Groundswell in District 14

by Shaker Constant Comment

I didn't hear it. I didn't see it. Chances are, it didn’t even register as a slight tremor on the Richter scale. But make no mistake about it, my fellow progressives: the earth moved Saturday night in Illinois' 14th District. The true meaning of Bill Foster's win over Jim Oberweis is more than just the Republican loss of the former speaker's seat. It's more than a respected scientist and businessman emerging victorious over a wealthy dairy owner known for his vitriolic attack ads (I mean, come on, even the stalwart, conservative Chicago Tribune specifically cited Oberweis' nastiness in its surprising, if not ground-breaking, endorsement of Foster). And, it's even more than the fact that the National Republican Congressional Committee had to fork over more than they could afford for a race that heretofore had always ended up in the "R" column. This, for me—and believe me, it is personal—is about this safely red district turning beautifully blue on a cold, snowy Saturday.

It's personal because I have waited 35 years for this sweet-but-hopefully-not-fleeting revenge. You see, I'm a survivor and veteran of the joke that used to be called the DuPage County Democratic Party. A little background: in 1967, my family moved to the county seat of Wheaton, where I spent the end of my junior year and senior year in high school. (Yes, this would be the home of the evangelical Wheaton College, alma mater of Billy Graham. Not content with requiring its students to sign pledges not to drink, smoke, dance, play cards or see movies, the school also launched unsuccessful attempts during my senior year to close down the town's movie theater and youth center. Good times.) I graduated in 1968—remembered not quite so fondly as the year of the King and Kennedy assassinations, race riots, the Tet offensive in Vietnam and the Democratic Convention in Chicago. And, oh yes, major fights at the dinner table with my right-wing dad over all of the above.

My interest in politics continued through college, where, in between participating in anti-war marches and protests both at school and in D.C., I managed to receive an education as a journalism major with a double minor in history and poli sci. When I graduated from college in 1972, I returned to the Wheaton/Glen Ellyn area and immediately went to work for George McGovern. Okay, granted that was a lost cause, regardless of where you lived, but I continued to cut my political teeth in DuPage County, working on subsequent gubernatorial and presidential races and in feminist politics for almost a decade. Eventually, though, I think I just grew weary of being angry all the time (see: Bush Administration, seven years of) and decided to move to the north side of Chicago where people were more, how you say, progressive. In the spirit of the "teaspoon-by-teaspoon" logo of this blog, my years as a DuPage County Democratic activist were constant uphill battles with rare, if any, victories for our side.

So, you can see how—even with the distance of time and miles—I especially savor this win in a district that includes the county that I gave up on a few decades ago. What's most interesting to me about Foster's victory is that it was in a special election. Granted, Barack Obama cut an ad for Foster and John McCain was brought in by a desperate Republican party for a fundraiser, but it was a nail-biter until the last week. After election organizers had whined about the "experiment" of having a special election held on a Saturday, turnout was higher than expected. Foster is scheduled to meet up again with Oberweis during the general election in November, unless the wingnut candidate, who has also lost races in previous senatorial and gubernatorial bids, is replaced by someone else. I'm thinkin' Illinois Republicans may want to try again with Alan Keyes.

During this primary season, I have often thought that coverage was way too scant on the REAL story—the huge, unprecedented Democratic turnout all over the country. Granted, some of those numbers may be attributable to Independents or Republican "strategery," but I have to credit Obama's organizational groundwork and appeal to wider demographics, as well as Howard Dean's 50-state plan. In recognizing these amazing, historical voter trends, perhaps one could even be persuaded to think that, despite Democrats' best attempts to screw up a sure thing, we just may pull it off anyway. Audacity of hope, indeed.

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