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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chicago Election 2015

Chicago's recent election is one of the most exciting I have ever participated in as a voter, and one of the most important I have ever participated in as a voter. Given the difficult divides in our city, as well as the "Strong-Mayor" system and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial and divisive policy approach, I cannot recall an election with higher stakes in my personal voting life.

I believe that there are several fascinating aspects of the run-off that will determine whether challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia pulls together the neighborhoods to win, or whether Mayor Emanuel will escape to govern for a second term. Frankly, there are countless dynamics to analyze:

  1. Will 19 confirmed or apparent Aldermanic Run-Offs energize a lax voting body? 
  2. To what extent will Chicagoans turn out in early April? 
  3. How vocally will the Progressive Caucus support emerging aldermanic candidates that appear in run-offs? 
  4. Where will the votes from Bob Fioretti, Willie Wilson, and William Walls go? 
  5. Will the three defeated challengers endorse Commissioner Garcia? 
  6. Will Commissioner Garcia stick with his recent "Crime Candidate" advertisements, or will he find a new issue to attempt to win-over undecided or moderate voters? 
These types of points could go on-and-on. Frankly, there are multiple sides to these issues. For example, Commissioner Garcia could decide to focus on any number of issues that Mayor Emanuel opposes, and attack the race in that matter (given the widespread electorate support for an Elected School Board, Garcia could use this platform as a starting point). He could also challenge Emanuel on education, Red-Light Cameras, the use of TIF surplus, TIF reforms, etc. It remains to be seen whether Commissioner Garcia will benefit from pushing Mayor Emanuel on one specific issue, or whether he will try a multi-faceted approach. While progressives might like to see their challenger tackle Mayor Emanuel with myriad issues and approaches, Garcia could potentially benefit from sticking to one issue (like red light cameras or an elected school board) that appeals to voters across racial, ethnic, and neighborhood lines. If a candidate such as Fioretti, Wilson, or Walls endorses Garcia, Garcia could benefit from using one specific meeting point with those candidates. 

Voters have many motivations, so I decided to collect three charts, using and election data. In some places, the data appears to have conflicting reports, so I add "?" next to those numbers. These charts aim to collect a few key points of voter motivation:
  1. How was voter turnout in my ward?
  2. Will my ward have an Aldermanic Run-Off?
  3. How did Garcia and Emanuel fare in my ward?
  4. Which major challengers succeeded in my ward?
  5. Is there a progressive caucus member in my ward? 
  6. How many % points are Garcia and Emanuel fighting over?
Chart One: The Battlegrounds
There are arguably 18 wards that will feature solid battlegrounds: I selected these wards because:

  • They feature some of Commissioner Garcia's best performances. 
  • They feature some solid performances by other challengers. 
  • Most importantly, they feature relatively low turnout, even in this election
(18) BATTLEGROUND WARDS Garcia Emanuel Turnout Alderman Run-Off Remaining % Note
22 70.8 20.8 27.5 No 8.4 Progressive Caucus Alderman (Munoz)
12 67.1 25.5 27.4 No 7.4
35 57.3 33.5 28.4 No 9.2 Solid voting for Fioretti
25 56.4 33.1 30.4 No 10.5
26 53.9 34.4 26.8 No 11.7
15 52.9 29.8 24.5 YES 17.3 Solid voting for Wilson
14 52.7 37.3 33.1 No 11.0
31 51.3 40.5 27.1 YES 8.2 Potential Emanuel rally with Suarez push
30 49.6 39 22.6 No 11.4
33 49.6 39.5 35.5 YES 10.8 Meegan challenges with 35%
1 49.0 39.4 28.8 No 11.5
10 47.5 37.7 35.6 YES 14.8 Solid voting for Fioretti
36 45.2 39.2 28.2 YES 15.8
49 44.1 43.6 34.7 No 12.3
23 43.6 39.8 42.5 No 17.6 Heavy voting for Fioretti
40 42.3? 47.1? 33.8 No 10.6 Heavy voting for Fioretti?
32 41.6 47.2 27.8 No 11.3 Progressive Caucus Alderman (Waguespack)
19 36.1 41.7 51.5 No 22.2 Heavy voting for Fioretti

The Run-Offs in 10, 15, 31, and 33 could be particularly important, given (a) the support for other challengers, (b) the potential for progressive developments in the City Council, and (c) the need for improved voter turnout (specifically in 15 and 31).

