The Witness of 15,000 Voices

Biggest Rally In History – SAVE OUR STATE!

Springfield is a place of considerable discussion, debate, and, yes, disagreement. Finding common ground is often difficult, and coming to an agreement is almost always a matter of considerable compromise.

Yet, this past week there was clear agreement on one point: fifteen thousand people gathered at the State Capitol on Wednesday, April 21, 2010. Organizers, news reporters, and state police officers were unanimous in their crowd estimates. The Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC) delivered on its goal of bringing 15,000 people to Springfield!

Drawn by a passionate concern for the well being of our families, communities, and state, people of all ages gathered to deliver a strong message: “Save Our State – Save our Services – Save our Schools.” We carried signs: “Responsible Budget: Don’t Come Home Without It!” “Don’t Slash Vital Services.” And, we chanted, “Raise Our Taxes.”

In other words, we said, “Face the facts. We need to stop borrowing money and putting off bill payments and pension contributions. We need to fund adequately our human service, education, health care, and public safety systems across Illinois.”

Of course, we had our share of naysayers. A Senate leader stated, “These demonstrations have very little impact on the General Assembly.” However, members of the House appeared stunned when a gallery full of retired persons first stood silently and then began chanting, “Save our State.” (They were, of course, immediately escorted from the gallery!) More than a few legislators expressed appreciation for the rally and the wide range of participants who came to Springfield to express their views. Staff of the Secretary of State’s office gave RBC organizers high marks for a well-planned event, an enthusiastic, but orderly, crowd, and excellent clean-up of the Capitol grounds at the end of the day.

Several newspapers characterized the rally and march and legislative visits as “a union event.” Certainly, a large number of people at the rally were union members. They teach our children, provide child care services, give home-based health care services to older adults or to those who have developmental disabilities. But let’s be clear, rally participants also included parents, children, teenagers, clients and staff of community-based agencies (some small and others quite large), people from faith communities, advocates, lawyers, and members of AARP. People came from every “corner” of the state.

Will the General Assembly still move forward with its plan to adjourn early on May 7th? Will legislators pass a 6-month lump-sum budget or a 12-month budget with a 50% cut in human services, education, health care, and public safety? Will the General Assembly finally come to terms with the depth of the state’s fiscal crisis?

Did the 15,000 voices make a difference?

There is, of course, no certain answer at this point. But, many of us believe that there is a growing realization among legislators and the general public that Illinois really does need a responsible budget — now, not after the November elections — and that there is political peril in failing to address the revenue crisis this spring.

If you were in Springfield on April 21st (or earlier on February 16th for our Faith Leaders witness), thank you! If you were not able to come, you can still add your voice to this important debate. Call your representative in the IL House today — or join us in Springfield for Faith Wednesday on May 5th, or participate in our Call-in Day, also on May 5th. Your voice — your witness — is important. Speak up now for a responsible budget in Illinois!

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