Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thanks, President Trump, but No Thanks. Chicago Can Solve Violence without Your Help.

(Updated July 30) Last January President Trump boasted that if Chicago’s leaders can’t solve the city’s violence, “we’re going to solve the problem for them.”

So far the president has sent in 20 ATF agents to work with Chicago police. And he’s claimed to have spoken last year with a “mystery cop” who told him he could solve Chicago’s violence in a “couple of days”.

That’s big thinking? Let’s get real.

In the six months since the president’s boast, Chicago’s violence has continued unchecked, with over 100 people shot here, 14 fatally, on the fourth of July weekend alone.

And for decades Chicago has lived with violence on a war-time scale. Twenty-five years ago Mayor Richard M. Daley gave an honest assessment: “Chicago has lost two generations of young people to gangs and drugs.

Today, the total is three generations lost. And counting fast to four, with no measurable progress ever made towards reducing violence in all this time.

Pressure’s on. Chicago is the national poster child for violence. Violence is crippling its economy, scaring away new creators and forcing violence-weary Chicagoans to flee the city.

Yet since the 1960's no one in Chicago, including Mayor Emanuel, the city’s current take-charge, can-do mayor, has ever come up with a plan to solve violence here.

So what can Chicago do? Plenty!

To step back and look objectively at Chicago is to realize that it has never even attempted to put to good use its two most powerful violence reduction resources.

The first is Chicago’s people. It’s their wisdom, their experience, their intelligence, their courage and their yearning for safe streets. It’s their love of family, of neighborhoods and of Sweet Home Chicago.

The second, in our media-driven society, is Chicago’s all-powerful media: its radio and TV stations, its two daily newspapers, its magazines and community newspapers, and its massive Internet resources.

When Chicago sees fit to combine these two key resources — when its media are helping its people solve violence instead of scaring them about it — Chicago’s power to solve violence becomes unstoppable.

This power will become unstoppable in prime-time public forums that give all Chicagoans (the city’s leaders included) an informed voice in making Chicago a safe place to live, work, visit and raise a family in.

It will become unstoppable in public forums that make Chicagoans and City Hall responsive and accountable to each other in the search to end violence.

And it will become profitable for media that successfully tap the largest of all large markets: the Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans and all residents of the Chicagoland region as well, since violence in Chicago bleeds heavily to its suburbs as well.

When you think about it, virtually any media format can facilitate the search to end violence. Here’s one that taps the enormous vote-generating power of voter-driven Reality TV:

It’s Chicago FIXIT, a locally produced, weekly, 60-minute prime-time show modeled on Reality TV talent contests like The Voice. And here’s the thing: FIXIT is governed by rules and rewards designed to bring out the best in Chicagoans, not the worst, as so often happens in media.

FIXIT rules are enforced by mechanisms — referees, instant replay and expert commentary — that give it the same respect and trust that sports fans give to telecasts of college and pro sports contests.

FIXIT appears on your TV or device screen with all the bells and whistles of a well-produced reality TV show. It’s moderated by a charismatic, judicious, well-informed, straight-talking host.

FIXIT begins by inviting all Chicagoans to participate in an eight-month search for solutions for best ways — large and small, local and citywide — to make Chicago safe.

It’s structured, NCAA March Madness style, as a tournament with four two-month phases.

Phase I is a citywide talent search to select 32 talented four-member teams of problem-solvers: a researcher, a spokesman, a film maker and an idea person.

Team members can be any mix of policy makers, academics, attorneys, retired judges, businessmen, social workers, community leaders, ex-offenders, gang members and especially the young people who are the primary the victims and perpetrators of violence.

Each team develops its own solution to any or all of the well-known aspects of violence: gun violence, gang membership, drug use and dealing, racism, joblessness, substandard schools, poverty and police/community relations.

Phase II pits 32 selected teams in an elimination contest leading to Phase III, a Sweet 16 round that leads to Phase IV: an Elite Eight search for a Best Team and a Best Solution to be submitted to City Hall on a strictly advisory, non-binding basis.

