By Ken Trainor
Citizenship is not dead. It was alive and well at the village board meeting, April 21, when the council chamber was packed with citizens concerned about the board's brown energy decision. But it was also alive on April 8, in the Oak Park Township Senior Services meeting room, 130 S. Oak Park Ave., where roughly 100 citizens crammed in for an old-fashioned-feeling, town-hall-style Norman Rockwell portrait.
On a very small scale, this is the antithesis — and perhaps someday the antidote — to the Supreme Court selling corporate naming rights to free speech.
The oligarchy in this country may have the corporations, a blank check, and the elected in their pocket, but they don't have the people. The people still have power, and on this night only the people were present.
Some of them had petitions to sign — one to establish a new political party, another to prevent the gerrymandering of congressional districts that has produced total gridlock in D.C.
The township's annual meeting is an opportunity to present a report to the public on the various, valuable social services they administer and oversee. Usually they don't have this much "public" to report to, hence the move across Oak Park Avenue from the cramped board room to the roomier meeting room. We weren't really there to hear the report, but most seemed to feel it was educational and worth listening to.
The township does a lot more than you might think.
Most of us, however, were there to vote Yea or Nay to place two advisory referendum initiatives on the November ballot. The first favors a universal background check system for all transfers of ownership or possession of firearms — no exceptions for gun shows, the Internet or private exchanges. One system, nationwide, indivisible, with un-infringed liberty and justice protected for all.
The other initiative called for declaring Oak Park a "Trans-Pacific Partnership free zone."
When Township Trustee Clarmarie Keenan, who pointed out that the township is completely neutral on these matters, opened the floor for discussion, the TPP-free zone generated quite a bit: It was too symbolic, too remote from local concerns, too wordy, and too poorly focused. In other words, this was an opinionated group — rational, reasonable and respectful, but opinionated.
The voice vote in favor of putting it on the ballot was close enough to warrant a show of hands. In the end, it was approved.
When the floor was opened for discussion of universal background checks, on the other hand, the silence was deafening. Not a peep. Keenan looked momentarily taken aback. The subsequent voice vote was unanimous in favor. Not a single Nay. After the measure was officially approved, the applause was loud and sustained.
It was one of those moments — a Norman Rockwell/Frank Capra moment — the kind that makes you proud. It may even have prompted a tingle or two, I suspect, down the spines of the gathered citizenry.
So the referendum campaign for universal background checks has been launched. Let's hope the vote in November is likewise unanimous. The referendum is advisory-only, of course, and the federal government may pay no attention, but if Oak Parkers make a clear, strong statement with their vote, maybe other communities will take notice, and, slowly but surely, this movement will gather momentum.
If I'm not mistaken, this is how democracy was intended to work. You can buy off all the politicians some of the time and some of the politicians all of the time, but you can't buy off all of them all of the time. When the people decide to lead, elected officials usually follow.
So here's our chance to lead. The question, penned with elegant precision by former village attorney Ray Heise, reads:
Shall the Federal Government enact legislation requiring universal background checks of criminal and mental health history record information for all transfers of ownership or possession of firearms, including transfers which occur at gun shows, over the Internet and privately, as a step toward preventing the ownership or possession of firearms by criminals and those with serious mental illnesses, and as a step toward preventing illegal gun trafficking altogether?
This won't, by itself, solve the problem of increasing gun violence and too-easy access to guns by criminals and the dangerously mentally ill, both here and nationwide, but it will be a major step in the right direction. Surveys indicate 80 percent of Americans support this measure and one survey showed 60 percent of NRA members recognize that background checks are not an infringement of their 2nd Amendment rights.
It merely asks them to accept a little responsibility along with those rights.
I don't know how many NRA members live in Oak Park, but I hope some of them have the courage to step forward and publicly support this referendum.
The election is six months away. I hope you'll say "Yea" when the moment rolls around.
What a Norman Rockwell moment that will be.