As the OPRF High School District 200 Board of Education gets ready to vote on the Imagine plan for OPRF, the term “People’s Republic of Oak Park” comes to mind, and I’m not sure if that is good or bad.

An example of the more positive spin on the term appears in a 2015 Washington Post article titled, “How race still affects where we choose to live,” where writer Emily Badger reflects, positively, that “Oak Park became the place it is today — progressive, proudly integrated, ‘the People’s Republic of Oak Park’ — because of decisions residents there made in the 1960s and 1970s when the suburb was almost all-white.”

That vision of integration from the ’60s and ’70s is still being played out in all of its complexity in Oak Park today, including at OPRF. In the 2018 Steve James documentary television series, titled America to Me, which was filmed at OPRF, James bore witness to the reality that integration is hard, messy work not glorious, easy work. One must give credit to OPRF for doing the work, full of challenges, day in and day out, failures and successes included.

But describing Oak Park as the “People’s Republic” can conjure negative images as well. The Wikipedia page for the term “People’s republic” describes the term as “an official title, commonly used by some current and former communist states” … and as “mainly associated with soviet republics.” Think inefficient soviet bureaucracies that can’t get anything done, whose societies are years behind other countries with more functional, healthy forms of government. Think analysis paralysis of the type most famously satirized in the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Please do check it out, it’s hilarious and timely.)

The question is: What does the term “People’s Republic” mean right now for all of us in District 200? Will the community and board support a hard-working, excellent high school, which is doing its honest best every day to live up to the ideals of America? Or will we be mired in bureaucracy and inaction and endless referendums?

If you prefer action, if you want to support the proud tradition at OPRF instead of suffocating it, please use your voice or the board will not be able to hear anything except the din of the “small but vocal” group who oppose this project. Please tell your D200 Board of Education members to vote Yes on the Imagine plan and to use option #4 for financing.

The board needs your voice.

John Grant
D200 resident and proud dad of an OPRF sophomore

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