Deondre Rutues

When I would ask people who they consider West Side community stakeholders, Deondre Rutues’ name kept coming up. During a recent Zoom interview, Rutues spoke about his activism, his love for the West Side and his run for alderman for 37th Ward alderman in 2017.

I knew nothing about politics. Before I even ran [for alderman], I went to several elected officials to try and get some insight and guidance on the process. I either got no response or some generic, canned response. It was very discouraging.

Even going out into the community to petition and get signatures on the ballot was super interesting, but not surprising. I remember I ran into this one couple and I was telling them about my plans and wanting them to sign my petition and they flat-out told me that they wouldn’t sign it.

One, because they didn’t believe that I had any chance of winning against [37th Ward Alderperson] Emma Mitts. Two, they were loyal to Alderwoman Mitts, because she was able to get their family a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. That’s what secured their votes for her. That was all it took.

I like a challenge, so after talking with them some more they eventually warmed up to me and did sign my ballot, but that couple stands out the most to me, when I think back on my time spent running.

Austin is like that though: the fact that a turkey secured votes for her. There’s so much more that can be done to improve the quality of life for people in Austin, but people are grateful for a turkey.

As we know, I ultimately didn’t win that election but that’s okay. I learned a lot about what people in the community truly want and need.

Community safety and police relations came up a lot. People want better relationships with the police beyond little events. They want a different approach to community policing that actually protects them and makes them feel safe. So, part of what I do with the Policing Project [a project from the New York University School of Law], is help create policy that’s in line with what community members want.

I used to substitute teach at Austin High School and worked a lot with kids in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] programs. I did this program called Project Exploration that introduced kids to STEM so that was cool. I learned alot about what the youth want for themselves and the resources teachers need to make that happen.

I may run again for alderman. My platform this time would be about revitalizing communities. Some may call that gentrification, but I think it could be done in a way where we could beautify the community without displacing people. I think the West Side could be a “Hemp Highway,” using [hemp] to create jobs and bring money into the community. There’s so much talk about cannabis in Chicago and I think Black people can be a part of that through hemp.

We need to break this culture of dependency that exists here and focus on goal- and value-setting as a community. What are our goals for our youth? For ourselves? How can we revitalize our business districts and bring businesses that bring real dollars to the community and keep those dollars here?

Those are things I want to work with the community to answer and then create action and execute.