Solutions developed during these four phases are subjected to constant, rigorous vetting by panels of citizens, experts and public officials.

Teams are evaluated and rewarded on the basis of their ability to cooperate as well as compete with each other. Cooperate? Absolutely, because FIXIT rules reward teams that listen to and learn from each other — and everyone (including gang members) involved in violence.

Now imagine all Chicago media discussing, reporting on and participating in this historic FIXIT search, much as they do with Chicago’s sports teams. Here’s an overview of FIXIT features:

1. Excitement and Outcomes. FIXIT is a rule-governed, action-packed, solution-generating battle of ideas. With it, any city can examine any problem from all angles and devise any number of solutions that earn both public and political support. FIXIT stands or falls on its ability to produce demonstrable, tangible results that earn public respect and trust.

2. Rules and Limited Clout. As in TV sports broadcasts, instant replay verifies FIXIT rule infractions such as false allegations, dishonesty and poor listening. Fact-checking is instant. Although a FIXIT point-scoring system rates teams and solutions alike, winning solutions are decided by weekly votes of the viewing audience.

3. Inclusiveness and Communication. FIXIT taps deep into the knowledge of policy makers and citizens of all ages and backgrounds. It gets citizens thinking and working together. It serves as a training ground for the next generation of political leaders. It strengthens the public mind.

4. Safety and Purpose. To protect participants and the public, FIXIT programs are taped and edited for delayed broadcast. Even when participants expose instances of public corruption, FIXIT rules keep the show focused on its mission, which is to find solutions, not find fault.

5. Celebrations and Pride. Fully realized, FIXIT generates audiences comparable to those that watch sports telecasts. Chicagoans respect FIXIT and take pride in it. And they celebrate FIXIT victories as they celebrate their winning sports teams.

By tapping deep into the strengths of Chicago’s people, FIXIT empowers Mayor Emanuel to tell President Trump that Chicago, on its own, is addressing violence in profoundly constructive ways that can readily be replicated in other cities.

Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator and media entrepreneur. Chicago FIXIT is a localized version of America’s Choice, his 2006 treatment for politically themed reality TV. See also

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Towards a Non-Partisan, Issue-Centered, Outcome-Oriented Political Discourse System for America

[The body of this piece was uploaded on election eve before the outcome began to take shape. Trump's name was added next day. It could have been Clinton's - makes no difference!]

Finally it’s over. The presidential election of 2016 is history. Big sigh of relief. But not for long, because voter disgust with both candidates is so widespread that the aftermath of the election may be as tumultuous as the run-up to it.

Well, here's how it turned out. Added Nov 9. But for our purposes here, it matters not who won.
That said, America on November 9 will have at least a brief moment to pause and reflect on what’s gone so horrendously wrong with our rigged and money-driven system of political discourse and then ask how (and if) what’s broken can be fixed.

It's amazing that no one is asking this question. No one. Obsessed with partisan concerns, the shrewdest political heads in America have lost sight of both the cause and the remedy for our political ills. 

So it's time to pull our heads out of the sand, ask this critical question, answer it correctly, and then find ways to create a political discourse system that gets governments working again.

The first step towards the restoration of functionality to American politics is general agreement on the nature of our existing political discourse system and why it is failing us so disastrously at local, state and national levels.

The following nine points are my best effort at a non-partisan account of this system and its shortcomings.

1. Our existing political discourse system is election-centered. Its focus at all levels of government is on politicians, political campaigns and election outcomes. It is a system of news and commentary, conventions and debates, political polls, and election-time political advertising.

2. From a formal standpoint, this system is media-based, with network and cable TV still the dominant media for broadcasting the interactions of candidates and voters despite the rise of the Internet. That said, the top-down character of this system, which is owned by a handful of media corporations, is being challenged by the bottom-up citizen use of social media like Twitter and Facebook.

3. Polls confirm that Americans have lost faith and trust in the existing system because it leaves them voiceless in the government decisions that affect their lives. They are aware that citizen input has been displaced by the televised political attack ads that have skewed and determined American election outcomes at local, state and national levels since the advent of network TV in the 1960’s.

