Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Helen Wins. Uptown, Can We Talk?

So... Helen Shiller wins an election that had 11,282 aldermanic votes cast by a margin of 688 votes.* Am I elated? Well, I sure was once the results became clear. But -- still up eighteen hours after this day started, I'm tired, relieved at the election's outcome. And there is another emotion as well. Before I get to it, though, let me tell a sort of story of the day which might hint where I'm going. If you want to skip the story, just jump to the heading "So What?"

Two Yuppies or Two Human Beings?

I worked with two guys -- well, maybe against them for moments here and there -- in my role as a poll watcher. They were poll watching, too, but for Shiller's opponent, James Cappleman. Both were young lawyers -- one a divorce lawyer, the other one a corporate lawyer. The second seemed very unlike the cliche corporate lawyer, wryly telling of a life where he seemed a gopher for his superiors, working ridiculous hours, aware of the potential futility of spending a lifetime working for giant multinationals.... in short a person I found self-reflective and likable. (I was glad, I admit, I wasn't living his life.) He wasn't from our ward, had landed the poll watcher role as part of his assigned work, and seemed to really enjoy the experience.

The first guy is a near neighbor to me, living within easy walking distance. He did use the catch-phrase often used disparagingly by many Cappleman folks and Cappleman himself -- "blighted" -- to describe parts of our immediate neighborhood. But before I was able to go too far down that "I hate yuppie cliches" road, I had to admit he probably wasn't aware that the term was a catch phrase, and an offensive one. He also talked about his law practice. And the more he talked, the more it made him human. How does a guy stand as both observer and participant while a couple legally finishes off what had once been such a sure and new thing? And -- as further rebuke to the line of reasoning in my head -- we talked over what divorce is. Somehow I ended up telling him a fair bit about my own first marriage's sad ending. We all cried... no no, that last bit did not happen. We'd have needed Oprah. Anyway...

That didn't mean there weren't some rough spots between us. The most awkward came up when it became apparent I had around 12 or so names he was unaware of on the voting roles. That wasn't a surprise, as I'd helped register them, then discovered they'd someone been bounced by the election board. Things had been fixed with some eleventh hour scurrying around and making phone calls and... well, the upshot was I gave a copy of some documents from the election board to the Judges at our poll; my neighbor / election opponent now wanted a copy of this list.

Why wouldn't I just give it to him?

Ah. Remember, this election is a repetition for me of past elections going back to Helen's first one in 1987. Every election thereafter, her opponents (and it was always a new face) came after us with all sorts of ideas, ideas that always seemed to involve removing from some or all the right to vote. One year it was for a poll watcher to stand up every time our address was announced and yell, "Challenge!" (I was an election judge myself that year, but didn't know I could have thrown him out summarily without appeal -- pretty cool power, but only if you use it!) Other years we had even judges that got bizarre. One suddenly snapped at the end of the election day, "These numbers do not add up! We're going to throw all these votes out!" (Luckily, I was a judge that year, too -- and told her I'd physically hold her down if she even made one move to do such a thing.) Various other forms of harassment had been used against both our building's residents and the residents of a nearby half-way house called The Grassmere (not sure on that spelling). These folks are often mentally and / or physically challenged, and easily cowed by people yelling at them, questioning them in a hostile tone, and generally showing disrespect.

But these two lawyers... could I trust them not to do this to my new voters? I decided I would not share the names with them, since they could always challenge the votes after the election (which were done on so-called "provisional" ballots anyway) if they really thought I'd done something wrong. I wanted to avoid voters being hassled -- my least favorite thing as any sort of election official. By the end of the evening, I was mostly convinced I could have shared the names... only mostly, though. Sigh...

I even talked a little with them about the awkwardness of it, the friendly banter and even serious discussions we'd had all day about my living in an intentional community (and all that entailed), yet our respective understanding that we were, after all, pitted against one another in working toward different ends. As it turned out, though, I *think* they would not have attempted to stop people from voting unless that person were clearly committing an illegal act. I for myself could say with good conscience that the most important thing to me during an election day's voting is make sure everyone and anyone who has even the most tenuous legal claim on a ballot be given it. I myself had, as an election judge, helped disabled voters asking for assistance vote for a candidate opposite to the one I hoped would win. In fact, it was yet another of our infamous Shiller vs. Whomever elections....

