Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Citizens Alert's Mary Powers on advocacy and the power of individuals
by Sean Pyles

This article shared 5679 times since Wed Sep 12, 2012
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Mary Powers has been butting heads with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for more than 40 years. In her work with Citizens Alert, a police-accountability activist group started in 1967, Powers has been directly involved in policy changes within the CPD. She has also been active in the fight for LGBT rights.

The Michigan native graduated from the University of Wisconsin and eventually moved to Chicago. She worked briefly at the American Red Cross before taking a position at Western Electric as an employee counselor in the late 1940s. It was there she first felt a pull towards activism.

"In that counseling role, I was fortunate enough to build enough confidence in the people I was working with that they confided in me their personal problems," said Powers, 90. "At that point, people were losing their jobs [because of their sexual orientation]. This was such a moving and compelling situation, I began to feel involved in the issues of this community right then."

Later, this work inspired Powers to support the formation of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an activist group that fought for equal rights for LGBT citizens in Chicago.

Her involvement with Citizens Alert began shortly after the 1969 raid on the Black Panthers' apartment on Chicago's West Side. Powers and a few of her neighbors from Winnetka walked through the raided Panther apartment after the raid and were appalled at the destruction.

"We were all so shocked that we decided to get involved and do something," said Powers.

Powers saw a flier from the Alliance to End Repression, a coalition of social-activist task forces, advertising an open meeting at DePaul University to galvanize citizens against the structures that lead to their own repression. Powers chose to join a board directly involved in monitoring and fighting what activists felt were overreaches of power in the criminal justice system. Shortly after the meeting, the group became a part of Citizens Alert in an attempt to tackle perceived abuses of power in the CPD.

"It was really challenging, but at the same time empowering," Powers said. "Because at first, it really felt like the public had no place, so that really gave us the impetus to say 'Oh yes we do!'"

Part of asserting themselves in the criminal justice system included directly confronting the structure of the CPD. This included monitoring meetings of the Chicago Police Board.

Powers said, "These meetings were a totally closed operation when we discovered them. After going to our first meeting, we let them know we were coming back."

After Citizens Alert became involved in these meetings the Chicago Police Department moved them to an auditorium at the Police Station. This move was the first of many tangible changes in how the CPD interacted with the public.

"For years we organized people to go to the police with their problems and challenge policies and practices and question the budget," said Powers. "In the beginning, they ignored us, but they began to recognize the public's right to attend these meetings...We were able to make the police force recognize the value of interacting with the public through those police board meetings."

Over the next four decades, Powers and Citizens Alert had a significant impact on a number of police policies in Chicago. Beyond publicizing the monthly meeting of the Chicago Police Board, Citizens Alert spearheaded an accountability campaign in the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. Powers said the office was perceived as a tool of the CPD for whitewashing deaths related to police brutality.

To combat this, Citizens Alert organized a two-year public education program on the Medical Examiner, which led to a successful referendum to replace those in the coroner's office. In order to continue accountability after the campaign ended, Citizens Alert received notification from the CPD of every death in custody to monitor the autopsy and assure the families were notified.

Citizens Alert also fought to mandate videotaping of police interrogations.

"As the years went on, we had really good, supportive relationships with the police where they recognized that public cooperation was important to their success," said Powers. "That was a major change."

While Citizens Alert functioned independently, the organization worked under the broader umbrella of the Alliance to End Repression and its partner advocacy groups. It was through the Alliance that Powers became involved with the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Powers volunteered for the Alliance's Observer Program where she monitored the police at the early Pride parades.

"For many years when it was really necessary to demonstrate on the street about gay and lesbian issues, the police were always there with heavy surveillance, so the Observer Program would appear at many of those occasions when asked to do so by the community, wearing our Citizens Alert volunteer armbands and recording every bit of interaction between demonstrators, the police and the public," Powers said.

In 1992, Powers was inducted into the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame as a friend of the community. She was honored for her work advocating formal training for Chicago police officers on LGBT issues and developing training materials for the CPD.

"Receiving the award was wonderful," said Powers. "I believed firmly in what I was doing, so I didn't expect anything [in return]. I just needed to do that."

Powers is still active in Citizens Alert. The organization recently celebrated its 45th anniversary and moved to an office at the Jane Addams College of Social Work on the UIC campus. Powers continues to advocate for open communication and supportive relationships between the CPD and Chicagoans.

