Illinois was named the third most disliked state by other U.S. citizens. I can’t say I’m surprised. The taxes are too high, the landscape is largely flat and boring, and the government is a complete joke. Nevertheless, it has been my home for all 24 of my years. I have watched high school and college classmates whine about our state and excitedly “get the hell out of dodge.” I’m not one of them though. Sure, I have problems with my state, but I refuse to leave my home.
My taxes are too high and I hate it. I hate that nothing is getting done but stripping my pockets clean. The roads are constantly under construction and I have to pay to use every highway around Chicagoland. My state cannot pass a budget or an effective law.
But part of why I stick around is out of the comfort of familiarity. A lot of my friends are still here as are my husband’s family. I love our church and know who to call if I really need help (thanks Marty for picking me up at 3 AM when my car died!). However, the reason I stay is rooted much deeper. I believe in loyalty and in taking an active role in fixing what is broken.
Maybe that idea comes from my childhood and my very handy father. I’ve seen every car we own go well past 200,000 miles because he believed in fixing them (that and cars are expensive). He fixed our toilets, our washing machine, roof and windows. The man recently stripped their bedroom down to the studs and completely remodeled it, single-handedly. Where would the neighborhood be if he didn’t believe in fixing things? Maybe they would have let the old house get run down and move. Who wants to live next to a mess like that?
All election season long I rolled my eyes at those from both sides that threatened to move to Canada if the opposing candidate won. While I get that the fear was and is very real, how will anything get resolved if you abandon it? Margaret Mead studied communities and cultures for a living and her words stick with me. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If we abandon our broken communities, what will be left of them?
Sure, it would be pretty easy to pack up our home and leave for a more prosperous state. Maybe we’d head south for the lower cost of living. Maybe we’d head west for better job opportunities. What lesson would that teach our son? Things weren’t the way we liked them, so we took our ball and left. We don’t believe in investing in other people or communities. We don’t like fixing things (don’t screw up kid!). Perhaps I’m dramatizing the situation a little, but I think I grew up to be a pretty decent person in Illinois so I owe it the benefit of the doubt.
Instead of bailing on Illinois, I can put the same amount of effort into fixing it. Donating my time, treasure, and talents to my community is the first step. If I can help my community prosper, that helps Illinois. I can advocate for the things I believe in: education, healthcare, passing a goddamn budget. At the polls, through letters and phone calls, and by demonstrating publicly when necessary, I can make change with those around me all the while, showing my kids that their voices matter and you can affect change.
I’m not ready to give up on Illinois, yet. I will admire the sunshine and cornfields while I work to make change. I will enjoy the rain, sleet, and snow while I invest in my community. I will dig in my heels and build the state I want for my children and generations to come, because I believe in fixing something when it is broken.
Photo Credit: Kailey Skarbek