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Chesnorship: Andrew Chesney’s Intolerance of Political Dissent

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In history’s most famous autocracies, censorship never fails to make an appearance. Politicians and other government officials block dissent to tighten their grip on power by drowning out the opposition. Most people turn to Russia and China for textbook examples of government censorship. However, one does not have to look further than Freeport’s own Andrew Chesney to find examples of an elected leader suppressing the voices of his own constituents. A quick scroll through the comment section on Andrew Chesney’s official Facebook page leaves one wondering where the voices of opposition are. 

Locals critical of Andrew Chesney have recently reported being blocked by the elected representative after leaving critical comments or expressing concerns on his Facebook page. One individual said that he turned to Chesney’s Facebook after sending him emails and receiving no responses. After commenting his concerns, the Freeport local found himself blocked. Another respondent expressed that she is “disturbed” by Chesney’s unwillingness to tolerate political dissent. She stated that Chesney “is supposed to be a representative for everyone in the district, not just the people who believe as he does.” A local with multiple Facebook accounts told the Voice of Freeport that Chesney had blocked all of his accounts after leaving comments about Covid, the 2020 presidential election, and Freeport public schools. 

How long has Andrew Chesney been silencing the voices of concerned constituents online? At least two years. Of the eight locals that the Voice of Freeport spoke with, two reported having been blocked since 2020. However, Andrew Chesney is not the only politician in the US censoring dissent on social media. 

Recent court cases around the country have challenged the legality of elected officials blocking individuals on social media. In 2019, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Knight Institute v. Trump that Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked seven critics from his Twitter account. In another 2019 case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Davidson v. Randall that a public official’s Facebook page is a “public forum,” meaning that elected representatives cannot block people from sharing their opinions. The Court found that when a public official uses social media to inform the public, gather feedback, and open the space for comment, they violate the First Amendment by blocking critical voices. 

Do these court cases demonstrate that Andrew Chesney is violating the First Amendment? The answer is complicated. 

One could argue that Andrew Chesney’s Facebook is a “public forum” for constituents to share their thoughts and criticisms, meaning that Chesney is in violation of the First Amendment. However, in 2021, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Campbell v. Reisch that a Missouri state representative did not violate the First Amendment when she blocked voters from her Twitter account. The court maintained that the Twitter account was “used overwhelmingly for campaign purposes,” rather than official duties. This means that Chesney could argue his account is reserved for “campaign purposes” and not official government-related work, evidenced by “Republican for State Senate” in his cover photo. However, it has been reported that individuals have even been blocked on Chesney’s “official” Facebook page, a different account where he reports more formal business.

Essentially, if an elected official uses a social media account as part of official duties (informing the citizenry, collecting feedback, encouraging public discussion, and providing services) they are not allowed to block critical voices. However, lawyers and scholars recognize the ambiguity in this language. So, more court cases surrounding the legality of government officials blocking dissent will come.

Proposed Development on Park Blvd near Krape Park has Residents Questioning City Council and Mayor’s Motives.

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There is a proposed development on the corner of Park Blvd. and W Demeter Dr. by Park Partners LLC, owned by Steve Chesney (owner of the property for the development), Todd Weegens, and Bill Heils.  The developers are requesting the City to approve the re-zoning of the 6+ acres from R2 (single-family) to R5 (multi-family) and put 16 buildings or 32 high-end condominiums units on the property. 

Both the zoning board of appeals and the planning commission denied this rezoning and development proposal.  This shouldn’t even be with the City Council due to the denials but unfortunately, it is a part of the process to move forward.  The Mayor is pushing this project and possibly putting pressure on the Aldermen to do the same. There isn’t a need for this development but the City is quite anxious for, and not acknowledging the facts about it unless it fits in with supporting this project.

At the next City Council meeting, (August 2) they will vote on the rezoning as a separate issue from the overall development but in doing so, won’t even answer the question of how much money will this cost the taxpayers.  Talk about not doing their job and looking out for the taxpayer.  Shouldn’t we, at very least, have the answer to that question before having a vote on the rezoning of this property?  If anyone believes the developer when saying this won’t cost the city any money, well, I have a few things to sell you. As it was stated at the recent City Council meeting, the Council wants to address and solve the issues with the development after rezoning.  Why would you not take care of all of the questions and issues ahead of time instead of approving rezoning for the development creating a litany of problems?  

Once rezoning is approved for multi-family, the development, as it horribly appears, can significantly be changed to be even worse and something completely different than what is being represented, with approvals, of course, but not much will stop those approvals once the rezoning is completed.  Multi-family doesn’t fit this area.  All of the properties surrounding the proposed development property are single-family with larger lots from 1/3 acre and up, and a lot of green space in and around the yards and in between the properties.  The Freeport Club is a business and it is zoned differently.  The area is a park-like atmosphere that the new development absolutely will not have and won’t bring any kind of harmony to the neighborhood.  It apparently doesn’t matter that this property doesn’t fit the area.  In fact, the property as we all know it now will be leveled and destroyed.  The rezoning and the specific development really do go hand-in-hand despite how anyone wants to approach this for approval.  If the city council approves the R5 rezoning, this means you get the development and issues that come with it.  The rezoning and the development are without a doubt tied together.

