My Story: Year of the Trump

The longer someone has been on the planet, the more difficult it becomes when asked, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” Well, I haven’t been a snake charmer in India yet. But a friend of mine, who actually was for a short time, once told me, “One never knows what they will end up doing next.”Little did I suspect the path that Donald Trump’s election would lead me down. All all that I knew was that I had to do something – for my children’s, and everyone else’s children’s future. This is the story of how I ended up running for State Central Committeeman in the 14th Congressional District.Right after the election, I started by volunteering with Democratic Party of McHenry County. I had helped my district chair with getting the vote out for the township elections.

For a few months, up until mid summer, I had thought about running for county board and later, possibly even for state representative. But as time went by, I came to the realization that I was really not the legislative type. Even though I am a lifelong progressive Democrat, I have always been more of an activist/organizer. I began working toward a better planet in my teen years by getting involved in civil rights, the Vietnam War protests, and the ecology movement. The first Earth Day was in 1970. The quest for alternative energy went mainstream. Yes, even back then, brought on by the 1973 oil crisis.

Medicare for All

By last summer, I was far more involved in the Our Revolution and Indivisible efforts.

I have been a single payer advocate long before Bernie popularized it with the public. But I believe that with our dysfunctional Congress and Presidency, I believe the healthcare issue will, at least initially fall on the states. But for single payer (Medicare for All) to succeed, it has to gain more popular support. So last June, several members of the McHenry County Progressives and I decided to advocate for ‘Medicare for All’ by entering a float in the Harvard Milk Days Parade.

It was our first parade. Going into to it, no one know what what kind of reception we would get. Harvard is probably the most conservative part of McHenry County. Totally unexpected, we received a far more positive reception from the parade watchers than any of us could have imagined. We got lots of cheers and thumbs up. At one point, one of the parade watchers got up and started marching with us. He wanted to hold up my sign. I gave it to him and he held it up to cheers from the crowd. There were a few Trumpers. But for the most part, it appeared that we had latched onto an issue that crossed the partisan divide. Energized by our success, Medicare for All – Northern Illinois (m4ani) was born the following day.

Soon after, we became both an Our Revolution and an Indivisible group. M4ani is also on Illinois Single Payer Coalition’s list of Organizations Supporting Single-Payer Healthcare.

Our next Medicare For All – Northern Illinois parade was the Fiesta Days Parade in McHenry, IL.

McHenry Fiesta Days Parade

Two  identical banners were hand drawn for our float in the McHenry Fiesta Days parade. We could have easily had them made in any quick print place. Instead, we chose to hand drawn to be genuine, like the banners that we drew on old bed sheets back in the 70s. Each banner took several hours to draw.

Medicare 4 All Northern Illinois Banner

About five minutes into the parade, it began to rain. Shortly after, the rain turned into some good sized hail. Some of the entries abandoned the parade. Though we were totally soaked, our spirits were not. We finished the parade. Both banners survived the hailstorm without any damage.

As we neared the end of the parade route, the rain stopped. After parade ended, the end of the, all of us who walked in the parade, including Jim Walz, candidate for Illinois 14th Congressional District, decided to sign both banners as a remembrance of the event. No sooner had the last person signed the banners, it began to pour again.

Then we thought, “Why just have those walking in the parade sign the banners? Let’s let everyone who supports Medicare for All sign one of the banners.” Since then, the Medicare for All Banners have taken in a life of their own. They have been at every event that we have participated in.

  • McHenry Fiesta Days Parade – McHenry, IL
  • Fox Valley Action for Justice Summer Picnic – Geneva, IL
  • Million March for Medicare – Chicago
  • Chicago Rally: Our Lives on the Line! – Hosted by Women’s March – Illinois
  • Medicare For All Healthcare Forum and March – Rockford, IL
  • Sycamore Pumpkin Fest Parade – Sycamore, IL

The symbolic significance of the banners became clear at Chicago Rally: Our Lives on the Line! hosted by Women’s March Illinois.

Everywhere the banners went, when people saw all of the signatures, they also wanted to sign. The signing not only represented affirmation of the support for “Medicare for All” but it also represented true engagement.

The enthusiasm for Medicare for All is unmistakable.
I was taking pictures of people signing our banner at the Chicago Rally: “Our Lives on the Line!” hosted by Women’s March – Illinois. What I didn’t realize, until I began uploading pictures, is that I had accidentally switched to video mode on some shots. But I am glad that I did. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then surely a video is worth 10,000.

