While not universally admired, Arti Walker-Peddakotla has been revered among her supporters for staying true to her progressive values while serving on the village board over the past three years. Never demurring from confrontation nor kowtowing to the will of staff or her fellow elected officials, Walker-Peddakotla brought the passion of an activist to the board table.
With Walker-Peddakotla’s resignation last week, she leaves a void on the board, which the village president will have to fill by appointing someone to fill the seat until next spring’s municipal election.
Wednesday Journal asked an array of Walker-Peddakotla’s supporters what they were looking for in an appointment from Village President Vicki Scaman. Along with political views and life experiences, one backer proffered a specific name, Juanta Griffin, as a solid choice. Griffin ran unsuccessfully for the village board in 2021.
Walker-Peddakotla’s former campaign manager Brynne Hovde, who is involved with the progressive Activate Oak Park political action committee, told Wednesday Journal she was moved by the former trustee for valuing her mental health over her trustee seat.
“I am so inspired by her decision to prioritize her health, and to redirect her fierce and loving energy in ways that don’t deplete her,” Hovde said. “She has been a fantastic trustee, but that role just barely scratches the surface of the impact she can have on our world.”
Hovde wishes to see continued representation on the village board with an appointee who will bring firsthand experiences and counter-narratives to add to the perspectives of seated board members.
“I personally hope that whomever is appointed is able to speak their truth without being abused, belittled or gaslit – as there has been far too much of that behavior, particularly towards women of color, in our community,” she said.
The Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League, a student-led group advocating for racial equity, had a special partnership with Walker-Peddakotla, who often stood up for the organization at the board table and backed many of their protest efforts.
Behind the scenes, she challenged ROYAL members, engaging them in deep conversations about rethinking community safety and inspiring them to continue pushing forward, according to ROYAL mentor Chloe Leach.
“Even though she didn’t agree with some of the stuff ROYAL did, she was still 10 toes behind us,” Leach said.
In 2020, Walker-Peddakotla refused to publicly condemn ROYAL for protesting outside then-village president Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb’s house while the board voted on Walker-Peddakotla’s resolution to defund the police. Sidewalks were chalked and the mayor’s planters were smashed by some of the youth organizers after the resolution failed to pass.
While her decision not to stand beside the rest of the village board in criticizing ROYAL’S actions put her at odds with Abu-Taleb and other members of the community, Walker-Peddakotla defended the group, writing in an email to the board that she would “never denounce an oppressed group” for speaking out.
“Her legacy is not replaceable,” Leach said of the former trustee. “But since [the village president] will have to appoint someone, [ROYAL] would like someone who will continue to advocate for defunding the police and reimagining community safety.”
Leach, speaking on behalf of the organization, said ROYAL hopes the person who will take over for Walker-Peddakotla will listen, be empathetic and respect the views of the village’s young people.
“We are the next generation, and we want to lead everyone in a direction where we all can prosper,” said Leach.
As Walker-Peddakotla stepped down from her position due to health issues aggravated by the stress of serving on the village board, Leach believes the board failed Walker-Peddakotla for not offering her greater support.
“They should be ashamed, and this is a reflection on how the board deals with mental health,” she said.
Wednesday Journal could not immediately reach members of Freedom to Thrive Oak Park, an organization Walker-Peddakotla co-founded, regarding the resignation.
However, Paul Goyette, who has organized with the group in the past, said he wants to see a woman of color with a “strong progressive compass” appointed to the position.
The local photographer’s favored candidate for the appointment is Juanta Griffin, a lifelong Oak Parker and the multicultural coordinator at the Oak Park Public Library. For many years, Griffin has planned Juneteenth celebrations in Oak Park. In 2021, she ran for village trustee.
Village President Vicki Scaman told Wednesday Journal she is still formulating a process by which to choose candidates, but that she would not rule out anyone who would like to serve the Oak Park community in this capacity.
Griffin, who called Walker-Peddakotla’s resignation a “loss to the community,” said she has not discussed any possible appointment with Scaman at this time.
“I hope that President Scaman will use this opportunity to incorporate the perspective of a renter and make room for a Black woman at the trustee table because representation matters,” Griffin said in an email to Wednesday Journal. “If I am called to serve… I will.”