The City Council and Mayor are not taking into consideration that there have been 5 condominium developments that all made promises to the City and all of them have under-delivered and are unfinished.  This is no small fact.  One of the unfinished projects is already near Krape Park called Fox Hollow on Marvin Lane.  This is a high-end development with a mix of single-family homes and condos.  Obviously, the developer doesn’t talk about this project.  Quail Ridge is another one of the unfinished condominium projects, but here the city had to spend thousands of your tax dollars on drainage issues (water and retention) due to the improper design. Developments as a whole don’t necessarily work the way that they were planned.  An example is Navajo Dr. (not a condo development) which also has drainage issues that will need to be fixed.  The City had already spent money on this issue but they seem to be repetitive and more taxpayer money needs to be spent to fix the issues.

Park Partners frequently compares two other condominium residences in order to push the rezoning for this property.  One is the Country Club Condos which is the closest to the property.  One corner of one building has a 30-foot setback, it is angled, stylized and many would say attractive; sunken, main parking underground, visitor parking, and has a private access road to the condos. This property is only a comparison due to them being condominium units.  The other example is the Parkview condo-like apartments on Church St.  These condos are on a similar-sized lot with a few more condos at 35 but this is where the similarity ends.  There are important differences.  The design is suited to the site.  Many units exit directly to Church Street, wider and less busy than Park Blvd.  An internal road and cul-de-sac run through the center of the remaining lots in the apartment complex.  All roads measure over 30-feet wide and have sidewalks.  The setbacks match or exceed those of the neighboring single-family homes.  It uses berms to screen views.  They have amenities such as programming, shared common space, and guaranteed access to long-term care.  

In order to properly determine whether R5 rezoning is appropriate, you have to look at more details than “should we put multi-family condominiums here or not” and deal with the consequences of any approval of the R5 rezoning later.  There is much more to look at and don’t forget about the previous condominium developments that were tried before and were unfinished.  Park Partner’s comparisons to other condominiums in the attempt to have supporting information to promote the R5 rezoning also fall short. The City Council is desperate for development and has said they hate to pass up development.  This is sad if a development like this is pushed forward for the sake of having new development and the tax money they think they’ll get.

Here is the reality about the tax revenue.  The tax revenue that is hyped will only be realized IF all units are sold and people begin paying those taxes immediately.  We all know that isn’t true and not how condo developments work.  It takes time to build these units and they are built as they are sold.  Only 10% of the taxes go to the city and seniors can get property tax relief which will also lower the tax base.  The amount the City gets isn’t enough to pay for roads, water, and sewer for this project, if the city pays for it.  So, that leaves more for the taxpayer to fund and what is that amount again?  Oh, that’s right, no one is bothering to get that information before voting on the rezoning or discussing it in any public meetings.

If the City Council votes for the zoning change, next comes the proposed development of 16 duplexes for a total of 32 units that include a long, private road (narrower at 28 feet), large 240 feet detention pond at the front along W Demeter Dr., reduced building setbacks at 30 feet to the road and other neighboring properties not matching the Krape area, and a gated community with the price tag of $200k+, $6,000 in property taxes, and HOA fees for people age 55+.  There will be no shared green space (the Freeport Club and Krape Park offers this), most or all of the mature towering trees will be cut (isn’t this why people like this area), no sidewalks or visitor parking. There is no parking on the street and there is a 2-car garage with a driveway that’s long enough for 1 1/2 average vehicles.  A laundry list of issues includes extreme density of the property and mostly paved, the costly installation of sanitary sewer, the personal cost to some of the residents on W Demeter Dr. who will be required at some point to tie into the sewer system, drainage of detention basin onto Park Blvd. (or possibly the neighbors’ properties in heavy rainfall events), increased traffic, road work and the removal of the tree line on Park Blvd. Because the data shows there is a small subset of people of this age and income group in Freeport (or migrating to Freeport), gives the possibility that the units will not all sell and this development is added to the list of unfinished developments. That makes this a RISKY endeavor – for the City, for the neighborhood, and for the Krape Park entrance.  This multi-family development just doesnít fit in with the neighborhood.  This is not a development that helps the City nor has it been proven there is any need for it.

I can write more on this to debunk any positives that the developer wants to promote but that would make this article too long.  My request for action from all of you is to contact all of the Alderman.  Let them know you don’t want the property on Park Blvd. and W. Demeter Dr. to be rezoned and you don’t want the development.  Their information is below.  Share the information and sign the petition.  The link for the petition is also below.  Please, please show up to the next City Council meeting on August 2 when the City Council is expected to vote on the rezoning of the property.

