Carlos Rosa is young. He graduated from college four years ago, and at 26 he is running for alderman in Chicago’s 35th Ward on a platform focused on social justice, advocating for the working families who live in the district. Rosa was the main speaker at a teach-in hosted by Northwestern students at the Sheil Catholic Center last Thursday night. In introducing the event, student organizers highlighted the problems facing the working class and immigrant families in Chicago, such as schools closing in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, closures of mental health facilities, mass incarceration and a minimum wage that doesn’t reflect the cost of living.
“There’s a system where wealth stays at the top in Chicago right now,” Communication sophomore Sarah Oberholtzer said. “So we brought Carlos in to talk about the specifics of people who are trying to change that,” she said. “The current city council doesn’t express interest in the people of the city.”
Rosa was one of 17 candidates for city council backed by Reclaim Chicago, a progressive interest group that aims to elect officials that they beileve will be accountable to the families and people they serve, as opposed to what the group sees as the elite of the city, including major campaign donors. Additionally, the organization advocates for a progressive presence in City Council, which will be able to balance the power of the mayor’s office in the upcoming election.
Rosa grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After graduating in 2011 he returned to Chicago, working as as a congressional caseworker, helping people such as senior citizens facing eviction and immigrant families facing deportation.
“I’m a strong believer in building in those communities where you have the deepest roots,” Rosa said during the event.
Rosa was blatant in criticizing his opponent in the alderman’s race, incumbent Rey Colón, saying he accepted large corporate donations and promoted policies which benefitted those donors over constituents.
“Chicago is increasingly not a place for working families to make a living and get by. And that’s why I’m in this race,” Rosa said.
His campaign relies on small donations, and in an interview after the event, Rosa said that he does not intend to take money from large corporations. As a result, the campaign relies on canvassing door-to-door. Rosa believes that this method will help him reach the electorate and increase voter turnout.
“People like it when an alderman comes to their doors,” he said, adding that he intends to continue reaching out to the individuals in the Ward at all times of the year if he is elected.
Emiliano Vera, a SESP junior who helped organize the event, canvassed for Reclaim Chicago last November.
“A group of about 400 volunteers went canvassing the day after Halloween,” Vera said. “It was the first time I’d ever gone canvassing, and it was a great experience.”
Vera also recounted his own struggles living in a small town one where poverty was prevalent.
“My experiences aren’t atypical, they just aren’t talked about,” he said, and that is why he is particularly interested in Rosa’s campaign.
“One of the reasons Carlos’ campaign is especially exciting is that he brings so much as an organizer that really connects with me – he is a gay, working class Latino who is a young person,” Vera said.
The organizers of the event said that they hoped the teach-in would inspire students to get involved with politics and the community around them.
“The main reason we are here is to disprove the narrative that students are passive, powerless and disengaged,” said SESP junior Zane Waxman. “Older politicians make fun of us or think we don’t have anything to add – we don’t believe that.”
Waxman also noted that the candidates backed by Reclaim Chicago were making an extra effort to get students involved, including candidates from the South Side who have been collaborating with students at the University of Chicago.
Sandra Bailey, a Bienen senior, said that she feel that it is easy for students at Northwestern to be caught in “the Evanston bubble.”
“After going to Chicago these last few years, there needs to be change and I’m wondering where my place is in that,” Bailey said. “I want to get more involved with social justice activism in the city.”