#660: A Corruption Tour Mission Statement

July 15th, 2016

I made TV news on Wednesday. Twice.

The first time was the NBC 5 evening news in a piece about the Chicago Corruption Walking Tour I run.

Take a minute to watch the segment here.

The second time I made the news Wednesday was on the local PBS affiliate’s Chicago Tonight, when I was used as maybe not the greatest example in a question.

It was during a Carol Marin segment talking about a recent survey on the business costs of corruption. At one point (about 8:45 into this video), she cites my tour as an example of the weird “that’s the Chicago Way” pride some seem to entertain in corruption.

“That tour is functionally entertainment,” she said. “It may have a dark message, but it’s entertainment. Aren’t we still kind of crazily proud?”

First, I have absolutely no beef with Carol Marin over this. Her question was factually accurate and correctly identified a weird pride a lot of people have.

The NBC 5 piece was fun and sprightly, crafted for the needs and the standards of local nightly news. But it could be interpreted to support the idea I’m one of those corruption-proud residents. I joke, I laugh, I crack wise about what it takes to get a nickname like “Hinky Dink” — the shoe seems to fit.

Second, it’s Carol Marin! After all she has done for this city over the last 37 years through her commentary, reportage and groundbreaking investigative work, if she wanted to throw a baseball at my head, I would nod, close my eyes and ply her for details about the R.J. Vanecko investigation.

This isn’t about Carol Marin. I’m just using her words a sign that maybe I’m not doing enough to explain why I’m doing this.

There are three main reasons I do the Chicago Corruption Walking Tour.

1. To piss people off

It’s a balancing act, and admittedly I don’t always land where I want to, but the goal is to get people pissed off enough to do something about the problem. The goal is to get people in that sweet spot where they know the scope of the problem but aren’t overwhelmed into apathy.

I want people to realize bad governance hurts us all, that it isn’t cute or folksy or clever. I want people to know “the Chicago Way” is a line from a damn movie, not an action plan for civic living.

I’m not alone in this. Since starting the tour, I’ve learned there’s a corruption tour company in Prague and that an anti-corruption group in Spain and a few in London do similar tours.

2. To get people to engage in their physical surroundings in a new way

I want people to be able to look at the corner of Adams and Dearborn and see the four gerrymandered state House districts visible from that one spot. I want people to look at TIF districts as concrete projects paid for out of money that would likely have gone elsewhere, not as some eye-glazing financial gobbledygook you know is somehow important but can’t grasp why.

I want people to look at a space and be able to see the social forces that made it be that way. I’m working on a new project exploring this idea in greater detail, which I’ll post about here when the time is right.

3. Cash money

I’ve got a big “food and shelter” habit that needs upkeep. Gotta get my fix.

So those are my three main reasons for putting a spotlight on corruption for money. Pride’s not one of them, but Carol Marin was right to point out a lot of people do take some weird pride in Chicago’s sad legacy.

For the record, being apathetic about patronage hires, police abuse, kickbacks, buddy deals, pay-to-play, bribes, blackmail, statistical manipulation, financial fraud and other shady governance does not make you clever or savvy.

Apathy is exactly where they want you to be, and there’s no sound sweeter to a politician’s ear than to hear you write off these sins as “the Chicago Way.”

Buy tickets to the Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

Now read about how a ramp and the letter 8 gave the city its name

And about a one-legged cyclist’s beautiful moment

And, just for fun, a speculative peek into the marketing decisions that turned the Tribune into tronc Inc.

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