The Public Square

WILL - The Public Square - August 29, 2008

Patricia Syoen on “The Devil’s Highway

On September 12 Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil's Highway will be speaking at the University YMCA Friday Forum from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm. At 5:00 pm to 8:pm there will be a book signing event at Pages for All Ages. Come and enjoy a reading, signing, music and refreshments. In The Devil's Highway Urrea's brilliant investigative reporting tells us what went wrong. In 2001, 26 men entered the desert. This desert of southern Arizona is the deadly region known as the Devil's Highway, a desert so harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it, a place that for hundreds of years has stolen men's souls and swallowed their blood. Only 12 of the men made it out. This book tells the story from many different perspectives and with compassion for all involved: the survivors, the coyotes (those who get paid to lead people across the border) and the Border Patrol. This account gives names and faces to the men trying to come to the United States to secure a better life for their families back home. Luis Alberto Urrea is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award, an American Book Award, a Western States Book Award, and a Colorado Book Award and he has been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. The Devil's Highway was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. Urrea's most recent book is The Hummingbirds Daughter He currently teaches at the University of Illinois, the Chicago Campus. These events are sponsored by the New Sanctuary Movement in Champaign-Urbana.

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WILL - The Public Square - August 08, 2008

Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy on offshore oil drilling

Hi, I'm Robert Naiman and I'mm Senior Policy Analyst at Just Foreign Policy, which seeks to reform US foreign policy by engaging more Americans in advocating for foreign policies based on the values and interests of the majority of Americans.

John McCain is urging Americans to support overturning a ban on most oil drilling off our coasts as a way to bring down gas prices. But the federal government's Energy Information Administration projects that Senator McCain's proposal would have no impact on gas prices in the near-term since it will be close to a decade before the first oil could be extracted. The EIA projects production would reach 200,000 barrels a day at peak production. It describes this amount as too small to have any significant effect on oil prices, even when production is at its peak.

If the US had raised auto fuel efficiency standards between 1985-2005 by a quarter of the amount it raised them annually from 1980-1985, instead of leaving them virtually unchanged, the result would roughly have been the equivalent of 3.3 million barrels of oil per day in new production,16 times the projected impact of offshore drilling.

If we negotiated a deal with Iran that led to the lifting of US sanctions, oil production in Iran could increase 1-2 million barrels a day. That would be 5-10 times the projected impact of drilling off our coasts.

Wouldn't it be better to pursue modest conservation and negotiations with Iran, having the effect of bringing 20-25 times as much oil on the market, rather than endanger tourism, fishing, and beaches on our coasts for a long-term effect that we won't even notice?

You can find more information about efforts to promote real negotiations with Iran on our website,

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WILL - The Public Square - May 23, 2008

Lisa Bralts on local, sustainable agriculture

My name is Lisa Bralts. I'm an economic development specialist for the City of Urbana, and Director of Urbana's Market at the Square, the area's largest and most diverse farmers' market.

In August 2007, the Illinois General Assembly enacted the Illinois Food, Farm and Jobs Act. This legislation was crafted after a report from Sustain USA, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Agriculture's Federal State Marketing Program revealed many fissures in Illinois' food system - the ways and means of getting food from producers to consumers.

Drawing the conclusion that a plan for developing local food systems within the state would help enhance access to fresh, local food for citizens and stimulate economic development in both rural and urban communities, the Act called for the appointment of a Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force to direct this work. The Governor appointed the Task Force members in early 2008.

The Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force and the planned planning process represent an unprecedented opportunity to secure state and federal resources to build the infrastructure to support an Illinois local and organic food system. There is presently little government support for local and organic food production in Illinois, despite an existing market of nearly 13,000,000 people. More than 90 percent of food currently consumed in Illinois is imported from outside the state. In addition, research indicates that while the Illinois organic food market exceeds $500 million in annual sales, 95 percent of this food is imported from out-of-state. A visionary and practical plan developed by the Task Force will create impetus for the Illinois General Assembly to make major investments in areas such as farmland preservation, farmer training, processing, storage, distribution infrastructure and more. The Task Force is also charged with addressing the many "food deserts" in the state, both rural and urban, where people do not have sufficient access to fresh food.

A large part of developing this plan revolves around "listening sessions" facilitated by Task Force members throughout the state. Over 10 sites in Illinois have been selected as host sites for listening sessions. The format for each session at each site is different, but one aspect remains constant - stakeholder participation is crucial. And since everyone eats, everyone is a stakeholder.

A listening session for east central Illinois will take place Wednesday, May 28 at the Urbana Civic Center at 108 E. Water St. in downtown Urbana from 7-9 PM, featuring remarks from Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and stakeholder participation facilitated by Task Force members Debbie Hillman and Jim Braun. This event is free and open to the public; please contact Lisa Bralts at 384-2319 for more information.

