Chicago in Focus
The 2019-20 Chicago in Focus had an auspicious beginning in September and continued to have good attendance at very interesting programs. Many quite prescient of these difficult times.
In September, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Dr. Helen Neville, Director of the R.A.C.E (Race Activism Civic Engagement) Lab at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champagne, discussed issues of policing and advised that understanding the culture of diverse communities is key. Accordingly, training must help police officers understand and appreciate cultural differences in diverse communities.
In October, Christian Picciolini and Author Maureen Loughnane, Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves, explained that today’s white nationalists are considerably different than those who participated in a spate of violent race war incidents 100 years ago. Chris now leads the Free Radicals Project, a network which has helped more than 300 mostly young white nationalists disengage from extremist groups. Maureen explained how her organization strives to foster empathy and reflection, improve students’ academic performance, reinvigorate teachers, and build safe, inclusive schools.
November saw Jenny Terrell, of Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and Asiaha Butler, president of R.A.G.E ((Resident Association of Greater Englewood), discuss the many barriers to voting and ways to overcome them. Ms. Terrell advised that voter registration has been a major obstacle for citizens who are unsure of what kinds of documentation they need, where they need to go, and what they need to do. Ms Butler discussed why the importance of voting to Englewood and other disenfranchised communities and R.A.G.E. helps more people get involved and that “we value their voices.”
Census participation has a dramatic impact on our community, as advised in January. At its most basic, the Census determines the number of representatives each state has in Congress. Fewer representatives for a state means less ability to affect legislation. Many groups are difficult to reach in the first place, explained Corinne Betty Magness, Illinois Political Director for Operation PUSH. Organizations such as Rainbow PUSH and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) are mobilizing. ICIRR’s Maria Fitzsimmons told attendees about some of the ways of reaching vulnerable populations.
CiF’s March program on affordable housing was cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation. It will be rescheduled when public gatherings are allowed.
City Government Committee
LWV Chicago is interested in the procedures by which the City Council develops and implements policy. Of particular interest are budgeting and finance, organization and oversight of city government and housing. The LWV City Government Committee observes meetings of the City Council and six of its committees. Members prepare Observer reports to provide succinct summaries of significant issues before the Council Committees. We invite LWV members to join and observe meetings of a City Council committee.
Meetings of the City Council are live streamed on the web site of the City Clerk and a video archive is available. City Council Committee meetings also are now live streamed and archived. There are 18 standing committees of the City Council and nine joint committees. The responsibilities of the City Council and its committees include many routine administrative matters often handled by other government’ staffs. Most significant discussion and modifications occur during committee meetings before an item is referred to the full council. The video archive allows LWV members access outside of daytime business hours.
—Margaret Herring, Chair
The impending presidential election, census count and complications of COVID-19, have all shaped the efforts of the Communications Committee this year. While the pandemic has severely limited League activities and therefore some content for the website, the committee members have made every effort to provide information that is more critical than ever to voters. Committee members continued to update the website and social media for the Chicago League, as well as provided communications and marketing support for various Chicago League committees and initiatives.
Keeping pace with the need for information about COVID-19, its impact on the upcoming election, in addition to the groundswell of events surrounding social justice and police reform, the Committee has presented many articles to keep members abreast of developments and the impact voting in this crucial election year. Coverage has included clear explanations of vote by mail process, promotion of the Census, COVID-19 resources and a celebration of Juneteenth.
General LWV Committee Support: The committee provided support to the Membership Committee with setting up membership renewal process through Neon. The process is now more streamlined and efficient for both renewing members and for the Chicago League. The process now also provides members with the opportunity to identify areas of interest and directly connect with committees or initiatives. The committee also continued to support for The Voter and Weekly Update, providing coverage of LWV events including Briefings and Chicago In Focus as well as presentation of important issues and initiatives.
The Committee’s website team continued with updates to its layout to promote accessibility and to improve navigation of the site. The committee introduced a new offering of podcast on the website with League 101, the basics of League membership, The Committee plans to add more audio and video features to the website. The Committee updated its media contact list in preparation for developing more robust contact with local media.
—Vanessa Bush Ford, Chair
Committee on Diversity and Inclusion
CODI Co-Chair Sameena Mustafa will be stepping down, and newly-elected board member Ebony Harris will take her place. Edie Ellis continues on as co-chair.
CODI held two Drinks & Dialogue events in the South Loop (10/17/19) and Lincoln Park (1/9/20) to meet potential members and discuss League efforts around elections and community outreach.
The committee held a book discussion on How to Be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.
