The Public Square

WILL - The Public Square - December 09, 2005

Laura Marland on A Headroom of One’s Own

My name is Laura Marland. I'm a free-lance writer and artist, newly settled in Broadlands, Illinois.

My friend Carol and I have, once or twice, gotten into a minor tiff about what it takes to be a writer. Carol was my high-school history teacher many years ago, and she does, bless her heart, tend toward a certain all-knowing maternalism, which, at times, drives me nuts.

The tiff develops when she points out to me that to be a writer, one has to write every day, for a significant length of time.

"Get real," I say. "If that were true, no one except the wealthy would ever get out a book. People who do dishes, change diapers, work as firefighters, clerks, bartenders, bankers, they write."

I get impatient with talk about What It Takes to Be a Writer because I think it's based on Romantic notions that place more importance on artists than on art and argues for an irrelevant perfectionism that dwells uneasily with creativity.

But there is, famously, an argument about another "requirement" of the writing life that has influenced me-Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. She points out that a writer must have what few women of her day had--a place to engage in that most unfeminine activity-thought.

In the spring I married the man of my dreams; last summer we moved to a house in the southeastern edge of Champaign County, Illinois. The floor's bare; nothing matches; it's crowded; it's home. But there's a problem. It's just one big room.

We've got plans. My husband has begun designing the attic, says it's got plenty of room for a separate study for me. A Room of My Own, where I can retire and write.

But for now, I write at an old farmhouse kitchen table, inches from the big table at which we spend most of our time. Beyond the window in front of me there's a crabapple tree, swarming with robins. They make quite a picture: the birds, the berries, the clear blue sky of early autumn.

Of course, I haven't written anything when anyone's around-neither my husband nor my two stepchildren, who come to stay every few weekends, and are, like their father, bearers of light and laughter and joy.

They are a great gift to me, the only children I will every have.

But I get tense when I hear they're planning to come.

My husband knows why. He says it's because I act like their arrival is the Second Coming. I cook; I clean; I treat them like honored guests. He says I need to learn to treat them like children, who understand that grown-ups have things to do. And really just want to be around.

So last weekend, while they were here, I popped Beethoven into my Walkman, sat down at my little blue table, inches from where my new family gathered, and wrote.

The Pastoral filled my head; the birds perched; the keys of my laptop clicked. I had achieved something that wasn't available to Virginia Woolf: an electronic space. Headroom of My Own.

Between my last marriage and this one, I had plenty of time to be alone. I had an apartment overlooking Lake Michigan where waves crashed on the beach across the street. I had, my friends said, Taken Control of My Life and My Space. I didn't write a word.

It will be spring before the attic space is finished, spring before I can climb to my perfect little writer's retreat, sit among my books, be alone, and create.

I'm going to get lonely and go downstairs to work.

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WILL - The Public Square - December 02, 2005

Jan Kruse of Urbana Working for Peace During the Holiday Season

Recently a working group of AWARE the local Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort has decided to stand outside of various local churches not in disrespect, but rather as an invitation to the church members to join us in calling for our government to end this immoral and illegal war in Iraq.

We ask that our troops be removed from Iraq as immediate as practical and safe. In the spirit of this Christmas season, what better time for Christians and people of conscience to proclaim and act upon Christ's message of Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Others than by calling for the end of the US military occupation of Iraq.

We are sure that most church members now know that the war in Iraq was based on false and distorted intelligence. The leaders of our country claimed as fact that we were in imminent danger from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was linked to the attacks of September 11th.

Today we know this was not true. In fact, much evidence demonstrates that the leaders of our government knew their intelligence to be faulty before we invaded Iraq on March 19th. 2003. But half-truths and contrived evidence was still used to persuade the American public this war against evil was necessary for the very survival of our country and our way of life.

As a result in this, our country's war of choice, we preemptively invaded another sovereign nation and its people against the wishes of the UN weapons inspectors, many of our traditional allies, and literally millions of people worldwide. Many prominent religious leaders spoke out strongly against this war. They pleaded for more diplomacy, cooperation with other nations and respect for international law.

As a result of our haste, today tens of thousands of US servicemen and women have been killed, injured, or psychologically wounded. Equally as sad, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and families have also experienced these similar tragedies of war. Today Iraq is a country in turmoil, disarray, and of unspeakable violence. The United States, by its unilateral actions, is largely responsible for the dire state of affairs in Iraq. Our government's policies and actions have turned Iraq into an unstable country and terrorist breeding ground.

