I headed out west for a town-hall style meeting held by Congressman Mark Kirk in Palatine last night to see american democracy in action. Nearly 150 people attended, including local republican and democratic party regulars, some anti-war protesters, ordinary citizens and bona fide heroes.
Kirk started the meeting by recognizing some of those heroes - including the sons of a deceased WWII veteran who stormed the beach at Normandy and a Libertyville surgeon who joined the Army Reserve in support of his son who is serving in the Marines. Kirk then provided a “Washington update” on a wide range of issues from the war in Iraq, to protecting Lake Michigan to improving transportation. He did a good job outlining his positions, but he wowed me in the Q&A session.
I am a fan of Mark Kirk – think he is smart, hardworking and genuinely concerned about the people he represents. Too often though we only get to see him in superficial TV sound-bites. Last night we got to see his depth, his intelligence and his character. He answered every question in a lively and generally civil discussion of issues.
The war in Iraq was a big concern with the anti-war folks asking some hard questions. Kirk was able to communicate the complex and difficult issues surrounding the war, and provided his unique perspective as an active member of the Naval Reserve and a veteran of the first gulf war. He clearly understands the sacrifice we ask of those who serve and the hard reality of war. His plan for moving forward centers on developing a working political solution while winding down the military action in a way that protects our troops and supporters in Iraq while making sure we do not have to fight a third Iraqi war.
The war discussion provided two of the most moving moments of the evening. Three mothers of wounded Iraq war veterans presented Kirk with a folded American flag to serve as a reminder of the wounded and fallen. They asked that he use the flag as a touchstone and a guide, particularly on the war issue. From the look on Congressman Kirk’s face during the presentation, it is clear that concern for those he called “his brothers and sisters in service to our country” is deep and abiding as is the compassion he has for their families.
At the end of the evening a gentleman rose to thank the congressman for his support of the persecuted Christian minorities in Iraq. He said that he did not believe that we should have entered the war at first, but now is thankful we did because we lifted decades of oppression. He believes we need to finish what we have begun to ensure that the kind of oppression he and his family lived with will not return.
There were other questions asked and answered and differing opinions offered. There was a bit of partisanship from audience members on both side of the aisle. Some folks held up signs and Kirk even introduced the green party candidate when he stood to ask some questions. Our elected congressman had a conversation with the people he represents, the ones who voted for him and those who clearly did not. He listened to what everyone had to say and spoke honestly and from the heart about the most important issues of the day - and that's worth driving in the rain for.