What are you willing to do?
by Kristina Zahorik, @mchenrydems
State Central Committeewoman, 14th Congressional District
Vice Chairwoman, McHenry County Democratic Party

Five years ago, my former boss spoke to me from beyond the grave. I was reconnecting with former Senator Paul Simon colleagues at an event to support the SIU Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. His biography was being shown and I heard that distinctive voice remind me “What kind of a world would you like to see? What are you willing to do to achieve it?”

What kind of a world? Well, not the kind I was seeing. Government is less about policy based in fact and serving people, and more about moneyed corporate interests. People are being driven apart because of artificial barriers and fear mongering. Civil discourse is reduced to lies, hate, and personal attack.

What was I willing to do? I wanted to do something, but did not know what, having never been active in the Democratic Party and having been a stay-at-home mom of five for longer than I care to mention. What was clear: if I didn’t step up, how could I expect anyone else to?

I reached out to my county Party. Those who had been fighting the good fight for years were willing to take me in, show me the ropes, and let me join them in making a difference.  I worked hard. I put in a lot of hours and miles. I developed and strengthened working relationships with like-minded organizations and groups, recruited candidates, learned how to run campaigns, strategized on issues, increased our county party’s profile, made better use of social media, ran events, organized volunteers, increased fundraising for the Party and candidates, filled the ballot, worked with state-wide and national campaigns, held local elected officials accountable, and got elected to municipal office. When my Chairman became ill, I stepped up to fulfill his role until he was able to return.

After a year of working with the county Party, I was encouraged by State Central Committeewomen (SCC) Nancy Shepherdson of the 6th and Lauren Beth Gash of the 10th, to run in my own district. I understood that being a SCC was like being a PC for the State Democratic Party.  I initially felt I had my hands full with my position as Vice Chairwoman of the county Party, but damn that Simon voice, what more could I do? No one had filed to run for the seven county SCC position, so on the last day to file as a write-in, I did. I won with over the required 100 write-ins just from McHenry County.

McHenry County Chairman Mike Bissett said, “Kristina has worked tirelessly to build crucial relationships with organized labor and other leaders throughout the 14th Congressional District. She has pushed our county party to be far more than it would have been without her involvement. We filled our 2016 ballot with new candidates largely due to her efforts. She made sure that all of our local Democratic candidates were supported financially by organized labor. She did an incredible job. Kristina understands the political reality of working for change in a very red county, and has never given up the good fight. We’ve had successes and beaten the odds more than once. I am lucky to have her as an ally. I am proud to call her my friend.”

I appreciate his words and the work we have been able to accomplish. An accomplishment I am proud of is working toward a stronger Party structure for Party building, to helping candidates get elected, and reduce volunteer burnout. My first year in the county Party, we had less than thirty elected precinct committeemen (PC) out of 212 precincts. Prior to the November 2016 election, I helped fill about 86 precincts and since the 2016 election, we have climbed to 130 filled precincts.

The SCC position has given me the gravitas to organize, build bridges, be a resource, and advocate throughout the 14th. As SCC, I worked with organized labor, women’s groups, environmental activists, and Democrats to monitor local municipalities and county boards who were taking up the Rauner turn-around agenda, then organize successful protests against it. We were among the first in the state to do so. Initially, the Republican controlled McHenry County Board passed the turn-around agenda, but efforts culminated in our County Board having to rescind the vote after I filed a violation of Open Meetings Act and a local union carried the day by filing a successful lawsuit.

Rauner is bad enough for our state, but since the November 2016 election, we seem to be further away from the world I and fellow Democrats envision. The growth of new organizations like Indivisible, ABT, People Over Party, Women Who March, and Our Revolution will only strengthen us.  More people are willing to do what it takes to put our country, our state, and our communities back on the right path. People are stepping forward wanting to do more, wanting to fight for a better world, a better Illinois. We must work together. We must strip away the labels. We must not let those against us; divide us.

The world we Democrats envision values all people, values the dignity of work, values facts and science, values equality and justice, values our environment, and values opportunity. As the Democratic Party Platform states, “What makes America great is our unerring belief that we can make it better. We can and we will build a more just economy, a more equal society, and a more perfect union—because we are stronger together. Cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls.”

Simon said when running for President, “I stand here as a Democrat, not as a neo-anything, as one who is not running away from the Democratic tradition of caring and daring and dreaming.”

Let us care.  Let us dare. And let us fulfill the American dream together.

What are you willing to do? March, protest, call, email, text, write letters-to-the-editor, send postcards, join your local Democratic party, become a precinct committee representative, call out the lies and fake news, be informed, stand up and speak out, support Democratic candidates, run for office?  Maybe build bridges between the Party and emerging organizations, groups, or people? All of these things matter and are necessary for success. We need you. There is much to do.