We can do better than 'us vs. them'

Opinion: Columns

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Anana Abu-Taleb

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Dear Community,

I'm writing you concerning a recent deliberation at the board table over a draft of a diversity statement that the Village Board of Trustees was tasked with updating.

As we welcomed new trustees to the village board, we found ourselves in a place mirroring the negative climate of national politics: a place where the mindset is "us versus them."

Many of us recognize that our national government's environment is fueled by fear and anxiety. It lacks civility and human decency. It is not supportive of constructive discussion and building consensus to confront our country's challenges.

In our village, it has been customary that each new board affirms our Diversity Statement, which has been reviewed recently by the Community Relations Commission (CRC). Like all other commissions, the CRC is not elected, and its role is to make recommendations to the village board about any underlying issues, at which point the commission steps aside and allows the board to exercise its judgment.

Like all other issues that come to the board, the draft is subject to debate, comments and revision. And ultimately, it passes or fails.

Every member of this board is committed to a diverse and inclusive Oak Park, but it is a basic responsibility of an elected official to question, debate and deliberate.

There is a repeated inference by some that the village board should act as a rubber stamp and without any discussion accept the draft verbatim. In fact, they have resorted to personal attacks and inciting fear to promote a mindset of "us versus them." This is not how effective government is run, and this is not how the village of Oak Park maintains its welcoming reputation.

Disrespectful dialogue, shaming and name-calling lead to a toxic environment. Our village deserves better. The board will soon pass a revised Diversity Statement, subject to additional community input and the board's discretion.

Systemic racism exists. We need to understand this, and we need to acknowledge this. But incorporating this and other changes into our Diversity Statement should be brought about through transparent, thoughtful engagement with our community and respectful deliberation by the board.

Over the last 50 years, through the goodness, generosity, decency and foresight of its people and its leaders, Oak Park has maintained a national reputation of being a welcoming place for all of us.

Rather than live in communities that predominantly reflect their own race and are surrounded by people who have similar views, residents of Oak Park, regardless of their skin color and regardless of their creed, choose to live here because diversity makes us stronger. Our lives are fuller because of our exposure to each other's views, struggles, aspirations, successes and cultures.

We choose to live side by side because we want our children to play together, be educated together, experience setbacks and celebrate successes together.

While Oak Park is not perfect and we should always strive to do better, there are a thousand things right with Oak Park. We have a shared interest in standing up against views that divide us into groups and voices that threaten our character.

We can do better for our community by embracing our differences, which in my view is what brings us together and is the essence of Oak Park's Diversity Statement.

Anan Abu-Taleb is mayor of the village of Oak Park.

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Reader Comments

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Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 9:15 PM

You definitely know the electorate in your community. People want to have a voice, they want to be counted in decision-making, they want to be consulted and live in a participatory democracy. Your points about how going forward, in order to be effective, the discourse by everyone needs to be within the boundaries of respect and patience in clearly explaining their positions and arriving at consensus. Thank you for your leadership in this important effort to help the meaning of diversity expand and be more clear in its evolution.

Andy Freivogel  

Posted: June 6th, 2019 5:17 PM

Agreed! It should never be us vs. them. I think WE the people of Oak Park can call agree that WE should not be afraid of phrases such as "systematic oppression" in OUR diversity statement. WE are all in this together and I think the only "them" is the marginalized people of Oak Park, including people of color and LGBTQ/non-binary people who are told they fit in and are part of the community but are forgotten when crafting the diversity statement. It is up to all of US to show THEM that WE are all listening, and that systematic oppression exists, and WE shouldn't be afraid to admit it. That's when WE all start to attack that problem. Then, WE have all had a say, and there are no more "them" left on the sidelines of shaping the Village's policies and initiatives.

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