4. Political attack ads weaken political discourse in three distinct ways. They alienate voters from government, they polarize voters into hostile extremes of right and left and - most important - they deprive citizens of their right to an informed voice in the political and government decisions that affect their lives.

5. The existing election-centered system is financially underwritten by negative political advertising airing on commercial television. Attack ads are a profit center for the stations that air them. These ads now dominate news coverage of politics in three ways: in news stories about the billions of dollars raised by candidates for office, in news stories about the actual content of attack ads and in news stories about resulting and escalating personal attacks of candidates on each other.

6. To pay for political attack ads, incumbents must to spend up to 25% of their tax-payer paid work week raising money.

7.  America’s election-centered political discourse system primarily serves the financial and political interests of three groups: incumbents and political parties, “Big Money” political donors and the owners of TV networks.

8. Decades of campaign finance reform efforts have failed utterly to restore functionality to this broken system.

9. This system, for all its flaws, is indispensable to government. At this critical juncture in its history, however, America urgently needs political discourse that listens to the people and uses citizen input to get governments working again at local, state and national levels.

If these nine points strike a chord, let's move on to how to America can restore functionality to its political discourse.


1. Do not attempt to fix the existing election-centered political discourse system. This market-driven system will fix itself in time as Americans abandon it in favor of a political discourse system that listens to them and values their input in the search to understand and solve any and all of the problems that confront communities of any size.

2. Instead, create compelling alternatives to the existing system, systems that do precisely what the existing election system is not doing. Create a political discourse system that depolarizes us. One that get us listening to each other. Create an issue-centered, problem-solving, citizen-participatory political discourse system that gives citizens a direct, ongoing and informed voice in the political decisions that affect their lives.

3. Significantly, anyone - any individual, institution or medium - can design such a system, and can do so at local, state and national levels. The possibilities are unlimited. High school students can create one. What follows are my personal desiderata for an issue-centered political discourse system.


4. Let this issue centered system focus on matters of concern to all members of a given community: on the definition and solution of the most intractable problems and the discovery and implementation of the most promising opportunities.

5. Let it have two features in common with our election-centered system: let it be media-based and voter drivenAmerica's Choice shows how prime-time, voter-driven television can help communities solve problems and realize opportunities. It is modeled on voter-driven reality TV shows like American Idol and The Voice.

6. Let it be of, by and for the American people. Let it give all Americans an ongoing and informed voice in the political and governmental decisions that affect their lives.

7. Let it be disseminated via a mediating media dedicated itself to making citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other in shaping the best futures of their communities.

8. Let it be as scrupulously and recognizably rule-governed as the televised sports contests in which Americans the trust and confidence that is absent from our election-driven political discourse system.

9. Let the rules that govern this system create environments in which participants and spectators alike are rewarded for talking with each other as opposed to talking about each other.

10. Let it be scalable in ways that make it familiar to all Americans in all three communities - local, state and national - of which every American is a member.

11. Let its programs and formats, published and aired in all media, be ongoing, prime time, front page and year-round.


12. Let it be sufficiently compelling and transformative (as TV executives like to say) to effectively tap the Market of the Whole of all members of a given community.

13. Let this system be substantially but by no means entirely market driven in order to attract advertisers eager to tap the markets it serves: the Market of the Whole of all members of a given community.

14. Let its transformative content strive to depolarize and find common ground between groups that our existing election-driven system has tended to polarize: young and old, rich and poor, male and female, religious and atheist, white and black, gay and straight, employed and unemployed, immigrant and native-born, educated and uneducated.

15. Let this system give media maximum freedom to create programs and formats that meet a given medium’s target audience.

16. Let its voter-driven outcomes be purely advisory and non-binding to elected leaders.

17. Let the governance of this system be sufficiently transparent, rigorous and diverse to keep it from being co-opted by any single entity or group of entities.

