Town Hall

My Congressional district is the Illinois 10th.  We seem to identify as Moderates, which has us sending the following people to Congress:

2010:  Robert Dold – R

2012:  Brad Schneider – D

2014:  Robert Dold – R

2016:  Brad Schneider – D

There was redistricting in the middle of that, too.

Since the election, I have been rather more engaged with my elected officials, and I have listened in on recent town hall conference calls with both Brad Schneider and my state Senator.  In both cases, a short introduction was made with a summary of some current events and then there was Q&A.  I remember hanging up with two feelings:

  1. People aren’t asking questions – they are putting their opinions out there in the form of questions.  And Ugh – who wants to listen to that?
  2. I appreciate hearing what my representative has to say and am glad that no one is being nasty.  Wait.  Are the questions being vetted before they are asked?  There have been no follow ups, are people being cut off?

Huh.

Well.  Today, I decided to show up to one in person.  I arrived..perhaps 20 minutes early, and was the fourth person to sit.  The staff was friendly, thanking us for coming and asking us to sign in.  Rep. Schneider arrived, with apologies for being late (I hadn’t noticed.  He said that his staff made him get a haircut.) and then dove right in to his talking points about the congressional committees on which he serves.  This included a side note that the Judiciary Committee is where Articles of Impeachment happen.  Smooth.

Then to the Q&A.  A guy from Arlington Heights went first, with one of those multiple-part questions about health care.  I stopped listening about halfway through when he said, “And how do you expect to do that without the doctors in the room?!”  I might have tweeted something snarky at that point.  Several questions were like that.

Nothing was particularly contentious or confrontational.  Wait, there was one guy that tried to challenge Schneider’s “flip-flop” on the Iran agreement.  I think I heard him ask if the congressman had even read it.  I almost snorted.

I was keeping mental notes on how many men as opposed to women were given the opportunity to speak – and where in the district each speaker lived.  Eight men and three women was my count.  None of the women were asking five part questions, either.

The first woman exclaimed, “We are losing our rights!  What are the Democrats doing about it?!”  I have a Republican friend that would have dismissed her as an hysterical liberal, but the question, “What are Democrats doing?” is perfectly valid and, in my opinion, led to the only small bit of tap-dancing that Schneider did.

The second woman was rather long-winded, but asked what was being done about the hyper-partisanship in Congress right now.  Schneider answered that negotiations are happening, but always behind closed doors.  Apparently, some Republicans need the cover of darkness to reach across the aisle.  (OK, maybe some Democrats, too.)

The third woman asked about the erosion of Voting Rights, which I thought was a great question because that is something we take for granted in our part of Illinois.  Schneider noted that in some rural areas, the offices to obtain the official state identification needed to vote are prohibitively far away.  He noted the rural poor in Alabama, in particular, just have no way to get to those offices in person.

Overall,  I appreciated the meeting.  I wish that more women were given the microphone, and that’s on the staff, not on Rep. Schneider.  I will stipulate that women were somewhat more tentative in raising their hands, but there was absolutely no shortage of women looking for a chance to speak.  I wrote up a comment card on the way out.

Volunteering with Chicago Cares

I’d been in a bit of a rut with volunteering.  I’ve been working toward some certification exams and my travel schedule has been hectic and two scheduled weekly volunteer gigs were suffering.  I felt like I couldn’t be counted on, which is the opposite of what volunteering should be.  I made a couple of changes and I am liking this new thing enough to talk about it.

I forget where I first saw Chicago Cares, but I’m sure Twitter had something to do with it.  It is an organization that partners with local programs to coordinate and promote volunteer opportunities.  Programs are vetted, volunteer leaders are trained, and opportunities are posted online in a calendar for people to sign up and participate.

The events are posted in a calendar form and can be sorted by type, but I just looked at the whole month.  On whatever random day that was, I saw an event that evening for volunteers to bring their dogs to a senior living center to socialize with residents.  I clicked in, figuring the dog would have to be therapy certified, which I am too lazy to do.  But, no.  Just a friendly dog with proof of vaccinations.

I emailed my vet, who sent me a pdf of Fiona’s vaccination record.  I registered on the website and signed up for the event the same day.  I was a little bit worried because I was new and I wasn’t 100% sure how Fiona would do with wheelchairs and walkers, but she was great.  We signed up for a similar event at a rehab center a few weeks later.

Then I decided to try something different and have done two events working with – or maybe just entertaining – kids.  Dog not included.  It is so easy to just get online, see what is available for any given day and sign up.  You know the only thing that is difficult?  The slots fill up so fast!