Even if you cannot attend the listening session on the 28th - and we'd love to see you there - please remember that you can easily support sustainable agriculture and local food by shopping at Market at the Square Saturday mornings through November 8 from 7 AM - noon - visit or call 384-2319 for more information.

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WILL - The Public Square - May 16, 2008

Jennifer Hixson on the costs of the war in Iraq

Hello. My name is Jennifer Hixson. I am a member of McKinley Presbyterian Church on the University of Illinois campus. I am also a member of the Champaign-Urbana chapter of the Interfaith Alliance.

The Champaign-Urbana chapter of Interfaith Alliance has raised money to put up a billboard reminding people about the cost of the Iraq war. The billboard says simply that the war is costing us $720,000,000 a day. It will be up for most of the month of May. The $720,000,000 figure is based on the research of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz of the Kennedy school of Government.

$720,000,000 a day is more money than most of us can imagine, but let's think about what we could do with that money if we weren't using it to wage a war in Iraq.

The American Friends Service Committee points out that at that rate we could:

Build 6,482 homes for families each day. Build 84 new elementary schools each day. Fund 34,904 four-year university scholarships each day. Provide 423,529 children with health care.

And the costs of this war are not limited to economics.

The war in Iraq has cost the US over 4,000 lives and many more casualties, men and women who have been wounded mentally and physically and will need lots of help to recover and rebuild their lives here at home.

It has cost the Iraqis much more in lives and wounded. And it has torn apart the fabric of their society. My husband was in Pakistan at the time of Russia's war with Afghanistan. He spoke of seeing SO MANY people in the refugee camps in Peshawar who were missing arms and legs.

Now we are sending the wounded and the hopeless to refugee communities outside of their country. More than 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced by the war and US occupation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that over 2,000 Iraqi refugees enter Syria every day. Every day 2,000 people lose hope and leave their homes, their neighbors and their families.

The population of the city of Champaign is about 68,000. If 2,000 people were to leave Champaign each day, Champaign would be a ghost town in 34 days, before the Fourth of July.

We the people of the US must begin to recognize all of the costs of this war and speak up, speak out to end this war that is costing us and the Iraqis so terribly much.

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WILL - The Public Square - May 09, 2008

Cynthia Hoyle on Safe Routes to School

Cynthia Hoyle is a local transportation planning consultant who works with CUMTD, Safe Routes To School, and the local cycling community. She is also a cancer survivor.

On May 13, 2008, Champaign-Urbana residents and cancer survivors will have the opportunity to join the Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise awareness about cancer issues.

An event is being organized in Champaign-Urbana as part of 500 LIVESTRONG Day events to be held across the country to increase awareness and show support for cancer survivors and their loved ones.

On May 13th local LiveSTRONG Day Organizers in Champaign-Urbana are sponsoring ?Bike for Life Day? to encourage people to bike, instead of driving, and to wear yellow to show their support for cancer survivors. Local LiveSTRONG Day Organizers in Urbana-Champaign include C-U Safe Routes To School Project and Mettler Center. The local event will include activities at Meadowbrook Park beginning at 6 p.m. at the Garden Pavilion and include registration, reading of the City of Urbana Proclamation, a special message from Lance Armstrong, and two bike rides. One ride will be the 3-mile loop on the Meadowbrook Trail and the other will be an 8.8 mile loop south of Meadowbrook Park.

The week of May 12-16 is also ?Bike to Work Week? and many people will be cycling to work instead of driving. Cycling not only can improve your personal health, but also reduces our carbon footprint and helps to improve the health of our planet.

Participating in LIVESTRONG Day is important to me because of my own experience with cancer and the many experiences of family and friends who are survivors. It is an honor to have the opportunity to support cancer survivors and encourage people in Champaign-Urbana to unite together to end the needless death and suffering from the disease that kills more than 20,000 people a year in Illinois. Illinois has the 14th highest overall cancer incidence rate in the United States.

In year?s past, Lance Armstrong Foundation delegates have advocated in Washington, D.C., to ask that our nation?s leaders invest in resources, treatment and services for people affected by cancer and to emphasize the importance of making cancer a national priority. This year the foundation has decided to shift the focus from legislators and lobbyists to the American people in their local communities. We believe that by uniting people in the fight against cancer we will remind our decision-makers that their constituents care about cancer and demand change.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) unites people through programs and experiences to empower cancer survivors to live life on their own terms and to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. The LAF focuses on cancer prevention, access to screening and care, research and quality of life for cancer survivors. Founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, the LAF has raised more than $250 million for the fight against cancer. Join 60 million LIVESTRONG wristband wearers and help make cancer a national priority. Unite and fight cancer at

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WILL - The Public Square - March 28, 2008

Laurel Prussing on Urbana’s 175th Birthday

Hi, I'm Laurel Prussing, the Mayor of Urbana, inviting you to help celebrate Urbana's 175th Birthday this Sunday, March 30th.