From “blue” Chicago to ruby “red” Harvard, our message was resonating. Even though we would only hand flyers to people who reached out for them, we always seemed to run out. Pre-existing conditions and the need for affordable healthcare knows no political party. The fear of Trumpcare appeared to open far more minds than I would have expected to the idea of Medicare for All.

In being out there on the streets advocating for Medicare for All, I have met hundreds of people of all ages, demographics and political persuasions. Alliances were formed with progressive and activist groups. We also met a number of county, state, and congressional level candidates that personally supported Medicare for All at various events and became involved with their campaigns.

My Story: Trading my Marching Boots for Running Shoes

One of the biggest and most famous events in northern Illinois is the annual Sycamore Pumpkin Fest and its Parade, held at the end of every October since 1962. An estimated 100,000 people turn out from northern Illinois, the Midwest, and locations all over United States for the carnival and parade. You could not ask for a more ideal venue to spread a message to a very large segment of the general public.

But unlike most of the parades that we have taken part in, the Sycamore Pumpkin Fest Parade has some pretty restrictive rules. For an advocacy group like Medicare for All Northern Illinois, the most challenging was Rule #1...

How do we broadcast our message without handouts?

The “Parade of Countries with Universal Healthcare“, a parade within a parade.

The theme for the 2017 Sycamore Pumpkin Festival is “Pumpkins Across the Decades.” It just so happens the universal healthcare was adopted by the different countries in different years, beginning with Norway in 1912. How do we turn that into a parade float? It came to us…

“We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t
guarantee health care to all people as a right.”

– Bernie Sanders on Sunday, June 28th, 2015 on ABC’s “This Week”

So we thought, “Let’s pull 32 wagons, each representing a country with universal healthcare, in formation more or less in order of the year of adoption. The wagons and pumpkins in each would be decorated to represent a country. Then, alone at the tail end, the USA pumpkin. The one major country that has yet to adopt universal health care, with a Rosie the Riveter “Yes we can!” theme.

Unlike most parades, Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Parade is a juried parade. So, we might as well go for a trophy.

Talk about an ambitious plan! Lot’s of wagons. Lot’s of Pumpkins.

So the call to join us went out to all the Indivisible and Our Revolution groups in our area. We also invited candidates for office that had Medicare for All in their platform. The beauty of our concept was that it split up our entry into simple manageable components, each that could be completed no matter where the participants were located.

Once the planning started, ideas began to flow in. Instead of wagons, some countries changed to a real doggie in a doggie stroller, a pumpkin in Roosevelt wheelchair, a pumpkin on a sled on a furniture dolly, and of finally, life size Pumpkin Dalek.

October 29, 2017, was an amazing day. A bright sunny autumn day. We took our Medicare for All message to an estimated 50,000 people at the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Parade. I day I will never Forget.

Sycamore Pumpkinfest Parade

Something unexpected happened about halfway through the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival Parade. The front wheel on “Pumpkin Dalek hit a pothole in the street, took a spill, and lost his head. The parade goers reacted. The cop nearby came over and told us “Pumpkin Dalek” had to get out of the parade. Well “Pumpkin Dalek” wasn’t about to take this laying down. His head didn’t explode. He got up, got his head back on, and finished the parade. I think back on this and smile. I am pretty sure that in most of the countries that we represented, there were setbacks on the path to universal healthcare, but they got there.

Our entry won the trophy for 3rd place. I later read that the 1st place winner, a the “Back to the Future” theme float, took a team made up of people from four companies two months and who knows how much money to put together. So my thought is that 3rd place is not too bad for a rag tag bunch of activists and politicians, having probably spent less than $1000 collectively. To me, this is proof that genuine grass roots efforts by ordinary people can compete with big money.

“Parade of Countries with Universal Healthcare” was a show of unity as a number of groups and candidates came together to advocate for a cause. We did it! All of us together!

At next year’s Pumpkin Fest Parade, we are going to win the first place trophy. Then, two weeks later, election day 2018, we are going to win again As Rosie the Riveter said, “We Can Do It!”

Well, the more I though about next years parade, the more I kept saying to myself, “We really have to do this.” I immediately started recruiting for next year. I am already looking for other events once it gets warm.

In mid-November, it occurred to me the the position of State Central Committeeman is a perfect fit for what I am good at and what I like to do. So I decided to go for it.