Photo by Jeff Vorva
Mike Wolf of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood was one of the protesters chanting during Monday night’s Palos Township general meeting.
A little snow on the ground on Monday did not stop the activists who have been packing into Palos Township Board meetings since July to protest Trustee Sharon Brannigan, whose resignation they are demanding because of posts on social media that some people found offensive to Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent.
And a lot of yelling in the building did not stop Palos Township board members from doing their job.
The controversy has drawn overflow crowds to the monthly meetings at 10802 S. Roberts Road, and Monday was no different.
Brannigan had perhaps 10 supporters in the crowd of approximately 42 in the main room and dozens more in the lobby.
At previous meetings, protestors waited until the floor was opened to the public. But on Monday, as soon as the Pledge of Allegiance was over, they started chants such as, “Hey hey, ho ho, Sharon Brannigan has to go!” The few Brannigan supporters waved their own signs at their opponents, but their frustration was palpable, especially when opponents turned to them, chanting, “Racists have got to go!” and “Go home racists!”
“We want to make sure there is no business as usual until Sharon Brannigan resigns,” said one woman, explaining the tactic.
However, while many protesters left thinking that no business had been done, Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann said afterward that the shouting did not prevent the board from quickly completing the whole agenda, including passage of the 2017 tax levy. The board members used microphones to speak to each other and speakers were placed in the main boardroom and lobby, but observers could not hear them above the din.
“We knew what we had to do for the people of Palos Township and we did it. We were ready to have the meeting, and following the agenda is the law,” said the supervisor. “We tried open the floor to the public three times, but no one heard us. We were, quite frankly, surprised, that no one wanted to speak.”
While the meeting was still underway, two Palos Hills police officers escorted one woman out who allegedly was overheard saying that she was armed. Officials said afterward that they believed the woman just wanted to leave and was not armed.
When the meeting adjourned after less than 10 minutes, Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, declared victory.
“We will do this until she resigns. All of this public pressure is going to result in her resigning,” said Abudayyeh.
Other protestors, who came from throughout the southwest suburbs, seem just as determined to keep coming back until Brannigan leaves.
“We need to hold our local representatives accountable. Those racist comments are unacceptable,” said Mark Kuehner of Blue Island, adding that he was there with other members of South Siders for Peace to support the Arab-American community.
Jake Shevitz, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Riverside, waved a sign stating, “I should be doing homework but this is more important.”
“She is not being fair. This is just the right thing to do,” he said.
Several of Brannigan’s supporters, who said they were reluctant to give their names for safety reasons, said the protesters are the ones being unfair.
“I am here to support First Amendment rights. It is a lynch mob in there. There is no reciprocal tolerance. Sharon just asked a question, and she apologized. What she said was right anyway,” said one woman.
Details of Brannigan’s postings, one of which questioned whether people coming to the area from the Middle East were legal residents, were printed in previous editions of The Regional News. They have since been deleted from her social media accounts. In September, Brannigan issued a written apology, which was printed in its entirety by The Regional. But Abudayyeh said the apology was not acceptable.
“She claims she apologized, but we don’t accept that. She apologized for people being offended, but not what she said,” said Abudayyeh.
“This isn’t just about the First Amendment. There is nobody here that is being violent. But these remarks by white supremacists are creating fear in African-American, Latino and Arab communities. They are emboldened because we have a white supremacist in the White House,” said Abudayyeh.
“Hate speech leads to attacks in these communities. That is why we are here. We can’t allow this to go on.”
BRANNIGAN WON'T RESIGN BUT HOPES FOR 'MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION'
“HEY HEY, HO HO, SHARON BRANNIGAN HAS TO GO! HEY HEY, HO HO, SHARON BRANNIGAN HAS TO GO!”
This loud, soccer-like chant went on for all eight minutes of Monday night’s Palos Township General Meeting in Palos Hills.
An estimated 42 people crowded the board room at the Roberts Road facility and many more crammed the lobby. Most of them were there to try to disrupt the meeting and prevent the board from conducting its business, including approving its tax levy ordinance.
The issue is that many of the protesters want Brannigan waxed from her position – whether it’s by firing or resignation – because of comments she made on social media in July that are viewed by some as racist. Protesters have been showing up in full force to meetings since summer and they say they will continue until she is off the board.
Brannigan has issued apologies that were deemed too-little, too-late by some. So it appears the yelling and controversy will still be a monthly occurrence in 2018.
For her part, Brannigan said in the summer she will not resign and reiterated that Monday night.
“No…no, that’s not going to happen,” she said matter-of-factly.
Some observers said that of all the meetings since July, this was the loudest the protesters have been. Right after the Pledge of Allegiance the chanting started as some hoped it would disrupt the meeting. The board, meanwhile conducted its business before adjourning, although few, if any, in the audience heard it.
After the adjournment, Hatem Abudayyeh, the director of the Arab-American Action Network, congratulated the protesters and promised that they would continue to show up while Brannigan held her position as trustee.
“They will realize that they will never do business in Palos Township until she resigns!” he shouted minutes after the business was done.
Brannigan said she won’t quit but wants meaningful dialogue in the future.
“I’ve addressed everything that they have complained about and apologized numerous times over,” Brannigan said. “This is the way it is. We got all of our township business done despite the fact that there was screaming and hollering and so forth.
“I hope that sometime in the future we can have a meaningful conversation. We actually did have somewhat of a meaningful conversation at the last meeting (in November). So, I’m hopeful that it will happen again. I am hopeful.’’
While having someone hurl loud insults at you in a small boardroom month after month and taking a beating on social media could be unnerving to some, Brannigan said it is not taking a toll on her.
“I’m doing fine,” she said. “I’m very patient and I have an open mind. I’m looking forward to having a conversation and when they are ready, I will be ready.’’