This article shared 5679 times since Wed Sep 12, 2012
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Out and Aging
Presented By


Gay News

SHOWBIZ 'Black Adam,' Cyndi Lauper, Sondheim, Oscars, OutFest 2023-03-18
- Cultured Magazine recently profiled Quintessa Swindell—who became the first out, non-binary actor to play a lead superhero in the DC universe when they portrayed Cyclone in the 2022 movie Black Adam. Swindell grew up in Virginia ...

Gay News

Show about trans+ women models to debut Aug. 5 on Here TV 2022-07-29
- The Here TV docuseries Road to the Runway—which focuses on trans+ women models—will debut Friday, Aug. 5. The series profiles the 20 hopefuls competing in this year's annual Slay Model search. Cameras follow the women to ...

Gay News

Local writer from Hillman Grad Productions Mentorship Lab to tell stories about immigrant experiences 2022-06-04
- Growing up on the South Side of Chicago without any sort of U.S. citizenship, Ruben Mendive said he started developing his identity as a writer while he was sitting in front of the TV, devouring "every show that came out ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Writer, attorney, activist Takeia R. Johnson 2021-07-25
- The local organization Affinity Community Services announced the recent passing of Takeia R. Johnson. According to Johnson's LinkedIn profile, she was editor-in-chief and lead writer at Inclusion at Work as well as a Ph.D. student focusing ...

Gay News

SAVOR Talking with new Travelle Chef de Cuisine Qi Ai; Profile of Travelle's breakfast 2021-06-09
- Travelle Chef de Cuisine Qi Ai Travelle at the Langham (330 N Wabash Ave.; has undergone a major change during the COVID pandemic: New Chef de Cuisine Qi (pronounced "tee") Ai was promoted from sous ...

Gay News

MOVIES Dutch journalist talks about making 'My Friend, the Mayor' 2021-02-17
- In the Amazon Prime Video documentary My Friend, the Mayor: Small-town Democracy in the Age of Trump, Dutch journalist Max Westerman profiles friend Sean Strub, an openly gay activist, activist, long-term AIDS survivor and POZ magazine ...

Gay News

Booksellers launch "Boxed Out" campaign, a look at consumer choices 2020-10-22
--From a press release - (New York, New York) 20% of independent bookstores across the country are in danger of closing. Today, theAmerican Booksellers Association launched the "Boxed Out" campaign to draw attention to the high stakes indie bookstores face this ...

Gay News

Author/academic John D'Emilio on new book, future endeavors 2020-10-01
- Queer Legacies: Stories from Chicago's LGBTQ Archives is a new book by Gerber/Hart Library and Archives President and University of Illinois at Chicago History and Women's and Gender Studies Professor Emeritus John ...

Gay News

Out Illinois State coach dives into new position 2020-09-16
- Logan Pearsall, an accomplished college diver who has since transitioned into master's level diving, was competing at the 2017 FINA World Masters Championships in Budapest, Hungary. He was doing a challenging inward dive from a one-meter ...

Gay News

Joseph Baar Topinka preserves legacy of mother: Pro-gay Republican Judy 2020-09-02
- Riverside resident Joseph Baar Topinka is still impressed with the resolve and stamina with which his late mother, longtime GOP politician Judy Baar Topinka, was able to "slug it out" in the political arena. "She got ...

Gay News

'Making Sweet Tea': Out NU dean talks about new documentary 2020-08-18
- Performer and Northwestern University Dean E. Patrick Johnson discussed his new film and the importance of reclaiming storytelling agency in a virtual Q&A Lambda Legal hosted Aug. 9. Johnson, dean of Northwestern University's School of Communication, ...

Gay News

Asha Ransby-Sporn talks building on the anti-racism movement's legacy 2020-08-05
- With anti-racism protests happening around the United States, in what some media outlets are saying is the largest movement in this country's history, demands to abolish the police have increasingly been a part of the rallying ...

Gay News

Local lesbian couple celebrate 50 years together 2020-08-05
- When Alice Cozad and Linda Young met each other as freshmen at the University of Iowa they knew almost instantly that they would be together as a couple for the rest of their lives. "The electricity ...

Gay News

Teen LGBTQ+ activist aims to inspire with Be You Tiful Initiative 2020-07-31
- Allison Frank is a 16-year-old lesbian activist from Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School who found her passion for activism and began the Be You Tiful Initiative. It all started when Frank was feeling overwhelmed in a makeup ...

Gay News

Cicero student finds his voice 2020-07-29
- When Jorge Martinez-Arevalo was in eighth grade, he was elected president of an LGBTQ+ after-school club at Unity Junior High School, in Cicero. During his eighth-grade year, the club, which is known as NJAW (short for ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.

All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.