Sixteen years is a long time. A person can be born and then legally drive. Both the Cubs and White Sox won a World Series in that span. Cities and communities can go through great economic turmoil and then Reclaim themselves. An organizer can be hired and spend those sixteen years working to build relationships, leadership, and power in Southwest Chicago. That’s what David McDowell did at SWOP.
David had an interesting path in joining SWOP. He was a transplant from Kansas City (most recently) and Boston originally. He’d done a little community work, but had much more experience with political and union organizing. The person who hired him left SWOP two weeks after he came on board, leaving him wondering a little bit about what he’d gotten himself into.
But David dived right in. He built a lot of long-standing relationships with leaders like Sister Immacula and Sister Margaret and Paul Marshilonus. David organized the first Quality-of-Life planning process in 2005 and then the second one in 2016. This work has resulted in the investment of over $40 million in Southwest Chicago. David also led the planning processes for the Elev8 program at Marquette and the Smart Communities Program. Both of which brought additional valuable resources to the community.
David’s attention to detail and his curiosity helped his organizing. One day he received a list of addresses of foreclosures in Southwest Chicago and wondered what it might look like on a map. He plotted each address using an old (even at that time) version of Microsoft’s Streets and Trips. The result was stunning to everyone who’s ever seen the maps: a sea of red dots overwhelming the community. Those maps helped coalesce the anti-foreclosure work and ultimately led to the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign.
Sometimes David could be grumpy or argumentative. He would on occasion find some picayune detail to fight over, one that most people would never notice. Everyone understood though, that David did this not from a sense of superiority or meanness or anger, but rather from a desire to push himself and others to be the best organizers possible. We learned from this push and kept on going.
After 16 years of hard work in Southwest Chicago, David met someone. That someone (Katherine is her name) lived in Waukegan and for them to be together, David moved to her hometown. He made a valiant effort to commute to SWOP, but finally had to concede that a two hour commute each way, made little sense. David left SWOP on May 31st.
David had a profound impact on the organization and the people who worked here. He pushed himself and others to do good work and to always fight the good fight for the community. He built lots of relationships and leaders and power. For all of this, we will miss him.