One of the most difficult aspects that Mayor Emanuel will face is heading into wards where Commissioner Garcia performed well, and attempting to sway voters that did not hit the polls. It remains to be seen if those voters that stayed home were already Emanuel supporters ("Oh, I won't vote, there's no way he loses"), or if those voters will be encouraged by Garcia's performance ("Oh, he really is a serious candidate, I'll vote for him"). 

Chart Two: Wilson Wards
I think it's easy for a lot of people to joke about Willie Wilson, given some of the reported controversies during the election, and his relatively apolitical demeanor during speeches and debates. Frankly, I was fascinated when Wilson prayed for closing statements, or prayed during his concession speech, and generally appeared to place his political race in the wider context of religiosity and thankfulness. Many of us are cynical, or want to play hard politics, so a Candidate like Wilson may seem less-than-serious, but Wilson's performance in 18 wards was very serious.

I collected these wards, given that they are (a) wards in which (either) Garcia and (or) Emanuel did not perform particularly well, and (b) wards in which Wilson thrived.

(18) WILSON Garcia Emanuel Wilson Turnout Alderman Run-Off
24 23.4 36.4 30.3 26.7 YES
37 21.2 41.2 28.2 26.3 YES
17 24 40 26.6 28.4 No
16 26.1 39 26.6 22.3 Progressive Alderman Running (Foulkes)
28 22.2 39.8 25.9 22.9 No
34 20.7 45.3 24.9 32.4 No
21 22.3 42.2 24.5 33.4 YES
20 26.5 40.3 24.4 25.6 YES
9 22.1 43.2 24.0 32.1 No
6 23 42.5 23.5 30.7 Progressive Alderman (Sawyer)
8 24.1 43.3 22 35.5 No
29 25.1 42 21.9 30.3 YES
7 24.6 43.6 21.2 31.9 YES
27 21.7 48 18.9 26.5 No
18 32.8 38.7 16.6 38.2 YES
3 21.2 48.9 16.4 30.2 No
4 28.5 44.5 14.1 37.7 No
5 33.7 43.9 12.9 39.0 Progressive Alderman (Hairston)

These wards arguably have the most interesting combination of turnout issues / potential turnout increases, aldermanic runoffs, and, of course, endorsement potential for Wilson himself. Should Wilson choose to endorse one of the Mayoral Candidates, and the turnout stabilizes or improves, these wards will shape the results of the election.

Of course, there is the added bonus of watching Mayor Emanuel head into neighborhoods that his policies have not favored during his term. Will reconciliation be enough for the Mayor, or are residents and voters of these wards finished with the Mayor?

Chart Three: Emanuel Land
The biggest problem for Mayor Emanuel appears when one looks at 14 of his strongest wards: the Mayor (unsurprisingly) performed great along the lake, but those wards already featured some of the best voter turnout performances of the election. Granted, a handful of aldermanic run-offs remain in these wards, and given the relative affluence of some of these wards, one might argue that these wards are more likely to improve voter turnout than other areas of the city. However, some voters in these wards did support Fioretti and Wilson to some degree, which leads one to ask whether the voters that stayed home were progressives who did not feel motivated to vote (given Emanuel's strength along the lake); given Mayor Emanuel's performance, it's difficult to imagine that staunch supporters of the mayor stayed home. So, in the worst case scenario, even if Commissioner Garcia does not improve his performance in these wards, he could still potentially pick up votes from Fioretti or Wilson supporters (if those people return to the polls).

