Six months in the Land of Lincoln: New video

One Illinois marks a glorious half-year of touring the state and telling the stories of its people

By Ted Cox

As Illinois prepares to celebrate its bicentennial in December, One Illinois marks its six-month anniversary today.

Happy unbirthday to us! Since we launched April 30, we’ve published 186 stories, more than 30 videos from Zachary Sigelko, and 15 podcasts from Cher Vincent — and counting.

It’s been a rollicking ride. We’ve seen President Trumptwice — and we’ve held him to account on fact-checking, and we’ve seen the ways he’s divided people and communities.

Just to remind everyone of our original mission, we favor the truth, and we favor unity, working together to better our communities and our state.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have disagreements, and even vote differently. We’ve driven through and stopped in at the small Illinoisans towns threatened with extinction — and that’s no hyperbole — and we understand that there are some people in those towns who will vote for almost anything and anyone to reject the status quo, and just maybe to throw a wrench in a system that no longer works for them.

We’ve found it’s no wonder that so-called Trump Country is plagued by “deaths of despair.”

But that doesn’t mean those people, those Illinoisans, should be written off. There are areas of Chicago and Peoria and Quincy and even the suburbs that are just as imperiled. They need help, as we all do from time to time, and it’s the duty of those who are thriving to lend a hand to those who can use it.

There’s an abundance of beauty in our state of Illinois, an equal abundance of resources, and much to be proud of. It’s a wonderful state, full of vitality — economic, cultural, and environmental — and it’s been a joy to tell the stories of the people in it the last six months.

We’ve met admirable men and women with compelling stories, giving of themselves to help their neighborhoods and communities, from Savanna Mayor Chris Lain to Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank founder Lee Ann Porter in Galesburg to TreeHouse Wildlife Center Rehabilitation Manager Rachael Heaton in Dow outside Alton to Underground Railroad historian Owen Muelder at Knox College to Togo missionary Father Jean deDieu Ahorloo in Moline.

We’ve seen Illinoisans win a tug-of-war with Iowans across the Mississippi River.

We’ve seen amazing beauty from the Garden of the Gods and Inspiration Point at the southern end of the state to the rolling panoramas of the northwest corner outside Galena and the wild bison herd at the Nachusa Grasslands in between. We’ve seen eagles almost as plentiful as sparrows as their population bounces back thanks to environmental reforms. And we’ve visited manmade wonders as well, as when we toured Buckminster Fuller’s dome home at Southern Illinois University and took a spin down what’s left of Route 66 with other nostalgic auto aficionados.

We’ve had the state’s best fish sandwich, and we ate a horseshoe and lived to tell about it. And on Friday, as our half-year celebration continues, we’ll weigh in on what we think is the best rib joint in Illinois.

No peeking, but Chicago barbecue connoisseurs, prepare for a jolt.

Yet we also haven’t shied away from mendacity, as with the cover-up of the cancer cluster surrounding the Sterigenics firm in Willowbrook, or the way trollbots and other phony accounts infect social media and attempt to keep us divided against ourselves. We’ve seen politicians create boogeymen and conjure up myths about inequitable spending to divide off elements of the state for their own personal gain, and use dog whistles to rouse the worst kinds of support. And we’ve seen organizations funded by the rich work on parallel courses if not in unison to advance that divisive agenda.

Gov. Rauner has put his contempt for unions ahead of the best interests of the people of the state, and while he might have won a major victory in the Janus decision, it sure appears as if there might be a reckonin’ comin’ round the bend for him.

But other politicians, like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state Sen. Andy Manar, of Bunker Hill, have fought to bring people together and level out inequities so that everyone benefits.

Sorry, Gov. Rauner, but it was Manar who led the way on the new education funding formula. Nice try at that last debate, though.

At One Illinois, we believe that the common good — safe water, air, and food; good jobs and education; a feeling of security and faith in your neighborhood and in those around you — is nonpartisan.

Look at how Republican Mayor Mike Henry has tried to revive Carbondale, in part by bringing back a Halloween festival that went off last weekend without a hitch, even with Trump having roiled the area the same day.

We favor building bridges, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a kick out of seeing a bridge get blown to smithereens to make way for a new span across the Mississippi.

And we favor unity, but that doesn’t mean we won’t call out hypocrisy when we see it, as when our Freedom of Information Act request turned up emails showing that Rauner staffers worked to torpedo an abortion bill in the General Assembly in an (unsuccessful) attempt to keep it off the governor’s desk.

That was one FOIA case, and we’re still waiting in another for the Governor’s Office to comply with the binding opinion from the Office of the Attorney General that he should turn over 1,783 emails on appointments to state boards, councils, and commissions. We think all Illinoisans have an interest in what policies he was trying to advance and what groups he was targeting to suffer with those appointments.

We are One Illinois, and we’re just six months old, so we have time to wait — as long as it takes.