That’s it for now. I have return to my day job. Whatever the merits of these ideas, America needs something entirely new – better, smarter ways of doing politics and government - than what it has now. The nation's future is at stake. Thanks for reading. Feedback appreciated.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

(Revised October 10, 2016) How many of Chicago's 2.7 million residents have ever heard of Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY)? Perhaps 100,000 at most. That's a big number, but its small when you realize that it's also telling us that only one out every 27 Chicagoans has heard of SCY. If you're among that huge number, you have heard of Lurie Children's Hospital, SCY's parent organization. So why is SCY important? In recent years its small but energetic staff has convened hundreds of government, community and non-profit organizations in an ongoing series of quarterly meetings that have done more to advance citywide understanding and solutions to Chicago's violence problem than any other actual or virtual platform I can think of.

Today, for instance, SCY will host a three-hour meeting on the following topic:

Looking at this topic, I wondered when Chicago will get around to talking about Citywide lessons to be learned about Sharing Data for Violence Prevention. We'll get to that. But first, here are the four speakers who will discuss the three projects features in today's meeting, with links to their websites.

Like me, you may not have heard of these four speakers. I'll report on their presentations today in a subsequent post. For now, I want to stress that SCY's events routinely feature speakers who say things that are absolutely essential in Chicago's search to end violence. To learn about and attend future SCY events, just join the SCY email list.

Problem is, all too few Chicagoans get to hear speakers like these. That's because Chicago's civic discourse system is NOT structured to provide citizens with the information they need to end violence in their neighborhoods. News coverage of Chicago's efforts to end violence consists for the most part of editorial blaming of city officials for something gone wrong or of news reports on city leaders pointing fingers at each other. This practice, continued year in and year out, only sows and nurtures seeds of mistrust and alienation from government.

Sadly, what passes for civic discourse in Chicago is for the most part an insider affair designed to engage a tiny group well-heeled and well-connected insiders willing to pay $30 or $40 to hear a public official talk about violence at a City Club of Chicago event or one sponsored by Crain's or Chicago Tribune event. Never do these 'civic' events air radio or TV where all 2.7 Chicagoans might hear them. The exception, of course is the televised election-time debates during which the search for solutions is almost entirely displaced in favor of name-calling and blame-gaming..

Over time this endless soap opera has turned hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans into passive spectators of a political farce that has left them voiceless in the citywide search for solutions to violence here. Chicago's children - potentially the city's most crucial asset in coming to terms with gun, gang, police and youth violence - come of age in this cynical, sorry spectacle. As Mary Mitchell recently noted her piece in the Chicago Sun-Times on the numbing effect of violence on the young, "74 percent of youth [in urban communities] have witnessed a shooting". 

Everyone, including our mayors and police chiefs, gives lip service to idea that Chicago's violence will never be solved without broad community support. But how can Chicago generate that support in climate of universal mistrust and fear? Today's SCY session could easily reach a citywide audience of some 30,000 viewers if only it were telecast citywide on Chicago Access Network TV.  So it's puzzling that SCY has yet to make productive use of this low-cost and effective resource.

With TV in mind, let's take a quick look at Chicago's mainstream TV station Channels 2, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 12. When we do, it's not hard to see how dynamic, prime-time public forums that are unshakably committed to reducing violence and to listening to all Chicagoans would instantly attract huge audiences. Imagine an ongoing, citywide, citizen-participatory search citywide search for solutions to violence, airing prime time Sunday evenings for several months. These public forums would be radically different from anything Chicagoans (or Americans) have ever seen on TV. Their search for solutions would be as exciting as the Cubs' quest for the World Series.

The time is fast approaching when TV stations and newspapers will open their eyes and realize how much money they can make by creating these dynamic public forums. Money. Money often breeds corruption. But it doesn't have to be that way.