James Berberet, Alderman at Large….. 815-541-3966 jberberet@cityoffreeport.org
Eric Borneman, 1st Ward Alderperson……815-275-2545 eborneman@cityoffreeport.org
James Monroe, 2nd Ward Alderperson…..801-698-1659 jmonroe@cityoffreeport.org
Art Ross. 3rd Ward Alderperson…..815-541-5621 aross@cityoffreeport.org
Donald Parker. 4th Ward Alderperson…..815-275-1372 dparker@cityoffreeport.org
Patrick Busker. 5th Ward Alderperson…..815-990-3798 pbusker@cityoffreeport.org
Gregory Shadle, 6th Ward Alderperson…..815-232-6208 gshadle@cityoffreeport.org
Dan Misek, 7th Ward Alderperson…..815-291-5150 dmisek@cityoffreeport.org
Jodi Miller, Mayor……815-235-8200 jmiller@cityoffreeport.org
Randy Bukas, City Manager…..815-235-8206 citymgr@cityoffreeport.org

FINAL CHANCE and a MUST to be there MONDAY, AUGUST 2, 6:00 PM at City Hall, 314 W Stephenson St

Link to the Petition – SIGN and SHARE  http://chng.it/RKCgBPF9Z6

Many Young Adults Left Out of Stimulus Relief, Then and Now

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It has been seven months since the stimulus checks were first deposited into Americans’ bank accounts. Congress insists that the second round of aid is coming, but what will that mean for you? If you are a young adult, likely nothing. Many college-aged adults received nothing during the first round of stimulus checks in April. It is almost certain that young adults will go ignored, again. It is a misconception that all adults making less than $75,000 a year received a $1,200 check for pandemic assistance in April.

College-aged adults (individuals within the 18-24 demographic) who were claimed as dependents on their parents’ taxes, received nothing. Parents can claim their children on their taxes until their children reach age twenty-four, which is why so many young adults were excluded from the stimulus package. I, a part-time waitress, who had just graduated high school, lost income, and was preparing for my move to college received nothing. Not to mention the student loan I had just taken out. Along with many other college students, I thought that the stimulus check would bring support, but was left unsurprised to see that the government had ignored us. However, I was lucky; my family did not lose their jobs as so many others did.

The government perceives individuals eighteen years and older as adults; adults who can go to war and serve time in adult prisons. At age eighteen, men have to register for the draft, whether their parents claimed them on their taxes or not. Citizens have to be willing to help the government advance its ambitions in war, yet the government fails to uphold the same standard when young people need help. Apparently our needs are not adult enough to receive financial help. Thus, with this logic, the government should have given parents with adult dependents an extra $500, as the April stimulus package gave parents an extra $500 per child. 

Yet, the April stimulus package only gave an extra $500 per child to parents with children age sixteen and younger. So, what about seventeen-year olds? Nearly all seventeen-year-old kids are still in high school living with their parents, but the government did not provide financial support for their care. Parents with seventeen-year-old children did not receive an extra $500, despite that they are legally still children with financial needs. Ethan Hill, a student at Highland Community College, explained to me that he did not understand why only individuals under seventeen received aid, given that all dependents are sources of financial stress. He argued that if young adults considered as dependents could not receive the $1,200 stimulus check, their parents or guardians should have received an extra $500.

From the youth’s perspective, this is just another incidence of governmental failure. Politicians do nothing to ameliorate the soaring cost of a college education. They do nothing to stop the climate crisis. They do nothing to address income inequality. When an opening comes where the government could help many young adults, elected “representatives” do not. Julia Giuffre, a student at Highland Community College and an employee at Ichiban, explained to me that she thought it was unfair that so many young adults were excluded. Giuffre explained, “It was unfair because we don’t rely on our parents to buy us everything. Young adults lost jobs too and should be compensated.” Her sister Claire Giuffre similarly stated, “I feel like they don’t understand that some people our age have to pay for school and we don’t just get money handed to us.” Claire Giuffre, also a Highland College student and Ichiban employee, explained how Ichiban was closed for a month and that she could have benefited from some extra support. Telling of their character, however, the women acknowledged how fortunate they still were, by explaining that “[their] parents can afford for [them] not to work, but some families can’t.” It is not uncommon for older teens to financially support their family, which demonstrates another reason why young adults should not have been excluded from the stimulus package for holding a dependent status.

Despite my best research attempts, I failed to discover why young adults were largely excluded from the aid. The most common defense for excluding dependent adults was to save money, but I could not find any sources explaining how much money. So, I did the math myself and will refuse to accept such an excuse. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are 30.6 million 18-24 year olds living in the United States. The Census Bureau reports that 55% of that population still lives with their parents, totaling 16,830,000 individuals. One can assume that the majority of the 55% still living with their parents were claimed as dependents. Thus, they were unable to receive the $1,200 stimulus check. By multiplying the cost of one stimulus check by 16,830,000, the likely number of dependent 18-24 year olds in America, you will find that the government saved just over $20 billion dollars by excluding us, or 2.7% of the military budget or <1% of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package. Additionally, NPR reported that the government panned out $500 billion for corporations in the April stimulus package. From the youth’s perspective, it is ever clearer that the government cares more about the corporations than it cares for us. The money was there to help us, and we were ignored. Come the second round of stimulus checks, we likely will be again.

