The leaves are falling from the trees, people are beginning to bundle up against chilly winds, and, after last night’s riveting presidential debate, there is no question that fall is in the air.
Here at Protestants for the Common Good, that means our education and advocacy work has moved into high gear. Our staff is already working toward the fall veto session and excitedly talking about things to come in the legislative world. And, at the beginning of October, we held two important events that have me thinking about our work at PCG.
The first of these two events was our hosting of a play, Defamation by Todd Logan, at Chicago Theological Seminary. This interactive theater event is about an African-American woman suing a Jewish real estate developer for defamation. The play was wonderfully performed, the venue was exquisite, and the participation from our guests was truly heartening. The audience served as jurors and, together, we tackled some of the most challenging issues of our time.
A courtroom drama that focuses on the issues of race, class, religion, and the law, Defamation prompted a lively conversation about the way our preconceived notions influence how we relate to the people around us, the way we view the legal system, and the great hurdles we have yet to overcome in bringing our vision of the beloved community to fruition, even in the 21st century. As one of our guests put it, “We cannot escape our histories. We each bring our individual experiences to the table. The first step in realizing justice is to recognize where our prejudices lie.”
On October 10, 2012, PCG held its Robert B. Wilcox Symposium on Criminal Justice at the Chicago Temple. Sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, and attended by nearly 250 people, this year’s symposium was entitled, “Serving Our Communities: Alternatives to Incarceration.” The program opened with Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, laying out the problems of safety, cost, and justice in our current system, and PCG brought forth presenters from Adult Re-Deploy Illinois, the Seattle L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program, and the Wisconsin Community Justice Reinvestment. Experts presented successful models for diverting non-violent, low-level offenders from the criminal justice system so that we could learn from these programs and bring some of their strategies (as well as our own ideas) to Chicago and Illinois.
Concluding the symposium, Michelle Saddler, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, facilitated an open discussion with members of the audience to raise questions and make recommendations for next steps. Members of the audience responded with criticism, frustration, and personal stories of injustice experienced at the hands of a failed criminal justice system. But the voice that spoke the loudest resonated throughout every presenter, every responder, and every participant. That was the voice of hope—hope that a broken system can be mended, hope that we can bring humanity to our approach to criminal justice, hope that we can embody the gospel imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves.
As I reflect on the events of last week and as I look forward to the challenges we face in the next months of legislative work, I take with me the hope of that PCG has inspired in so many. I urge you to join us in our mission to advance justice in public life. Look around you at the falling leaves. Listen to the critical issues our nation faces. Feel the brisk chill of excitement in the air.
Take heart, my friends, at the good work we are doing together. It is truly a season for hope.