In 1833 Urbana was founded to be the county seat for the newly created Champaign County. Isaac Busey donated the land for a courthouse and persuaded a committee of legislators to choose his land as the site for the new town.

For twenty years in the 1840's and '50's Abraham Lincoln traveled here to practice law in the Champaign County courthouse. Lincoln also delivered some famous speeches in Urbana in opposition to slavery.

In February 1867 Clark Robinson Griggs, Urbana Mayor and State Representative, ran a brilliant campaign to get the legislature to select Champaign County as the site for the University of Illinois. The following year, in March 1868, the University of Illinois opened as the Illinois Industrial University in Urbana.

This Sunday, March 30, we will celebrate the founding of the University and Clark Griggs' extraordinary effort. The event, co-sponsored by the City of Urbana and the Office of Chancellor Richard Herman, will be from 2 to 3 PM at Levis faculty center and will feature News-Gazette editor Tom Kacich and archaeologist/local historian Ilona Matkovszki presenting "The Man Who Brought the University of Illinois to Urbana: Clark Robinson Griggs, Urbana Mayor and State Legislator". Musician Michael Kaminn will provide musical interludes on guitar, and refreshments will be served. The event is free and the public is invited. Urbana's 175th Birthday commemorative calendar will be available for sale, with all proceeds going to support the arts.

For more information, please call 384-2319, or go to the City's website at

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WILL - The Public Square - March 07, 2008

Conrad Wetzel on “The People Speak

Hello. My name is Conrad Wetzel. I am a resident of Champaign and a member of AWARE, the Anti-War, Anti-Racism Effort.

March 19, 2008, will mark the beginning of the sixth year of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians will have been killed and countless more maimed and wounded. Basic infrastructure in Iraq will have been destroyed, depriving millions of clean drinking water, electricity, sewage treatment, and health services. Trillions of dollars will have been spent, millions of which have disappeared through corporate graft and corruption. At the same time, in the US, basic health, education, employment, and other needs have gone unaddressed. Our economy is in recession. Many Americans have experienced an overall decline in the quality of their lives while wealth is accumulating in the hands of a privileged few.

To call attention to the continuing war and its devastation at home and abroad, AWARE has scheduled an event at Urbana City Hall from 7:00-9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11th. While the event will address the war and the need to end it as soon as possible, it will focus more broadly on the need for people to "speak out" and voice their dissent against the war and other social injustices.

To celebrate the "enduring spirit of dissent" in the United States, local residents will present dramatic readings assembled and edited by Howard Zinn, author of the award winning book, "A People's History of the United States". The name of the collection of readings is "The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known."

These were first read at the 92nd Street "Y" in New York City by a group of distinguished participants including James Earl Jones, Alice Walker, Kurt Vonnegut, and Danny Glover. Topics addressed include Shay's Rebellion, Indian Removal, the Women's Declaration of Rights, the IWW and Lawrence Strike, Vietnam, Gulf War Resistance, and Poverty in Our Time. Among the authors whose words are voiced are: Frederick Douglas, Henry Turner, Mark Twain, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller, Eugene Debs, Fannie Lou Hammer, and Malcolm X.

AWARE invites listeners to join us for this special event, either in person or by watching the live television broadcast on Channel 6. Again, the readings will take place at Urbana City Hall located at 400 South Vine Street on Tuesday. March 11 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. We hope to see you there.

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WILL - The Public Square - February 22, 2008

Kathie Spegal on equality for all committed relationships

Being lesbian or gay in a predominantly straight world carries the same challenges and risks as being black in a white world or being female in a male oriented society. Assumptions about how I live, who I associate with, my so-called lifestyle, are rampant.

The part you don't know is that I am ever so normal in that I have children and grandchildren, a job, a house, hobbies and interests that keep me busy in this community. If you were to have me participate in a line-up, nothing about me would single me out as lesbian ? unless I choose to reveal that to you.

What you also cannot see are the benefits that are denied to my partner and me because we are of the same sex. She cannot be on my insurance policy, she cannot direct how I am buried. She cannot receive medical information about me or share a room in a nursing home. She can't inherit our home or be the beneficiary on my retirement. These perks are all automatic to opposite sex couples.

The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act that is currently being considered will relieve some of these inequities for us and for opposite sex couples who cannot or don't want to get married. For the elderly who rely on a dual income to support themselves, it may even be punitive to be married.

This act will not change the federal issues such as income tax filing but it will affect any Illinois statutes and will standardize what comprises a Civil Union for all residents. Currently, different governmental entities have their own guidelines but these are not recognized out of that jurisdiction.

