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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Standing room only for COH post-election meeting
by Matt Simonette
2016-12-06

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Both Center on Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theater and its lobby were filled to capacity for a community meeting Dec. 5 addressing civil liberties in the face of a Trump presidency.

The theater space quickly filled to capacity for the meeting, which was organized by state Reps. Ann Williams, Sara Feigenholtz and Kelly Cassidy ( Cassidy was unable to attend ). The overflow crowd watched the panel on a monitor in the lobby. The event was sponsored by Equality Illinois, ACLU of Illinois, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Center on Halsted.

Williams said that she and colleagues in the House had received hundreds of questions from concerned constituents since Nov. 8, adding, "We were shell shocked at the results of the election."

Feigenholtz said, "We are still trying to wrap or heads around what happened on Nov. 8... Then we had to go down to Springfield which was a very toxic and sullen environment."

But panelists joining the legislators, all representing statewide activist organizations, said that they were ready for any fights ahead. Rianne Hawkins, director of legislation at Planned Parenthood Illinois, said, "Through every attack we have come out stronger, and we plan to use that strength in the coming years … We don't know what's to come but were all prepared for renewed threats."

Hawkins noted that Planned parenthood has seen a 450 percent increase in IUD appointments since the election, and that "tens of thousands of dollars" have been donated in the name of Mike Pence.

Khadine Bennett, associate legislative director for ACLU of Illinois, said her organization has a historical record of suing presidents and would not hesitate to do so if Trump made it necessary. She said organization officials were especially concerned about the implications of the shift at the Department of Justice, which had been working on police reform; Trump has said he favors stop-and-frisk, and the ACLU expects that aggressive policing and government surveillance will be issues. Bennett echoed Hawkins in asserting that her organization was prepared.

"We don't know what the first fight will be, but we're ready to take it on," Bennett said.

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Senior Policy Counsel Fred Tsao noted that immigrants likely have the most to fear under a Trump presidency, given the rhetoric from the president elect and his supporters during the campaign. He noted that activists must leverage their strength and attention across many realms, such as protecting individuals who are beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, which Trump could repeal. Those individuals' information is accessible to the government, making them "sitting ducks," Tsao said.

He also warned that a beneficiary of Trump's proposed round-ups of "criminal" immigrants would likely be the private prison industry, whose stocks went up the day after the election. That industry "sees what's coming, so we should see what's coming as well," Tsao said.

Equality Illinois Director of Public Policy Michael Ziri emphasized that activism was going to be needed at the state and municipal levels since several locales can put laws on the books that protect against discriminations that could conceivably be repealed at the federal levels. Illinois, for example, has robust anti-discrimination protections.

Williams added that many Illinois lawmakers would do "what we can do on a state level to inoculate ourselves against what might go down on the federal level."

Bennett mentioned the opposite side of that point, however: Work is still needed to make sure the state's resources are strong. "It's really important to remember that we don't have a budget in our state," she said.

Center on Halsted Chief Operating Officer Kim Fountain urged for community members to know what resources they have available to them. Noting that the Center is space people use "when things go wrong or when things go fabulously," she added, "You are at a place where we get it. That's what's so amazing about being in a community center, we're everywhere … We're going to keep pushing forward while embracing our community, because that's what we do."

All the panelists emphasized contributing to organizations and causes, signing up for action alerts, supporting fact-based journalism and communicating—on the phone or in person, if possible—with elected officials.

The panelists were asked whether current activist organizations were equipped to handle the work ahead or if new organizations would be needed to navigate through it. Bennett answered that established organizations like those represented on the stage best knew the nuances associated with the work.

Activism, she said, "takes place on many different levels, and these organizations know all of those levels."


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