Civil rights attorney Anne Shaw is one of four candidates vying to represent the 4th District to replace the retiring Cynthia Soto. Shaw's challengers are Iris Millan, Alyx Pattison and Delia Ramirez. Windy City Times was able to talk with Ramirez as well as Shaw.
Windy City Times: What are the biggest issues your district faces?
Anne Shaw: It's a very changing district, so it's not an easy district for someone to jump in and say, oh, let's run. You literally have to be involved with the community, people have to get to know you, you need to appeal to so many different people. So it's a challenging area, but it's a wonderful area, and it's one that I've been proud to call home for almost 20 years. I've actually witnessed the shift, and it's good and it's bad, you know. It's something that's been going on all over the city, but we feel it very keenly in the 4th District. People are worried about the budget, because it affects their day to day lives. They worry about schools, and they also worry about the gun violence and crime in the community.
Our campaign myself included, we've knocked on over 12,000 doors. I take this seriously, I want to talk to the people, and every day I hear people worried about their kids. I hear scary stories from teachers who tell me, "hey, I got 35 children to teach and they only gave me 25 books." My parents are immigrants, and I didn't speak any English when I went to school. I went to public school in the suburbs of Chicago, and we had the budget to provide me with a speech therapist. By first grade, I was winning spelling bees. So I want to ensure that every child in my district and in Illinois has that same opportunity that I had so that they can succeed. Everything actually ties in with education funding, making sure that our kids have the tools that they need to be successful.
We really need good ways of generating revenue in our state to meet our minimum budget requirements. We're not even doing that now. We have some of the lowest funding in the nation on Medicaid, and that affects a lot of people in many communities, including the LGBTQ community. And those are things that I think we can definitely take care of and find ways of funding as well.
WCT: Talk about your background and qualifications.
AS: I hadn't planned to become a civil rights attorney. I've been a civil rights attorney for over 20 years. My father worked for the state and was discriminated against. He went to court and he won his civil rights case, and I was enamored of what his lawyer was able to do; he was able to be my dad's voice and help him win his case, and I said, I want to be a civil rights attorney. So my whole life changed, and as a result, I saw I really liked to help people. In 2010 I founded a pro bono legal clinic that serves the Chinatown and Pilsen communities. And then I currently sit on the ACLU IL board, and also the board of the Midwest Asian Health Association, which provides free and low cost mental and health care to a lot of immigrant communities in the Chinatown and Pilsen areas.
In my current community, we need to make sure that we provide these resources for our people. Are we providing them with the healthcare needs that they have? Back in 2011, I actually confronted Mayor Emanuel on his budget. I did it to his face, and I got the community to collect like over 6,000-some signatures to try to stop that budget, because that budget closed 6 mental health facilities. That's 50% of our mental health facilities, including one that we had in our district on Western Avenue. It was also a budget that helped shut down 50 of our neighborhood schools, many of them in my community. A lot of the issues that we've been facing, the dramatic increase in violence and crime, I believe is attributable to not only that budget, but the lack of funding for basic social services. We can't cut our way out of the mess, because it's inhumane, and it's actually costing the people more in resources and money than we should spend. We need to look at budget and policies that are humane, that look at taking care of people and helping them with their issues and problems.
I'm willing to stand up to them to do what needs to be done and that's the best for the people. We really to turn out these kinds of inhumane policies, like not having a [state] budget for almost three years, where people literally died or didn't get the help they needed. That's just not right, and that's something I will continue to fight against. I looked at this race as an opportunity to take it to the next level. I've done all these things to help people from a volunteer perspective as well as from my own practice, and I've said hey, you know what, I can do more as an elected official. And we need more of that, we need more independent voices, of people who actually have been working with the people.
WCT: It seems like you've worked with a lot of different groups between your law practice and your activism: how do you see that relating to coalition-building?
AS: You can't do anything without working with other people. Back in 2012, I worked with the Governor's Office and many people from different backgrounds to get licensing exams for cosmetologists translated into languages of different immigrant communities so that they could take the exam. And that took me two years to do; I almost filed a discrimination claim against the state for not doing that.