In coming posts, we'll show why we're convinced that media's wisest and most profitable approach to politics will be to with dialogic public forums that make citizens and governments responsive and accountable - truthful - with each other in the search to solve systemic problems like violence. Why so? Just think back to last November and the release of the Laquan McDonald video and ask yourself how things have changed since then. That video - its release to the public - opened a new era in Chicago. It gave us Black Lives Matter and a whole focus on police/community relations. It opened an era that will be driven by technological revelations coming from police dashcams, bodycams and cell phone videos. And driven also by the DNA evidence that's reversed scores of wrongful criminal convictions. In politics, fact-checking sites are on the rise. Then there's the Edward Snowdon and Wikileaks revelations that have opened huge windows into government matters formerly hidden from Americans. Sooner or later, the slow-motion instant replays that add credibility to refereeing in sports telecasts are bound to find their way into a system of political discourse that has lost credibility at all levels of government in America.

All told, it's by judicious use of these and many other modern interactive communications technologies that Chicagoans and City Hall, working together as never before in Chicago history, will perforce have to depend on each other in deciding how Chicago can best run itself. We have entered the Era of Interdependence. Over a hundred years ago. Chicago's great city planner Daniel Burnham designed a physical infrastructure. If Burnham were with us today, he would see the development of a public communications infrastructure, accessible to all Chicagoans, as best and only way for Chicago to shape its future in an age of electronic communications.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Greetings Conference participants and thanks for visiting. Click here for my Future of Chicago piece. This six minute read distills 30 years of Civic Media work. If it strikes a chord, let's talk.


Here are two Civic Media projects that are relevant today:
  • Created in 2015 for the Illinois Violence Prevention Task Force: this "Full Story" proposal enables Chicago's media to supply not some but all Chicagoans,with the information, resources and support they need in order to effectively address youth, gun and gang violence in their neighborhoods. It is endorsed by 8th District House Representative La Shawn K. Ford and by then-Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health Larmar Hasbrouck.  
  • This 3,000 word piece, "The Chicago Tribune’s “New Plan of Chicago”: What Would Daniel Burnham Say?" details the workings of a fully functional Civic Media. It describes this media as an Information Age Infrastructure that embodies and empowers that same civic spirit that Daniel Burnham wrote about and realized in the physical and architectural infrastructure that he created for Chicagoans to enjoy and cherish today.
The Civic Media archive is here. A word of caution. Entering this site is a little like entering a crowded attic packed with all kinds of things, old and new, public and personal. But if you browse it, you’ll soon find items of interest to anyone who’s open to the idea that Chicago’s mainstream, social and community media have constructive roles to play in getting Chicago (and Illinois and America) out of the media-driven mess we’re in now. Thanks fort taking a look.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Laquan McDonald shooting video: Why does it veer AWAY from the shooters?

Since November 24 Chicago been quaking in its boots in response to the release of the shocking police video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald taken by a dashboard camera the night of October 20, 2014 and made public only a year later after the City was compelled to do so by court order.

The video is hard to watch. It’s damningly incriminating. But I’ve seen no mention made of one of its more damning aspects: the stunning fact that the squad car whose dashcam is intended to record the interactions of police and citizens defeats this purpose — intentionally or otherwise — by veering away from the shooters. This veering away occurs within the first seven of the approximately 20 seconds that it took Officer James Van Dyke to shoot Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Make no mistake, the video does clearly depict Van Dyke making his first shot. It also captures some of Van Dyke’s shots as they hit McDonald’s prostrate body. That said, for all but one of the shooting’s 20 seconds — the very first — the dashcam is focused not on Van Dyke but on this cyclone fence on Pulaski road:

Focus of the video from 0:26 to the end at 1:42

At the far left of the screen, almost as if by accident, lies Laquan McDonald. Officer Van Dyke and his partner are off screen to the left with one brief exception: at 0:41 one of them is seen kicking McDonald’s hand as if to see if he is dead or alive:

This is all that the police video shows of the two policemen involved in the shooting after the first shot.

For its first 23 seconds, the video does what a dashcam video is intended to do: record police and suspect alike. But for the remaining 1:19 of its 1:42 length, both officers involved in shooting are offscreen. (I refer to the 1:42 portion of the CPD dashcam video that was released by the Chicago Tribune; full clip is below.)

