A Great Loss

I was saddened and angered to see that Anthony Clark has been removed from the ballot for Oak Park Village Trustee. The residency challenge brought against his candidacy may have technically been within the letter of the law, but was very far from the spirit of it; both the challenge and the ruling knocking him off the ballot, in my opinion, fundamentally violate the actual goals of what election residency law was designed to support.

Clark is a resident; he has been an integral part of this community. He lives, works, and is incredibly active in community service here. In 2017, he was named a Villager of the Year. Clark would have been a powerful and needed voice on the Village Board.

There are a lot of inside politics at play here, which I honestly don’t have the energy to explain to out-of-towners — locals, there are several current threads on Oak Park Residents and other community forums that can catch you up on the specifics.

But I want to say this. A few days ago, I attended a Village trustee candidate forum with three Black candidates: Anthony Clark, Chibuike Enyia, and Juanta Bennett Griffin. They spoke about their vision for Oak Park and about why they wanted to run for Village trustee.

Listening to them, I realized once again that I was glad I had decided not to run for Village trustee. I realized that it was more important that their voices – their Black voices – be heard at the board level. They said many things in that meeting that spoke to me, that moved me, but there’s one aspect in particular that I want to bring out, something that wasn’t clear to me before, though it should have been.

All of them talked, often with great passion and emotion, about Oak Park as a dream of safety. Which startled me. Safety wasn’t actually what my family was dreaming of when we moved here; we had been safe living in the city, we had been safe living all over the country previously.

I’m brown (South Asian) and my husband is white; our children are mixed race. We came to Oak Park looking for a diverse place, somewhere we could raise our children and have them not stand out in a sea of whiteness. (I was the only South Asian child at my very white elementary school. At times, that wasn’t easy.) There are other towns nearby that have large South Asian populations, but they lack in general ethnic diversity compared to Oak Park.

Those places also tend to be overall wealthier, and one of the things I personally love about Oak Park is its historic commitment to mixed income housing. It’s incredibly important that we have great schools here, and that the single mom with two kids in a two-bedroom apartment gets to send her kids to the same terrific school that the family in the 4000 sq. ft. Victorian or Frank Lloyd Wright home attends.

And as a bisexual woman who has dated women in the past, and who had no idea what sexual orientation her children would eventually reveal, it was very important to live in a queer-friendly place, where my daughter wouldn’t face stigma if she ended up with a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend. Oak Park is known to be welcoming on that front, far more so than most suburbs.

All of these are important. It is good to dream of ethnic diversity, of equitable schools, of a level playing field for all our children, for the ability to be open about who you are and whom you love.

But those Black candidates – they talked about safety. And by safety, they meant that they had come from, or they had friends and family in, places that were very much not safe. Places not so many blocks away from Oak Park that suffered from so much endemic violence (exacerbated by generations of poverty) that parents were frightened for their children’s walk to school.

When their parents fought and scrabbled to somehow manage to move to Oak Park, that’s what they were fighting for — the chance for their children to grow up safe. To grow up at all.

So when Chibuike and Juanta and Anthony talk about affordability of Oak Park, they’re not talking about whether someone can afford a house in Oak Park AND a lake house in Wisconsin.

They’re talking about whether we can keep rents low enough (almost fifty percent of Oak Parkers live in mixed income housing) so that people with a dream of raising their kids somewhere that is diverse, and welcoming, and safe, have a chance of making that dream happen. No parent should have to worry about their child being shot as he walks to school. Or being shot IN school. Never.

It’s easy for me to get distracted sometimes by all the myriad smaller issues that arise — the Village board faces constant complaints about parking, for just one example. Having candidates like these three, having people like them actually elected to the board, helps keep our eyes on the bigger picture, the big problems that we HAVE to solve.

It is a great loss, not having Anthony Clark on the ticket, and I am angry that Oak Parkers have had their chance to vote for him taken away.

Wednesday Journal report on the ruling: https://www.oakpark.com/…/Anthony-Clark-off-Oak…/…

Represent Oak Park coalition page: https://www.facebook.com/RepresentOP/

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