Taking a chance to save CPS

In 1970, rock n’ roll legend Elvis Presley was frustrated with a counter culture, influenced by acts like the Beatles and the use of illicit drugs, he believed to at the center anti-Americanism. 

The solution? Meet with President Richard Nixon and get him to designate Presley as a federal agent at-large with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the precursor to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Nixon, who popularized the phrase ‘War on Drugs,’ was happy to have such a high-profile ally to help with his effort. The meeting was set up, the two posed for a photo-op, and Nixon presented Presley with a BNDD badge.

This actually happened. Though some of the contents may have been sensationalized over the years, perhaps due to the two films that have been made on the encounter.

Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper meets with reporters at the Thompson Center in Chicago after a meeting with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper meets with reporters at the Thompson Center in Chicago after a meeting with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Ashlee Rezin / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The badge Nixon presented had no meaning, of course. He was never in his right mind going to name Presley a real federal agent. The singer left disappointed, or so the story goes.

Chance the Rapper had his own ‘Elvis meets Nixon’ moment on Friday, meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner to discuss funding for Chicago Public Schools.

The Grammy Award-winning artist and the billionaire governor are from two different worlds, though that dichotomy will likely never make it to the silver screen. But, Chance did make the headlines.

Members of the media waited anxiously in the James R. Thompson Center to hear what the two discussed. After all, the topic is timely and important: CPS is cash-strapped and potentially unable to complete the current school year without a lifeline from the state.

After the 40 minute meeting, Chance emerged looking defeated. He said he was “flustered” over the “vague answers” that the governor provided.

“That went a little different than it should have,” he told reporters. “I’m here because I just want people to do their jobs.”

Rauner, for his part, believed the meeting went well.

“Having a dialogue with someone who’s passionate about a better future for the young people in Chicago and Illinois, I’m with him 100 percent,” Rauner said. “We may not agree on everything, that’s OK.”

Chance said his message to the governor was to “leave the kids off the table.” But, in his own eyes, he did not accomplish the goal he set out for.

Like Elvis, Chance left disappointed.

And, like Elvis meeting Nixon, Chance meeting Rauner was bizarre. It was not to be any other way.

In general, the expectation that a celebrity’s meeting with a politician will lead to an immediate position change is somewhat naive.

(Graphic by The DePaulia)

In the context of Illinois’ troubled fiscal situation, this especially should not be a surprise. The children of CPS are not the only ones on the table. With them are social service agencies that serve the poor, disabled, elderly, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted and other vulnerable groups.
This reality is not because Rauner or legislative Democrats want to see those groups suffer. Quite simply, it’s politics. The state is amid a large political battle between two very different visions for the state. There was bound to be folks caught in the crossfire.

But Chance’s efforts are not all for naught. In the short term, the impact may not be that large — Rauner will not cave to Democrats because of a meeting with Chance the Rapper. But, in the long term, using his voice to advocate for CPS may pay off.

As has been seen around the country, citizens have made their voices heard on President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees as well as legislation they oppose. It is working.

If Chance, who held an early vote rally/parade to the polls before November’s election, can use his influential voice to drive others to action, he will have an impact.

Elvis died before he could make a real dent in the problems he and Nixon discussed, but Chance has an opportunity to make an impact. He said he will release a plan today. It will be interesting to see what it is.