“Farah Tolu-Honary is a graduate of Freeport High School and now studies political science and international relations at Beloit College. Issues most important to her include climate change, income inequality, and foreign affairs.”

What’s going on with Union Dairy?

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Help wanted signs are typical sights throughout the country, and Freeport is no exception. Earlier this month, The Voice of Freeport shared a photo of a sign posted at Union Dairy. The sign read, “Sadly, due to government handouts, no one wants to work anymore. Therefore, we are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did choose to come to work today.” While the sign has since been removed, the controversy has not yet blown over. Why is that?

Last week, The Voice of Freeport shared that Union Dairy received $100,800 in PPP loans, which many other restaurants and small businesses received. Yet, the restaurant was quick to criticize individuals receiving a few extra hundred dollars in unemployment relief. It must have forgotten that it received $100,000 in “government handouts.”

It is not right for any business to whine about government handouts going to needy families, especially because they are the largest recipients of government handouts. Through tax cuts and government bailouts, businesses receive more government handouts than anyone else.

I reached out to some of the restaurant’s staff, who explained that most of Union Dairy’s employees are high school students. High school students do not even qualify for the “government handouts” that the restaurant argued were keeping people from working. Additionally, as the country has opened up for the first time in a year and a half, it is completely understandable that teenagers may feel less inclined to work summer jobs. 

The worker shortage is not about “government handouts;” it is about businesses paying their employees low wages. Employers are not required to pay tipped employees Illinois’ minimum wage of $11.25 an hour; the tipped minimum wage is $6.60. Former Union Dairy employees shared with me that they usually walked away with less than thirty dollars in tips for shifts of at least four or five hours. “Thirty dollars was considered a good night,” said one former staff member. 

In my conversations with the restaurant’s staff, I uncovered some troubling information about what it’s really like to work for the community-beloved restaurant. One employee shared with me that there are times in which he is not allowed to clock in for “an hour or two.” The staff member may be scheduled to work but may not be allowed to clock in if the restaurant is slow. He has been forced to wait until it gets busy before he was told to clock in and begin working. Other times, it may be so slow that he was sent home after waiting for an hour to start his shift. Another employee told me that she will usually have to wait thirty or forty-five minutes before clocking in or getting sent home, but there were times when she and her coworkers have waited two hours. Former staff members confirmed the same account.

One employee explained that the reason they have to wait to clock in is because the tips are pooled together and split evenly between servers and supervisors. Therefore, if there are fewer people working, each worker can take a larger proportion of the tips. If there are a lot of people working when the restaurant is slow, there will not be enough tip dollars to split between so many employees. If employees do not make enough in tips to equal minimum wage, Illinois requires employers to compensate for the remaining wages. Therefore, it is in the owner’s interest to ensure that the tips the workers make are enough to equal minimum wage. Otherwise, the deficit has to come from his pocket.

I reached out to the manager of the restaurant to comment on the policy, but have yet to hear a response. 

While workers’ rights advocates should target large corporations and their worker exploitation abuses, that does not give small businesses an excuse to exploit their staff. This article is not designed to single out or attack a local business, but rather to provide an example of a struggle that workers all around the country face. While it is absolutely true that small businesses suffered as a result of the pandemic, we cannot forget that everyday working-class Americans suffered the most.

A Closer Look at Andrew Chesney’s Voting History: Article I, Voting Accessibility

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This is the first article in a series evaluating Andrew Chesney’s voting history. In this article, I will take a look at voting accessibility legislation that Chesney voted against and how it is consistent with his failure to support legislation that helps underprivileged groups in society. My researcher also finds that Chesney has voted against legislation that protects working-class white men, as well.

Republican attacks on voting rights and their attempts to disenfranchise minorities have sparked across the country since President Joe Biden’s victory. Our own community is no exception to these blatant assaults. Illinois State Representative Andrew Chesney (R) is not only responsible for voting against expanding voting rights, but also guilty of sponsoring a voter suppression bill. 

Here is a brief history of Chesney voting against making voting more accessible. He voted against SB 2090, which expands access to voting in jails. He voted against SB 1970, which allows students to be excused for a 2-hour time period to vote, either on election day or within 15 days before. He voted against SB 1863, which expanded absentee voting for the 2020 general election. He also voted against HB 1871, which extended voting drop-boxes and curbside voting. 

This pattern is not coincidental. The Republican Party thrives on low voter turnout, especially low minority voter turnout. Young people today are the most progressive and racially diverse voting block in the country. Thus, Chesney voted against making voting more accessible to students. Because individuals more concerned about Covid tend to be Democratic voters, it is no surprise that Chesney voted against making absentee voting more accessible. 