But my divorce lawyer neighbor turned to me, and offered me his tally on how our own Jesus People building had done. "You had nearly a 100% turnout!" he exclaimed. "That is really impressive." And I sensed from him that same sense I had... how to jump the Uptown Chasm, the perception gap that allows so much hostility to simmer? Could we find a new way...?

Enough of the stories, though, as it is now nearly 2 am and in four hours I'll have been up for 24 hours!

So WHAT?

We slowly gathered up our "totals" tapes (print-outs of the day's end results) and said good-bye.

And as I walked up to my room and after an hour or so heard that Helen had won, I found myself thinking about my neighbor. Was he bummed? Was he angry? Did he feel he'd invested his life in Uptown, too, but was stuck with a vision foreign to that which he desired to see?

I know I have the strongest feelings about this neighborhood, especially about making sure that with all the development and condo construction, the poor will not be neglected and left out of the picture. I also know that if I sat down with my lawyer neighbor and tried talking from that starting point, the conversation would quickly mire up to the hubs.

Here's the question. Can we in Uptown, regardless of who we back (and even more important what issues we believe most pressing and urgent for our area), determine to start treating one another more like human beings? That is, to stick to our guns on issues while also going out of the way to speak respectfully to one another and try to find some positive common ground to build one community instead of two with?

We who look across the divide from the poorer side tend to be afraid of how quickly we are left out, forgotten, and even "designed away" by the massive development which has been part of Uptown for the past few years and even longer. Sometimes we let that fear drive us into seeing in every upward young professional "the enemy." That is not only morally wrong, it is also strategically dumb.

Have I done this in the past. Oh, yes. I am trying to reform. What I'm hoping is that perhaps those who backed James Cappelman might go back and cool-like re-read what they or friends of theirs posted on sites such as whatthehelen.com [removed in toto as of Feb. 28!] and buenaparkneighbors message board (go to the "general" posting area for the most, uh, "lively" posts). I've long known that a computer keyboard brings out the worst in a writer. Every emotion we have comes out of the keys amplified many times over, and I wonder if some of that rhetoric may strike even its authors that way in retrospect.

I can't claim -- and never have claimed -- to have one iota of authority over what anyone else does in Uptown. But I would like to make a modest proposal...

Can any of us who are interested in seeing one another as human beings agree to start a dialogue together? The idea won't be to convince each other of something, but rather to simply get to know one another to a degree we currently do not.

If you are interested, please post a comment here. Add your ideas to my admittedly primitive beginning (though, when I wake up sometime next week, I actually do have more to post on this).

One last thing... I hope none of you go to Lincoln Park. I hope you stay here and help birth something that is the best all of us have to offer one another... listening... seeing... acknowledging another's human reality...

Thanks for listening. I'm going to bed now, before I make myself sick from no sleep.

* [March 3 update: Election totals are finally *all* in and Helen's margin of victory has been changed to reflect that fact. Edited Feb 28 to reflect newer vote totals, which are still apparently incomplete due to one precinct having some sort of ballot counting problem. That precinct won't affect the totals much. Also edited to note whatthehelen's apparent removal from the web.]

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can we talk? Not bloody likely. I can't accept your little faux-Christian olive branch, because it comes heavily laced with condescention (or perhaps you don't realize this?)

For the vast majority of Cappleman supporters, this election was not about property values, and not about the haves and the have-nots. You do a great disservice to half of Uptown by continuing to frame it in such a way. This election was about an incumbent politition with a long documented track record of unethical acts, polarizing behavior, deception, and outright lies. This election was about half of Uptown's residents fighting to get a voice in their own community, whether they succeeded or not. Many of Cappleman's supporters have lived in this Ward longer than you or JPUSA have been around, and many of them don't have a guaranteed roof over their heads like JPUSA members. A few of them (including me) can only scoff at your 24 hours without sleep, because they regularly go 30+ hours without sleep in order to be able to meet deadlines and pay the bills.

This election was also about a large group of people who were convinced--in spite of much evidence to the contrary--that Cappleman and his supporters were waging a war against the poor. So convinced were they, in fact, that they were willing to turn a blind eye to this Alderman's unethical and immoral behavior, while simultaneously professing to hold the moral highground.