Is it not time for people of faith and conscience to stand up and proclaim an end to this madness of preemptive and perpetual war and constant use of fear to scare the public? Should not people of faith and conscience be proclaiming an end to militarism, occupation, and torture in our names? Should we not be acting upon Jesus' proclamation to be peacemakers and not war makers by calling for a more hopeful and life affirming direction for our country?

AWARE members would gladly meet with members of local congregations to discuss these issues in a respectful and educated dialogue. We also invite church and members of any places of worship to join us as we meet on Sunday nights at 5:00 PM. at the Independent Media Center in downtown Urbana at 202 E. Elm in our work for peace and justice.

It is our hope that those in the religious community who share similar life affirming values might also actively work for peace with a message of hope during this Season of Peace on Earth.

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WILL - The Public Square - November 25, 2005

Carol Ammons of Urbana on the Grinches Who Stole Christ-Mass

I am a social worker by trade. However, my real life's work is community activism, social justice and political awareness. I'm married to a wonderful man, have three children and work with wonderful people in my community to help create a better more informed society.

Christmas is a time of peace and joy, right? Well that depends on who you're asking. So, what is this thing called Christmas? Traditionally, Christmas has been said to be the day Jesus was born. Myth. Scripturally and scientifically it has been proven that Christ could not have been born in December.

Further research leads us to conclude that the origin of Christmas is rooted in idolatry and paganism. The pagans celebrated the winter solstice as the Unconquered Sun. After this day, the Sun would begin to stay in the sky longer each day, and there would be less cold, and less night; the Sun would win the battle of night and day. There would be feasts, evergreens would be brought into the house to be decorated and lighted with candles to pay tribute to the Sun.

Both the Sun worshipers and the Christians saw the solstice/birthday as a transition from darkness to light. Christ conquered the darkness, as did the Sun. Since the theme was similar, the traditions of one blended well with the other.

Clear instructions are given to Christians about idol worshipping in Jeremiah 10. In a country where religion is used to enslave human beings for economic gain, it certainly stands to reason that the exploitation of American citizens through religious fervor and commercialization would blend.

As we gasp for air beneath the pre-Christmas avalanche of retailers battling for the pounds in our pockets, this fine yuletide tradition is followed closely by yet another great tradition: the annual debt. Retailers get about a quarter of their revenue during this period. The complete control of people has been and will always be through means of advertising. The company, group or organization that is most effective in capturing the minds of the masses with their advertising schemes wins the "coin in the fishes' mouth."

In a span of about three minutes I saw six commercials advertising the "joy of the season", the spirit of giving, sharing, caring and a whole host of so-called expressions of holiday cheer. The season for giving may well also be a season of financial peril for many families this year. Why are we going in debt for one day?

Maybe if we were all a little more realistic and a lot less materialistic, this wouldn't even be an issue. Holiday symbols are used both to dramatize and to ritualize shopping. Holidays and festivals are superb commercial opportunities for greedy merchants, legal money launderers, gospel manipulators. We run out and spend money we don't have on stuff we don't need.

The solution to this problem is a no-brainer. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. It's just keeping you down. A word to the wise, The Sayings of Amon Ra urges us to "Guard against habit, overindulgence and lack of self-control." Don't let the greedy merchants steal your Christ.

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WILL - The Public Square - November 18, 2005

Prof. Travis McDade on Voter Redistricting

Voters in two bellwether states - Ohio and California - will vote this November on significant amendments to the way their state is divided up for the sake of elections. Citizens of Illinois should take note because we could be next.

In both Ohio and California the amendment in question claims to put some fundamental fairness back into elections by taking the redistricting power out of the hands of partisan politicians. And in each state the party in power - Republicans in Ohio, Democrats in California - is the most vocal opponent. But the Ohio and California plans differ greatly in both construction and intent. The Ohio plan is specifically designed to inject what proponents say is competition back into elections while the California plan concerns itself almost exclusively with how the districts of California will look on a map. Still, the ultimate purpose of both Proposition 77 in California and Issue 4 in Ohio is the same: keep politicians from drawing the political map in their favor.

Prop 77 in California calls for a panel of "Special Masters" to adopt a plan of redistricting based on population demographics of the most recent census. The Special Masters would be chosen from a pool of retired California judges ultimately winnowed down to 3 people, each party being represented by at least one of these Special Masters. This is the part of Proposition 77 that takes up the most ink.

