“If you disagree/have a better idea/think you’re so smart, why don’t you run for office?” Occasionally this is offered as a constructive suggestion, but mostly it’s used as a suppressive smackdown by the Powers That Be, especially if followed by, “Put some skin in the game!”

Of course, it’s absurd, impractical, and often illegal to insist that everyone who wants our government to operate as stated or wants to challenge the rules, needs to be elected. We the People have essential rights and responsibilities and our particular self-governing democracy fails when citizens don’t exercise those duties.

Citizen Advocate Center’s (CAC) small downtown Elmhurst storefront buzzes from dawn to dusk “strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, institutions and resources for self-governance” in Chicago and the suburbs. Two lawyers and a handful of staff run an astoundingly effective legal organization aided by dedicated volunteers and community lawyer interns.

These citizens put some serious skin in the game.

John Barsotti of Villa Park simply wanted to inspect routine public records, Michael Hennessy of Wauconda used his right to petition to question his electeds’ benefit payments, a group of Downers Grove residents organized to stop a convenience store/pharmacy in their neighborhood, Kathy Gilroy of Villa Park is recognized for her years of advocacy against government-sponsored gambling, and Erik Spande of Winfield is lauded as an elected who served his constituents at the cost of being censured by his fellow electeds. The audience gave him a standing ovation as the Winfield police chief escorted him from village hall.

The folks mentioned above were awarded CAC’s 2012 Citizens Initiative Awards. Enjoy their inspiring and, I believe, humbling stories at www.citizenadvocacycenter.org

This is hard stuff. Mountains of time spent researching unknown or hidden information, while battling official blockage and enduring personal/professional onslaught from the Powers That Be — with no taxpayer-funded attorney on speed-dial. Indeed, it can be a righteous but lonely venture — no fame, no fortune, no sweet deals for these patriots, nosiree.

Terry Pastika, CAC’s executive director says, “oftentimes these individuals are criticized by government officials as troublemakers, uninformed. … CAC identifies these individuals as inspirational because they embody what it means to live in a participatory democracy.”

A hat tip to the 2012 heroes and best wishes and healthy communities for all.

Three small-world stories:

  • Terry Pastika, presented to Citizens United in Forest Park a few years ago to clarify the nature of our commissioner form of government.
  • Kathy Gilroy, 2012 awardee, will present on the social costs of video gambling at CUinFP’s Who Wins? Who Loses? presentation this Thursday, Jan. 10, 7 p.m. at St. Peter’s, 500 Hannah.
  • CUinFP was a 2005 Citizen Initiative Award winner.

Sharon Daly is a Board member of CUinFP

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