By Dan Haley
Not sure why exactly, but I've spent more evenings than ever over the past six weeks eating chicken off of sticks, sipping Cokes and listening to good and determined people talk about what moves them to passionate effort.
Maybe it is my inoculation against the immersion I've made in the political races this fall with the intentional lies and dangerous play at the extremes. I was up late last night, the eve of Election Day, to try to find something pure in the closing hours. I found it in President Obama's final rally in Des Moines. Maybe you found it listening to Mitt Romney last night in New Hampshire.
Even in a presidential race that is going to end having spent a billion dollars, the presidential candidates started their races in community centers and diners in Iowa and New Hampshire. No, it isn't a Frank Capra movie, but it is something proximate to real life. At least as close as we are going to get.
And it reminds me of the gatherings I've been to lately in the hospital auditoriums and park district meeting rooms where speeches are made and white wine is served and both hope and a little local political spin are lifted up.
Last week I was at the Day of Dedication at Loretto Hospital in Austin. Loretto is the hospital Oak Parkers see every time they leave the city and are ready to exit the Ike at Austin Boulevard. This moving event was held in the sixth-floor auditorium — the newly named Discover Card Auditorium — where the view of Chicago's skyline is glorious and the energy of this safety net hospital is palpable. Loretto Hospital should have folded up 15 years ago like most of the rest of the old neighborhood hospitals in the city. But it is there and it is cobbling together grants and donations and political favors to give Austin — the city's largest neighborhood — a genuine community hospital. And I am inspired.
A couple of weeks back, a batch of us from our Forest Park newspaper were at the 100th anniversary Masquerade Ball honoring the Chamber of Commerce and Development. (No, I was not in costume.) The people who have transformed Forest Park's Madison Street into a destination were in that room at the park district. And they are the same people who have worked to maintain the essence of Forest Park as a welcoming small town. And I am inspired.
The Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation held its annual meeting at the Carleton Hotel a few weeks back. While the foundation has existed for decades, it has really emerged only in recent years as a genuine force for good in these towns. By training its resources on a few specific areas, the foundation has been able to put not only dollars against a cause but to gather up the best people to make local solutions meaningful.
And I am inspired.
The Oak Park Regional Housing Center reached 40 years this fall and celebrated at Unity Temple. Oak Park's reality as a diverse village — against all the odds, standing against all the fears — is most singularly the work of the Housing Center. Spending an evening with the aging leaders of the era that gave the movement birth, with younger people who understand the complexity of it all, inspires me.
Last Saturday I was at the annual gala of the Oak Park Area Gay and Lesbian Association at the 19th Century Charitable Assocation. This is a group that has found the nexus of local and regional political influence and community service in a profound way. You can call it a gay agenda; they'd call it the current version of a civil rights agenda. But by any name, that agenda has been accomplished locally by people who are determined and generous participants in every force for good in our towns. And I am inspired.
Hasn't been endless inspiration in the 2012 election season. But there is plenty to be found in our hometowns.