Evanston sounds


I’m tired of politics — the name-calling and the finger-pointing and the excuses and the “he started it” and the general bad behavior. 

As an admitted politics junkie, that’s saying something. 

So, let me clarify my statement. 

I’m tired of politics preventing us from seeing one another as people and genuinely listening to each other.  

Nowhere is this more prominent than on social media, where it seems to be nothing but post after post blaming all of the world’s problems on liberals or conservatives or Republicans or Democrats. 

Here in Evanston there have been several Facebook posts lately discussing prominent issues, especially the proposed ICE detention center and the school district’s policy allowing concealed carry of firearms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a conversation about pros and cons and concerns. 

Where these posts become problematic is when the comments are something like, “Go back to California liberals,” or “It’s time to kick liberals out of our community and fight back.”

I must confess, these posts bother me. I’m a “liberal.” I was born and raised here in Evanston and have spent all but four years of my life living here. I have never lived in California or anywhere that could remotely be considered a haven of liberal ideology. 

I love this community and work hard every day to serve the people who call it home. Yet apparently some people feel I, and others like me, should be kicked out because we may not agree with the dominant viewpoints. 

It’s alarming that in my hometown some of us have resorted to telling good, hard-working people they should leave because they have differing opinions.

I’ve always had rather liberal views. But I went through a period a few years ago when I decided to quit talking about politics. I found it depressing and, quite frankly, isolating in this community to feel daily like I was an outcast in my hometown. 

What I decided to do instead was focus on Evanston. I began volunteering more. I never talked politics with the people I was working with, even when the conversation went that way. I kept my mouth shut and I worked hard. 

What happened was that I developed relationships, and even friendships, with people I probably wouldn’t have ever spoken with if I had let politics define me. And them. 

We got a lot done in multiple different ways, doing a lot of work that I’m quite proud of. 

But I discovered something else; when we focus on the things we agree on as a starting point, it builds a foundation to tackle the places where we disagree. Now that they know me, and I them, we’re much more likely to actually listen to one another when we have differences of opinion. 

Our current civil discourse, or lack thereof, doesn’t allow that to happen. 

Over the past several days I’ve had the opportunity to attend and participate in many community events. 

I attended the statewide candidate forum at Evanston’s Roundhouse last week. I listened. 

And what struck me most was this: Every one of them said at least one thing I agreed with. The vast majority of them are not liberal candidates. 

I agree the lack of transparency and accountability in government, especially in our home state, is a problem that needs to be addressed and remedied. 

I agree there’s too much standardized testing and pressure in our education system and putting more pressure on our kids and teachers is not achieving the desired results. 

I agree that excessive regulations from the federal government can be problematic.

I agree that Washington, D.C., is broken and sorely lacking in common sense. 

My suspicion is that there is widespread agreement on these things regardless of ideology. 

I’m not advocating we stop talking politics. We can’t simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend there aren’t huge problems we need to address. There are.

What I am advocating for is that we stop completely dismissing anyone we even suspect has different views than our own and letting our assumptions prevent us from ever having the important conversations. 

Liberals are not primarily free-loading, lazy, weak socialists who lack family values. 

Similarly, conservatives are not primarily selfish, greedy and cruel people out to destroy the environment. 

Our preconceived notions and biases toward one another have the potential to destroy us. We really need to learn to listen and do so with respect. Further, I feel there’s a very real danger that vocal minorities on both sides will completely alienate the majority somewhere in the middle. 

I also had the opportunity to attend the annual Bluegrass Festival. (On a brief side note, anyone who hasn’t gone out to this is really missing something.) I listened. One of the performers from Wyoming made a comment about “Wyoming sounds.”

What are Wyoming sounds? 

For me, what come to mind are these: Wind.

Bugling elk, yapping coyotes, rushing rivers. 

Ragtime Cowboy Joe. 

Silence.

My reflection on Wyoming sounds led to some reflection on Evanston sounds. 

Trains, the Wednesday noon whistle. The smack of a ball on a bat from countless summers when my Dad played. 

The clang of the school bell at East Elementary when I was a kid, the electronic bell at Evanston High School I can now hear from my home. 

The cheers of fans in the stands at EHS or the Overthrust Ballfields or during youth soccer. The radio voices of Mike Ellis and Mark Madia. 

“Our school, our Evanston High School…” 

Friendly greetings, children’s laughter. 

My Mom’s laugh, which is also my grandmother’s laugh. And which is now my laugh and that of many of my cousins. It’s unmistakable and can work like a beacon to find one another in crowds or strange places. 

The clock downtown chiming on the hour. Footfalls on the trails along the Bear Walkway. 

Stillness and the heavy silence in places like the Roundhouse or Machine Shop when one finds oneself alone among the memories of over a century. 

The appreciative tones of those complimenting our community on those same buildings and the work that went into their restoration. 

Here’s the thing. 

I’m quite certain it took liberals and conservatives and those somewhere in between to build our community. Folks working on restoration projects or our public spaces had to work together regardless of politics. No one takes a poll and kicks people out of community events based on political leanings. Both Democratic and Republican candidates admire our Roundhouse. 

I personally don’t really care what political persuasion those who conceived of these projects were or are. I’m just glad they did. 

I don’t care about the political leanings of the law enforcement officers who rushed to respond to the dangerous situation at the County Complex and in our community this week. I’m just glad they did. 

There are times when people need to take a stand for their beliefs and their principles. I’m all for that. There are times when world or national events are so alarming that something must be done. I’m also all for that. 

What I’m not for is letting those concerns lead us into leveling judgment on huge swaths of the population based on political affiliation. 

Our proudest moments as a city, state and nation haven’t been the ones when we’re ripping one another to shreds. 

My list of sounds has a purpose. If those sounds resonated with you, if they made you smile or stirred a memory, whether you’re liberal or conservative, then we’re not as different as we might think. And maybe we should add the sound of open discussion, and the silence of active listening, to our list of Evanston and Wyoming and American sounds.

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