The California plan is most concerned with the selection of these Special Masters whose role it will be to do draw the new map. It is also this aspect of the plan that gets the most criticism. Opponents routinely claim that their state will be redistricted by unelected old white men (the demographic into which retired judges most often fall). These Special Masters would set about redistricting the state following the "requirements" of Proposition 77; the requirements actually act more like suggestions. For instance, the plan calls for the population of the districts to "be as nearly equal as possible." And district boundaries shall conform to geographic boundaries "to the greatest extent possible." Proponents of the plan want the terrain of the state divided in a way that, if not exactly competitive, looks more competitive than the thin, bent and spidery districts of a clearly gerrymandered map.

Because of these less-precise instructions to the Special Masters, the California plan is rich in checks and balances. Not only is the process of appointing the Special Masters designed to avoid giving a single party the power over redistricting but those Special Masters are then subject to the scrutiny of both the public and, separately, the legislature in their design. Finally, the plan is submitted to the voters of the state for final approval.

The Ohio plan - Issue 4 - also takes seriously the role of a neutral panel in the redistricting process but not near to this extent. That is largely because in the Ohio plan the emphasis is placed on the process by which the new, most competitive map will be drawn, not on the neutral arbiters who will not be charged with drawing up the map as in California.

The Ohio plan puts the most effort into a complex formula out of which a competitive Ohio map will come; the formula assigns a point value to districts based on their competitiveness (a concept that has its own formula) and balance. Once a single map is created - by any Ohioan - that is deemed the most competitive according this formula, no matter what it looks like, it is presumed to be the prevailing plan. So the criticism most often voiced by opponents of Issue 4 is that the formula will not make Ohio districts look any less ridiculous than they do now.

Because the formula is intended to write partisanship out of the redistricting process there is no provision for sending the final product to the voters for approval and access to the court system is expressly limited.

Ultimately, neither plan is perfect. But both give more input to their state's voters in the redistricting process than they have now. In Ohio any person who is interested in submitting a plan may do so; by law the map that is most competitive must be accepted by the commission. In California, while the map is drawn by the Special Masters, the people not only have input in the process of creating the map but also have the final veto, appropriately, at the ballot box.

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WILL - The Public Square - November 11, 2005

Gary Storm of Urbana on opportunities to hear from local community members from Iraq

AWARE, an anti-war anti-racism effort in Urbana-Champaign, is creating opportunities to widen the audience that hears about the effects on individuals and families of current U. S. foreign policy and the war in Iraq. It is doing so by calling the public's attention to Anthony Shadid's extraordinary book "Night Draws Near: Iraqi People in the Shadow of America's War (Henry Holt, 2005)and by having community members who have family in Iraq and/or who have recently visited there and others tell their stories in local venues.

Anthony Shadid is the Islamic Affairs correspondent for the Washington Post based in the Middle East. Among the awards he has received is the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. He is an American of Lebanese descent who speaks and reads Arabic and who first traveled to Iraq as a reporter in 1998. AWARE is arranging interviews with Shadid that will be printed and/or aired locally in the months ahead and hopes, with the aid of several academic units at the University of Illinois and other community organizations, to bring him to Urbana-Champaign in 2006. His own interviews with Iraqi citizens at various stages of U. S. involvement with the current war ("Before", "The American Invasion", "Aftermath", "The Occupation" and "The Insurgency") paint a vivid and powerful human face on the conflict.

During November, AWARE has scheduled two panel presentations by local community members from Iraq and a member of Christian Peacemakers, all of whom have personal experiences in Iraq to share. Each presentation will set aside time for questions and comments from the audience. Attendees are encouraged to come a little early to enjoy Middle Eastern refreshments and to browse through books and other materials on Middle Eastern history, culture, politics, etc.

The first presentation is scheduled from 7:00-8:45 PM at the Urbana Free Library on Wednesday, November 16, and the second from 7:00-8:45 PM at the Community United Church of Christ on Tuesday, November 29. Both are free of charge andmembers of the public are encouraged to attend.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 21, 2005

Will Stoecker on the Clean Election Program

My name is Will Stoecker, a resident of Urbana, and I would like to acquaint the listening audience with the CLEAN ELECTION PROGRAM. This plan restructures the funding of political campaigns so that the candidates are funded by a combination of a large number of small individual contributions plus public (thus taxpayers') money. A candidate has the possibility of choosing the Clean Election alternative or raising money in the conventional fashion. Those candidates choosing the Clean Election option are not permitted to accept money from corporations, unions and political action committees or use their own money. Several benefits of the system are 1) the candidate need spend less time raising money and thus has more time to concentrate on discussing issues and 2) well-funded political action groups and industry groups have less special influence on legislation.