Chicago Cares has been tweeting that they are partnering with fifty new non-profits, so I expect there will be plenty more opportunities for one-shot volunteering with organizations all across the city.  Maybe in your own neighborhood, maybe getting out and seeing other neighborhoods.  It’s like the video says, we should be taking care of each other.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/164622761″>The Heart of a Volunteer by Chicago Cares</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/chicagocares”>Chicago Cares</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

Women Hold Up Half the Sky

A couple of weeks ago, I received a program in the mail for a special exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  It is called Women Hold Up Half the Sky, and is based on the work Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn highlighted in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity.  I read the book and loved it several years ago.  The exhibition opened today with a keynote by Lisa Madigan, so I went over to take a look.  Madigan was speaking at 2pm, so I figured I would check out the exhibit, stand in the back of the room while she spoke and book out as soon as she was finished.

Not so much.

I arrived shortly after 11am and the place was nearly empty.  It seemed that they really didn’t want people in the special exhibition until after the event.  As it happens, I hadn’t actually visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum yet..even though it is practically in my backyard.  Yes, I am ashamed of myself.  I went in and am very glad that I did.

To state the obvious, it is smaller and has fewer artifacts than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.    It felt somewhat less overwhelming, but rather more personal.  Skokie, you see.  Those are our people.  I could still hear the voices from one video interview as I walked on toward the next, which seemed very natural.  There is an awful lot to read, if you have the time.  The lady at the front desk suggested it would take an hour or so to go through and I took more than two.  I also didn’t bring any Kleenex.

When I finished the main exhibit, I went downstairs to grab a cold drink and read my book.  The crowd started to arrive – there  were actual shuttles to the overflow parking lot, so people came in big groups.

The room was packed.  The program started with the usual Thank Yous and acknowledging sponsors.  Lisa Madigan spoke only briefly, but noted that the fight against domestic violence and human trafficking is also very local.  Chicago is one of the U.S. hubs.  One in five women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and one in four will be physically abused.  Then she pulled out the same program I had been mailed and noted that it contained the names of local organizations working on behalf of women and they have plenty of ways for us to get involved.

I’d had enough of the crowd, so I didn’t go through the actual exhibition today.  But I became a member of the museum and will be going back soon.  There are several more programs and panels running over the next few months and I plan to make the time.

half-the-sky

You can find more details, including that list of partners, at the website of the  Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

I am going to hug my dog now.

 

 

Discussing Gun Control and Other Important Matters

At a conference last week, I walked in to the hospitality suite to find a group watching Fox News. I almost turned around and left. Somehow, I landed in a discussion about gun control that led to my feverishly Googling for statistics on my phone while my friend Tim did the same on his. I couldn’t find the chart I wanted, so I asked Facebook.

The immediate response from my friends was Get. Out. Of that. Discussion. But Bill found it for me:

 

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Then my friend Steve, a conservative and a scholar, asked me to consider this one:

 

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Which, of course, did not help my argument.

I went several rounds with Tim that night over statistics and several more with Steve the next day on a topic where people are unbelievably entrenched. With Tim, I had to concede that you can generally find statistics to prove anything you want. With Steve, I had to concede that statistics generally don’t prove Cause and Effect. But I left both of those discussions feeling good and believing that there are plenty of people on the other side of this issue that are also trying to be thoughtful and realistic and engaged. Here are my conclusions:

  1. We should all do a better job of doing our homework and considering different points of view.  This isn’t going to get resolved in one conversation, or with one new law. It’s going to take lots of conversations to hash out.  It is going to take some compromise.  And there might be unintended consequences to address.
  2. We will only be able to do that if we believe that we are all in this together.  Acting in good faith.

Sometime online, during the election primaries, I was on a thread about how the world is not going to end if “the other one” is elected.  No one is really moving to Canada and Texas isn’t actually going to secede from the Union.  We’d better find a way to work things out.

Volunteer Gig: Feed My Starving Children

It’s called Feed My Starving Children, which is a bit of a turnoff for me (Note:  Not sure if it is the word “my” or the word “starving”.  Wouldn’t “Feed the Children” have been enough?). But my co-workers like it a lot so when there a group volunteer session was scheduled at the office this week, I signed up.

FMSC organizes volunteers to package meals – specially formulated for maximum nutrition – to partners around the world who distribute them to children who are literally starving. There is a location right near my office and volunteers are organized every day in two hour shifts. Food is scooped into the bags, weighed, sealed, boxed and labeled for shipment. The meals we packaged were rice-based with soy protein and added vegetables and vitamins. It looked like your average pre-packed rice dishes from the grocery store.