Near 100% turnout? I believe it, but that does not impress me--not when that 100% voted in a solid bloc for a single candidate, and continues to do so election after election. That is not impressive, that is either brainwashed or coerced, take your pick.

I just bought a used copy of Recovering from Churches that Abuse. I'm going to spend the day reading quietly and not thinking about the next four years of Helen. Tomorrow, I will continue working to make Uptown a better place for everyone--in spite of Helen Shiller and JPUSA.

Jon Trott said...

Hmm. So you'd rather continue calling me (and JPUSA) a cultist / cult, our bloc vote for Helen "either brainwashed or coerced," and the majority of Uptown overall who voted for Helen "willing to turn a blind eye to this Alderman's unethical and immoral behavior"?

Are you not interested in trying to see one another as more than distorted cartoon versions of human beings? I so wish you were, but it is of course your call.

Re the book you referenced, it is a purported sociological book which was roundly condemned by the leading sociologists in the study of religion as having used terrible methodology on every level. The book found condemnation among both Christian and mainstream sociologists, including those making up the Communal Studies Association. Not much more to say on that.

That same "depersonalizing" through assassination of the other's moral, ethical, and conceptual frameworks will only make the Uptown chasm grow.

I could argue with you re Cappleman's stance on the poor -- from personal knowledge. But I will not do so, because that will only take me away from this topic, which is not rehashing the election but rather bridge-building.

I do thank you for the dialog.

Jon

Anonymous said...

I did not call JPUSA a cult, those were your words. I said any one group of people that votes as a bloc is doing so because they are not thinking for themselves, either because they are brainwashed or feel pressured to follow the flock. Informed voters do not ever vote that uniformly--whether they are Cappleman supporters, Shiller supporters, or Bush supporters. I suppose I can give you "uninformed" as a third option, but I was folding that under the "brainwashed" category. I view all uninformed voters (and there are many, on both sides) as brainwashed by default, because their vote is based on hearsay.

I am all for dialog, but you are not offering a true dialog. Assassination of the other's moral, ethical, and conceptual frameworks is exactly what you engage in, despite all your talk of bridge building. If you were truly interested in bridge building, you should have laid the first stones during the election, not after it. Anyone can boast about building bridges, but that doesn't mean they've actually built any.

I would be interested in your "personal knowledge" of Cappleman's stance on the poor, but you're not interested in that dialog, nor that of Shiller's moral and ethical lapses, apparently.

Regarding Recovering from Churches that Abuse, I don't see any evidence that its methodology is universally condemned, or even condemned by the majority. It appears that JPUSA (and you personally) engaged in damage control upon hearing of the book, and had some moderate success in finding dissenting opionions. I'm willing to accept the book tells only one side of the story, but it's a side I'm interested in hearing.

Jon Trott said...

anonymous, you write:

"I did not call JPUSA a cult, those were your words."

But you did write in your first post that JPUSA's bloc vote for Helen

"is either brainwashed or coerced, take your pick."

Now that doesn't use the 'c' word, but it certainly is the very definition of the 'c' word... which we of course find offensive and demeaning. I'm hoping such rhetoric can be avoided in the future, that's all. Re your own explanation of "brainwashing," it is in fact a pseudo-scientific catch all, and probably not useful when attempting dialog... esp. when used of the person or persons you're attempting dialog with.

And yes, a group who's local role has very, very much to do with serving the homeless through our Cornerstone Community Outreach shelters, would indeed vote as a bloc if one of the candidates had publicly disdained and belittled their work. That might generate a fairly uniform response. I'm not saying that to be inflammatory at all, as -- again -- I'm trying *not* to go after James Cappleman. That chapter is over. Let's try to move on?

Regarding what you "see" as evidence, I must gently suggest that we all tend to see what we want to see. All I was doing, in the case of the book you mentioned, was to point out the book does not have sociological credibility, and that you will be *very* hard pressed to find a single sociologist who would stand behind it as good sociological method. I can easily name a dozen.

But you see, we're still in the same cul de sac. We haven't yet started to try to go behind these word pictures which bring us both comfort and easy indignation. We haven't yet met "face to face" in any meaningful sense of that term.

