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Friday, October 16, 2015

"This Is What Democracy Looks Like"

I can still see this scene in my mind’s eye, as if were yesterday and not some decades earlier: My father and I sitting in the living room of our 2-bedroom apartment in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the one we’d recently moved into following my mother’s death and my brother’s marriage. 

It was just the two of us now, me, 23 years old and not yet married to Vietnam vet Philip LaChapelle, my father at 55 not yet re-married to the nice Italian lady who stuffed her own sausages and didn’t mind how much he drank. 

What my father says to me in this scene is “Am I going to have to spend money to bail you out of jail?” Or maybe it was “If you think I’m going to spend my hard-earned money to bail you out of jail…” 

Doesn’t matter, same idea.

In truth, I do not recall the source of his comment.  It wasn’t yet 1968 when Philip and I, by then married, stood in Grant Park in opposition to the war, staring down the Illinois National Guard as they stood facing all of us who’d gathered in protest.

And it wasn’t 1961 when off to college at Northern Illinois University I apparently protested against the cafeteria food.

(Neither time did I end up in the pokey.)

In between those two extremes--and over the years--I've called and written my congressional reps on topics that interest me, many involving environmental issues.  And in the early '70s, I walked around Rush Street asking people to sign a petition to halt commercial whaling.  It was during my lunch break from a really stupid job at a small public relations firm.

But except for a very small climate action last summer in downtown Chicago, I’d not shown up to chant and march for something that deeply mattered to me until last Wednesday, when I joined 300 others at Old St. Pat’s Church in the West Loop, then, after practicing a few hearty chants in unison—

Leader: “Show me what democracy looks like.”
Response: “This is what democracy looks like.”

—heading out the church doors and on to the Thompson Center, home of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, petitioning him to implement the Clean Power Plan for our state.

It was a beautiful fall night, and I do believe—the focus of the march notwithstanding—that a good time was had by all, a grand diversity of age, religion, gender, race, and occupation.

Over the next hour, we moved in a loose and friendly arrangement along the sidewalks, unhurriedly crossing major intersections, ticking off the drivers who had to wait for everyone to get from one side to the other: the young couples pushing strollers, the eager college students, my fellow grey hairs.

Along the way, I ran into two people I’d first met just weeks earlier at an interfaith convocation on the Pope’s encyclical. Then I spotted Marshall from one of my long-ago teaching gigs, which was just after I'd made a nice connection with members of a “green” synagogue in Evanston.

I imagine there were a lot of those connecting moments for everyone that night.

As for who was officially represented at the march--the "unprecedented coalition of environmental and environmental justice, labor, faith, and student groups"--here's the Who's Who:

The Archdiocese of Chicago, EcoCampus UIC, Faith in Place, Fight for Fifteen, IIRON, Jobs with Justice, NEIS, NRDC, ONE North Side, People for Community Recovery, SEIU HCII, SEIU International, SEIU Local 1, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois

Then there was me: little, old unaffiliated me, in need a nice march for a good cause on a beautiful fall night in Chicago. 

(And without ending up in the pokey.)

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