WBEZ has been asking you what you want Illinois politicians to be talking about heading into November’s elections — and beyond. Our goal: Cover government and politics based on the issues that matter most to constituents, rather than covering politics like a game of thrones.
More than 2,000 of you responded to that question. In early August, we sent out a digital survey and also went in-person to some of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, which we determined by looking COVID-19 case and death rates, as well as first-time unemployment benefits claims by ZIP code. A little more than 570 responses came from collecting responses at resource fairs and other events.
We heard about a broad range of issues, ranging from problems impacting a specific city block to issues affecting the city and country at large. Overwhelmingly, our respondents indicated they want to hear about “concrete plans” and “solutions — not the problem.”
Our respondents also overwhelmingly wanted their officials to take racial equity into account when addressing the problems — to acknowledge Chicago’s historical structural inequalities when making policy decisions. These racial inequities touch every other issue raised, so we weave this notion into each part our agenda, outlined below:
More than anything, you told us you want answers about how government officials are responding to the pandemic – both from the economic and public health perspectives. You also wanted them to address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities. About half of the responses dealing with COVID-19 had to do with how officials plan to keep the virus from spreading, especially among vulnerable populations like frontline workers.
“Nothing else really matters until we get COVID-19 under control. What are you doing to get our numbers under control?” wrote Melissa of Forest Park.
Many of you also wanted to hear officials’ plans to deal with the pandemic’s financial fallout for families and the broader economy.
“I’m a flight attendant and took temporary leave to try and prevent further layoffs at my company. I filed for unemployment but did not receive two of the checks I was supposed to. I was able to pay my mortgage but got behind on paying utility bills for ComEd and People’s Gas. To cover our living costs, my husband had to take out a loan from his 401k. What will you do to help people like me?” wrote Albertina Flores from Clearing.
We will cover this by asking officials how they plan to bring us back from the COVID-19 pandemic and address the day-to-day obstacles it sets up for families and individuals.
Public safety and criminal justice reform
You told us you want to feel safe in your neighborhoods from violence in all of its forms – including robberies, gang violence, and harassment from police.
“What will be done about community safety?” wrote one respondent.
Many respondents asked for more police presence in their neighborhoods, but we also heard from many people who wanted officials to respond to calls for police reform, including shifting money away from police budgets to social services, like “extracurricular opportunities for kids” or “more health centers for drug rehab.”
We will cover this by pressing officials to offer specific policy suggestions and changes to respond to violence and public safety, and by analyzing whether those plans serve their purpose.
The right to a quality education was top-of-mind for many of you. In particular, people wanted to hear their officials talking about ways to distribute school funding resources and educational opportunities equitably, from childcare to remote learning resources to affordable higher education.
“What are you doing to support equity in Illinois classrooms?” asked Britini Rios Schultz from Oak Park. “I feel trapped in my rental because I’ll never be able to afford a house in a neighborhood with good schools.”
As with other issues, the pandemic was never far from your concerns about education.
“We have 3 kids, how will CPS schools reopen? How will you support working parents? My job requires me to be in person 5 days a week,” said one respondent from Beverly.
We plan to cover this issue by exploring the ways education is funded in Illinois, by looking at alternatives to the current scheme, and by asking elected officials how they plan to address inequities in the system.
You also told us you wanted to hear how elected and government officials plan to address the unequal investment in neighborhoods and areas around Chicagoland – particularly, through the lens of racial equity.
Lynnette McCrae from Bronzeville summed up the central concern many of you raised: “How can we ensure that Black and brown communities in the Chicago region [and the] state are thriving?”
Many other responses included specifics for what this investment should look like — “opportunities to open small businesses”, “work on the street potholes more,” “access to good schools”, “resources allocated to grassroots organizations,” “neighborhood beautification project”, “assistance with virtual learning”, “more job training and opportunities for youth transitioning from high school to college.”
We will cover this broad topic by examining the different ways public and private entities can invest in a neighborhood and whether proposed investments in the Chicago area are prioritizing residents’ needs.
Even as the pandemic remains a major healthcare concern, we heard from many people worried about the cost and availability of healthcare beyond the pandemic.
“The recent announcement of Mercy Hospital closing in Chicago has sparked conversations about healthcare disparities for people of color, who make up the South Side and generally low-socioeconomic neighborhoods. What will you do to close these disparities and give Chicagoans adequate health services?” asked Oriole Park resident Desiree Adenuga.
Many of the people we heard from wanted to hear about how their elected officials plan to make healthcare more affordable, accessible for all, regardless of income, race or immigration status. We plan to cover this by asking elected officials how they would ensure adequate health care funding, especially for so-called “safety net” hospitals that serve the most vulnerable populations.