I met Anthony Clark the morning after two men were gunned down on their way up church steps to Sunday morning service. Chicago’s Austin community assembled to mourn on the steps where they fell, in front of the doors through which one of the men’s children ran to escape the barrage of bullets. Friendship Baptist Church leaders and city officials filed in front to address the news cameras. A prayer was held, the deputy mayor spoke, then the lead detective, followed by the congressman, and the county commissioner. Each offers their condolences and a call for the community to unite and stop this violence once and for all. Off to the side, a man cries into a shoulder, “my big brother! My hero!”
It is a scene that replays all over the City of Chicago far too often and without consequence.
I caught up with Congressman Danny Davis (D IL-7) as the crowd dispersed. He had already been pinned down by a member of Stop The Violence (STV), a community group, who asked Davis why he hadn’t shown up to their fundraiser like he had promised. “I was probably in Washington.” The activist left shortly after. There was nothing he could do but take his excuse.
I imposed myself before he could get away:
“With regard to your election next year, have you met any of the candidates running against you?”
“No, I have not. Is there any reason I should meet with them?…My opponents know where to find me. Why should I be seeking them out?”
“Anthony Clark is running against you. Do you see yourself meeting with him in the future?”
“Of all the meetings I’ve held over the last year, I haven’t seen Anthony Clark. So why should I be trying to meet with him? Just because he’s running? I’ll meet with the devil if he…[chuckles]”
He has a point. Why should he care more about this challenger?
I linked up with Anthony Clark after Davis’s aide finally turned me away. You wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of the crowd during the press conference. He was standing towards the back with the churchgoers instead of being up front to give his two cents about gun violence in Chicago for the thousandth time. We went back to his car to continue the interview, with his young son in the back seat playing with a stuffed animal. Minutes later, the same STV member that Danny Davis shrugged off passed by the car and called, “you coming to the [Charlottesville] rally later today?” To which Anthony yelled back, “yeah, I’ll see you there.”
Politicians come and go with the cameras, but Anthony Clark stays and does the work that needs to be done. When not at his local high school, where he is a special education teacher, Anthony Clark is working with others to make his neighborhood better. He founded the Suburban Unity Alliance in the Summer of 2016, a group that focuses on community engagement and betterment in the Chicago suburbs. His political ideology is progressive in nature, focusing on economic policy that serves to strengthen the middle and lower class and social policy to help heal the deep divides between Americans and empower the oppressed. You can read the full profile on Anthony Clark and his platform here.
Danny Davis should care about Anthony Clark more than any other challenger since he took office in 1997. But first, let us ask why he shouldn’t care.
There are plenty of reasons, not the least of which being that nobody has dethroned him in 20 years. Davis also has the Democratic Party’s firm backing. Name recognition is automatically in his corner, being the victor of the last 11 elections, and winning most with over 80% of the vote. The district is also wildly gerrymandered, which makes campaigning tough for competitors. With all this in his corner, it’s easy to see how he has grown comfortable in his seat.
You might be wondering at this point what all this has to do with two men dying on the steps outside their church. To put it plainly: people are suffering and dying every day, yet elected officials have not changed their strategy. If this will ever change, it will not happen under our current leadership.
None of this should be misconstrued as Danny Davis not caring about gun violence in Chicago. In fact, I believe that he cares deeply about it. His own grandson was shot dead while at home on the city’s south side late last year. This is to say that even while a politician such as Davis may care deeply about an issue, they don’t necessarily realize how to tackle it. For instance, Danny Davis doesn’t realize that by brushing off community activists like he did outside the church, he forfeits his chance at curbing gun violence.
Danny Davis should care about Clark because Clark is a new breed of Chicago politician, the average citizen, which finds its strengths at the career politician’s Achilles heel. Clark understands the needs of the community because he is a part of it and has spent his life serving it. The career politician, even those that once served their constituents with genuinely good intent, forgot how to long ago. Clark has spent his life, as many a Chicagoan has, living under the foot of the Democratic political machine. The career politician is part of that machine. Clark is fed up and poised to take matters into his own hands. The career politician never did.
The people of the 7th district know how to solve the issues afflicting them. What they need is someone in power who will listen to and work with them. The odds are generally stacked against the outsider, but elections can still reward those that lead campaigns which effectively and efficiently target the needs of their constituents. Clark has the upper-hand here because he has served the needs of his constituents long before he ever considered running for office.
Furthermore, some of Davis’s perceived advantages may, in fact, be disadvantages. After 20 years, voters might be ready for something different. This past presidential election would support that. He has won reelection over and over again without lifting a finger. How will he fare against a serious challenger in his own party who plans to knock on 100,000 doors? Will he change his strategy at all, or prop himself up against his Democratic Party backing? And is that backing enough to pull him across the finish line? Just this week, Bernie Sanders-backed Randall Woodfin beat incumbent Democratic Mayor of Birmingham William Bell in the runoff election. Earlier this year, Chokwe Lumumba, another progressive Democrat, beat the incumbent Democrat of Jackson, Missouri, and became its mayor.
One thing is clear: If this city will ever be lifted out of perpetual decay, it will start here with Anthony Clark and the grassroots movement.
“I’m not doing this for any other reason but to serve the people because when I wake up every day I cannot stop thinking about those who are suffering and struggling and I cannot enjoy my life because I know others aren’t. That’s just how I’m built…Daily we’re out here. We have to create the opportunity for ourselves, apply positive pressure, force local and national governments to see that we need to treat root causes and we’re not.”
-Anthony V. Clark
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly gave Jacksonville, Missouri instead of Jackson, Missouri, as the name of the town Chokwe Lumumba won mayorship.