The Clean Election Program has been adopted for state offices in the states of Maine and Arizona. In both states the number of candidates for the Senate and the House increased, and more women, minorities and newcomers have entered an election race because they did not have to have big money supporting them. Both Republican and Democratic Candidates have chosen the Clean Election plan. Winning candidates have no obligation to the moneyed interests that previously distorted the governing process. For example, Janet Napolitano who was elected governor of Arizona, contends that the Clean Election program allowed her to sign an executive order for discount prescriptions that otherwise would have been subject t intense lobbying pressure.

In Illinois there has been some progress. A bill passed the State Senate to establish the Clean Election system for the election of Supreme Court judges. So far, this measure has not gotten out of committee in the State House.

Locally, a small group that grows one by one has been meeting regularly and trying to spread the word. Several contact possibilities are: Cameron Satterthwaite, Antonia Herbstreit, Cindy Wachter, and myself, Will Stoecker. Satterthwaite is the leader and his phone number is 344-6642.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 14, 2005

Laurie Bonnett of the Urban League of Champaign on “Big, Small and All.

I am Laurie Bonnett of the Urban League of Champaign County, urging you to be a part of "big. small. all" this November. "big.small.all." is a project to build a vision of our future, initiated by citizens and leaders of Champaign County. You can be a part of the dialogue by attending one of the nine meetings planned all across Champaign County early next month.

This is the way it works: participants will be broken into small groups, where they will be asked for their ideas for the future of the area. All ideas will be placed in a database and used to write goals and policies for Champaign County's future. The success of these meetings depends solely on widespread participation by all those interested in the future of our community.

Everyone's voice will be heard - big business, small organizations and all voices from every profession and demographic group. We need to hear from the farming community, the small business woman and the minority student. We need to hear from you all. The timing is right for this project. Many organizations already have long-term plans and have done their own visioning processes. This gives us all a chance to take a look at how our individual plans might fit together and to present that information to the larger community we serve. And there is a growing sense of unity in Champaign County right now that we need to capitalize on.

Sure, we all have our own projects, our own goals, but underneath it all, we are starting to see that we have a lot in common. We are starting to see that what we're really all working on is creating a better community with more options for us and for our children. And to make that happen, we're collaborating in ways we haven't before. "big. small. all." was designed to be just that - a way for all of us, the big AND the small to come together to share ideas, form collaborations and shape the future of Champaign County. Please join this push to envision a new future for our community. Be part of "big.small.all." The meetings kick off November 1st and a full list of meeting locations can be found at www.bigsmallall.cc or call Frank DiNovo at 217.328.3313.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 30, 2005

Jean Flemma of the Prairie Rivers Network on Being River Smart

Jean Flemma is the Executive Director of the Prairie Rivers Network, a statewide conservation organization dedicated to protecting the rivers and streams of Illinois for people, fish, and wildlife.

Did you know? You shouldn't always go with the flow!

Did you know? Water from a rain shower that flows down the storm drain carrying leaves, trash, motor oil, and other pollution does not go to a treatment plant. Instead, it gets dumped directly into our local rivers where it can harm fish, wildlife, water quality, and even people.

Did you know? Rivers and streams supply over 60% of all drinking water in America. In Champaign County and around Illinois, rivers are home to bluegill and smallmouth bass, herons and cardinals, river otters and muskrats, and so many other creatures. They are the places where we canoe, hike, bird watch, picnic, and fish. From the Salt Fork, to the Sangamon, they make our communities better places to live.

Did you know? While industrial and municipal discharges contribute to pollution in our rivers, most comes from the stormwater that runs off parking lots, driveways, streets, and even farm fields, picking up trash, yard and pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, and other pollutants along the way.

Did you know? Each of us can take simple steps in our every days lives that will reduce this pollution, and keep our rivers, and the people, fish, and wildlife that depend on them, healthy. Here are just a few examples of how you can be RiverSmart. Fix car leaks right away, and dispose of used motor oil and anti-freeze safely. Rake your leaves and grass clippings and compost them or bag them for removal. Don't let any of these items end up in the street where they can go with the flow and down the drain. Or, join the Prairie Rivers' storm drain patrol and tell others about the importance of keeping pollution out of the flow.

