Winnetka-based non-profit hosts community discussion to state core beliefs, plan local action.
By Jonah Meadows
There’s no Presidential State of the Union address in a year a new president is inaugurated. Instead, this year, hundreds of members of communities of Chicago and its northern suburbs gathered at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston Sunday for a “State of Our Communities” event.
Unlike a presidential address, the event featured several sessions of open discussions for attendees. After a series of statements from representatives of the event’s organizers, the hall broke up into small group discussions. The groups developed statements of belief and action and then presented them to the whole community meeting.
“We need to repeal and replace Congress in 2018,” said attendee Mary Mrugalski as she presented conclusions from her small group to large applause.
Other participants in the group discussions presented plans to push for more and stronger so-called “Sanctuary Ordinances” in Chicago-area suburban communities. The Trump administration was criticized for its appointments, its “denial” of climate change, its recent immigration raids and its executive action on immigration and refugees. A repeated theme among the conclusions of the small groups and presenters was a commitment to increased awareness and involvement in local politics.
The event was sponsored by Winnetka-based Open Communities and co-sponsored by six other North Shore and Chicago non-profits. It began with an introduction by Executive Director of Open Communities, David Luna.
“We are here because all of us know and want to say loudly, ‘These are not the things our communities are about, these are not the things that make our communities great, and these are things we will resist,'” he said.
The event was divided up into portions title to “This I Believe,” “This I Oppose,” and “This I Will Do.” The first panel featured Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Jes Scheinpflug of Open Communities and Sergio Hernandez of the Latino Engagement & Action Council.
“Acknowledging reality may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary if we want it to change,” Scheinpflug said, telling the story of a trans friend who had been harassed and physically attacked on a bus without any bystander coming to her aid.
Sergio Hernandez of the Latino Engagement & Action Council said Latinos and African-Americans are the backbone, culturally and economically, of the community.
“We believe that no human being is illegal,” he said, suggesting Evanston city government strengthen its “Sanctuary City” ordinances.
“I oppose a President of the United States that does not respect the checks and balances between the executive brand and the judiciary,” said Maaria Mozaffer, legal adviser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Representing the “This I Oppose” portion of the event, she said she was heartened by the diversity of the opposition to President Donald Trump.
She was followed by David Borris of Chicago Peace Action who said he resists “Trumpism” more than President Trump.
“The real battle is for the soul of our society and that will be fought at the community level first,” he said.
Eileen Heinemann of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore said Illinois was fortunate to have so many strong non-profit organizations supporting refugee and immigrant rights, including “national organizations that have a local presence and local organizations that are making a difference nationally.”
“We are here not to be nice, but to be right. We are here to be just,” she said, dismissing messages that people should avoid controversy and political action can’t make a difference.
Rev. Michael Nabors, President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP and pastor at the Second Baptist Church, warned the community to prepare for the consequences of a Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice and a Betsey DeVos-led Department of Education.
“You are drinking from the Kool-aid pitcher of failed optimism and shallow rhetoric,” if you believe the Trump administration is interested in extending olive branches.
“Get ready, know the facts, and then express yourself,” he said, predicting an exponentially increasing gap between the right and the poor. “Get ready. This should be terrifying but it will become normalized and millions, hundreds of millions of people will adjust and call it par for the course.”
A final reflection was provided by Lesley Williams of Jewish Voice for Peace. She asked attendees to put their local, state and federal representatives contact information into their cell phones and call them every day.
“All of our rights are equal and we all need to be standing up for each others rights all the time, every minute, every day, every year,” she said. “There may be someone in the White House who says ‘America First’, but I say, ‘Humanity First.'”
After the speakers concluded, Open Communities Executive Director David Luna led attendees in affirming what the groups had just resolved to do. He asked them to consider what they had just discussed and to repeat after him, “This I believe,” “This I will resist,” and then asked them to “think about all the wonderful things you’re going to do, all the beautiful actions you’re going to take and say it together, ‘This I will do.”
“This I will do,” responded the crowd.