Jan Schakowsky was born in Chicago on May 26, 1944 and was raised in that city’s Rogers Park section. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1965 with a BS in elementary education, she worked for two years as a schoolteacher in the Head Start program. In 1969 Schakowsky established National Consumers Unite, a consumer-advocacy group that led a campaign to imprint freshness dates on food packaging in stores. From 1976-85 she was a director of the Illinois Public Action Council, another consumer-advocacy organization. And from 1985-90 she served as executive director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens.
Schakowsky has had close ties to the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and its predecessors since the 1970s. In early 1983 she wrote an article for the DSA publication Chicago Socialist. In 1986, DSA News twice identified her as a member of DSA. In May 2000, at Chicago DSA’s annual Eugene Debs/Norman Thomas/Michael Harrington dinner banquet (named in honor of three prominent American socialists), Schakowsky was honored for her “work in Congress and the community.” Four years later she was the keynote speaker at the Debs/Thomas/Harrington dinner.
From 1990-98, Schakowsky served in the Illinois State House of Representatives. When Democrat congressman Sidney Yates in 1998 announced his retirement after having served 48 years representing the Ninth District of Illinois, Schakowsky used her political connections to defeat a veteran state senator in that year’s Democratic congressional primary. Then, buoyed by the efforts of some 1,500 activist workers, the endorsement of Chicago DSA, and a $1.4 million donation from EMILY’s List, she proceeded to easily win the general election in the heavily Democratic district.
Schakowsky today is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Almanac of American Politics describes her as “one of the leftmost members of the Democratic Caucus.” “I don’t think I can be defined as too far left in a district like this,” says Schakowsky, who once told a local DSA writer: “The American people are not ideological; therefore, the way to go is to attack private power.”
In 2003 Schakowsky served on the advisory committee of the Progressive Majority (PM), a political networking group dedicated to electing leftist candidates to public office.
In 2004 Schakowsky co-sponsored a bill to ease restrictions on U.S. trade with the Communist dictatorship in Cuba. Nine years later, she was one of 59 House Members who signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to “support travel to Cuba by granting general licenses for ALL current categories of travel.” (Emphasis in original)
In March 2004, while Schakowsky was bidding for re-election to Congress, her husband, Robert Creamer (then-executive director of the Illinois Public Action Fund, or IPAF), was indicted in federal court on 16 counts of bank fraud. Schakowsky was a member of the IPAF board when the crimes occurred. In August 2005, Creamer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in prison and eleven months of house arrest. Schakowsky nonetheless said she was proud of her husband, describing him as “a constant crusader for social and economic justice in this country and beyond,” and as a man who had “for his entire adult life devoted himself to fighting for a better future for others.”
During the healthcare-reform debates of 2009, Schakowsky denounced Tea Party protests against Obamacare as “despicable” examples of “Obama-bashing” carried out by “right-wing Republicans” seeking to “cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt.”
In April 2009 Schakowsky told a group of supporters that a government-run health-insurance system, which she favored, would put private insurers out of business. She candidly stated that this was in fact the primary purpose of the healthcare legislation that she and her fellow Democrats were pursuing:
“The goal of health care reform is not to protect the private health insurance industry. And I am so confident in the superiority of a public health care option … I know that many of you here today are single-payer advocates and so am I … This is not a principled fight. This is a fight about strategy for getting there, and I believe we will.”
Schakowsky believes that corporations should “pay a living wage to the people who make their profits possible” — i.e., enought to enable those workers “to provide for their families.” She also contends that all workers should be allowed “to join a union.”
In 2012 Schakowsky was a national co-chair of Obama for America, an activist group committed to re-electing President Obama. (It later became known as Organizing for America.)
Schakowsky has long supported amnesty for illegal immigrants. At a September 23, 2000 “March and Rally for a New Amnesty in Chicago,” for instance, she told the 8,000+ attendees: “I support complete amnesty, total restoral of benefits … and an end to employer sanctions.” Thirteen years later, on October 8, 2013, Schakowsky was one of eight members of Congress (all Democrats) who were arrested when they sat in the middle of Washington, DC’s Independence Avenue and blocked rush-hour traffic during a large rally intended to promote legislation allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Also arrested were U.S. Representatives Joseph Crowley, Keith Ellison, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, and Jan Schakowsky.
In early 2013, just weeks after a madman’s deadly shooting spree that killed 20 innocent children in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, Schakowsky helped lead a vocal crusade against so-called “assault weapons.” She further acknowledged to a reporter that she was firmly “against handguns,” and that her longterm goal was “absolutely” to enact a ban on the possession of all firearms.
At a January 2017 rally in Chicago, Schakowsky spoke out against President Donald Trump’s executive order placing a temporary restriction on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries that were hotbeds of terrorism. At the event, the congresswoman stood alongside Rasmea Odeh, mastermind of a February 1969 supermarket bombing in Jerusalem which members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine murdered two young Jewish men. As author Ari Lieberman writes: “Odeh and her gang were apprehended days [after the bombing] by Israeli police. Physical evidence obtained at the scene undeniably linked her to the crime and she confessed to her role almost immediately. Odeh was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in a prisoner swap after serving just ten years. Following her release, she lived in Lebanon for four years and then moved to Jordan. From Jordan, she moved to the United States.” In addition to her involvement in the Jerusalem bombing, Odeh was also convicted of trying to blow up a British consulate.
On July 19, 2022, Schakowsky was one of at least 17 House Democrats who were arrested outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, where they were attending an abortion-rights rally to protest the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Those arrested included the following:
Schakowsky serves as a vice president of Americans for Democratic Action, along with such notables as Elijah Cummings and Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is also a policy-council member of Citizen Action of Illinois, a board-of-directors member of Illinois Public Action, and a member of the NAACP and the National Organization for Women.
For an overview of Schakowsky’s voting record on a variety of key issues during her years in Congress, click here.
For additional information on Schakowsky, click here.