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R.I.P. Joe Watkins: ‘Chicago Unchained’ Grassroots Activist and Obama Critic

R.I.P. Joe Watkins: ‘Chicago Unchained’ Grassroots Activist and Obama Critic

Watkins’s denunciation of Democrat rule over the poor, black inner-city communities may have paved the way for enormous changes.

Legal Insurrection readers are part of a small community of people outside the inner-city of Chicago who may be familiar with Joe Watkins, who passed away this week after a battle with cancer. We’ve published a few videos and interviews with Joe on this site, including Rebel Pundit’s “Chicago Unchained,” which reached more than 1 million views after it was first published in 2014:

But readers may not realize that Watkins’s outspoken denunciation of Democrat rule over the poor, black inner-city communities may have paved the way for enormous changes in the way our political landscape unfolds.

What Watkins and his fellow activists said in that video was a defining moment in American history, marking perhaps the strongest statement to-date that the black vote was no longer a given for the Democrats. And it took enormous courage.

Watkins, who founded Voices of the Ex-Offender (V.O.T.E.) to help bring jobs to people just out of prison, was part of a tight-knit group of men and women fighting the political machine powers-that-be in the inner city. I met Watkins on several occasions and got to know his group over the course of the past few years. I’ve learned to listen to them for wisdom; their foe in the inner city has much in common with the entrenched corruption of the DC swamp.

In the Chicago Unchained video, Watkins stands in front of the abandoned Ida B. Wells Homes, public housing that had been shut down in a crooked deal to benefit developers seeking new land for their enterprises, and calls out Barack Obama for his betrayal of their community.

After Obama’s State of the Union address in 2015, Watkins gathered with his fellow activists at Wallace’s Catfish, addressing Obama personally: “Never once since you’ve been president have you spoken about the working poor. We don’t even exist in your administration. What kind of person are you…we hope that Congress defunds Obamacare. We pray that Congress do away with your amnesty executive order, giving and providing illegal aliens and immigrants working permits to make sure that black men don’t get jobs in their own community. ”

One year before that, in 2014, Watkins, again commenting on the SOTU, said of Obama, “He’s been more hurtful to the black race than he has been helpful. Now for a lot of symbolic reasons a lot of people will accept that — or shall I say, most well-to-do blacks, or those who think they are better off, they’ll accept that for symbolic reasons. But those of us at the bottom of the ladder, we won’t accept that….Our children know that if the Democrats have not done anything for us as of yet, why should they even go out and vote for them. What agenda that’s on the table is going to change their lives.”

“I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I’m a part of the ‘broke party.’ I don’t have any resources. People of my ilk, people of my generation, we’re locked out of the process.”

With that statement Watkins reflected a community left behind by those who claim to represent them, and ignored by those who might have. Watkins’s counsel speaks clearly in these videos: America’s elected officials of both parties need to remember whom they serve.

Rest in peace, Joe. Your stand against these forces in your community may, God willing, have an even greater reach than what any of us could have imagined.


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Honors to a brave, insightful man who had the integrity to speak the truth.

I hope to see the day when people of all races have the maturity to vote their interests.

Salute, Joe!

    Those are perfect adjectives to describe this fine man.
    About “voting their interests,” the groups for whom he spoke face a two step process. First, stop voting automatically for those who actually hold them in chains. Second, vote for politicians who have an overall agenda that will positively affect their lives. I read his statement “What agenda that’s on the table is going to change their lives” as looking for an agenda that is good for them as part of America, not good for them as a special interest group.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Ragspierre. | December 3, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    I second this and I could not have said it better. RIP Mr. Watkins others will take up your fight.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | December 3, 2016 at 8:34 am

RIP Joe. You were on the right track. Hopefully reform will come.

A beautiful eulogy for a brave man. Thank you, Anne.