As Illinois neared its second year without a complete state budget, Dr. Alfred Klinger decided to start walking. He joined advocates and families on a 200-mile march to the state Capitol in May 2017 to demand an end to the mind-boggling impasse and a budget that puts people first.
A World War II veteran, Dr. Klinger had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Mississippi in 1965. At 90 years old, it was time to march again, this time from Chicago to Springfield, because the government couldn’t even agree on a fiscal plan that invests in its most vulnerable families.
On the road, he joined other marchers led by ONE Northside and the Peoples’ Lobby Education Institute and supported by the Grassroots Collaborative and Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
Along the way, they are asking people how the Illinois budget stalemate is changing their lives and discussing their own “people and planet first” budget. On May 30, after marching into the state Capitol, they’ll hold a People’s Assembly on their plan.
Their budget plan for greater investments in pre-kindergarten-through-high-school education, universal health care, moves to green energy, improvements to infrastructure and Illinois’s pension commitments.
To pay for these investments, their plan would close corporate tax loopholes, create a graduated income tax and develop a financial transaction tax, raising $23 billion, according to a statement from Fair Economy Illinois, which is organizing the 200-mile march.
After a long day of walking, Dr. Klinger, who turned 91 on the road, talked with Equal Voice News about why he is marching, the need for voices of poor families and what’s gone wrong in the Illinois state capitol.
Q: Why are you marching?
Revenue. We feel the wealthy are not paying their fair share… and that’s what makes the difference between supporting those who are vulnerable and not supporting them.
Q: Did poor families have a stronger voice in the past?
The problem is…paying their rent, buying clothes to keep them warm… or shoes for their feet They don’t have any way of getting it. They don’t have time to have a voice. They are just trying, barely capable of surviving. I’ve seen a lot of that.
Q: How do we give poor families a stronger voice?
I think we have to give them support. I am a great believer in guaranteed income, in guaranteed jobs. The low-income people, they want to work. They want to be part of the community. But, they can’t do it when they do not have anything to support them. And on a day-to-day basis they are almost starving, or in such a condition that they don’t know what they are going to do the next day to survive.
Q: Why isn’t the Illinois governor listening?
The governor comes in with a rigid list of things that he thinks have made him successful in business, and he believed all you have to do is be persistent and that rigid list in his mind will eventually conquer those who resist him.
He is trying to transfer that success into government. He has no idea how to negotiate in government because when he was in business…what he said goes.
You can’t do that in government. You have to listen to other people’s ideas.
Q: Do you see parallels between what is happening in Illinois and in the nation’s capital?
Absolutely, it is very similar. You have two businessmen who have made a great deal of money.
And they think that anybody who is smart enough to make that kind of money is smart enough to bring about good government.
Gov. Rauner is a self-made person and does not need the input from you and me.
Q: Why do you think the government invests less in people today?
The rich have put a lot of pressure on the government. They pay a lot of lobbyists great deals of money to go and influence the Congress…the president…
They ignore those who are much more vulnerable.
I would like to see a GI bill, and one in which they didn’t have to go to war and risk their life and limbs.
Q: You’re 91 years old. Why are you out there marching?
Because I feel so strongly about the issues. I’ve kept myself strong.
Q: What stories do you want people to hear?
I would say that we need revenue…to give support to vulnerable people.
To stop them from dying, and to be able to live with dignity and security. Because these people are us and our families and our friends and our neighbors and our relatives. It affects us all.
Q: What’s next?
After the march we will continue to put the pressure on the governor, on the legislature…and we hope to get that budget signed so that those who are most vulnerable will begin to get support. What is happening now is that many of these special and economic organizations are dying because they are not getting the support that they have contracted for with the state.
The state is walking away from them.
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice News.