In partnership with Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, CODI organized a forum for candidates for State Rep 2nd District and State Senate 1st District prior to the 2020 Primary Election.
The committee held a briefing via Zoom in May on "Health Care Equity & COVID-19," featuring Dr. Susan Rogers of Physicians for a National Health Program.
Daytime Education Committee
The Daytime Education Committee worked this year on learning about Local School Councils. The committee invited Luis Garcia-Juarez from the Office of Local School Council Relations to speak at the November Briefing. Committee members then prepared a plan to inform all of our members about the upcoming Local School Council elections in April, informed aldermen of the LSC elections and asked them to promote the event. As we are all aware, schools were closed in April because of the COVID19 pandemic and the elections were not held.
There is a new date for the elections in November. Our committee is once again planning to inform our members and the community about the new election dates.
—Rae Sokolow, Chair
Evening Education Committee
The Evening Education Committee had an eventful year, in both positive and negative ways. On the positive side, members continued to study and discuss different aspects of public education in Chicago, including charter schools, application of the state funding formula, and how preschool is funded in Chicago Public Schools.
The committee worked with other local nonprofit groups to send a letter to the Board of Education requesting additional transparency around the state funding formula and how CPS is meeting or not meeting those guidelines, and we hope to continue that inter-organizational work going forward. On the negative side, the committee lost our fearless and beloved leader of many years, Nancy Brandt, in December. We will continue to push for accountability, transparency, and better funding of education as a critical public service in her memory going forward, as well as delve into other education-related topics in the coming year.
—Clare McGuire, Chair
LWV Chicago has 63 new members so far in 2020, and 91 in 2019. The League’s total membership is approximately 350. In addition, the League has approximately 40 Student Affiliates, who have been active in assisting with voter registrations and other activities.
The Membership Committee held a spring New and Prospective Member Orientation and Breakfast in 2019 and a fall evening gathering at the Union League Club. The 2020 spring orientation was canceled due to COVID19.
A new Membership Directory was sent to members last fall.
The fiscal year for the League began July 1, and Membership Renewal Forms have been sent.
—Pat Graunke, Chair
Thank you to all LWV Chicago members who volunteered to assist with voter service activities.
There was one election, the Primary, on March 17. Information about registering voters, elections and volunteer opportunities is posted and updated on the LWV Chicago web site. This site uses Sign Up Genius for scheduling volunteers. There was one all-member Briefing about the Primary Election, including a presentation with information about Ranked Choice Voting, and another Briefing on the Electoral College.
LWV Chicago has about 130 members who are Deputy Voter Registrars (DVR).
For this election cycle, members:
Registered about 2,000 voters using the mail-in and paper forms.
Advised and provided potential voters with information about how to register online.
Participated in voter registration “events” scheduled at over 40 different venues as well as community events.
Registered voters in a variety of locations such as condominiums, churches, childcare centers, food banks, and community centers.
At all events LWV Chicago Election Bookmarks were distributed and questions were answered. In addition, bookmarks were distributed informally by members. A total of 6,300 of these were printed and additional bookmarks were distributed electronically.
Members assisted LWV Cook County with WTTW’s taping of the Video Voters Guide for the Primary Election. This was a part of the Illinois Voter Guide coordinated by LWVIL
About 10 LWV Chicago members are trained moderators. Members moderated or participated in 3 forums organized by LWV Chicago as well as forums organized by other groups before the Primary Election.
Presentations about the election were given to high school students and community groups.
Election Day and Voting
Members worked with Chicago Votes to help detainees awaiting trial vote in Cook County Jail register and vote.
Members served as election judges and poll watchers.
—Helene Gabelnick, Voter Service Chair
Foreign Policy Discussion Group (Great Decisions)
Each year, League members and friends are invited to join the League’s foreign policy discussion group which generally meets from February thru May to discuss the 8 topics chosen each year by the non-partisan Foreign Policy Association through its program called “Great Decisions.”
We faced two challenges this year. First, the location where we have been meeting was unavailable to us this year (it will hopefully be back for 2021). So that meant we had to have two separate groups in order to fit in the League conference room, not as desirable as us all being able to come together at one time. Then, due to the coronavirus, we began meeting via Zoom (thanks to one of our new members who had an account that allowed us to meet for an hour), with meetings open to all members of both groups. We generally had between 8 and 14 people. However, we started off with 29 people, and, hopefully, most will return next year, even as new members will want to join us.
Look for information about joining the 2021 group in the fall.
In the past several years, the League has also been a co-sponsor of a group that meets at Sulzer Library in the summer. Because of concerns about gathering in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this group will not meet this year.
—Pris Mims, Coordinator