The decision by the progressive grassroots organization Indivisible Oak Park Area (IOPA) to have Reesheda Graham Washington, of Live Café, act as moderator of its Feb. 18 virtual candidate forum has led Oak Park trustee candidate Stephen Morales to drop out of the event and host his own Zoom townhall on the same night. Both events take place at 7 p.m.
“It has come to my attention that Thursday night’s Indivisible Oak Park Forum is going to be hosted and moderated by an individual who has donated financial resources and given strategic campaign advice to my opponents,” Morales wrote in a statement posted to Facebook Feb. 17.
Graham Washington is an active supporter of the Represent Oak Park candidate slate, backing Black village trustee candidates Chibuike Enyia, Juanta Griffin and Anthony Clark. Her coffee shop serves as their campaign headquarters.
“While I do not want to make any assumptions about another individual’s integrity, I do not feel that attending a forum moderated by someone who is actively working to defeat me in the election will provide an opportunity for voters to hear from me in an unbiased manner,” Morales’s statement reads.
He said he had only learned that Graham Washington had signed on to moderate the forum the morning before the actual event.
“It is hard to disentangle the moderator’s endorsement of one set of candidates over others,” Morales’s Facebook post reads.
According to the post, Morales did not want to put IOPA in a position of compromising the group’s principles or format.
“I welcome the opportunity to speak with Indivisible Oak Park as many times as necessary to find out how we can all contribute to healing Oak Park,” Morales wrote in the statement.
“Unfortunately, this forum doesn’t seem like it will be most conducive to that kind of collaborative discussion.”
In an interview with Wednesday Journal prior to the event, Graham Washington explained her reasoning behind agreeing to participate in the IOPA forum was based on the belief that Oak Park residents have faith in her ability to appropriately carry out the responsibilities required of moderator.
“I felt like the community would trust my capacity to be objective in ways that are appropriate for me to be objective, recognizing that it is not appropriate for me or anyone to be neutral or objective on issues around diversity, equity and inclusion,” Graham Washington said.
Citing her history as a consultant to government agencies and the mission of Live Cafe, Graham Washington made clear that she does not view her public support for the Represent Oak Park slate as an impediment to successfully moderating the event.
“I’ve been an active supporter of people of color, having the opportunity to run for office, since the inception of the coffee shop, and history proves that while I have always supported people of color, women of color, I’ve also always participated as moderator and facilitator of objective conversation simultaneously,” Graham Washington said.
She told Wednesday Journal that she would not have had the success she has had as a consultant if she had not already proved her capacity to serve objectively, “recognizing that there is not a person in the human race that does not have implicit bias.”
Finding a moderator without bias, she called, “impossible.”
She doesn’t believe her own biases will inhibit her from fairly moderating any more than personal biases have influenced others.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had, in the history of human beings, anyone moderate anything that doesn’t have leanings and biases,” she said. “And it’s unrealistic to expect that I would not have high values around people of color and women as I’m a person of color and a woman.”