Local representatives encourage political engagement in residents


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks to a crowd at Indivisible Evanston’s kickoff event Wednesday. Schakowsky said she has noticed an uptick in activism groups since the election of Republican President Donald Trump.

Syd Stone, Assistant City Editor

Local representatives encouraged Evanston residents in their political engagement at the kickoff event for activist group Indivisible Evanston on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Ald.-elect Cicely Fleming (9th) spoke to a crowd of more than 170 Evanston residents and community activists in south Evanston about what individuals can do at a local level for a progressive agenda. The event — held at Reba Place Church, 620 Madison St. — marked the launch of the Evanston branch of the national Indivisible network of community engagement organizations.

There are currently around 5,800 Indivisible groups nationwide, all with the same mission — to resist a conservative agenda on the local, state and national levels, said Stu Greenspan, an Evanston resident and one of the organizers of Indivisible Evanston. He said Indivisible aims to be an inclusive community promoting cohesion among the different activists representing varied interests in the group.

“What it’s really all about is communicating with our government officials, the people that we elected to serve us in Washington, in Springfield and maybe even here in Evanston,” Greenspan said.

Schakowsky said she has noticed an uptick in activism groups since the election of Republican President Donald Trump. She said the election has “awakened a fierce, sleeping giant.”

Benjamin Head, Schakowsky’s political director, spoke about a house bill that would repeal Illinois’ abortion trigger law and confirmed Schakowsky’s support of the bill.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) earlier this year, would protect access to abortions in Illinois even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — a decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The bill would also allow funding for state employees to have abortions and for Medicaid funds to be used to cover abortion procedures.

“No matter what Trump and Gorsuch do at the federal level, reproductive rights would be protected here in Illinois,” Head said.

Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, told the Associated Press earlier this month that Rauner is “committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights under current Illinois law,” but has decided to veto the bill because of the “sharp divisions of opinion” on taxpayer funding of abortion.

Schakowsky said sharing personal stories and anecdotes with elected officials is effective in convincing representatives to vote in their favor.

Fleming, who is one of the founding members of the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership, spoke about her experience with activism in Evanston from a young age. Fleming said OPAL is an “intentionally African-American run organization.” She commented on the lack of African Americans at Indivisible Evanston’s event, demonstrating larger problems with racial segregation in Evanston.

“We live in a diverse city, but we are segregated,” she said.

OPAL proposed that the District 65 School Board adopt a “racial equity policy” statement in April 2016, and the policy has since been adopted. Fleming said one of the biggest issues OPAL deals with is racial equity and bias in Evanston. She said one of OPAL’s main goals is to increase black voter turnout in Evanston.

Molly Dunn, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), spoke to the crowd about the importance of communicating with representatives. She recommended specific ways for the meeting’s attendees to reach out to their representatives most effectively.

“Turning the tide in Congress is about more than just passing laws and blocking laws; it’s about degrading the Trump administration’s political capital,” she said. “That’s what you do with every phone call that you make and every organized meeting that you go to.”

Though Biss acknowledged that most of Evanston is a liberal-leaning city, he said there are still “extraordinarily valuable” opportunities for activism on the state level.

“We’re not as special as we think in Evanston. This is happening everywhere,” he said. “There are new resistance groups everywhere. It’s about transforming political power in Illinois and across the country.”

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