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Harold Washington

Harold Washington has not only become the first black Mayor of Chicago. Harold Washington’s governance has been crucial for uniting minorities and strengthening the rights of ethnic communities in Chicago. Harold Washington’s governance has completely changed political approaches to social issues, ethnic minorities, and “black” politics. In many instances, Washington has become the source of illumination for the future prominent politicians and has shown the correct pathway for the coming political generations.

Harold Washington has initiated the formation of ethnic and social alliances not only in Chicago, but in the whole country. Harold Washington’s political career started in 1946, when he came to Chicago to work in Treasure department. The years after the war have revealed Washington’s leadership qualities: “he became an elected leader in student organizations, and by the early 1950s had helped turn the Young Democrats into an important political force in Chicago’s 3rd ward” (Henderson 31).

As students’ leader, Harold Washington was learning the skills of the political decision-making, and was deeply involved into the social processes which took place within Chicago’s ethnic minorities. Since that time, the future Chicago Mayor had a dream of uniting the voters of all ethnic backgrounds into one single democratic force. He has also done everything possible to make his dream come true. Since the end of the 1970s – the beginning of the 1980s, Washington has appeared in the whirl of the political conflicts between Chicago’s labor movement and political authorities (Travis 19).

The reason was the mass closure of industrial enterprises in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. The closures left thousands of people unemployed, without any hope to find a new job. That was the time, when Washington has become an active participant of social movements. During the time of Washington’s governance, those social movements were the major supporters of his social policies. Wisconsin Steel has traditionally been the source of sexism and racism against African American and Latino workers (Miller 14).

While employees from ethnic minorities were trying to defend their human rights, the owners took the decision to close the factory. That has been the last straw which flamed the arduous opposition of workers against their social inequality, impotence, and inability to protect their social interests. In that struggle, Harold Washington has become the mouth and word of ethnic minorities in Chicago. Harold Washington had his own vision of Wisconsin Steel conflict, and did not want to remain silent.

He has significantly contributed into the resolution of Wisconsin Steel labor issues, and has created solid grounds for his becoming the first black Chicago’s Mayor. “It bothers me deeply that in a crisis situation of high unemployment this administration seems to be turning its back upon that major problem and going out on flights of fancy, talking about supply side economics” (Marable 138). Those were Washington’s words which referred to Wisconsin Steel’s unemployed workers. As a result of Washington’s active participation, workers were paid compensations and benefits, although the plant never opened again.

In that conflict, he has earned the trust of black ethnic groups, although he never wanted to make a distinction between black and white voters. Washington has done everything possible to increase the number of black votes. “Within the three months or so, […] organizations, Afro-American churches and labor unions helped register over 200,000 new African American voters in the city” (Miller 87). Many criticize Washington for having been naive and idealistic (Giloth 130). Although idealism was not alien to Washington, he was able to utilize his idealistic vision for the benefit of the Chicago residents.

It is difficult and is almost impossible to grasp the scope of Washington’s political contribution: during his short governance, he has substantially improved the social position of ethnic minorities. Many white Americans were delighted by the antiracist policies promoted by Washington. “Washington’s initial election occurred in 1983, when progressive forces were mired in the gloom of the Reagan administration. He found mayoral success using a formula that was part campaign and part crusade. But Washington was no political neophyte, full of naive idealism.

He had already served many years as a state legislator and a member of Congress, and was well versed in the nuts and bolts of pragmatic politics. ” (Travis 39) Since the very first day of his governance, Washington has constantly stressed the importance of uniting ALL voters, without dividing them into black and white. Washington’s election campaign was marked with his persistent interest in “garnering the white vote, the black vote, and the Latin vote, and the Asian vote, and the business vote, and the labor vote” (Travis 54).

For some reason, Washington’s social contributions are sometimes misinterpreted due to the fact that he himself has been black. The truth is that black and Latino minorities were constantly discriminated, and Washington’s achievements are more visible on the Latin and black social backgrounds. However, in all his social strivings and policies, Washington always targeted all voters, and not specifically those of black or Latino origin. Harold Washington has initially distanced himself from traditional political machine, which never sympathized with minorities, and which could hardly protect Chicago’s working class.

“ Since the political machine’s inception over a half century ago, blacks have been torn between a cultural antipathy to the machine’s style of politics and a devastating array of social and economic circumstances which drive blacks into supporting the machine” (Grimshaw 180). Washington has changed the social vision of the political machine: he has also distanced his voters from its political impact and has proven that politics could be fair to everyone. By promoting the rights of ethnic minorities (black and Latino, in particular), Washington has improved their social position and has united them.

He has generated community response to the problems of ethnic minorities. Washington supported the creation of independent political groups (organizations) which promoted the interests of those in need without being dependent on any political force (Miller 68). Independent political organizations have become the reflection of Washington’s unorthodox approach to social issues in Chicago, and to political situation in the country (Miller 71). The political and social contribution of Harold Washington is especially visible through the formation of ethnic coalitions.

Not only his election campaign, but his political approached in general served the drivers for merging ethnic minorities and communities to form a strong social unity. Washington was evidently pursuing the principles of racial diversity in his politics. In many instances, he viewed diversity as the solid foundation for his political principles. Rivlin writes that racial diversity for Washington was the source of social strength (20). In one of his speeches, Washington stated that “we are a multiethnic, multiracial, multilanguage city and that is a source of stability and strength” (Travis 45).