So again... I'm wondering if anyone is interested in a project where Uptown "yuppies" meet Uptown "Jesus Freaks" or "Shilleristas" or / poorer folks to demythologize one another as being purely evil.

Who knows? It might be fun.

Anonymous said...

It is incumbent upon the incumbent and her supporters to offer a means of cooperation after an election. Sadly, that opportunity was already damaged shortly after the election.

Shiller's daughter-in-law's shameful display last night spoke volumes to me. They won. Fine. Any sprit of cooperation though? Will over 5000 voters have a voice with our sitting alderman? It seems no, just an "in-your-face" rebute by family members.

Since we do not agree with her on matters, we simply are tuned out. That is how it has been and sadly that is how it seems she wishes to run her office. That view was just perpetuated further last night by young Shiller's classless ranting.

Congrats on the election. I can see why you could not get to sleep until late last night....a consensus is a tough thing to battle.

Jon Trott said...

That last sentence or two of mine were confusing. To restate:

I'm still wondering if anyone is interested in a project where Uptown "yuppies" meet Uptown "Jesus Freaks" or "Shilleristas" or / poorer folks to get past the idea of "the other side" being pure evil. Again, this meeting would not be about political conversion of some sort. Rather it would be to simply see one another as human beings who all have dreams, hopes, frustrations, and sorrows & joys.

That's all...

Anonymous said...

Actually, "brainwashed" does not mean the same thing as "cult" at all. Most of America has been brainwashed by consumerism and major media news, but that doesn't mean most of America belongs to a cult. But as you say, we all tend to see what we want to see, and you read just as much into my words as I read into yours.

A constant voting response? in every election? Against every candidate that opposes Shiller? Sounds like a bloc to me.

I can understand that you may oppose Cappleman because he does not approve of your methods of helping the poor, or perhaps your methods of managing a shelter, but that does not translate to him being against the poor. Accusing someone who founded a shelter of being against the poor is ridiculous on too many levels to count.

In the case of the book Recovering from Churches that Abuse, I invite you to point me to any link or resource where a sociologist condemns its credibility--a sociologist, that is, that was not personally contacted by JPUSA for the express purpose of judging the book's credibility. If the book is flawed in its methodology, it would certainly have failed to pass a general peer review, but I certainly can't find any evidence of a universal condemnation of it. And while we're on the topic, it doesn't sound like it was good methodology (of any kind) for JPUSA members to publish articles condemning a book before they ever read it...

Jon Trott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Trott said...

anonymous...

you posted to me yet again on the same tired topic--a post I've not included here. What a non-sociological sociology book has to say about where I live and how I live is of no interest to me personally, as I've written too much on this topic already (including a chapter for a sociological collection edited by Anson Shupe, the latter entitled Bad Pastors: Clergy Misconduct in Modern America). I simply have no more energy or time to expend that way.

I'm not including your further postings here on this topic. Resources abound on it elsewhere. I'm sorry you didn't think a real discussion -- one focused on commonalities rather than division -- was worthwhile.

JP Paulus said...

Also,

yeah, it was pretty bad that you weren't willing to share 12 names -- not enough to kill the election, but enough to build mounds of trust & respect.


If possible, you should apologize. Regardless of what others do (even those we support), we need to represent God first and foremost.

Jon Trott said...

Hey, JP... I was wondering if you'd show up for this thread. Glad you did.

Re me apologizing, for me it isn't that simple. Call me a bit of an existentialist. I did explain at the end of the night how it was difficult for me to know what to do at the moment they asked me for those lists. I think an easy "Christian" reaction is to be nice. But being "nice" is sometimes to be naive, and I'm not sure that actually does represent God first, or even very well. Considering the historical evidence I had (my own experience as well as that of others ward-wide) I couldn't quite afford to trust two folks for the opposing candidate, whom I'd just met, to respect the voters' rights. That was my primary goal as a faith issue... As I did tell the two lawyers election night, by evening's end it seemed clearer that they were good guys on that level. But I just had no way to know. I think they both understood my hesitation... that is, if they believed the stories I told them about past aldermanic elections 'round heah!

Oh, re the other post (which I didn't toss up here due to some references to persons), no that individual was not involved. My neighbor plans to remain so, regardless of the election results. He doesn't seem to have the "Helen is pure evil" vibration of, uh, others.