(14) Emanuel Country Garcia Emanuel Turnout Alderman Run-Off Note
42 16.7 73.2 27.3 No Moderate Fioretti support
43 18.4 71.9 33.3 No
2 23 64.9 30.7 YES Moderate Fioretti support
44 27.2 64.2 29.7 No Heavy voting for Fioretti
46 31.6 57.4 36 YES Equal Wilson and Fioretti
50 32.5 55.1 31.8 No
48 37.6 52.2 37.2 No Equal Fioretti and Wilson support
47 40.1 51.2 36.9 No Moderate Fioretti support
13 37.3 51.1 45 No Solid Fioretti voting
11 32.5 48.9 34.9 YES Heavy voting for Fioretti
39 37.4 48.2 38.1 No 
38 33.2? 48? 37.7 No Solid voting for Fioretti
45 35.1 47.9 41.8 YES Progressive Alderman Running (Arena)
41 31.1 47.7 41.5 YES

Basically, we have a real fight for Mayor in Chicago. One thing is certain: if you have any grievances with the City government, if you want the City government to reflect a specific political outlook, you have the chance to impact the government. Remember, the City of Chicago is ultimately OUR government. These politicians work for us, and if we believe that the city can improve, we need to vote as such.

Please direct comments or corrections to spectiveaudio [at] gmail [dot] com or @spectivewax (on Twtter)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rectal Hygienics and Institutional Violence

EDIT (8:55 AM, February 20, 2015): After sleeping on it, I thought I'd add another quick note, and reposition the edits I added yesterday (see the end of the original post). As I did with yesterday's update, I have not touched the original words. 

I want to add a clarification of why I think it's acceptable to frame this type of debate in terms of "feminism." I understand that it is unacceptable to present male violence as a form of feminism, and I agree with that. However, what I did not emphasize well enough in the original post is that I understand Rectal Hygienics to be delivering an institutional critique, which I first note in the third paragraph. The crucial element of my review is to place the spoken word / found-sound snippets from the LP at a level equal to the lyrics themselves; I believe if we take the band seriously, there is a sense that they are delivering these lyrics from the point of view of institutional-professional male violence. Perhaps it would have been better to call this a "critique of power" rather than "feminism," but I do think it's important to push the boundaries of institutional critiques from a feminist perspective; if we are truly to achieve feminist emancipation, one needs to ask whether that can occur within a professional-monopoly capitalist setting. 

I am skeptical that this can occur, which is why I think Ultimate Purity deserves to be taken seriously. I certainly understand that there are people that will not find this LP palatable, I certainly understand that people will feel repulsed, and I do understand that it's a violent LP. I think all of those are reasonable points of view, but I still think those criticisms / feelings can be waged without calling the band "misogynist." I believe a misogynist would expressly endorse male violence, and I find it hard to read Ultimate Purity through that lens. 

(I have changed the title to "Rectal Hygienics and Institutional Violence." The original post was "Rectal Hygienics as Feminism"). 

I think we need to ask this of feminism: can feminist aims be accomplished within capitalist / professional frameworks? I remain skeptical of this, and I believe that we can read feminism as an extremely effective weapon to also move away from professional-monopoly capitalism. 

If you don't think Rectal Hygienics are interesting or worth this consideration, I think that's fine; but, for those that listen to the album, struggle with the album, and love the album, I think it is worth asking these questions. This debate must be important, however, as this original blog post received more than 1300 views -- I find that stunning for an album released to a small scene, pressed in 500 quantities, and especially given that some have freely admitted they will not buy or listen to the album anyway. 


Nearly two weeks ago, Chicago progressive Mayoral Candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia visited an outsider venue run by one of Chicago's fiercest noise crossovers. The candidate confessed his love for throwing enter-through-the-alley affairs, or parties in the basement.  Then, he rallied a young crowd to register to vote and vote early, touting his desire to populate Chicago politics with younger people and new ideas, including truly progressive steps to work with Chicago's LGBTQ community. After the speech, Garcia was featured in another profile that outlined a radical platform to house homeless LGBTQ, work with a basically-defunct Human Rights organization within the City government, and other proposals that offered serious bite (rather than the typical politician's "well, I guess everyone can get married and receive their tax benefits now" stance).

