An exercise in true democracy
Next Tuesday, Illinois residents have an opportunity they haven't had in 15 years: to choose two candidates from a crowd of 10 for Attorney General who will square off in November. On Sunday, March 11, we were two of 1,257 citizens from Cook, Lake, DuPage, and Kane counties who experienced a moment of small 'd' democratic vitality in a packed Maine East High School auditorium with these 10 candidates. The Girl Scouts of the Islamic Center of Naperville led the Pledge of Allegiance. Anyone mourning the supposed death of democracy would have had to revise their assumptions five minutes into the event.
During the crisp 71-minute assembly, our leaders and members saw firsthand how the candidates for attorney general responded to the agenda we presented: reducing incarceration for people with mental illness, increasing affordable housing, demanding safety changes from gun manufacturers and swift response if hate crimes occur. Each was treated with respect and returned that respect by not posturing or talking in vague generalities. They spoke earnestly and specifically. And each stayed after the event to meet with small groups of interested leaders at designated areas set up in the auditorium.
Lisa Madigan, the current attorney general, ran a professional and effective office. Yet she employed one bad habit of many Illinois pols -- she distributed $70 million from the bank foreclosure settlement to 54 groups -- guaranteeing happiness from many but that little would get done. We hope the next attorney general will choose fewer groups with the best track record and impact to achieve change at scale.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson writes, "This country cries out for a historic moment." Perhaps. But maybe it just needs more experiences like the one 1,257 citizens and 10 candidates had on a sunny Sunday afternoon in a high school auditorium.
Aliya Husain, Islamic Foundation Villa Park
Jay Risk, St. Mary's Episcopal Church