Is Evanston, IL ready for real Democracy? FIRST STEP — Peer-to-peer collaboration

Posted December 15, 2018

On Monday night, Dec. 10, 2018, the Evanston City Council voted 9-0 Monday night to honor the citizens’ referendum to save Harley Clarke by taking imminent demolition off the table. They did this by voting down an appeal of the Preservation Commission’s unanimous rejection of a certificate to demolish.

Watching the proceedings via livestream TV, I came away with a hopeful sense that voters and City officials may be ready for real democracy, not only on the issue of Harley Clarke but on other City decisions. Real democracy is 100% participatory on all decisions. For a variety of reasons, we are not there yet.  But a first step to real democracy would be the creation of a more peer-to-peer collegiality between and among voters and officials.

If meaningful collaboration is going to take place, we will need to adopt and implement some basic rules and foundational principles for this new commitment. Here’s a short list of commitments that would go a long way in creating and maintaining a more collaborative atmosphere among Evanston adults. I welcome other suggestions to add to this list (without making it overly long).

1. Suggestions for Evanston voters
It would be good if CITY VOTERS could commit to:
— not bothering officials at their homes (e.g., no placing of signs, no removal of signs)
— not bothering officials on the street, in stores, etc.—in non-official venues
— not lecturing officials during official proceedings

2. Suggestions for Evanston city officials
It would be good if CITY OFFICIALS could commit to:
— not referring to themselves as “those of us on the dais”
— not addressing citizens by first name during official proceedings, such as citizen comment
— not lecturing citizens “from the dais” or during any official proceedings
— not making private deals with rich and/or powerful people over, above, and behind public process
— not naming public projects with a person’s name (e.g., the Mayor’s XXX, Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s XXX)

3. Suggestions for Evanston voters + officials 
It would be good if voters and officials both recognize that
— The Harley Clarke referendum vote (80% of votes in favor of “saving” Harley Clarke) was not JUST about a building. It was also about good government, due process, transparency, and rich people having too much access to the decision-making table. I know this for a fact because that’s why I voted for the referendum—to pull the emergency brake on the fast-tracking of a behind-the-scenes proposal bought-and-paid for by a small group of people—even though I, too, was suffering from Harley fatigue.
See October 2018 blog: Evanston, Illinois: Bad Public Process at the Local Level — Harley Clarke

— In future proceedings, on Harley Clarke and other city matters, the Save Harley Clarke organization (now Friends of Harley Clarke ?) may or may not speak for everyone who voted “yes” on the referendum.

— Most of our 21st century difficulties stem from outdated governmental documents, structures, and processes, including the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and local codes. These documents were written from a limited perspective–primarily white, male, European, Christian, human—without any major and inclusive updating since their original adoption. Collaboration cannot be about simply changing personnel (“vote them out of office” or “we don’t have time for everyone’s input”). It must address the deeper issues.

4. What does real collaboration look like?
Perhaps a first set of questions to ask ourselves would be:
–How do our documents, structures, and processes inhibit collaboration?
–Are there any places where they truly promote or allow collaboration?

a. Resources for Question #1: How do our documents, etc., inhibit collaboration?
What is Democracy? new documentary by Astra Taylor.
Screening in Chicago: Feb. 15-21, 2019.
Trailer, etc., at Zeitgeist Films

–The Great Law of Peace (the Iroquois Constitution)
Short blog with details and resources:
In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start Here: The Great Law of Peace

b. Resources for Question #2:
Collaborative models that are currently promoted or currently allowed under our current government structures
–Co-operatives of all kinds
–Participatory budgeting
–Public banks (state, county, municipal)
–Food-and-farm policy councils (FPCs)
–Funded sovereignty (a basic income for civic engagement)
–Constitutional conventions
–Action plans: climate, food-and-farm, etc.
–Restorative justice
–Hands-on learning in public education (early childhood, K-12, college)
–Many others….


EVANSTON, ILLINOIS: Bad public process at the local level — Harley Clarke

Harley Clarke mansion as public lakefront asset:  Preserve or demolish
Posted October 14, 2018


How about a good old-fashioned grassroots community meeting?
This is a proposal originally made on:
— June 6, 2018: to Design Evanston, Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens (ELHG), Evanston Lighthouse Dunes (ELD). I believe that DE submitted my proposal as part of their official communication from DE members and supporters to Evanston’s City Council.
— July 22, 2018: petition to place an advisory referendum on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot for saving Harley Clarke.  My comment on the petition was:  “Private conversations about public business are the most insidiously undemocratic traditions we have, guaranteed to create distrust, division, and suspicion. They are also almost 100% totally unnecessary. My recommendation is for Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens co-host a community meeting with Evanston Lighthouse Dunes to (a) pool resources (b) pool supporters, and (c) create a 100% public process for making a decision on the Harley Clarke Mansion. Such a meeting and process should be organized by citizens, NOT the City.”
— July 28, 2018:  to a leader of Save the Harley Clarke (SHC)
— Sept. 24, 2018: to two individuals doing fundraising for ELD


The thing that has disturbed me most about this whole process is the behavior by the City. Specifically,
— in numerous ways, the City has acted in bad faith
— private discussions about public business are anathema to good public process. I include here any early discussions that the City may have had with ELHG folks. Private discussions as a way of doing public business has got to stop, from all sides on all issues. As “City” I include both city staff and elected officials. All these private conversations waste public time, especially when such conversations eventually cause the need for damage control (which so many City decisions have done in recent years).


July 23, 2018 – Citizen comment at Evanston City Council meeting
I wish to highlight Robyn’s comment, which her staff member delivered during citizen comment on Monday (July 23) as a very positive development in the fight to save Harley Clarke and to have a better public process.

First, our State and U.S. legislators do not usually get publicly involved in issues before the City Council. That alone was noticeable Monday night.

Second, the content of Robyn’s comment was very positive for preserving the Harley Clarke through some sort of collaboration with the State of Illinois (as was the original suggestion that started us down this road). Obviously she made it because she thinks J.B. Pritzker will win in the November election and because his administration will be more amenable to funding projects like the one originally proposed (or something similar). I believe she would not have made this comment without having talked to Pritzker first.

Robyn’s comment should be printed out, copied, broadcast everywhere during the next few months — at every hearing, at every meeting, in every communication. I think it could make the difference in this process and the difference in funding any action that is approved by the residents of Evanston.

October 4, 2018:  Evanston Patch published Rep. Gabel’s July 23 letter, along with a Sept. 17, 2018 letter from State Rep. Laura Fine.  The full article by Jonah Meadows is here:
State Partnership could Spare Harley Clarke Mansion: State Reps


3. PROPOSAL: COMMUNITY MEETING OPEN TO ALL  — yes, back to square #1
I reiterate my willingness to help plan and promote a community meeting sponsored by ELHG, ELD, Save Harley Clarke, and/or any neutral body (not the City) at any time during this process. Citizens talking to each other will be much more productive than trying to work with our outdated government structures and processes.

The specifics of such a meeting would be:
— The City would not be the host or organizer.
— City officials might not even be invited to be present in their official capacity. (That would be up to the organizers.)
— All ideas would be on the table, including the original suggestion for Harley Clarke — a State of Illinois Great Lakes educational and scientific center.
— So far as I can tell, there are now THREE grassroots groups involved in Harley Clarke: ELHG, ELD, Save Harley Clarke (the group who created the referendum petition).