CHICAGO – Voters in Chicago’s 49th Ward in the northside community of Rogers Park will have their say on three urgent national issues – Bush’s attack on civil liberties, a federal jobs program, and the phase-out of U.S. troops in Iraq. Ward activists who mounted a successful campaign to place these three critical issues on the March 16 primary ballot came together Feb. 14 to meet with community residents and political hopefuls at the Loyola Park Field House.

Donna Conroy of Secure Futures said the referenda are “on issues that ordinary people are concerned about.” She hopes that voter turnout will be increased with voters having the issues they see as important on the ballot.

The three referenda are as follows:

• Should the voters of this ward protect their constitutional rights by opposing President Bush’s newly established executive power to secretly arrest and secretly imprison any citizen or immigrant?

• Should the voters of this ward call upon the federal government to enact a jobs and economic stimulus program that (a) extends unemployment insurance (b) restores tax cuts for families with incomes between $10,500 and $26,650, (c) lowers the dollar to a sustainable level so that manufacturing jobs are created, (d) rebuilds America’s decaying infrastructure, and (e) meets the growing demand for skilled workers in health care, education and technology?

• Should the voters of this ward support phasing in United Nations authority for Iraq and phasing out U.S. troops, and transferring the $66 billion in occupation costs to the process of debt cancellation for poor nations, starting with African countries devastated by AIDS.

The meeting was attended by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore and several local candidates. In a unique format, the residents spoke first, presenting their concerns, while candidates listened. Five candidates for vacant judge positions for the Circuit Court of Cook County and Tommy Brewer, Democratic candidate for state’s attorney, received an earful of the disgust citizens have for the phony war on drugs and police abuse. In response, Brewer agreed that the war on drugs was really a war against the poor and that police powers are being abused in the name of combating illegal drugs. He also pointed out that felony drug convictions are condemning the poor and especially African Americans and Latinos to a permanent unemployable status. He said he supports new laws that would allow for the expungement of some drug convictions.

Incumbent 49th Ward Committeeman David Fagus emphasized the importance of electing Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate. Obama, a progressive and able Illinois state senator, would be the only African American in the U.S. Senate if he wins the March primary and then defeats the Republican candidate in November.

As the meeting ended, the discussion switched to how best to inform people that the referendum questions would be on the ballot and to encourage them to come to the polls to make their voices heard. There was a real sense that people had made another step in empowering themselves.

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