Again, thanks for the conversation. And by the way, for others reading, JP does have an Uptown web URL worth checking out: Uptown-Chicago.

Jon Trott said...

It appears I messed up the formatting and links badly on my Feb 28 (4:05) response to "anonymous". Forget the links, as I'm pretty worn out and would rather be blogging than formatting stuff. I'm reposting a minimalist version of the same response, without editing except to correct formatting (and one error of name repetition). Italics are "anonymous," non-itals yours truly.

Actually, "brainwashed" does not mean the same thing as "cult" at all. Most of America has been brainwashed by consumerism and major media news, but that doesn't mean most of America belongs to a cult. But as you say, we all tend to see what we want to see, and you read just as much into my words as I read into yours.

I totally agree that we do *all* tend to see what we want... all I'm saying is let's try to battle that impulse some. As for brainwashing... again, that term (see Robert Lifton's 1960-something book on Thought Reform in Communist China as one genesis point) has a historical pedigree quite different than what pop culture ("cult"ure -- get it? Aw, shuddup with the lousy attempts at humor, Trott!) has done with it. When the two become indistinguishable, the term becomes a way to belittle people and doesn't actually describe much of anything at all.

A constant voting response? in every election? Against every candidate that opposes Shiller? Sounds like a bloc to me.

I didn't say anything about a bloc. What I am saying is that the decision by an entire group of individuals to vote for one candidate is not without precedent, and certainly is no evidence of either coercion or mind control / brainwashing. The assumption of collective gullibility / stupidity on our part is a bit hard to take.

I can understand that you may oppose Cappleman because he does not approve of your methods of helping the poor, or perhaps your methods of managing a shelter, but that does not translate to him being against the poor. Accusing someone who founded a shelter of being against the poor is ridiculous on too many levels to count.

We differ re Cappleman. I'm not sure what constructive purpose a continuing discussion on him will do at this point. I would so rather discuss building bridges than tearing at one another's wounds. Especially when everyone is likely feeling a bit raw already, whether having won or lost.

In the case of the book Recovering from Churches that Abuse, I invite you to point me to any link or resource where a sociologist condemns its credibility--a sociologist, that is, that was not personally contacted by JPUSA for the express purpose of judging the book's credibility. If the book is flawed in its methodology, it would certainly have failed to pass a general peer review, but I certainly can't find any evidence of a universal condemnation of it. And while we're on the topic, it doesn't sound like it was good methodology (of any kind) for JPUSA members to publish articles condemning a book before they ever read it...

Uh... First, let me note that this controversy is from the very early 1990s. Second, I had to quietly laugh at your constraints on who my "sociological defenders" could be. If I have to produce sociologists whom I (and others defending JPUSA) have not quoted in our publications, that's going to be hard. Why? Because we sent open letters to virtually very well-known sociologist of religion we could think of, inviting them to come visit us and test us against what was being said. (That offer was also given Enroth, who declined for some rather convoluted reasons.) We went to the foremost authorities we could find on the Sociology of Religion, including including Anson Shupe, David Bromley, James T. Richardson, and others. In addition, the entire board of the Communal Studies Assocation supported Jesus People USA. (Recently they even invited a JPUSA member, Lyda Jackson, to join their board!) Christian counter-cult scholar Ruth Tucker also weighed in, and as someone Enroth respected enough to ask to write the forward to one of his previous books, this is of note. Sociologist Ronald Sider, who authored the ground-breaking social concern book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger also weighed in. Professor Francis Beckwith also weighed in, writing at least twice on the controversy and attacking Enroth's research methods and findings. (For more names, see the Wiki article on Enroth, which I added to but did not take away from.) Third, the reason we went to press before the book even came out was to show our complete fearlessness re Enroth's "evidence." If you don't see the wisdom of that, I cannot explain it.

That really is all I'm going to say about that. For my idea of what evidence ought to look like, please note the book I co-authored with Mike Hertenstein, Selling Satan: Mike Warnke and the Evangelical Media).

And again... are you interested in dialog instead of attack? I'm trying to hang in there with you... but don't have all day to rehash stuff on stuff from nearly 17 years ago, give or take a few years.

In sincerity,
Your neighbor, Jon Trott