On the Sunday evening after the second Women's March, a dozen or so Oak Parkers gathered for an anniversary that none would have imagined a year ago. They had faithfully sustained 52 consecutive weeks of resistance, begun following that earth-shattering night in November 2016.
And now they were pausing to reflect on what that effort took and what it means to keep it going.
As celebrations go, this one was pretty low key: jazz flowed from a turntable, a feast spread out on the table, and kids tolerating an evening with adults made for a warm and intimate affair. These were one-time strangers, but you could sense the familiarity that's forged from fighting for a common cause.
In Oak Park, finding a common cause isn't new, whether it's feeding people who need solid meals or providing shelter to homeless ones on cold nights. Long ago I was told this is an activist community. Let there be a cause and it won't be too hard to find some Oak Parkers who will take it on.
So when the political and social fabric indisputably began ripping apart with threats of Muslim bans, regulations rollbacks, immigration raids and a shift toward absolutism, Oak Parkers showed up and stepped up.
"The community experienced a real trauma with that election, like clinical style," Steve Krasinsky, the host, recalled when I talked with him at the anniversary gathering. Some Oak Park residents like him felt called to action like never before.
And they did what people in this village have done many times before. They formed a group and chose a name that states exactly what is does: Oak Park Call to Action.
OPCTA describes itself as "a growing and diverse network of concerned neighbors in and around Oak Park. We are organizing to defend freedoms and build a system that works for all," their statement of purpose says.
"With the outcome of the election, it was clear people were lost," member Lisa Pintado-Vertner said. "And it was a wake-up call to find ways to get involved."
OPCTA offered a way to do that. The initial group of about eight people decided the best approach was making actions easy to do — and that many people could collectively participate in. They chose a "snowflake model" of organizing, popularized by veteran organizer Marshall Ganz and used effectively by the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns.
OPCTA began drafting weekly "actions," basically memos sent via email to neighbors asking them to make phone calls to their elected representatives with specific requests. Their first action was requesting a boycott of Trump's inauguration and that senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin reject the nominations of Andrew Puzder as labor secretary and Betsy DeVos to run the U.S. education department.
Rep. Danny Davis, who was flooded with calls, did boycott the inauguration. OPCTA considered that its first success. Then week after week for an entire year, other actions went out. Over time, OPCTA became focused more on local issues because members believed that's where they could make more impact, Paul Goyette told me.
OPCTA also mobilized people to urge the village board not to opt out of Cook County's minimum wage ordinance, hosted an event with Bernie Sanders campaign senior adviser Zack Exley at the Wire in Berwyn, co-sponsored the anti-privatization-of-public schools film, Backpack Full of Cash, at the Lake Theatre.
More recently, OPCTA drafted a petition that calls on Oak Park's districts 97 and 200 to hire more teachers of color.
Goyette told me that one of OPCTA's biggest success has been helping his fellow Oak Parkers see where they can fit in as involved citizens. He pointed to a friend of his who was outspoken but not so politically engaged. Eventually she became a key organizer for OPCTA, leading an effort to sway Rep. LaShawn Ford to put his support behind HB 40, legislation that provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions.
As I've gotten to know some OPCTA members and observed their persistent commitment to not just talk but action, I'm reminded yet again of the famous Margaret Mead quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world" — or Oak Park.
Cassandra West, an Oak Park resident since 1990, spent many years as a newspaper editor and is active in several Oak Park volunteer organizations.
Answer Book 2019
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