DUPAGE COUNTY, Ill. — For peace activists, being in west suburban Chicago often feels like being behind enemy lines. But fissures are developing in this land of right-wing heavies like Republican Reps. Dennis Hastert and Peter Roskam and former Rep. Henry “nothing to” Hyde — corporate and bellicose all. Behind the big box stores, fast food places and luxury townhouse construction sites, poverty and homelessness have risen. Meanwhile, gentrification in the city has led to urban flight into the suburbs … and then there’s the war.
“We are active in what is seen as one of the most conservative areas in the country,” said local antiwar activist Kevin Lindemann, “but our Honk for Peace rallies receive an overwhelmingly positive response.”
Such local events have educated suburban residents about the war and motivated new people out onto the front lines.
Jeff Zurawski is one such person. “I remember a day, several months ago, when I realized some disturbing truths, the first few on what’s become quite a long list of disturbing truths,” he said. “The people of Iraq, who posed no threat to us, are being slaughtered and their country destroyed.”
The power of such revelations would lead Zurawski and friend Sarah Hartfield into action May 6 on a local tollway overpass, armed with a banner reading “Impeach Bush and Cheney — liars” and an upside-down American flag, both expressions securely within their First Amendment rights.
“What propelled me was the need to express myself,” said Zurawski. “The more I’ve learned, the more outraged I’ve become, and that motivates me to do something to help stop the injustice.”
Local entrenched forces are motivated by other demons, however. Weeks after the event, on May 25, a sheriff showed up at Zurawski’s door to arrest him on the allyation that he had tossed unknown objects onto the tollway from the overpass. Sarah later turned herself in after a warrant for her arrest was issued.
Prosecuting the case is DuPage County States Attorney Joe Birkett, apparently in a desperate attempt to rally his right-wing base after his failed bids for attorney general in 2002 and lieutenant governor in 2006. Birkett was a lead prosecutor in the racist prosecution of Rolando Cruz in 1994 for a murder that DNA evidence revealed he didn’t commit.
Local antiwar groups have mobilized behind Zurawski and Hartfield in this battle for free speech in what is obviously a political case against the pair. Local press coverage has been sympathetic.
“I have a feeling the sheriff truly didn’t anticipate all the attention this is getting,” Zurawski said.
With around two dozen supporters seated behind him, Zurawski appeared in court on June 27 to challenge his arrest. Prosecutors may try to amend the complaint against the pair, upgrading the charges from disorderly to reckless conduct. If convicted, the two could face up to a year in prison and $2,500 in fines. Zurawski ‘s next court date is July 16.
To help get the charges against Zurawski and Hartfield dropped, supporters are urging the public to contact States Attorney Joe Birkett’s office by phone at (630) 407-8000, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at 503 N. County Farm Rd., Wheaton IL 60187 and demand all charges against Jeff Zurawski and Sarah Hartfield be dropped.
Activists say they want to let Birkett know that attacks on free speech will not be tolerated, and the antiwar movement — both suburban and urban — will not let up until the war is ended.