This is a recounting of my day on May 30th, the 700th day of Illinois not having a state budget. I went to a rally in Springfield to get legislators to support the People and Planet First budget.
At 4:30 in the morning, I awake to the blaring sounds coming from both my cell phone and alarm clock. I used both to make sure I wouldn’t oversleep. I grab a glass of water, take a shower, make a couple of eggs and some toast. Grab the keys and am out the door by 5:10. I had hoped to get out the door by 5:00 so I could swing by the convenience store and grab a Red Bull or some other energy drink to help me stay awake, but I’ll just have to make do.
We board the bus at 5:30 AM, the sun has just poked it’s head into the sky and our ‘bus captain’ has definitely had more than a couple of cups of coffee. Good for him for having that kind of energy because honestly I have none whatsoever.
As we ride through the cornfields of Illinois I’m reminded of a time not too long ago when I wouldn’t be caught dead going to a political rally. For a while, I didn’t believe direct actions were effective or that they accomplished anything. I was someone who thought there were better ways to get a point across then marching through the streets.
It’s 10:00 as the bus pulls up to the old state capital used back in the days of Lincoln. If you’ve never been to Springfield, essentially the only thing you need to know is that nowhere else in the world is there a place so proud of a former president. It certainly gives “The Land of Lincoln” a whole new meaning. We have 30 minutes before the other busses get to town and the march on the capital begins. I run to a local store called Honey ‘N Milk to grab that energy drink I missed out on that morning.
As I’m walking back, I pass a sign sharing a bit of Springfield history. The story is of a group of citizens that stood together on their principles to defend what they believed in. Of course because it’s Springfield they had to include the little bit at the end that mentioned Lincoln was one of the leaders of said group.
This is what it’s all about. Democracy is about the people being in charge of their country. It’s not about the people being some second class of individuals being controlled be the ruling class. In a true democracy there is no ruling class. Everyone is the ruling class. If only our “democracy” could be so simple.
At 10:30 a group of speakers take the stage. These people come from all backgrounds and ages. They’ve spent the last few days marching from Chicago to Springfield stopping in towns and cities along the way to tell their story and rally more people to join the cause. The conclusion of their talk kicks off our march to the capital. As we march we yell out chants and songs of democracy and freedom. I’m surrounded by people of every faith, creed, race, age, gender, ability, and sexuality. We don’t all look the same, we don’t all act the same, and we don’t all think the same, but we are still united.
We reach the capital for our rally and are slowed down by security who is trying to prevent us from entering and using our voices to call on our elected representatives to hear our pleas. We make it through after hours of security and begin the rally.
As we stand in the great rotunda of the capital building, one by one people who have suffered from the gross negligence and dereliction of duty by Governor Bruce Rauner and the legislature come up to tell their story. I’m standing there holding a three foot sign of this bumbling governor and I realize then and there that this is what democracy looks like. This is what I didn’t understand about actions, protests, and rallies before. It’s about the stories of those harmed being heard by the people who can change things. It wasn’t until this moment that I fully conceptualized the reality that for the last 700 days people have been suffering at the hands of the government in Illinois. At that moment the chants became real for me; I wanted the whole world to hear what we were saying.
From there we moved to the entrance outside Rauner’s office which was guarded by a line of 8 armed state troopers. Chants began as we demanded Rauner hear the people. For the next few hours these chants went on all while other demonstrators were being thrown out of the House chambers. As the chants go on and the civil disobedience happens. There are people here risking arrest for what they believe in. To clarify, they’re not being arrested for violence or anything like that, this is for the act of disobedience. I’m reminded of Gandhi and Dr. King by this and I realize that actions like this have been happening for centuries. This is another moment in the ever advancing movement pushing society forward and I feel pride in being a small piece of this moment.
As the hour approached for my bus to head back to Chicago, I tried to take in as much as I could. This was the day that I finally understood why people stand together like this at protests and rallies. And as I rode the bus back from Springfield looking at the cornfields going by, I could faithfully say I know what democracy looks like and I will keep going on and doing whatever I can to be a part of that.