On February 28, 2021, HB 2854 was introduced and sponsored by Andrew Chesney. While the bill contains reflections of the Trump administration’s claims to voter fraud, such as canceling dead peoples’ voter registration, it also amends the Election Code by canceling the voter registration of individuals who have not voted in two consecutive general federal elections. This would force inactive voters to go through the registration process all over again.

Chesney votes against expanding voting rights, just as he votes against protecting and expanding the rights of women and people of color. In 2019, Chesney voted against HB 3394, which requires at least one female director and one Black director to serve on corporate boards. He voted against HB 1613, which mandates police officers to keep records of race during traffic stops as a way to evaluate racial profiling. He voted against SB 1784, which requires school districts and universities to allow student-athletes to modify athletic uniforms for religious reasons (modifications include wearing a hijab, an undershirt, leggings, and other items). Despite Chesney’s support for a bill that would allow “In God We Trust” to be plastered in schools, he does not seem to be interested in protecting the rights of religious people in schools. 

Perhaps most astonishingly of all, Chesney voted against HB 834, which requires employers to pay employees equally, regardless of race and sex. The bill also prohibits employers from forbidding employees from discussing their pay and benefits with one another. Thus, the bill protects and expands the rights of white men too. Despite that the bill received bipartisan support and protects all workers, equal pay was still too radical for Andrew Chesney. While voting against legislation that helps racial minorities is consistent with Chesney’s voting patterns, why would Chesney vote against a bill that helps white workers? As the son of Steven Chesney, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Seaga Manufacturing, Andrew Chesney has financial interests in voting against employee protection laws. He has received nearly $60,000 in campaign financing from his father, so he has no reason to support legislation that protects workers over corporate executives.

Chesney’s voting patterns reflect that he does not want voting made more accessible nor does he want to protect underprivileged members of society. Equal pay, religious rights, and voting accessibility are not political issues; they have been politicized by politicians, such as Andrew Chesney, who benefit at the expense of others.

What Freeport can Learn from Savanna, Illinois

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Today is election day in Freeport, and there are many Democrats on the ballot. Despite that Freeport votes Blue in national races, local Democrats are anxious; the city has struggled to elect Democrats to local positions. I reached out to the Democratic mayor of Savanna, Chris Lain, to see how he was able to win in a community more rural and more conservative than Freeport. 

Chris Lain, an Indiana native, and Columbia College of Chicago alumnus moved to Savanna just four years before he was elected as mayor. In a town that voted for Trump by a margin of 54.77% in the 2020 election, Lain was elected by “mostly Republicans,” four years ago, and won his election with 86% of the vote. Lain explained that he “expected to win towards the end, but not by that margin.” 

Despite the conservative lean of Savanna, Lain did not sacrifice his liberal values to win his race. Instead, he focused on “shared values” and issues of “common ground.” “People want to be heard,” it “transcends Republican and Democrat,” Lain said. He explained that Savanna has an abundance of manufacturing and farming jobs, but not enough people to work them. Lain is tackling this issue by encouraging immigration, and he got the manufacturers and realtors on board. Lain will be reaching out to Congresswoman Bustos to figure out what the Biden Administration’s immigration laws will mean for Savanna and how Savanna can attract immigrants. Both Republicans and Democrats in Savanna want to attract more families to the community, immigration policy is how Lain seeks to achieve this. He believes that the way to get Republicans on board with immigration is through jobs. 

Lain explained to me that it was a challenge to run for office as a “gay, liberal Democrat in a small, rural community” but was able to win by “listening.” As a business owner, the community knew Lain, but as an outsider, he had to help people feel more comfortable with him. Lain led a grassroots campaign; he went “door-to-door” to meet with voters and built up a strong social media presence.

As Freeport Democrats struggle to compete with heavily-funded Republican campaigns, Lain explained that that “was an issue here [in Savanna] too.” “I started off with basically nothing,” he said. At the start of his campaign, Lain “invested with a good website” and “social media presence” to get his name out there. From there, he reached out to people for donations, sold merch, and accepted donations on his website. Lain used social media to hold “Topic Tuesdays” on Facebook. Citizens were allowed to submit questions and concerns every week. On Tuesday, Lain would host a Facebook Live event, or post a public statement that addressed the submissions. Sometimes, Lain would invite a guest to join his Facebook Lives to help answer questions that he felt a community member would be better equipped to explain. For example, Lain invited a realtor to discuss ways to bring families to Savanna.

