Longtime social activist and lifelong Chicago resident Ra Joy spoke candidly with students about the division within the Illinois Democratic party on Tuesday night and his plans to fix it.
“The Illinois state government is working for the few, the clouted and the well-connected,” Joy said to members of the audience, including the student group Northwestern University College Democrats. “Everything that we care about is being held up by dysfunction and corruption that exists in our state government.” Joy called on his fellow candidates to hold elected officials accountable, and had some harsh words for J.B. Pritzker, another candidate in the Democratic primary for Governor of Illinois.
“Big money used to buy favors, but now it’s being used to buy elections,” Joy said. “It used to be that billionaires funded candidates, but now they skip the middleman and just do it themselves. Are we okay selling the soul of the Democratic Party to the highest bidder, or do we want to go in the other direction?” Joy did not relent; he later said that a vote for Pritzker is a vote for Rahm Emanuel whose “neoliberal trickle-down public policy has failed us.”
NU College Democrats President Alex Neumann said that he was excited to hear Joy’s point of view, as they had recently spoken with Daniel Biss, one of Joy’s competitors. “We’re trying to bring in as many representatives as we can before the primaries,” Neumann said.
Joy first became involved in civic life through work for Americorps while in college, and he began his political career as a staffer for Jan Schakowsky, the U.S. Representative for Illinois' 9th congressional district. After a stint with Schakowsky, Joy served as head of Arts Alliance Illinois and later CHANGE Illinois, the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics.
“I was proud to lead the coalition that helped bring automatic voter registration to Illinois,” Joy said of his time with CHANGE. He and his running mate, Chris Kennedy, are running a campaign focused on social justice in Chicago, to which Joy has a personal connection.
“I lost my oldest son to senseless gun violence. I endured every parent’s worst nightmare when my oldest son was brutally taken from me.” Joy’s son was killed last year, and his death has given new meaning to the Kennedy/Joy campaign. “It’s a solvable problem, but it all boils down to this question: Do black lives matter?”
Joy and Kennedy have an eight point plan to combat gun violence that begins with addressing basic economic issues within at-risk neighborhoods and also focuses on support for community policing and for restorative justice practices within Illinois jails and prisons. Joy’s and Kennedy’s personal connections to gun violence will likely ensure that this issue remains at the forefront of their campaign.
Joy also touched on fixing the “broken local property tax system.” He called the current property tax a “reverse-Robin Hood,” a tax that takes from the poor and benefits the rich. Joy and Kennedy plan to introduce a graduated income tax where tax rates rise for everyone and the government provides credit to low-income families.
“In the past, our party has been rewarded for their silence and for their cowardice,” Joy said. “If informed citizens can vote for candidates who are free to represent interests of constituents, it will lead to compromise and to public good.”