Bill Knight: Defending Democracy, citizens, never stops; up next are local races



Citizenship never stops, really. It didn’t end with voting in November, and it requires participation between now and April 4.

That’s when the consolidated local election — held in the spring of odd-numbered years — will pick local representatives to affect community services and household budgets, since public services are funded by taxes and fees that those officials administer.

There are many races ahead, partly because Illinois has more units of government than other states. (And that can seem intimidating for engaged citizens trying to inform themselves.)

There’s no February primary for five At-Large seats on Peoria’s City Council after the withdrawal of Shawn Allen, so 10 candidates will compete: Demario Boone, Bernice Gordon-Young, Lawrence Maushard, Benjamin Nicks, Annu Uddavolu, Clara Underwood-Forman, and Mike Vespa, plus incumbents John Kelly, Zach Oyler and Kiran Velpula.

Elsewhere on April’s Peoria County ballot will be townships from Akron to Trivoli, nine libraries (including Brimfield), 14 municipalities (including Peoria Heights and West Peoria), four park districts (including Peoria’s), 22 school districts (including Brimfield, Illinois Valley Central in Chillicothe, Illinois Central College, and Peoria), and one fire district (Limestone).

Brimfield is mentioned because it’s seen some signs of the “culture wars” that have made U.S. schools and libraries battlegrounds over reading material that could be used or censored.

In Illinois, schools and libraries have been criticized by concerned or misinformed parents and even hate groups opposed to everything from mask mandates to Young Adult novels about racism. Libraries in Barrington, Lincolnwood, Oak Brook, Wheaton, and others all faced book bans, proposed defunding, staff firings and threats.

“When Proud Boys are showing up at library board meetings in Illinois, depending on how armed they are, that’s somewhere between harassment and domestic terrorism,” commented John Chrastka, director of the Riverside, Ill.-based EveryLibrary, a national group working with libraries.

As The Associated Press reported, “Conservatives continued their efforts to pull books from schools and libraries, with Missouri alone targeting nearly 300, from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ to a manga edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ The American Library Association reported surging levels of attempted bannings, especially books with racial and LGBTQ themes, and widespread harassment.”

In Brimfield, dozens of people attended a November meeting to complain about parts of a English language curriculum some said were inappropriate, dealing with conflicts between settlers and Native Americans or other unfortunate situations.

Besides a small number of voices getting outsized attention for what’s available to read, local politics has an increasing risk of dirty tricks, such as bizarre mailings during Travis Weaver’s successful challenge to State Rep. Mark Luft (R-93rd) in June’s Republican primary, or, recently, the mysterious addition of phony signatures supporting veteran Peoria school board member Martha Ross, which she herself noted when turning in her petitions.

So we all must be vigilant. Unfortunately, turnout is usually lower in consolidated elections than even midterms, so the chance that people who don’t represent a community’s viewpoint can take over.

Democracy survived Jan. 6 and challenges since, here and abroad, from most election deniers losing in the midterms to support for Ukraine and for Brazil’s election to demonstrators in Iran and China.

“I do think the story of the last year has been, if hopeful isn’t the right word, at least more mixed,” said Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz in the New York Times.

Whether about city officials or road commissioners, we share a responsibility to take part.

“The building blocks of the foundational integrity of our democracy, and the most intense threats to it, are unfolding at the local level — on school boards, county commissions, among state court judges,” said attorney, author and Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill. “It is precisely in these ‘in-between years’ that we fail — fail to organize, to attend political and town hall meetings, to register new voters, to lay the groundwork for new legislation — that we have such a tenuous hold on the reins of democracy.”

Citizens of any representative structure — federal or local government, church councils or pickleball leagues — have an obligation to work for the common good, not just political parties or candidates. That civic duty is part of having a voice, and it requires us all to learn facts to make informed decisions.

“America remains poised at the precipice of democratic crisis,” Ifill said. “We bought some time in 2022, but we are by no means out of the woods. That is why we cannot afford to let up in 2023.”

The post Bill Knight: Defending Democracy, citizens, never stops; up next are local races appeared first on The Community Word.

Feeds,Region: Peoria,Local,Region: Central

via The Community Word

January 30, 2023 at 01:49PM

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