Equity via shock therapy

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Finally on Monday night Oak Park's village board adopted a thoroughly revised, actively more inclusive, consciously more direct diversity statement. And the vote was unanimous.

The discussion leading to that unanimity was alternately powerful and ridiculous, contentious and, maybe, productive. We'll see about the productive part as we find out what next steps, if any, the village board takes on creating a genuine equity plan, funding equity training for all staff and elected officials, being open to authentic conversations about policing, being ready to actually upend business as usual in how it operates our municipal government.

Before we get to the part of the meeting where an over-the-top Trustee Susan Buchanan told the white men on the board to "shut up" and that "no one cares what you think," I'd go back to the start of the discussion when, during public comment, John Duffy, a white guy, spoke eloquently and provided essential context for all of us to consider.

Duffy recalled that it was 50 years ago when the Oak Park Village Board faced down wide fear and actual hate in adopting open housing in the village. I look back at that era and recall that, soon after approving open housing, the village board and the one that followed took additional aggressive steps to create the possibility that Oak Park could become racially integrated. The board wasn't perfect, it operated with self-interest in mind, but it was audacious in a hard time and led when it could have folded.

Duffy, who has long been an equity activist in our public schools, said Monday that District 97 and District 200 have taken over that leadership role on racial equity, and the village board is now "behind the times."  

"It is time for this board to move," he said, while acknowledging that equity work in the schools is hard and uncertain. "We're just learning to do it. It's a revolution. It's intimidating." But, he said, the Oak Park Village Board "faced history" 50 years ago and had to do it again.

Trouble is, Oak Park's village government is years behind on equity work. Doesn't mean the village hasn't taken progressive steps on issues of race as individual matters have come up. But it has failed to understand the need for a much more elemental choice that brings equity to the core of the mission, every day, in every discussion and decision, that it needs to accept, as our schools have, that there is racism baked into the systems, which we have long just accepted.

The failure to do that results in a seven-month delay in adopting a Village Diversity Statement after the April election, resulting in unexplained delays moving forward on endlessly discussed plans to tackle equity in a conscious way, putting necessary funds against it, resulting in white men on the board having to be schooled over months on equity and oppression, resulting — unacceptably — in those white men being told at the board table by a colleague that they have no business talking about equity, that their opinions do not matter.

This is what a failure to get ahead of equity looks like. The meeting was riveting, like a train wreck, to watch but there is still wreckage to be dealt with. Either this was a cathartic experience for this still-new board that will clear the air or it was the determinant moment that assures more dysfunction. 

It is good to have a new and much improved diversity statement. Essential, though, to remember that this aspirational document, gradually updated over decades, reaffirmed by every new elected board since the 1970s, was never intended to be static. Our aspirations as a village have grown so much since the open housing days, from the then-radical concept of racial integration in housing to hard-won progress on sharing power, to wide definitions of inclusion and protections. 

Now the goal is true equity. For some as scary or misunderstood as a black family on the block in 1969. It is time for this village government to lead again. May Monday night's painful progress be a necessary step forward.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 10:30 AM

Oak Park is "years behind" who? Seriously, how does WJ even say that with a straight face. Did we turn into Alabama overnight? Where do they get this idea? Oh yeah, the trustees calling out people by skin color in public meetings.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 8:15 AM

As evidenced in this op-ed piece she wrote here in the WJ shortly after her election, Buchanan has absolutely no interest in the opinion of others if they run counter to her already made up mind. How she got elected still eludes me. https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/6-4-2019/Just-pass-the-update/

Bert Fischer  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 8:14 AM

The hypocrisy of this paper is amazing. They got the political outcome they wanted with the diversity statement so there is no need to call out one of their warriors for her disgusting behavior. Monday is a victory to them. Our local politics look just as crazy as anything the Trump administration is doing now but we can't call it for what it is because these people are on the left. There is no room for this behavior in politics on the left, right, middle - anywhere. If we don't stand up against this now we may never recover in Oak Park.

Bert Fischer  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 8:02 AM

Buchanan's actions call for more than a quick mention in this article. It's clear she is unfit for this role and she is motivated by a very deep hatred. Her and Arti have turned local politics into a complete circus. Nothing will be accomplished with this group. I would expect a call from this paper for her resignation but I fear this publication is scared to call her out because she too is a Social Justice Warrior. I can't even imagine how long their opinion piece would be if one of the sane trustees acted as belligerent. I also can't imagine a topic being more meaningless than the diversity statement. No one will ever move to or from Oak Park because of our diversity statement. We are losing the schools and now we are losing the local government. People will be moving if we don't fix this soon.

Mikhail Ivanov  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 7:31 AM

I watched the video of Susan Buchanan's tirade. The hatred she has for other human beings is startling. I'm sure that will say that "they're white men and they deserve it", but no one should be subject to that kind of abuse and disrespect. I have lost all respect for her and confidence in her ability to do anything positive for the Village.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 7:14 AM

We live in a town, not an insane asylum, which is where shock therapy happens. Everyone needs to watch the video, decide if that is what they want and then vote.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: October 8th, 2019 11:00 PM

Wow, that was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. Elected trustees should just shut up and not have an opinion because they happened to be white men? I don't think so. Here's the link, the relevant conversation starts around 3:00:00 mark. http://oak-park.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1148

Charlie Kohler from Oak park  

Posted: October 8th, 2019 8:31 PM

Dan - I like your optimism and share your hope that equity in Oak Park gains more traction at the village level. The realist in me thinks that Dr Buchanan did much more harm than good in that effort. It is all on video and being pushed out on various mediums. Maybe I'm wrong, but the words she used are tough to defend.

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