This act also recognizes that not all religious denominations wish to recognize these Unions. The bill's language refers to legal rights and responsibilities and provides protection for both opposite and same sex partners.

I urge you to contact your representative and let him or her know that you support this legislation. I have heard that some local legislators who may personally support Bill 1826 assume that their constituents do not. Pick up the phone and make a call or send a personal letter to Representatives, Black, Jakobsson, Cultra or Rose to voice your support.

I look forward to the day when it will be harder to pick me out of the crowd because I will be just like you.

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WILL - The Public Square - February 15, 2008

Meagan Luhrs on the Expansion of the Common Ground Food Co-Op

My name is Meagan Luhrs, and I'm the Outreach Coordinator for the Common Ground Food Co-op.

Where does our food come from? Good question. Many of us have become aware of concepts such as food miles (the distance food travels to become dinner) and are concerned by recent product recalls and ongoing sustainability issues, so knowing more about food and its sources is becoming a priority. We're reading labels. We're frequenting our farmers markets. We're finding ways to grow some of our own food. And we're joining food cooperatives.

Food cooperatives, like other cooperatives, operate on seven principles: voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members' economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community.

A food cooperative differs from a traditional grocery store in many ways, but one of the most important is that a co-op is member-owned - every member-owner holds equity in the store and has a say in its operations. This isn't a new idea - food co-ops go back to 1844, when 28 people in Rochdale, England formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. The co-op retail experience is different, too - because educating, training, and informing the membership is so important, member-owners often find themselves receiving information they would not have in a traditional grocery store. Co-ops work to enable consumers to make conscious choices.

Champaign-Urbana has had its own food co-op since 1974. Created by the Illinois Disciples Foundation, the original intent of the co-op was to provide food to low-income residents living in the community immediately surrounding the co-op's location. All work was handled entirely by volunteers. As time went on, the co-op increased its emphasis on natural foods, due to heightened awareness of the need for food raised without unhealthy chemicals and a changing membership. A physical store was established on the first floor of the IDF building in 1984, with regular hours and inventory, and it has remained there ever since.

Until now. In Summer 2008, Common Ground Food Co-op will move from the basement of the IDF and head to a larger space in the eastern portion of Urbana's Lincoln Square Mall. With this relocation comes an expansion, and with the expansion come some changes: while the co-op will continue to support as many local and organic produce and other food suppliers as possible and will continue to focus on educating its member-owners about the food they're purchasing, the scope within the community will become much broader. How? Common Ground has always had open membership, but this will be the first time the co-op will be open for shopping to non-members and member-owners alike - after all, everyone eats. However, community ownership will always be the linchpin holding Common Ground together - the Board of Directors is democratically elected by member-owners, and the Board sets the policies and direction for the co-op's present and future. Member-owners are crucial.

Common Ground Food Co-op is currently located at 610 E. Springfield Avenue in Champaign, in the basement of the Illinois Disciples Foundation building. For more information about the co-op, its relocation/expansion, and becoming a member owner, please call 217-352-3347 or visit the website at . That's 217- 352-3347 or visit the website at

It's a really great way to get to know your food.

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WILL - The Public Square - February 08, 2008

Richard Mohr on Civil Unions for same-sex couples

I'm Richard Mohr, Professor of Philosophy and of the Classics at the University of Illinois, Urbana.

My partner, Robert Switzer, and I have been living in the Champaign-Urbana community for thirty years. You may have seen us around town. We're the grey bearded couple who sit together in restaurants enjoying the food and each other, but not talking much. That's us hovering over the heirloom tomatoes at the Farmers Market and lining up at Ebertfest. You may have seen us in the News-Gazette in 2003 when we went to Toronto and got married at city hall. The New York Times also ran a picture and article on us. That was funny. For the core of our lives; our life is our taking care of each other, and that shouldn't have to seem newsworthy.

Unfortunately, none of the legal obligations and benefits of marriage that we would have if we lived in Canada currently apply to us here in Illinois. These legal structures are designed to help people take care of each other. They promote the patient caring that lives with others requires, by providing for nurture, mutual support, and persistence and by protecting against those occasions when necessity is cussed rather than opportune, especially when life is marked by crisis, illness, and destruction.

Illinois, though, may soon fill this legal gap. In the last legislative session, a bill was passed out of House committee which would secure legal supports for same-sex couples through civil unions, while separating the issue from entanglements with religion. If passed by the House, and it already looks like there are enough votes in the Senate, the law would join Illinois to six other states whose legislatures have moved towards justice for all couples. Please contact local state representatives Bill Black, Chapin Rose, Naomi Jakobsson, and Shane Cultra in support of House Bill 1826, so that Robert and I can get back to our own business, sniffing melons and squeezing sweet corn at the Farmers Market.

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