The declining population is making it difficult to keep up with infrastructural costs, as there are fewer people to pay for the same amount of infrastructure. Crumbling roads, for example, are common to both Freeport and Savanna. Lain explained that Savanna conducted an “engineering street study” in which every street in town was assessed to determine which ones required repair. The study evaluated how much repairs on each street would cost, how long it would take to repair each street, how many people each street affected, and which streets would be most financially feasible to repair. Lain explained that the study concluded last year, and three roads are being worked on this year. However, Savanna is looking for outside funding sources because there are not enough people to pay for repairs. New to Savanna is a marketing director who “promotes the city and reaches out to the state” to promote tourism. The tourism industry is expected to bring in $400,000 for the city, which will be invested into infrastructure. 

Both Savanna and Freeport suffer from weak infrastructure and declining populations. Freeport should look toward our southwestern neighbor to learn how another community in the region is tackling similar issues. Freeport Democrats can use Mayor Chris Lain’s victory as a case study; by taking advantage of free resources (the internet) and focusing on shared issues, Democrats can capture Republican votes.

League of Women Voters to Host Mayoral Candidates Forum

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The League of Women Voters will be hosting a virtual Candidates’ Forum on Thursday, March 11 at 7:00 pm for Freeport’s two mayoral candidates, Ronnie J. Bush and Jodi Miller. The Forum will be live-streamed on the Leauge of Women Voters’ Facebook page. The Voice of Freeport is sponsoring the event and will also live-stream the forum on its Facebook page. For individuals not on Facebook, the event can be viewed using this link: http://www.facebook.com/LWVFreeport/live/. Other sponsors include the Rockford Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Highland Community College Leadership Institute.

The League of Women Voters and Highland Community College Leadership Institute will develop the questions. Although live questions from the audience will not be taken, individuals can submit questions prior to the Candidates’ Forum. Questions for the candidates can be emailed to the League Executive Board Member Sharon Koch at sharon68@hotmail.com. If viewers have questions for the candidates post-forum, they can be sent to the same email. The questions will be forwarded directly to the candidates who have the opportunity to reply. 

The event will be moderated by Patricia Norman, a retired educator and a coordinator of the Freeport Chapter of the NAACP, and timed by Karl Bronn. Candidates will be provided equal time to respond to questions and be given equal time for rebuttal. Dan Dick will be the technical master.
For additional information, call 815-275-2398 or email sharon68@hotmail.com.

Spotlight: Black History Month, Cassie Torrisi Interviews Jennifer Hail

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Today’s spotlight is a lady with a heart of gold. This beautiful woman is full of grace and elegance and continues to show her community the love and support it needs. I am so fortunate to have been blessed to know this kind-hearted woman, and with that, I would like to introduce you all to Mrs. Jennifer Hail.

Jennifer Hail is currently a correctional supervisor for the Stephenson County Sheriff’s Department. Along with that, Jennifer is the owner of Hailsplanning Wedding and Events and has just recently become an online boutique owner where she sells athleisure. Jennifer enjoys “singing, traveling, and most importantly being with family.”

When I asked Jennifer what Black History Month meant to her, she said, “I truly feel that it’s a time to celebrate the Black heroes that seem to be forgotten once this month passes. It saddens me that the powerful history behind Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and James Baldwin is not taught more in our schools today. I would encourage all of you, no matter what race you are, to dig deep and educate yourself further. These amazing and inspiring legends are so much more than just a month.” I could not agree with Jennnifer more, these stories are unlike any other and we need more than one month to really listen and understand how powerful their messages are.

I asked Jennifer what she wishes people who aren’t Black Americans would know or better understand. She said wished people understood that “racism is real! Many responses I’ve read, or possibly overheard in the past, [stated that] “all people are treated equally.” That is not a correct, or fair, statement. Until you personally have experienced injustice or racial tension, I don’t feel you’re in a position to make that statement.”  

The question I enjoy learning from the most is, “What steps do you think are needed to be taken to start a true shift towards equality in our nation?” Jennifer had wonderful insight, saying, “First, I would say, we are all different. Labeling an individual is just so hateful and hurtful. Learn to listen as many speak out. Moving forward, this could be a great start. Avoiding the issues doesn’t resolve the problems.”

Jennifer shared with me some common Black American stereotypes. These consist of comments such as, “You speak proper!” or “You don’t even speak black!” Jennifer responded to these stereotypes, saying, “Educate yourself.” She said that another comment Black Americans hear when they are “speaking in a higher tone or elevated voice” is, “Why do you have an attitude?” Jennifer’s takeaway is, “I’m me and I love me. Educate yourself and get to know someone before you judge their character based on their race.” 

I think there are many things we can all take away from Jennifer. Her words carry such power and wisdom. Before judging someone’s character or making a comment that you do not know enough about, educate yourself first. We have one month designated to educate ourselves, but we have a whole year to put that education to work. Thank you Jennifer for showing us what a woman of grace and dignity is.

Spotlight: Black History Month, Cassie Torrisi Interviews Katelynn McIlwain

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Today’s spotlight is a woman of many words. She is so full of knowledge and grace and I am so excited to share her words with everyone. I will keep my thoughts short and sweet and let her words do the talking, without further ado, here is Katelynn McIlwain.