This space is run by Rectal Hygienics, a now-infamous band for their allegedly "misogynistic" lyrics. Pitchfork's Jes Skolnik leveled the charges against the band in a one-sided editorial (a member of the band confirmed with me that, allegedly, Skolnik did not offer contact to discuss the group's "misogyny"). I tell this brief story about Garcia's trip to an outsider venue to outline the reality of Rectal Hygienics' politics: they are a lyrically complicated group, but they are also stewards of a scene that helps stage acts by sexually, racially, culturally outsider acts. There is a true sense of freedom among these acts, some of which are also "lyrically confrontational" (here I'm thinking of ONO, Chicago's industrial Gospel legends, who regularly grapple with the experiences of war, racism, history, etc. Incidentally -- and not surprisingly, ONO, one of the most inclusive groups of noise-rock stewards in this city, played at Candidate Garcia's rally.) That there is confrontation in their lyrics arguably reflects that fact that there is confrontation, in some serious forms, in many of these acts' lives.

On Ultimate Purity, Rectal Hygienics' latest album (Permanent), the band's lyrics are disturbing and perverted at a glancing look. Digging deeper into the album, there are spoken-word segments that offer different lenses into the group's vision: a brief, reflective speech about certain afflictions held by culturally powerful, prestigious professionals that run the USA's official institutionalized-monopolized infrastructure (medicine, law, academia); a brief testimonial (spoken by a woman) about the blunt reality that men treat women like shit. If you're going to analyze a band's lyrics (a potentially dangerous cliff to jump off of in any scenario), you need to look at the various clues and lenses afforded to you, the listener. Those two brief snippets on the album, maybe not even occupying two minutes of the whole LP, place the lyrics in an entirely different view: one wonders who the speaker in these lyrics is, or if these lyrics are even spoken. Is this the true distortion of power? Is not all sexual violence inextricably linked to the monopoly capitalism's "institutional" backbone? (I ask this as a serious question: if Skolnik is concerned about misogyny, why is the target Rectal Hygienics, a band with 500 pressings of its current album, stewards of a small-and-devoted music scene with members from any racial, cultural, sexual background one could desire? Why is Pitchfork placing misogyny in the personal context, and not the institutional context?)

I ask these questions because I think it is painfully obvious that Rectal Hygienics are not misogynists. Not in person, and, more interestingly, not in their lyrics, either. Their lyrics are a confrontation with the emotional void that accompanies a political and economic system that castrates almost everyone that isn't white or male. Their lyrics are spoken in an androgynous voice; if you read them carefully, you will realize that there are very few points where the speaker is obviously male, and the object of his fantasy is obviously female. (Nevermind that there are actual sex acts described that are difficult to label "misogynistic.") Even further that that, you will realize that the speaker is extreme: there are fantastical, outrageous elements to some of the songs that are simply unclassifiable. In the exceptional single, "Grandeur," what, exactly, are the bones in the speaker's stomach? Why is the speaker greased and oiled? Taken on the surface, one could easily write a FURIOUS column about Rectal Hygienics' sexual cannibalism; but, obviously, no such column would be written because the emotional viewpoint and experiences told by the speaker are beyond interpretation, tapping into something primal, unspoken, running throughout the blood of society.

If the speaker of Ultimate Purity is a CEO, the album is a critique of the workplace and gender politics in the office. If the speaker of Ultimate Purity is a teen runaway, the album is an exploration of underrepresented loneliness felt by people cast aside. There are many different exercises one can take with this approach, but the ultimate outcome is that Rectal Hygienics are feminist (in the sense that they are also psychoanalytic): they meet their listener in completely undesirable places, they explore the absolute extreme potential of human consciousness, they describe the shadow side of capitalism. If French philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote Ultimate Purity, it would be hailed as a critique of power and heteronormativity.

EDIT: A specific critique has pointed out to me that my second to last paragraph hints that I can find whatever I'd like in these lyrics. This is a valid point, but what I mean to say is that when an artist is writing lyrics, it is crucial to understand the potential perspective. If the singer and lyricist are one, and they are representing their own personal views, that is certainly one thing, and in the case of this album, that's really quite disturbing. However, the biggest issue I have with these lyrics is that they do not necessarily name or place a specific speaker. I believe that the listener can have some degree of authorship, even a small one, depending on who they believe the singer is speaking to / writing about. 