Those multiethnic opinions have caused continuous effect onto the way the U. S. citizens evaluated the social achievements of Black politicians. Step by step, we have come to the realization of our changing attitudes, which are expressed through the strong political support of Barack Obama. For Washington, creating ethnic coalitions was not an impossible task; the unity of the two strongest ethnic groups in Chicago (Afro-American and Latino) later became the major supporting force of Washington’s political decisions.

Washington’s anti-racial policies also attracted thousands of white people who hated racism. As a result, the whole city regardless the color of skin or ethnic background was united around the core political strategies of Harold Washington. Washington was able to eliminate the fears of white Chicago residents – those who thought that an African American in Chicago City Hall would put all whites into a discriminative position (Miller 81).

Under Washington’s governance, people have finally recognized the ability of African Americans to take powerful positions in politics. That was also Washington’s contribution into people’s vision of politics in general and “black” politics, in particular. In the current presidential campaign, Barack Obama partially owes Harold Washington for the overwhelming support of his American citizens, who seem indifferent to his skin color, but pay attention to what he says. Americans are no longer afraid of Afro-American politicians.

This is why Washington is still remembered for having turned the American politics in a completely new direction. This direction Chicago residents and the citizens of the United States follow today. None of the mayors or political leaders was able to win the fight against the racial animosity among voters, before Washington took his position of the Chicago Mayor (Rivlin 98). Although he may not have succeeded in conquering the hearts of the white voters’ majority, but his interests went in line with the interests of anti-racist white community in Chicago.

The labor unions and workers remember the role Harold Washington played in Wisconsin Steel process; they have certainly supported Washington during his election campaign. Wisconsin Steel process has also helped unite Chicago’s Latino community. The leader of Chicago’s Latino ethnic group, Rudy Lozano has created an independent political organization under Washington’s governance (Grimshaw 188). By the end of 1984, Latinos and African Americans constituted 55 percent of all Chicago voters (Miller 99).

They have later supported Ethics Reform program, which has become Washington’s most successful reform and has opened politics and city government to the public. His affirmative action principles and politics have made it possible for all social layers, including Afro Americans and Asians, gays and women, to take positions in politics. Harold Washington promoted racial diversity not only among population, but in governmental and other political structures (Rivlin 54). Some political professionals keep criticizing Washington for his policies.

They keep saying that “Washington administration did not materially improve the economy and job availability in the most deprived Chicago neighborhoods, particularly the public housing neighborhoods. Washington failed to institutionalize his innovations and good intentions into laws” (Giloth 131). However, Washington’s good intentions still exist and work in politics, even without being laws. As for the job availability and social welfare of the most deprived neighborhoods, there are two counter arguments.

First, Harold Washington has proved that Chicago residents had other social needs besides financial welfare: ethnic minorities needed social recognition and the elimination of racial prejudices. Second, Washington has opened government’s doors to those who represented the interests of ethnic and social minorities and since that time, those were able to promote ethnic and social minorities’ interests in Chicago. Harold Washington has completely restructured the social attitudes of Chicago residents towards the ability of ethnic minorities to protect their social and political positions.

This is why he remains the first politician who has made the public decision-making machine work in favor of those who are always a minority. Conclusion Harold Washington remains the most prominent Chicago Mayor. His merits are not limited to the fact that he has become the first Afro-American Mayor in Chicago. Washington was able to accomplish the tasks which his predecessors had not been able to realize. He has united Chicago ethnic minorities; he has promoted affirmative action policies to give ethnic residents equal social rights in Chicago.

Under Washington’s governance, the voters’ preferences and attitudes have experienced the major shift. As a result, we are no longer afraid of Afro-American people in positions of power. Washington’s impact on the American political attitudes is reflected in Barack Obama’s political success. It is very probable that the United States will spend the next several years under the governance of the first Black President. That means that Harold Washington’s continuous influence has already dramatically shifted the political attitudes of the U. S. citizens.

That also means that political leaders and the American population no longer take the color of skin as a serious obstacle in a political career.

Works Cited

Giloth. R. & Moe, K. “Jobs, Equity, and the Mayoral Administration of Harold Washington in Chicago. ” Policy Studies Journal, vol. 27 (1999): 129-46. Grimshaw, William J. “Harold Washington: The Enigma of the Black Political Tradition. ” In Paul M. Green & Melvin G. Holli (eds. ), The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, Southern Illinois University Press, 1995, pp. 179-197. Henderson, S.

“Celebrating Harold: How The Vision of Former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington Helped Revitalize the Community. ” Ebony, vol. 60, (2004): 29-38. Marable, M. Black American Politics from the Washington Marches to Jesse Jackson. London: Verso, 1995. Miller, A. Harold Washington: The Mayor, The Man. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1989. Rivlin, G. Fire on the Prairie: Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race. New York: H. Holt, 1992. Travis, D. “Harold”, The People’s Mayor: The Authorized Biography of Mayor Harold Washington. Chicago: Urban Research Press, 1989.

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