I have a confession. I have never been to Springfield. I don’t know how I got through grade or high school without ever embarking on a trip to Springfield, but the time finally came for me to make it to our state’s capital to work for a better democracy by advocating for fair maps.
I walked into the Capitol building a bit in awe of the architecture and couldn’t ignore the rose-colored marble from Italy and Switzerland, the bronze-plated accents, the mahogany wood or the beautiful dome made up of 9,000 pieces of stained glass. I was nervous thinking about the work ahead, but a sense of calm relief settled on me when I approached a bronze statue under the dome of a woman with open arms gesturing her welcome. That moment soon was interrupted by someone asking my coworker, “Did you hear the latest?”
The latest was the breaking news of state Rep. Luis Arroyo’s arrest corruption charges for allegedly attempting to bribe a state senator. It will forever cement my first day in Springfield. The news didn’t shock me. This news, sadly, isn’t all that new in a state like ours. It was just another addition to the list of legislators disappointing their constituents and going against the oath they affirmed when they took office. “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of …. to the best of my ability.” (Source: Illinois Constitution.) Maybe, “to the best of my ability” is left open for broad interpretation?
Bribes, corruption and under-the-table deals have become too common in Springfield. As I walked around talking to public officials about the need for ending gerrymandering, it seemed an anthem echoed in my head, C.R.E.A.M. by Wu-Tang Clan. The acronym stands for Cash Rules Everything Around Me. Indeed, cash, it seems, rules everything around Springfield. From the opulence of the Capitol building to the alleged bribes in this case being used to influence action, to the wining and dining of legislators, cash rules and influences when it really shouldn’t. Hearing the news about Arroyo kicked me into high gear to get to work on what I was here to do: advocate for ethics reform.
Despite the disappointing news about Arroyo and ongoing federal investigations, my two days in Springfield affirmed for me that we all must continue to fight for a better democracy, devoid of greed and corruption in some corners that is deeply rooted and been allowed to fester. It’s about time we root it all out with policies that allow for Illinoisans to see and participate openly in their state government. From the governor, to legislators to constituents, to nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organizations like ours, we all have to collectively commit to chipping away at repairing the spoiled foundation of our state’s democracy.
We can demand better. After my first trip, I am more committed than ever to fighting for the hope of replacing the C in C.R.E.A.M. from Cash to Constituents. Constituents should rule everything in Springfield. When did we lose touch with that?
My first time in Springfield was both inspiring and frustrating. There is a lot of work to be done and I’m ready to dig in and do it.