EDIT ONCE MORE: It also seems that there is some confusion about which LPs we're talking about. I am only speaking about Ultimate Purity, the latest LP. I am not speaking about the first LP. I do believe that you are right to point out that maybe they are related, and if you feel that way, I think that that would be an important case to make. I apologize if these words have appeared sweeping and discussing a larger amount of material than I know. 

However, you don't need to be convinced by any of this: be convinced by Chuy Garcia. And ask yourself, Will you vote for Chuy? If you voted early, and you didn't vote for Chuy, who is the misogynist? I ask this because there is actual misogyny manifest in Chicago, and the USA, on much larger scales than independent-outsider music, which in many cases offers shelters for those that are unwanted, searching for a voice, etc. But, the difference here is that a group like Rectal Hygienics actually works to organize a specific political viewpoint, one that will help more people in need. So, what I suspect about most Pitchfork readers is what I despise about the "Rectal Hygienics is misogynist" critique: these readers will return to their positions of institutional-monopolized professional prestige, still stuffing back their addiction to filth, still ignoring the afflictions associated with the underbellies of their institutions. Everybody's got to pay the bills, so I don't blame them, but then again, don't go around personally calling out non-misogynists as "misogynists," and placing their music in the realm of anti-LGBTQ violence when your readership exerts that very prestige and affliction.


EDIT (2:08 PM Central, February 19, 2015): I have been discussing this issue with my friends for most of the day, and I have also seen critiques on Twitter that I take very seriously. First and foremost, I want to apologize for coming off as combative, and also for insinuating that "Feminism" is whatever I want to make of it. I certainly do not believe that I can decide what feminism is -- I believe, as I have learned, that feminism is the emancipation of women from gender roles (stated simply), and that there are many other complex historical issues and variations associated with that project. 

So, I certainly do not want to make it seem like I believe Rectal Hygienics are feminist just because I say so, or even that they're feminist at all (many people certainly disagree with that notion, and I think that is an entirely valid point). I want to add that, perhaps, a clarification might be that the Ultimate Purity album is valuable as a part of the larger goal of feminism to expose and combat violence. There are points in this article where this simply does not come across as clearly as possible; but insofar as feminists study rape narratives and deal with the realities of gender violence (in many, many different ways), among other projects, I think there are many ways that feminism can address violence. 

(Personally, I should also add that I believe that institutional factors impact human behavior as much as, maybe more than, individual motives. I especially believe this to be the case in our current culture, economy, etc. I believe that there are crucial institutional barriers that need to be addressed in order to achieve feminist aims. This does not mean that I do not think individual actions are important -- they are. But, I believe that critiques of power, gender, sex, etc., can be written from individual and institutional viewpoints. This is something I did not explain very well in this article).

It also bears stating that in no way do I condone gender violence, whatsoever. I abhor the very idea. In this case, I think that the challenging lyrics on the latest Rectal Hygienics record deserves some treatment beyond the basic sense of misogyny; I think there is a lot more going on there, and frankly, I'm also quite sick and conflicted about my own love of the album. I think Ultimate Purity is a brilliant noise album, but I have to personally come to grips with what the lyrics mean, or what the implications are.

I want to apologize to anyone I've offended with this, and I also want to reiterate that I do not mean this as some kind of "appropriation" of feminism. For that reason, I've changed the title from "Rectal Hygienics as Feminism." I also apologize if I've belittled or attacked Jes Skolnik. I certainly did not mean this to be a personal attack, but it is my own personal exploration that I've been concerned about since I first heard the album. 

Thank you for sharing this and reading it. More people have viewed this than actual copies of the LP were pressed. So, I'm certain that this is a challenging issue a lot of people are thinking about. 

With these edits, I did not change any of the original text. I want to admit that I was not as clear as I intended, and what I meant as a potentially empowering critique was not received as such, and that I was wrong in ways I did not intend.