A 200-mile march for hope — and a fair state budget

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Erica Nanton, who plans to march with other activists from Chicago to Springfield, speaks at a recent press conference. | Deana Rutherford photo.

I loved the shoes.

At a recent press conference at the Thompson Center, Erica Nanton stepped up to the microphone to pump up the volume for yet another march to Springfield.

Nanton was among a group of activists announcing they will march from Chicago to Springfield, 200 miles over 15 days, to demand a “People and Planet First Budget.”

I was riveted by her brightly flowered spike three-inch heels. I mused, surely she’s not planning on marching in those shoes.

Her coalition, Fair Economy Illinois, composed of immigrants, veterans, people of color, students and churchgoers aged 23 to 90, wants to eliminate corporate tax loopholes, install a transaction tax on La Salle Street trades, and ask wealthy folks to pay more. Those strategies could raise, they say, $23 billion in new dollars and end Illinois’ stultifying budget crisis.

It’s a welcome tactic. The marchers will hit town hall meetings, listening sessions, dinners and sleepovers, reaching out to suburban and rural residents to tout a budget “that puts people and planet ahead of corporations and billionaires,” says their press release.

Nanton, 30, declared she will march for “hope.”

“Young people in my community don’t have to be dying,” she exhorted.  “Kids should be able to come home or be at after school programs, practicing an instrument that they love because we have fully funded music programs, instead of picking up a gun because they have no hope,” she shouted as her fellow activists urged “Amen.”

We chatted afterward. Love the shoes, I said.  Will you be marching in those?  She laughed. “Not these!”

Four years ago, Nanton moved from Miami to Chicago to study social psychology at Roosevelt University.  She signed up as a community organizer to help combat the rampant violence and despair in her Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

“People dying on the South Side is almost reported now like the weather,” she said. Nanton works with “people who have lost people before,” she said, “and it’s one of those things where you think it will never happen to you.”

Then her cousin, Elijah Murphy Jr., 35 and a father of four, was shot to death in the Back of the Yards.  He was “a very, very beautiful person who loved people.”

Crime and violence are directly tied to disinvestment, poverty, joblessness and massive cuts in education, she argues.

So she will march against the “hopelessness all around us, that has led to so many people feeling like they have no options. … I want to be a part of changing that.”

At Noon on Monday, the marchers kick off at the Thompson Center. Nanton and about 15 others will walk  the entire route, with hundreds of others joining along the way, through towns from Wilmington to Pontiac to McLean.

Nanton hopes to explode some stereotypes about Chicagoans.

“One of those misconceptions is that people just become violent out of a vacuum, (that) people just wake up one day and decide they are going to be this way, when the truth is, we all want to have dignity.”

She added, “We are going to share our own stories and we are going to listen to theirs. To really share our humanity and how we are all affected by this budget.”

That’s a great reason to get stepping.

Email: LauraSWashington@aol.com

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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