Misplaced Referendum

POST 1064

First, A Solution to Campus Protest Violence

It’s simply intolerable that what we’re seeing on college campuses now looks just like the conflicts we faced in the 1960s. We should have learned something in all this time, like that when we send in people who only know force that violence is what we get. I think we can do better.

The Scene

Monday, April 29, 2024, 8:30PM

We know that the terrorists who started this war by murdering, dismembering, raping and terrorizing so many Israelis and taking hundreds of hostages are hiding within the civilian population in Gaza. They’ve left Israel nothing but bad choices for protecting itself and for punishing the bad guys.

As a consequence, we’re all seeing the unspeakable horror of innocents being injured and killed in Gaza. Grannies, children, babies – it’s gut wrenching and our students, empathic, idealistic and impassioned as they rightly are, are powerfully moved to act on their outrage and do something they hope will make things better.

In the midst of this disorienting angst on campus are Jewish students who are torn over the anguish and at the same time are the recipients of slurs, physical attacks and calls for them to die.

And those are just some of the complications.

Tensions are high and university presidents and state governors are calling in riot police and National Guardsmen carrying riot gear. That, of course, is what Mayor Daley did in Chicago in 1968. That didn’t work out too well then and there is no reason we should expect it to work better now.

A Solution

Instead of riot police advancing in an intimidating phalanx zeroed in on unarmed kids, how about they ditch the shields and the clubs and instead hand out bottles of water to the kids on all sides of this conflict. They could bring in porta-potties and recycle bins for empty water bottles.

How about setting out long tables and chairs and inviting kids to sit and talk with one another? In other words, how about the cops, instead of being Officer Thug, show up as Officer Friendly?

What if they were to invite these impassioned kids to talk with one another instead of yell at one another? What if these kids actually heard one another (you know: like listening) and learned that the person across the table isn’t the devil they imagined? What if university administration personnel (I’m looking at you, university presidents) took to the quads and listened to the kids instead of issuing orders and threats? What if the administration folks, the cops and the Guardsmen – even governors – were to model being constructive and respectful adults?

Crazy, right?

Many thanks to son Scott Altschuler for thinking through this with me.

UPDATE: Tuesday, April 30, 2024, 8:45PM

Negotiations broke down long ago at Columbia University. Protesters now occupy Hamilton Hall. It isn’t known how many are in there or whether these are students or outside agitators or just chaos loving, order hating anarchists.  It isn’t known if they want the university to divest its holdings from Israel or if they deeply care about the plight of Gazans or if they just want attention.

Police in riot gear are entering the building. It is certain that nothing good is going to happen for the protesters tonight.

This situation screams into the void,”We failed. Again.”

Now, About That Referendum

The Chicago Bears are angling for a new stadium. Soldier Field was remade for them just 22 years ago at a cost of $400 million and now, gosh, that stadium is so yesterday that they have to have new digs. They bought the old Arlington Race Track property, but apparently cannot work out a deal for someone else to pay for a glitzy new home for da Bears.

Mayor Johnson of Chicago is drooling over keeping the Bears in the city and having them in a showplace home in a showplace location. He’s promoting a referendum that will fund the project, leaving a financial burden for the city of roughly $4.7 billion. That will secure the land and build a state-of-the-art football stadium in a high profile location, perhaps on the lakefront. Cities across the nation have done that sort of thing, but wait just a second.

First, full disclosure: I’ve been against cities subsidizing privately owned sports businesses since that lunacy dramatically expanded in the 1970s. Note that the Green Bay Packers are an exception to the stadium building racket because the city owns the team. Besides, Lambeau Field is a much beloved venue.

I founded and ran my Illinois business for 25 years and no municipality ever tried to entice me to locate within its boundaries by offering a new manufacturing plant and first class offices. Like the Bears, I would have brought revenue to such a place. While my company’s contributions would have been minuscule compared to what the Bears could bring, the revenue point is important because tax revenue from sports teams and from all the ancillary services, like restaurants, hotels, taxis, entertainment venues and more is a primary argument for a municipality to pay for these overly extravagant facilities that benefit private companies. The other major argument for cities underwriting assets for private businesses is the prestige attendant to a professional sports team attached to the city.

But that’s stinkin’ thinkin’. I think it’s a severe case of mis-ordered priorities and a desperation for puff-up immediate gratification. I think the city should do something else.

Float that referendum for $4.7 billion, for sure, Mayor Johnson. But use that money to make Chicago the envy of the world for childhood education. Fix the broken schools, build more as needed, bring in an army of the best teachers (that means paying them well), feed the kids meals that will keep them healthy and mentally sharp, prepared to learn. Bring in the most effective technology and have books – all of the books – on the shelves of libraries. Educate our kids to thrive in and lead tomorrow’s world.

If we were to do that, people will come from everywhere to prepare their kids for success. Doubt that? What do you think caused the suburbs to grow and prosper as they have?

World leading education will cause families to begin to thrive, neighborhoods would experience a renaissance and kids would graduate and build their lives and their businesses where they started, producing a virtuous cycle of improvement. And the city would experience ever-increasing revenue from the urban renewal and financial growth.

Image that: An entire major city devoted to our kids and to tomorrow.

The payoff will take time – certainly longer than it would take to build a new stadium and the hot dog stands outside it – but it will grow and bless us with new technologies, medical breakthroughs, lower crime, mentally healthy kids with entrepreneurial spirit and a strong work ethic. It will reverberate for a hundred years and beyond.

Still need the prestige of a professional sports team, Mayor Johnson? Go wave a pennant.

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2 Responses to Misplaced Referendum
  1. Diana Dobrovolny Reply

    Agree that University Presidents respected free speech by allowing civil protests but MISSED the LEADERSHIP/MENTORING/LEARNING opportunity for discussion and two way communications, path to understanding.

    As we see at Columbia and maybe other places, this has allowed domestic terrorists to infiltrate the group and make military type action the only option.

    This is clearly in MAGA playbook. Opportunistic take over of situations to make University/education/Biden look bad. A step to win with or without the truth or votes