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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: As unrest persists, the search for clear plans continues

It’s impossible to know what to say.

That’s the main takeaway from several days of watching the news unfold — peaceful protests, violent riots and everything in between — what words could possibly meet such a complicated moment?

One small hassle is print deadlines. Things change by the hour, it seems, and 450 Monday night words could be completely irrelevant by Wednesday morning. Yet that’s only a tiny wrinkle compared to the actual challenge of trying to examine what attainable changes might be needed to reshape society in a way such that all people feel they are truly valued equally.

I’m not alone in this challenge, as evidenced by scrolling through the social media statements of elected members of the Illinois General Assembly, the people with the most immediate power to reshape the state in ways that might actually address the unrest at the root of the ongoing protests.

Platitudes abound. “It’s time for us to be part of the solution.” “I will fight relentlessly to fix our broken system.” “Leverage your privilege for good if you care.” “I am committed to … using my position to promote racial equality.” “A chance to influence policy debates, write legislation and be a part of something that actually changes the dynamic.”

These are comments from well-intentioned people — I deliberately excluded the unhelpful words of those elected officials who seem to think the problem is that calls for equality have already been granted too much attention — but they still are short on details for how to build the forward path.

In the coming weeks and months, those committed to equality and criminal justice reform will turn to these lawmakers for specifics. It will not be enough to call for healing, reform and an end to discriminatory policies and violence. Voters who want to support change will need to know which current laws to oppose and which new proposals to endorse.

The key, then, is to remain passionate. To take the energy from whatever emotions might have been stirred in recent days and stay close to the cause. Media will report on and analyze emergent proposals, but voters and politicians will decide what changes are truly possible.

No one has to wait for Springfield. Local government and police authorities have tremendous influence over daily civic life but city council and county board meetings are typically poorly attended, which makes low turnout for municipal elections unsurprising. These are the avenues for direct, immediate involvement.

As always, there is life beyond government. We can all address inequality in our own circles, such as me advocating for our newsrooms to reflect the communities we cover.

It’s OK to not know what to say. Just don’t stop searching for answers. 

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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