At 0:19 of the video, it is properly focused on police and suspect.

Here at 0:19 the video shows Officer Van Dyke and his partner approaching McDonald, guns drawn and aimed threateningly at McDonald. At this very point, however, the squad car taping the video begins to veer to the right. Why? Within seven seconds — by 0:26 — the car has slowed to a halt with its dashcam now facing away from shooters. From this point on to the very end of the video McDonald’s killer will be off screen.

Question: Why on earth would the dashboard cam veer away from the shooter at this critical moment of the shooting if not to protect the shooter?

Second question: What on earth will members of the jury at Van Dyke’s trial make of a video whose primary focus is a cyclone fence?

Prosecutors may depict it as the first act of a massive cover up that began the night McDonald was shot.

For his part, Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, is already stressing the importance of the first shot. He may try to make hay of the fact that the video shows only Officer Van Dyke taking his first shot.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

What's wrong with American capitalism? Jimmy Carter says it's our money-driven, oligarchical electoral system.

This morning I stumbled (via Reddit) on Jimmy Carter's blunt July 28 comments about America's money-driven and arguably oligarchical electoral system (his word!). And here he is, talking on Thom Hartman's radio program:

Carter's comments have been overlooked (suppressed) in mainstream media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Remember, this is President Jimmy Carter. Here's the latest on media coverage of them.

Moments before seeing Carter's comments, I read today's NYT op ed by David Brooks calling for "a great debate about the nature of capitalism". I then wrote the following comment to it: 

OK, so I won't hear from David Brooks, even though the political media I propose would by design be independent of the "strong government" he sees as a curb on economic growth.   

As difficult as would be the creation of the political media outlined above, the dangers of not creating it are far, far greater.  Think about it. In the past few days America's most credible news media have turned away from a living U.S. president for publicly stating the obvious: the oligarchical character of American political discourse. It's an absurdly Emperor's New Clothes situation, with President Carter shunned like a child for uttering a known, naked fact that news media simply don't want Americans to hear. Instead, what media give us is Donald Trump.

All this constitutes great danger. It shows America to be a delusional society, a nation whose citizens and leaders have lost all capacity to trust, communicate or reason with each other in the news media which, in our interactive age, should be connecting us instead of polarizing us.

Bottom line, the central task of a functional political media is the generation of verifiable trust. It's hard to see how America will ever halt its current political death spiral without developing media mechanisms at local, state and national levels that strengthen Americans' ability to trust but verify, as the Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan picked up from Mikhail Gorbachev so beautifully puts it.

That's what we're working hard to create at CCM. 

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Lincoln Scenario: How Rauner and Madigan Finally Ended their War for Illinois and United Illinois' "House Divided"

August 30 The updated, extended version of this piece is here at our Medium site.
Author's note: So is necessity really the mother of invention? If it is, here's a look at how close Illinois is today to a workable alternative to the politics of self-destruction that's fueling the fratricidal "War For Illinois". So far, three experts and two State Reps have commended this piece. Like it? Please help advance it. See how, below. Here's a Printable Copy.

On June 7 the Tribune declared it THE WAR FOR ILLINOIS
By mid-summer of 2015, a grinding yearlong power struggle between governor Rauner and House speaker Madigan had gridlocked into trench warfare. Mounting losses in precious time, energy, resources, services and money were bankrupting Illinois and destroying public faith and trust in government itself.

It became clear that for whoever won this contest, victory would be pyrrhic. The Land of Lincoln, in Lincoln's famous biblical phrase, would be "a house divided against itself": a state too polarized and weakened to be governable.

So at the eleventh hour, Rauner conferred with Madigan. Then, on prime time TV, he and three key Democrats took decisive action. With a single gesture of commitment to the future of Illinois, they ended the War For Illinois. Overnight.
Finally the governor and speaker had something really to smile about
The occasion was historic. It marked the end of the politics of self-destruction in Illinois. It broke the ever-tightening stranglehold of TV attack ads on political discourse here.

