By Nona Tepper
The Citizens Advocacy Center (CAC) has awarded Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming a Citizen Initiative Award, an accolade that recognizes the group's work organizing and advocating for an issue of public concern.
"Their perseverance in getting the video gaming issue on the ballot was just so incredible; it took so much organization and dedication," said Ben Silver, a community lawyer with the group. "We are big fans of direct democracy in the first place, but for them to organize a community like that and get all those signatures to go through all the challenges was really tremendous."
Let Forest Park Vote was the cause behind the historic video gaming referendum on Nov. 6, in which 51 percent of residents voted the practice out of the village. Forest Park is the first community to publicly vote down the practice after the machines had already been installed. A record number of residents turned out for the vote, with more than twice as many showing up compared to the last mayoral election. Many said they participated because they were fired up about video gaming.
"It's such an incredible example; it's something that can encourage citizens and activists across the state, not just for that issue but for any issues facing high barriers to getting something done. I think they just served as a shining example," Silver said, naming the requirement to collect 25 percent of all voters' signatures in town as a barrier.
In an email, Jordan Kuehn, chairman of Let Forest Park Vote, said he hopes the recognition inspires other villages to confront local issues.
"This award is special to Let Forest Park Vote because it shows that our efforts to promote democracy are recognized outside of our little village by a statewide organization," Kuehn said. "We are honored by this recognition and feel that the CAC is a valuable community resource."
This isn't the first time CAC has recognized a Forest Park institution.
In 2005, they recognized Vox, formerly known as Citizens United in Forest Park, with a Citizen Initiative Award, citing the group's commitment to attending and taping all public village meetings as one of the reasons for the accolade. Vox disbanded in July 2017, after 13 years of activism in Forest Park.
The CAC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan legal organization that supports community groups trying to reform and drive participation in local government.