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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Illinois Town Hall Meeting

Town Hall Meeting

Mr. Will Guzzardi
Mr. Guzzardi welcoming all
My State Rep. Will Guzzrdi called for a town hall meeting at St. Bartholomew Church (my parish) in Chicago. About 50 or so folks from all over the 45th Ward and beyond were in attendance (even one person from Grayslake!).

The meeting was promoted in such a way that I had high hopes for a rational discussion about Illinois’s fiscal abyss and how we would solve problems that have been building for decades. The promotional material on Mr.Guzzardi’s Facebook page noted:

“Confused, scared, or angry about the budget mess in Springfield? Or a little bit of all three, like I am? Well, come to our Budget Town Hall tomorrow. We'll give you the inside scoop on what's happening in Springfield, how we got here, and what we can do as a community to fight for a better way forward.

I have to agree that most of us are at least a bit “frightened” about the mess our politicians have managed to create. Unfortunately at this meeting we did not receive any “inside scoops”. We did not hear about “how we got there” (how we got into this financial mess). And only one basic solution (raise revenue) was offered.

The meeting started at noon. We were greeted by a very friendly, very tall Will (who was on crutches) and his staff and volunteers who signed us in and offered sweets, fruits and drinks. The meeting actually started about 12:30PM. Mr Guzzardi was the first to speak, welcoming all. He spoke a bit about what cuts in funding would do to various services many of us depend upon and tended to blame Rauner for everything. He did acknowledge that the Democrats had a chance to fix the revenue problem before Rauner came into to office, but failed to do so (they voted not to make the temporary income tax increase permanent).

Mr Michael Collins
Will then introduced Michael Collins, who was supposed to tell us why we were in this crisis in the first place. Michael is a part of a Chicago non-profit organization (The People’s Lobby) and has worked not only with Will Guzzardi but also with Reclaim Chicago.

Michael was a great speaker. If this was a political rally, I would have appreciated what he said and how he said it. Unfortunately, he failed in his assigned mission miserably. He used fear as a rhetorical tool to sway his audience towards his political agenda [Did you know people died and were going to die because of these budget cuts (which have not been instituted just yet)!!!]. He blamed Governor Rauner (who did not create this crisis) and called for increased revenue (taxes).

After the speech, we broke up into smaller groups to discuss a number of areas. These areas included:

11.)   How will cuts and divestment affect us?
22.)    What is our vision for our community?
33.)    Raising progressive revenue
44.)    Our story
55.)    How will we tell our story?

The moderator of our group lamented that he had thousands of dollars of debt due to college costs, could not find employment within his field of study and could not obtain a loan to buy a condo from a bank. (He was a very nice, well-spoken gentleman with a PhD in theology. I was thinking at the time that he must have known that the job market for a theologian in the Chicago area was probably quite limited, but did not say anything.)

The Questions
So what was the group’s responses to the questions?

How will cuts and divestment affect us? Any cuts would have a detrimental affect health care, education, student loans, disability support and the arts

What is our vision for our community? We want to see improved education, better schools, and support for small businesses, as well as, better jobs, universal single payer health care, improved public transportation and prison reform.

[How can we go about]  Raising progressive revenue? (Not sure why they call this “progressive revenue”?)  Have a “LaSalle Street Tax (1% on all transactions), Corporations need to pay their fair sure, institute a progressive income tax.

At this point I noted that all the budgets I have seen had both income/revenue as well as expenses listed. When I asked when we were going to talk about expenses, our moderator said “at the next meeting”! Really? Why blow me off like that? Didn’t he take me seriously? Or was the question just inconvenient because it did not fit his agenda?

Our story: How have cuts hurt our community? As far as I know, no cuts have been institute in the next budget because THERE IS NO BUDGET! Of course if there are cuts education, health care, etc would all be detrimentally impacted.

….and finally…

How will we tell our story? It was suggested that we use social media, direct involvement, canvassing, protesting, etc. I suggested we tell our story honestly and by using facts! (The facts part was left off the poster paper)

At this point, Guzzardi's intern, a student from the University of Chicago, did a nice job reviewing all the input….in an uncritical manner (she was part of the team of course).

At the very end, Will Guzzardi did a brief wrap up, thanked us for our participation and handed out “Town Hall” evaluation forms and asked how we would like to become more involved. (One of the options was to participate in a leadership course….so I said I would like to be considered for that program!)

Evaluation of the Town Hall Meeting

The first thought that comes to mind is “disappointing”. I was hoping for appropriate back ground information concerning our current fiscal state. We did not get this. I was hoping for a discussion on ways we can solve these problems considering all the options. We did not get this.  I wanted minimal political agenda. Nope, not even close...we got plenty of politics. I wanted statements of fact and we got emotionally charged rhetoric.

You really cannot blame Rauner for our fiscal state, because it has been decades in the making. The Democrats had an opportunity to “fix this” before Rauner came into office and they failed miserably.

It is past the time for a fact based discussion of the problems and for all possible solutions to be discussed. This meeting did not do this.

Mr. Guzzardi, it is time to have a real Town Hall meeting. With real facts for the discussion of real solutions. If you plan to do this in the future, please do not hesitate to call upon me to help!