Katelynn McIlwain is twenty-one years old and is currently a Mizzou Tiger. She is in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree and has goals to become an arts and culture multimedia reporter. Katelynn also played a huge role in many clubs throughout her time at Freeport High School, where I had the pleasure to meet her. I know I am not the only one who realized how much of an impactful person she was going to become.

When I asked Katelynn what Black History Month meant to her, she said, “To me, Black History Month is a time to reflect over ALL the Black people (not just Martin Luther King Jr.) who have contributed to not only this country’s history, but also the world’s history, in a way that isn’t just to inspire, but also to soberly remind others of how this country was built on the backs of Black people who were needlessly hated and oppressed. I personally think the goal of this month is in flux among Black people, and I personally believe there should be a focus toward the Black future. Where do we want to see ourselves in five to ten years? How will we measure our progress as a race, given the generations of progress we’ve been denied? What does success look like in the constant fight for anti-racism?”

I asked Katelynn what she wishes those who are not Black Americans would understand. She responded, “I think people who aren’t Black should understand that so many of our society’s assumptions about what’s ‘normal’ have been rooted in white supremacy. It doesn’t mean that every white person who has accepted these ‘normalities’ is automatically a white supremacist. But everything that is considered ‘standard,’ from hairstyles to music, has historically been determined by white people, and has since then been enforced via hegemony, even by people of color. I think it would be worth it for all of us to consider whether we believe strongly in something just because it’s all we’ve known, or because it’s actually rooted in unbiased fact. When considering things in that way, what’s ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ to us might change. I say all of that to say — stop othering. Please. Black people and people of color and not ‘the other’ to white people. Please, let us be without drawing up a measuring stick for us.”

When I asked her what steps are needed to move towards equality, she said, “I think our creative media largely influences how we perceive the real world. So, I think something we all need to consciously do is make our films, television shows, cartoons, etc. more representative of what our world actually looks like. Enough cliche *enter belligerent Black woman here,* or *enter funny Black side character* here. Let children grow up seeing that anyone can be the main character of a story, no stereotypes attached. Let Black people see themselves as heroes in their favorite fantasy films, not just thugs in the periphery of a narrative. Let Black kids dream, too.”

Katelynn was brave enough to talk about her experience with racial discrimination. She explained, “My experience with racial discrimination is one that many Black women, unfortunately, face. While I was in high school, I had a panic attack because I was feeling sick the night before a speech tournament. So, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to compete. Anyone who knows me knows how much I loved, and still love, competing in speech while I was in high school. It was practically everything to me. The thought of not being able to do it, and not being able to win points for my team, sent me into an episode. Unfortunately, it got so bad that my parents took me to the ER. Still a little hysterical, the nurse who saw me took one look at me and dismissively asked, “Are you on drugs?” I told her I wasn’t, that I was having a panic attack and was having trouble breathing. Then, she asked, “Well are you pregnant? Is that why you’re upset?”

Katelynn further stated, “Now, I don’t know if those questions are standard for someone who’s about to be injected with something to calm them down. But at the moment, they didn’t feel very helpful. And the nurse’s attitude threw me off. I did not feel cared for. I felt like the annoying Black girl that was messing up this nurse’s night. And since then, I’ve unfortunately been able to personally understand the aversion many Black women face to doctors and nurses. Historically, we’ve been made out to be dramatic and always wanting for drugs, so much so that we’ll “lie” about how much pain we’re in. Or, we’re believed to have a higher pain tolerance than white women. Whatever the myth is, it’s still hurting and killing women in our healthcare system. I’m glad that my bad encounter was only for a panic attack that usually resolves itself quickly.”

Katelynn is truly an amazing person, her words are nothing less than powerful and I am so happy I have had the opportunity to get to know her. Katelynn, thank you for being you and thank you for sharing your story.

Spotlight: Black History Month, Cassie Torrisi Interviews Jaden Johnson

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Today’s “Spotlight” is an amazing young man who has his heart and mind set on many different goals. His personality outshines and he is easily going to make a name for himself. Let me introduce you to Jaden Johnson.

Jaden Johnson is nineteen years old and is attending Illinois State University. At ISU, he is pursuing a major in psychology and running track at the D1 level. Jaden is not only pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree, he also plans to attend graduate school to become a doctor of psychology and open his own private practice. Not only is Jaden eager to learn, but he is also an amazing runner. Pre-Covid, Jaden managed to place top five in the Missouri Valley Conference and secured a spot as the seventh-fastest sixty-meter hurdler in ISU history.

I asked Jaden what Black History Month means to him. He explained, “To me, Black History Month is a chance to appreciate one of the most oppressed races in human history. It is an opportunity to shed light on not only the great Black people who have contributed and made a difference in society, but Black people as a whole. However, I feel like Black History Month is the one month of the year that black people can truly feel appreciated and somewhat “equal” after spending the other eleven months feeling unheard, under-appreciated, and afraid. So, for the month of February (even though it’s the shortest month of the year) we feel loved and respected; which I feel is well deserved.”