It also marked the beginning of the interactive political discourse that since 2015 has enabled Illinoisans to build a state that's competitive with other states and works for its residents.

This sea change resulted from two discoveries on the governor's part.  

The first came when Rauner asked himself why his inaugural budget-balancing call for shared sacrifice, backed by his own reduced annual salary of $1 without benefits, had failed to register with voters. Why had this sensible proposal fallen like a brick? Instantly he saw that, as a very wealthy man, he himself had to feel the same financial pain he’d be asking all Illinoisans to feel.

The second came when Rauner recalled his inaugural pledge to “fix years of busted budgets and broken government”. On reflection, he realized that his reliance on televised attack ads as a way of communicating with citizens - like his $20 million ad blitz attacking Speaker Madigan - was doing more to break Illinois government than to fix it.

With these discoveries in mind, Rauner approached Madigan. Saving Illinois, he said, means painful sacrifice shared by everyone. And turning Illinois around means dethroning the "Cash is King" political advertising that’s polarized Illinois for decades. “We’ve got to curb it," he told the Speaker. “It’s the only way out of the mess we’re in now.”

Madigan agreed, knowing that in Illinois, Rauner himself is King Cash. The two leaders then talked about how TV might connect citizens and government in ways that demonstrably serve all Illinoisans and move Illinois forward. It was quite a conversation. It led to conversations with owners of Illinois media. 

With Madigan's support, Rauner then initiated a series of constructive developments:

  • He convened Madigan, Senate Speaker Cullerton and Mayor Emanuel to announce that he was donating $27.6 million of his own money to a special Saving Illinois fund, matching the $27.6 million in personal funds he’d donated to his gubernatorial campaign. This unprecedented, legacy-making sacrifice prompted comparable sacrifices from all three Democrats. (If not, Rauner would go it alone on all six steps below, empowered by their rejection.)
  • The four leaders announced their historic sacrifices on Growing Illinois, the first of a series of monthly 60-minute primetime TV programs dedicated to making citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other.
  • Growing Illinois made national headlines, transforming Illinois politics overnight. Overnight, four goats became four heroes. Tigers changed stripes. Coming at a time of nationwide voter despair with government, 12.8 million Illinoisans now felt that their leaders might actually be in their corner and working on their behalf.
  • In this sea-changed climate, Illinoisans rallied behind the Four Horsemen of Illinois with their own contributions to Saving Illinois. (Detroit, during its bankruptcy, received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from long-time companies and residents.)
  • An energized public and news media eagerly discussed the equitable implementation of shared sacrifice with experts like Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Lawrence Msall of the Civic Federation. Sacrifices ranged from increases in fees and taxes (sales, property or income) to pay freezes and salary cuts.
  • Promising revenue generating ideas were advanced. Wholesale eliminations of essential programs and mass job cuts (like the 1,400 public school layoffs planned in Chicago) were avoided.
  • Final shared sacrifice decisions, made by the legislature, were written into law. The likelihood of bond defaults in Chicago and Illinois decreased. Credit ratings rose.
Illinois turned around, though not quite as Governor Rauner had envisioned.
Illinois never banned political advertising. Far from it. But since 2015, the TV attack ads that once polarized Illinoisans have complemented and coexisted with the vital, televised interactions of citizens and governments initiated by interactive programs like Growing Illinois.

Thanks to its Four Horsemen, Illinois has turned itself around. Illinoisans’ newfound ability to connect, cooperate and construct gives the state a competitive advantage over other states. Illinoisans have always taken enormous pride in their sports teams. Now they can take pride in their leaders and in themselves as Illinoisans.

Longtime Chicago educator and media entrepreneur Steve Sewall, Ph.D., designs and implements civic media formats and writes about links between ethics, education, government and media at

Action Steps. Like these ideas? Help advance 'em!

  • Leave a comment at "comments" below
  • Tweet hashtag #endattackads, post to Facebook, Instagram & your maiden aunt, etc.
  • Email Steve Sewall (with the help of three people much can be accomplished)
And/or ask the people below to read/disseminate/publish the piece:

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