Even starting this legal clinic, it took me a year. I had to work with community groups, a community based organization, lawyers, Chicago volunteer legal services, all these groups to get that done.
I protested the Illinois Supreme Court for not having enough diversity on the bench, and I organized 40 community based organizations within 24 hours, and we did releases, and I actually had my law license threatened. But I just felt like, look, I don't want to practice law in a state that doesn't value diversity on the bench, right? Our government should be reflective of the population that it serves. It was actually the first time the Illinois Supreme Court had actually met with a non-lawyer group, a community group. I was told that by one of the justices. At the time it was scary and hard work, but I couldn't have done it if I didn't have connections with different community groups, bipartisan, it didn't matter if you were Republican or Democrat. We had this issue that we all had to solve.
WCT: What would be the first thing you'd want to accomplish if you were to get to Springfield?
AS: I'd like to help create a progressive caucus. I think it's time that we had policies that serve the people. I've heard a lot of people talk about it and it's something that I want to be a part of. And I also want to work on some budget legislation, talking about ways that we can relieve some of the financial pressures. One of the things I could probably get passed pretty quickly and easily I think is something that other states: to help small businesses with a sales tax holiday. We could do it around Black Friday or something. It's something that the state can afford to do and it will give a big boost to our small businesses. And it's something I don't anyone has thought too much about because oftentimes [small businesses] get forgotten.
WCT: What is your experience with the LGBTQ community?
AS: [The Lakeview Area is] where I grew up: even though I didn't live there, I spent a lot of time there. My parents had businesses on Broadway. It's a small family business, and I helped out in the business since I was a little kid. When I started my own practice, I wanted to be in that community because I wanted to help people.
I can't tell you the joy I felt with the passage of marriage equality in Illinois. [In my law practice] I had couples come in and they would tell me stories like, "my partner was sick and his family wouldn't allow me to be in the hospital room, how do I prevent this?" And I was just furious, so I started creating documentation like powers of attorney, all the documentation to kind of create a marriage on paper. I've been practicing since '95, but I started my own practice in 2003, and would do that for a lot of people.
[Currently I represent] an attorney who worked with the Illinois Department of Professional Financial Regulation for many decades. We filed a case because we believe he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation. Title VII doesn't particularly recognize sexual orientation as a protected class, and we just went ahead and argued it anyway. I was very encouraged because I knew there was another case that was farther along than ours which eventually was heard by the 7th Circuit. The other case was the first case of its kind to say across the country that sexual orientation is covered under Title VII. We're very excited because we were able to move forward with our case and we're still moving forward. And it's something that I'm proud that we stuck to our guns on because we believed it was the right thing to do.
WCT: As a representative, what would you do on a day to day basis to protect trans and LGBTQ individuals from discrimation?
AS: One of the things I'd like to do is create various little committees to help me with policies and keep me grounded on what are the issues so that I don't miss it. That's absolutely one of the committees I'd like to create, of people in the LGBTQ community, especially leaders who I am actually good friends with and trust completely. Especially legal leaders. Ed Mullin is a civil rights lawyer and the lawyer for my campaign, and he's very well attuned, he knows what's going on. He's one of the types of people that would be advising me and making sure that if it's daily that the need arises or that the issue is coming up, and I definitely will join state representatives Kelly Cassidy and Greg Harris, and Sam Yingling on any issues they are concerned about and I'll support any of their initiatives in legislation on LGBTQ issues. I'm actually good friends with all three of them and I care very much about their issues.
WCT: Any final thoughts?
AS: We're living in some unprecedented political times for Illinois. To me, it's really amazing how many real open seats are out there. We've been so conditioned in Illinois to have an heir apparent. But this is amazing. There's going to be some exciting changes for Illinois, and I'm really excited to be part of it. You hear people complain that people are leaving the state of Illinois but that's not true. It's a very small amount, and the reality is, it's about how do we grow our state, and I think we can. I love Illinois, I love Chicago. I've been all over the world and this is my favorite place. I want to keep making my state better and keep it growing.