Last night was the first time that I had met Mayor Donaldson of Hazel Crest. He spent about 20 minutes or so trying to convince me that he wasn't the kind of person who would try to threaten or intimidate me -- only to conclude by what can only be interpreted as an attempt to try to threaten or intimidate me.
Oh, the hypocrisy!
I was equally struck by the perverted reasoning he used. The mayor very theatrically argued that he operates off of facts alone. The fact that I was told to "stay out of Hazel Crest" (because I was organizing voters who might disagree with the mayor) or the fact that I don't particularly like being threatened -- these weren't relevant, he argued. Then he dropped the term "slander" into the conversation. Which, of course, immediately ended any discussion.
One would be tempted to have said, as Montoya did, that it doesn't mean what you think it means. Since 1964, political speech has been defined as protected by the Constitution. But Mayor Donaldson is an educated man, so he would have known this. Almost every elected official I know of does. Still, some politicians have no problem threatening opponents with slander suits. The facts -- and the Constitution -- be damned. The point is the intimidation, not the Constitution.
I've been through this before. As a child, I watched people try to intimidate my family (my parent were civil rights activists and co-founders of the Central Florida civil rights group, Bridgebuilders) from continuing their work in desegregation and racial reconciliation. After Dr. King was assassinated, I heard people in my church call me a "nigger lover" because I was the only white person pictured on the front page of the local paper in a march honoring Dr. King. In Illinois, I've been witness to more than one attempt by local politicians who tried to threaten people as a tactic to squash opposition. There has been this line that runs straight through my life, from beginning to end -- and I don't back down. To do so, seems to me, would be immoral.
Many of us who live in the South Suburbs like to think of our communities as having gotten it right. We live here, for the most part, because we've chosen to live here. We think that, to a large degree, we live in harmony with each other, black or white, purple or green. Sure, we've had disconcerting incidents in our communities, but, generally, we think we're better than that. We are better than that.
But one of the reasons I've turned my skills in organizing and politics to the neighborhood where I reside (the South Suburbs) is because the people here deserve better than what we're getting. And the politics of fear and intimidation is just too widespread in the South Suburbs to be ignored. I understand. There is so much talent here, so many people who have leadership potential, that it must be troubling to those who have achieved political power in their communities. But the competition should be fierce here, not simply because people disagree about various priorities in their villages, but because there is just too much political potential among the residents in the South Suburbs for this not to be the case.
So no one can be surprised that some people with power in the South Suburbs would do just about anything to preserve their position of authority. Politics is a fierce and bloody business, and politicians rarely rise without an ability to step over those who compete in the same arena. What I object to is when politicians abuse their position or authority, especially for purposes of personal gain (such as getting elected). So Donaldson can reasonably have assumed that I would oppose such things as raising his pay during these troubling times (when village finances are so stressed). Or his claiming that all of our communities provide vehicles for village officials, when they clearly do not. Or that I will help people organize who have a different vision, one where government service is done with a public servant's sense of duty to give back to their community. I stand against the all-too-often prevailing tendency to pursue government service for private financial or personal gain. The simple fact is that there is more than enough political talent down here in the South Suburbs that we don't need to provide extraordinary pay or benefits to entice good people into elected office. Which may be exactly why we have to endure this political culture of fear and intimidation, because those with political power in some communities can't stand to part with it. It's about them, not about us.
But it should be about us. So I got the message. I'm supposed to be intimidated, to feel threatened enough that I don't go into Hazel Crest -- but I'm not supposed to talk about it. Yeah, right. Thanks for clearing that up...