of grossly unjust convictions like Marissa Alexander’s, I thought, “There’s just no way. They can’t. Not this time.”

But they did. They let him walk, and are even giving him the gun back, the one he used to take the life of an innocent black boy. A bloody souvenir.

In the days since, I have engaged in vicious debates, some with people I formerly respected. One in particular stands out in my mind: a white man told me that we shouldn’t be angry at the jury or vilify them: we should be angry at the laws that “forced their hand” to acquit. Out of all the debates I’ve had, this is the one that irks me the most.

Yes, the laws need to be changed. Stand Your Ground needs to be smashed. But you know what else needs to be smashed? The racist ideologies that cling to the hearts of white Americans, proven by the fact that Don West could enter a trial with the strategy of “Scare the white ladies with tales of a big bad black thug” and succeed; proven by the fact that Trayvon Martin, in death, was on trial for his own murder; proven by the fact that white Zimmerman defenders have said over and over that Trayvon should have identified himself (Freedom Papers?); proven by the fact that despite our teaching our children to run away from suspicious adults who might mean them harm, Trayvon Martin was somehow wrong wrong wrong for trying to protect his own life.

During the trial, there was speculation that the jury would convict because all of them were mothers. Although white, it was said, these women have children of their own and would see through Zimmerman’s elaborate circus of lies in the pursuit of justice for a child. Those speculations were wrong. I have quoted a poem by Ai many times in my ongoing fight for equality, and I’ll do so again here:

 

“what can I say, except that I’ve heard

the poor have no children, just small people”

 

This is how these jurors—and, indeed, much of White America—see black Americans. How could this jury of 6 non-black women see Trayvon Martin as a child, when to their eyes he was a man? And not just a man: a black man. A dangerous man. A threat. A pestilence. A thug.

Last night I listened to Juror B37 during her CNN interview, her face in shadow, while she said “them” and “they” and “sorry” and “Georgie.” I listened to her implications of Rachel Jeantel’s inferiority and her disgraceful deference for George Zimmerman. And I wanted to scream. Cry. Break things. I wanted to burn the world down. She essentially admitted that he committed manslaughter, but that “his heart was in the right place.” In these words I heard her complicity with the murder of black children in Florida and everywhere. However terrible Zimmerman’s actions, his heart was in the right place. Why? Because a black child is dead. And how could that be wrong?

This is what we’re up against. By we I mean everyone who believes that justice was not carried out; who believes that black children matter; who believes black lives matter; who believes as long as people like Juror B37 exist, our work is not done.

There are many problems with this case, with Florida, with the United States, with this world that puts blackness on par with ugliness, danger, and ignorance. But of those problems, which one glares at me, twanging the wire in my heart? Whiteness. Whiteness and its lack of empathy, its refusal to take responsibility, its ego. Its inability to see a black boy as a black boy, to equate that black boy and his marijuana with your own white son and the pot you know is in his backpack. Whiteness and its refusal to sit down, shut up, listen, help. Whiteness and its blindness; its stuffy, raging defenses and finger-pointing. Whiteness and those—like B37—who wield it as a shield, then, behind that shield, attempt to write books and profit off a death that you blocked justice for.

We shouldn’t be angry at the jury? I am angry. I am one white woman looking at another white woman, who—along with her peers—saw a black child’s death laid out before her and chose to turn her back. I am not turning my back. Not on Trayvon. Not on Michael Griffith. Not on Marissa Alexander. Not on Jordan Davis. Not on Emmett Till. I empathize. I organize. I’m angry.

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Wednesday: A Poem

This is a rant. A soft rant, but a rant.

I made this video in 2010 with a dear friend while in college. I have never made it available for public consumption, but now seems as good a time as any. Only three years ago, but I was such a kid when we collaborated on this. Still….I feel much the same now as I did then when I wrote this poem. Some things never change.

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John McCain Called Ahmadinejad a Monkey.

This is a screencap from Sen. John McCain’s Twitter account.

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After receiving hundreds of tweets criticizing him, he then tweeted this:

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When are white people going to realize that “monkey” is a racially charged term? No, your good intent doesn’t matter. No, people don’t need to “lighten up” (I’m assuming he intended no pun there, for god’s sake). No, it’s not just a joke. A joke is never just a joke when you employ racially charged language.

And to return to the “lighten up” thing…no. It’s not the rest of the world that needs to lighten up. YOU, John McCain and all others like you, need to ENlighten up. It is not everyone else’s responsibility to harden their emotions against your racist subtexts. As a politician, as a lawmaker, and as a human being, it is your responsibility to shape your worldview and have a conscious, sensitive, awareness of other human beings.

You know, like an adult. Because you’re a grown up. I think.

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