Your neighborhood association, your scout troop, or any other group can stencil your storm drains with the important message-- "DUMP NO WASTE - DRAINS TO RIVERS". By participating in the storm drain patrol, you can educate others about keeping pollution out of the flow and out of our rivers. For more RiverSmart tips, visit our website at www.prairierivers.org. Or if you want to join the storm drain patrol and borrow our stenciling kits free of charge, call us at 344-2371. Working together, we can prevent pollution from going with the flow, and keep our rivers clean.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 23, 2005

Tim Schreiber on Boycotting the NCAA

I am Tim Schreiber an alumnus of UIUC and I live in Champaign.

Attention, Chief Illiniwek supporters! The recent ruling by the NCAA against the use of Native American mascots provides an excellent opportunity for you to show your true dedication to Native American causes. Tell that fascist organization that you will NOT compete in any NCAA events, or against teams that are part of the NCAA, until they get rid of this ridiculous ruling and allow you to honor Native Americans in your own way. I admit that boycotting the NCAA will be a major blow to Illini athletics, but principled stands are rarely easy. Perhaps you could schedule games against local high school teams until the NCAA comes to its senses.

And while you're taking a principled stand in defense of The Chief, why don't you boycott all the University of Illinois academic departments that have come out with public statements against the use of The Chief, since they, too, clearly don't understand what you're trying to accomplish. I know it will be difficult to run a world-class major research institution without classes from the Anthropology, English, Spanish, Library Science, Educational Psychology, or History departments (to name but a few), but sometimes we all have to make sacrifices for what we believe in.

And let's not forgot all the university-sponsored organizations that have requested that we retire The Chief, too. I mean, really, who are the Native American House, the Black Faculty & Academic Professionals Alliance, or the Faculty Senate on Equal Opportunity to tell you how The Chief undermines race relations?

I know from the multitude of Chief t-shirts and bumper stickers that I see around town that this issue transcends mere athletics, academics, or national reputation. Chief Supporters, you are obviously willing to sacrifice it all in your dedication to Native American causes. It's a real shame that the NCAA and the rest of the academic world don't see it that way.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 16, 2005

Cynthia Hoyle on Walk to School Day

Walk To School Day

Cynthia Hoyle, an employee of the CU Mass Transit District.

Did you know that in 2001 less than 15% of students walked or biked to school? In 1969 48% of students walked or biked to school. Today approximately 34% of students living within 1 mile walk or bike to school compared to 90% in 1969. The prevalence of overweight children has tripled in recent years. Many experts feel that lack of activity is one of the primary reasons for the increase in childhood obesity and the increase in cases of type 2 diabetes in children. Experts say that elementary school children should accumulate 30-60 minutes of age appropriate physical activity each day. Several trends have caused the decline in children walking and biking to school.

According to the Local Government Commission since WWII the number of schools in the USA has declined 70% while the average size grew fivefold. Studies show that school location and the built environment between home and school impact how students get to school. So what can we do to help children walk and bike to school safely? There are two walking to school programs in our community: International Walk to School Day and Safe Routes to School. Safe Routes to School is a nationwide program that promotes non-motorized school trips. It incorporates safety as the integral component and employs a variety of strategies to get children walking and biking. Successful Safe Routes to School programs used in other communities have included things such as: Walking Wednesdays, Walk to School Day and Walking School Buses.

International Walk to School Day was first started in Champaign Urbana in 2004. Four local elementary schools participated as did several elected officials and a local radio station that broadcast the event live. Everyone enjoyed the event and the kids at the participating schools received goodies such as backpack reflectors. This October 5th we are inviting parents to walk with their kids to school and fill out a "Walkability Checklist" given to kids at participating schools. The checklist is then tabulated and used to identify and address safety issues. The event also works to educate kids on safe walking behavior, safe walking routes and the physical and environmental benefits of walking or biking to school.

Sponsoring organizations of the Champaign Urbana Walk to School Day event are Champaign County SAFEKIDS Coalition, Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana and Champaign schools and the Cities of Urbana and Champaign. If you and your children are interested in walking to school you can contact me, Cynthia Hoyle at 278-9059 or you can visit the CUMTD website where information on the event is posted at www.cumtd.com We hope to see you walking!

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