As Forest Park whirls at the core of the grassroots effort to rejuvenate the Proviso Township high schools, as its new Diversity Commission recently urged forward a Welcoming Resolution, as a progressive citizens group organizes on Facebook and a green movement seeks its footing to get organized, it is the moment to celebrate and rue the shuttering of Vox, Forest Park's original ground-up political advocacy group.
Better known over most of its 13 years as Citizens United in Forest Park (CUiFP), Vox quietly folded its diminished tent in a Facebook post on July 22. Steve Backman, a founder of the group, oddly declined to comment beyond the FB announcement.
That won't stop us though from linking today's refreshing and startling level of local political activism to the founding days of Vox. In a village stuck in its cloister of old families and intensely suspicious of critics, Vox brought a bright light and a healthy skepticism to local government.
This being Forest Park, the response to Vox was peculiarly personal and over the top. From day one, the motivations of its small band of active citizens were questioned at the top of village hall, leaders Steve and Gloria Backman were derided and demonized for the sin of being active, alert and sometimes critical citizens.
Simple efforts at transparency such as video recording village meetings were taken as threats. Plans to hold debates and discussions of local issues were seen as undermining the powers that be.
In 2005, CUiFP was honored by the Citizens Advocacy Center in Elmhurst for its ongoing good government work. Steve Backman's comment at the time was, "What we do gets us labeled as crackpots or wise guys. It was nice to get recognized by like-minded people all fighting the same struggle in different towns."
With its announced closing, a number of the current generation of local activists expressed their strong thanks to Vox for absorbing the toxins and the anger which came its way.
Our sense, our hope is that the anti-activist fever has broken in Forest Park. Perhaps the over the top fury of the video gaming debate made plain that turning Forest Parkers against each other is not an honorable path forward; maybe seeing the powerful good of the Proviso Together movement impacting Forest Park's most intractable problem; maybe seeing the energy and joy of the Welcoming Resolution's embrace of diversity has opened our eyes to new possibilities.
We look forward to that same activist energy and sense of purpose in the village elections now less than two years away. Let the energy bloom, let the fears fade. And let's say thanks to the oft-scorned leaders of CUiFP.
You did good.