Asking my spotlights what they wish those who are not Black Americans would better understand is a great way to further educate ourselves. Jaden told me, “Obviously being Black isn’t temporary. So, when we go on about being mistreated and constantly reminding people that black lives matter, it’s not only for us but for future generations to come.  Our ancestors marched and protested so that we wouldn’t have to experience discrimination and it’s depressing that we still deal with it. People who aren’t Black Americans will never be able to understand what it’s truly like, as this is something that can only be understood through experience.” I think Jaden’s words are so true, and it’s so important for us to remember this. 

When asked what steps are needed to be taken in order to get closer to true equality, Jaden said, “There are countless steps that need to be taken in order to start a true shift towards equality in our nation. I believe that systemic racism is one of the most predominant forms of racism that we experience today. Whether it’s being overlooked on a job application or making less money in the same position as our white counterparts, systemic racism seems to be the biggest factor in setting us back in life. However, I feel like my generation has the power to set a change in motion. We need to be willing to have difficult conversations and white people need to hold each other accountable when they see acts of racism being displayed. There are obviously many other things that can happen as well but this is definitely a start!”

I credit my spotlights who are comfortable enough to talk about their experiences with racial discrimination. Jaden shared, “A time that I experienced racial discrimination was after I delivered my high school graduation speech. Within a few days of me speaking at graduation, I received texts and had conversations with white students and parents saying things like, ‘Wow I’m so surprised at how well you did!’ or ‘I didn’t know you could speak like that!’ or “You got valedictorian over (blank), wow, how’d you manage to pull that off?’ Some of you may not see this as a problem, but to me, it felt like they didn’t think I was capable of delivering a speech in the manner that I did. It also made me feel like I wasn’t “supposed” to beat out the other candidates.” I was there for that speech and it was truly extraordinary.

Jaden is an exceptional young man; his words ring so true and powerful. I cannot wait to see Jaden open up his own private practice, and continue breaking records for ISU’s track team. He is going places, and there is no denying it!

Spotlight: Black History Month, Cassie Torrisi Interviews Matthew Chavers

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Today’s spotlight is a guy like no other. He is truly one of a kind and I have never been so thankful that our paths have crossed. From getting to know him on a personal level, I have a different perspective on who he is. I cannot begin to describe how amazing he is and what amazing things he will do with his life. I am so pleased to introduce to you all Matthew Chavers III.

Matthew Chavers III is nineteen years old and is a freshman at Saint Xavier University. Matthew currently plays baseball for SXU and will be playing football for them in the fall. However, he isn’t just good at sports; he is committed to putting his education first and making it a priority. In high school, Matthew continuously pushed himself and made the high honor roll. During his first semester of college, Matthew made the Dean’s List.

When I asked Matthew what Black History Month meant to him he said, “Black History Month, to me, has always sort of been an interesting month. It is usually the only time I find out history about African Americans, which is exciting but also disappointing. More than not, the things I learn come from social media and not so much from anything I’ve learned in high school or in my classes now.”

I asked Matthew what he wished people who aren’t Black Americans would know or understand. Matt had an amazing response saying,  “I personally want people of other races to understand that all we want in life is to be treated like human beings. Racism is still alive in America. Yes, we have come so far but there is still a way to go. We are tired of being prejudged, discriminated, and profiled because of something we inevitably have no control over, the color of our skin.”

I asked Matthew what steps he thinks are needed in order to start a true shift towards equality in our nation. Matthew’s response was a little different from those whom I have spoken with already; he said, “I think that racism needs to be defined and it may sound silly but I think that racism should be illegal and should be a criminal act that can result in a fine or jail time. I feel that with freedom of speech and laws that protect property it is too easy for people to just continue to discriminate and be racist in certain ways.”

Racial discrimination is something that we have come so far on, but we have SO SO far to go. I asked Matthew if he felt comfortable discussing racial discrimination, as I, unfortunately, know all too well what he has experienced. Matthew explained, “I have experienced many forms of racial discrimination throughout my life. Today, as I have dreads, people assume I am in a gang, I have committed a crime, or I look like someone who has committed a crime. I have been told, ‘no way your name is Matthew, you’re black.’ A substitute teacher assumed I was in the wrong class in orchestra and said I stole the violin that I was renting from the school. When I tell people I play baseball they automatically assume I play outfield because ‘black people are faster.’ Also, people were surprised that I graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA and that I made the Dean’s List with a 4.0… because ‘they didn’t think I was smart.’” If anyone has ever met Matthew they would know he is far from the stereotypes; he is one of the most educated, kind hearted people that I know!

With that being said, I am so proud of the man Matthew is becoming; he is like a brother to me and I cannot wait to see where his future will take him. Anyone that has met Matthew knows that his smile is nothing short of contagious and his attitude will always brighten up a room. Thanks for everything Matt and here’s to the future!