On Saturday evening, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m., I’d like to invite my fellow Forest Parkers and our surrounding neighbors to a candlelight march that celebrates unity and diversity. (Rain date: Sunday the 20th — this is November after all)
At the end of the march, I encourage everyone to stop by Brown Cow to get ice cream (because who doesn’t love ice cream and awesome local businesses?) and chat with your neighbors. Then you are encouraged to support other businesses on Madison.
I invite anyone who values coming together to celebrate our wide variety of backgrounds and philosophies to attend. Local and national politics have recently dealt many of us a blow, and even some of those who are celebrating were not happy with the choices they were offered.
But you know what’s amazing? Forest Park.
When I drop my daughter off at school in the morning at Garfield Elementary, I see people from so many backgrounds: black, white, Latino, Asian, Arabic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, straight, gay, low income, middle income, high income … everything. These children are our future — a future that can be based in tolerance and acceptance of different world views and cultural backgrounds.
Based on recent census data, Forest Park’s diversity is officially recorded: 55.2% white, 32.3% black, 9.9% Latino, 6.0% Asian, to cite a few groups — 13.7% were foreign-born, 9.1% live below the poverty level, not all that far off of the national average of 13.5%. Our median household income is just slightly below that of the U.S. at $50,749, but that represents a wide range of low-income, middle-class, and higher-income (although admittedly, we don’t have any 1 percenters living in town. At least I don’t think so, but, hey, if we do, maybe they can sponsor candles and ice cream for everyone!). In 2012, 596 businesses in town were run by women (compared to 798 by men), and 473 were run by minorities (compared to 953 by non-minorities) — both categories reflecting percentages better than the national average.
I was inspired by recent marches and rallies both in our own town and in nearby ones. These were peaceful and positive, even if political. From Anthony Clark’s march between Oak Park and Forest Park this past summer to the giant downtown Chicago anti-Trump rally the day after the election with, by some counts, 10,000 people and only five minor arrests for things like blocking traffic, to a spur-of-the-moment Love Trumps Hate candlelight march in Oak Park last week, I saw that people could come together without problems even in these highly charged times (I personally attended the latter two).
I think we can broaden the scope of all of those events and bring together an even more diverse group of people using Forest Park’s wide-ranging mix of citizens.
I’m always happy to reveal my own background and dispel any thoughts about motivations. I’m a longstanding political activist from way back in my teenage years in the 1980s when Reagan was in office. I spent many years involved in community politics when I lived on the West Side of Chicago in the Austin neighborhood. I used to be an angry activist, but then I became a college professor (now moved on from that), and then I became a mom; I softened, and gained empathy for those with quite different political positions from me. I deeply believe now, with hindsight, that dialogue and education are what’s important to stress in activism. This march is about dialogue — one-on-one, no speeches, just humans enjoying each other’s company.
Some people have questioned why I welcomed political signs at this candlelight march. Well, if we don’t know where people stand, we can’t ask questions — we can’t find out why our neighbors believe what they believe, we can’t have empathy, we can’t put ourselves in their shoes. I may have voted for Clinton, but I have neighbors who voted for Trump and I have neighbors who voted for Stein (and probably also Johnson, although I personally haven’t talked to anyone who voted for him yet). I value all my neighbors’ votes, and I especially value that they voted (because nearly half of our country who was eligible did not).
We owe it to our neighbors to honestly hear each other out — as long as everyone is willing to stay respectful. And respectful doesn’t mean that we can’t get angry or ask questions — both of these are crucial to gaining knowledge for all people involved in dialogue. We can build a better community if we can openly discuss our differences. We may even find much more in common than we ever thought possible.
The two rules for the rally are 1) be respectful and 2) no profanity (this is a family-friendly event and a great way to get our children involved in citizen action toward the greater good in our safe town). You are encouraged to wear garments that reflect your own cultural background or to carry things like signs or flags to celebrate.
It’s a BYOC event (bring your own candle), and I highly recommend electronic candles for kids to reduce risk of injury (I’ll have some extras, come find me if you need one). We’ll start at the Park District building in The Park, walk up Circle, down the south side of Madison to Desplaines, and then down the north side of Madison to Brown Cow. Please join us. You can find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/events/764687440337185/