Editor's keynote

We love Illinois


By Ted Cox

At One Illinois, it should come as no surprise, we love Illinois.

We love the flat, black expanse of its central farmland when the earth has been turned for spring planting, and the vivid colors of its fall leaves as seen in the rolling countryside along the Mississippi. We love the quiet calm of its museums on a weekday and the roar of the dirt-track races on a Friday night. We love the downstate lakes and the upstate rivers, and the deer and the eagles, more numerous it would seem than ever. We love the sophistication of the college towns — especially the land-grant institutions, a legacy of President Lincoln — as well as the neighborly welcome one gets in hamlets found almost in hiding where a railroad line ended or an interstate went by without creating a local exit. We love Chicago and Cairo, the Nachusa Grasslands and Galena, Rend Lake and the Kankakee River, Lorado Taft’s “Eternal Indian” and the Superman statue in Metropolis and JC Rivera’s “Bear Champ” street art. We love the hunter crouched in the duck blind as well as the collector prowling the antique mall.

There’s a lot to love in Illinois, and that should be not only acknowledged but celebrated as the state marks its bicentennial this year. Yet we find ourselves divided over matters that should be accepted facts and just plain common sense.

Shadowy political operatives dealing in disingenuous news create divisions by race, class, and geography. They declare that taxes are inherently evil at the same time they suggest the state is too debt-ridden to take care of its own people.

At One Illinois, we reject the narrative that would divide us along party lines and by political affiliation. We reject the notion that Illinois is a state in decline without the resources to solve its own problems. And we reject, above all else, those who would divide us for political gain.

We see those who point fingers at the causes for the state’s population loss, and we say, “Look in the mirror. When you run the state down, is it any wonder that many should feel driven to leave for somewhere else?”

Yes, Illinois has been roiled by economic change over the last 30 or 40 years, but that’s been felt in river cities and farm-manufacturing towns same as in the industrial belt of Chicago. And some things haven’t changed. People still want good jobs. They yearn for a sense of unity and security. They want to see investment in their neighborhoods — good schools, vital business districts, safe roads. These are not partisan issues.

Thus, we introduce One Illinois, a new nonprofit statewide news outlet intended to confront these issues by telling the stories of Illinoisans. One of the basic responsibilities of journalism is to confront social problems and promote needed change. We intend to tell stories about people and their communities that inspire that change.

We are all in this together as Illinoisans, and the sooner we all realize that, the better.

It’s commonly acknowledged that the name “Illinois” comes from a group of about a dozen tribes living in the region in the 1700s, known as the “Illiniwek.” French explorers translated that word as “best people,” and that gives us something to aspire to.

We believe Illinoisans can live up to that — it’s why we’ve named our podcast “Best People” — and One Illinois will tell their stories in a way that makes us recognize that we are all neighbors, that we have much more in common than what potentially divides us. That was the unifying message of Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar in his campaign for governor last year, and it is the guiding principal of One Illinois, the news organization he founded.

Our goal is to build a broad-based audience across party lines, across race and class, and across the state to help shape a more positive and unified narrative about where Illinois is and where it’s going. 

Our goal is to build a broad-based audience across party lines, across race and class, and across the state to help shape a more positive and unified narrative about where Illinois is and where it’s going. 

In the days ahead, we’ll tell the story of Savanna Mayor Chris Lain, a gay, liberal Chicago transplant elected only months after that Mississippi River town had gone for Donald Trump. We’ll cite with pride the bison herd installed by the Nature Conservancy to roam wild at the Nachusa Grasslands, ready for a stampede of tourists as it just opened a new visitor center. We’ll look at a Togolese congregation at Christ the King Catholic Church in Moline, and we’ll point out there is very little difference between urban poverty and rural poverty, even though those in need are often blamed as victims and pitted against one another as pawns in a political game.

Illinois has 99 problems and more, but not one of them is its people.

At One Illinois, we are committed to diversity and equality, to honesty and empathy, to giving voice to unheard communities and bolstering those in need, to recognizing and celebrating the qualities that unite us as Illinoisans.

We think you’re going to like what you read here and what you discover about your home state and your neighbors — those who live next door or in the next county or next to the Mississippi.

We are One Illinois, and we insist that as state residents we all make up one Illinois as well.

Ted Cox