It starts with a video of what we were going to do and why. The instructions are simple and clear and there are cheat sheets at the tables. Then we were sent to wash hands before starting.

Everyone sort of gets into a rhythm and it is funny because someone will eventually need to change jobs. For example, my hands cramped with the cups that scoop the soy and rice. Then everyone switches places and the rhythm is all messed up. But there were lots of laughs and music playing and the staff is really efficient, which is great.

We had a group of kids on the shift with us. Many of them had been there before and were excited to contribute, which is always nice to see. When Time is called, there are specific instructions for cleanup, which goes very quickly. Then there is a closing video and optional prayer circle. I don’t go for prayer circles so I went browsing in their gift shop, which is filled with handmade free trade items from the countries FMSC serves.

Best part:FMSC Impacr 7 2015

The session’s impact report.  I’d do it again.

Speaking of Pride Day

I had dinner with my grandfather, GP, last night.  This was particularly awesome because I don’t see him very often these days and certainly not without the distraction of children and dogs.  Besides the fact that he’s a great guy, he helps me to check my politics (he was ahead of my family curve of swinging to the left) and reminds me that there are plenty of Christians out there that are standing among those I would call The Good Guys.

We’d planned for an early dinner with his lady friend, J, and I arrived at his place around 4pm.  We sat down and started talking books, because I had spent the day trolling every bookstore from Andersonville to Lincoln Park, and he told me that his church had a book club.  The most recent title was the memoir of a transgender lady.   He stumbled a bit over the word “transgender”, as though he wasn’t entirely certain that was the correct and/or polite adjective.  I didn’t really notice that at the time, since my head had exploded, but I managed to ask the title of the book.  He didn’t have it quite right, but I am pretty sure it was Crossing: A Memoir, by Dierdre McCoskey.  She is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Me:     So, did you read it?

GP:     No, but J did.  She can tell you about it.  I went to the discussion, though.

Me:     What did you think?

GP:     Mm.  I don’t like her politics.

Me:     What’s wrong with her politics?

GP:     Well.  She’s an economist and she was talking about minimum wage.  She said that it is better for the economy if Wal-Mart is allowed to pay its employees whatever it wants.  You know, I am a fiscal conservative and even I think that is wrong.

That was it.  That was all he had to say about her.  At dinner, I asked J about the book:

J:       Yes, I read it twice.

Me:    Why did you have to read it twice?

J:       It was a lot of information and I wanted to be sure I understood.  It’s very…detailed.  About the process a person goes through.

Me:    GP says he doesn’t like her politics.

J:       GP!  She said she’s a Libertarian!

GP:    I know!  That’s what I don’t like!

J went on to tell me that the book club meeting was packed full.. far more people than usual.  She expected that people were just curious.  I understood her to mean “curious” in a tabloid story kind of way, but I don’t even care.  This church – which is not just open to, but led by gay people – invited its parishioners to read and discuss the story of a local lady whose experience was completely foreign to them.  They invited the lady to meet with the parish and talk about it.

And my grandfather didn’t mention a man or a woman.  He only saw a Libertarian.  Happy Pride Day.

Rainbow White House

Bernie’s Book Bank

I may have mentioned that my awesome employer allows for each of us to have two work days each year for volunteering events.  Last week we spent some time at Bernie’s Book Bank.  Their mission: “facilitates the collection, processing and redistribution of new and gently used children’s books to significantly increase BOOK OWNERSHIP among at-risk infants,
toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland.”

They receive donations of used books from individuals and groups as well as new books from publishers.  The volunteers sort, label, and package up books for the kids. My group did the packaging for second and third graders.  It was sort of like wrapping Christmas presents!  Except instead of wrapping paper, the books were in plastic bags.  The regular volunteers told us to mix up the traditional gender books because the kids get an opportunity to trade with their classmates.  (Or, I might add, second graders might be less hung up on the traditional gender thing.)  So it was pretty easy.

When our session was over, we were shown a video of a school delivery and we could see how excited the kids were.  And check out this Thank You note that was blown up and put on the wall:

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Bernie’s has plenty of “drop in hours” so that people can show up and volunteer whenever they like without making a big commitment.  And they can certainly accommodate groups by appointment.  Even little kids can get in on the action, as one of the jobs is to put Bernie’s labels on each of the books.  So obviously, I am endorsing this place as worthy of time and donations.

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