U-High students talk with former Chicago alderman


Berk Oto

Former Alderman Dick Simpson addresses a crowd of students at a lunch event on Wednesday, May 29. Mr. Simpson was speaking about machine politics in Chicago, and was brought in by Lab's Civic Engagement Club.

Berk Oto, Midway Reporter

Covering a range of topics to emphasize that Lab students can help break the political machine through civic engagement, a former alderman turned professor spoke about Chicago’s history of machine politics during an event May 29 organized by the Civic Engagement Coalition.

The lunchtime event featured free pizza, history extra credit, and a talk from Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. About two dozen students attended.

“One of the questions is, what extent will citizen engagement at the Lab School support Lori Lightfoot’s program of reform?” Mr. Simpson said. “Part of it is to push Lori to create change, and the second part is to support Lori so that the votes in City Council are there to be able to make major change. Minor change is not difficult but major change is a much heavier load.”

Mr. Simpson applauded Mayor Lightfoot’s plan to end aldermanic privilege, which gave aldermen absolute power to issue vetoes in their wards.

“Aldermanic privilege needs to be curbed. This does not mean that aldermanic voice needs to be curbed. The aldermen ought to stand up for their community,” Mr. Simpson said.

Mr. Simpson was the final speaker in a series hosted by the Civic Engagement Coalition.

“I didn’t have high expectations when I started the club this year, but I have just been overwhelmed by people telling me that we needed something like this at Lab,” Suleyman Ahmed said. “It is not just about asking what the experts think but also trying to see what the Lab community thinks that makes the coalition unique. You can see that engagement through not only the turnout but also the questions people ask.”

Suleyman said he wants the club to concentrate on a single topic in the future.

“Next year we will have a focus on education, and the inequalities surrounding that issue in the Chicagoland area,” Suleyman said.

Suleyman said his vision is to inspire students to be more politically aware of the world around them. This vision motivates him to  host speakers, like Mr. Simpson, from across the political landscape who have the common goal of encouraging the next generation to be active in their communities.

“You can always, no matter your age, work in political campaigns for candidates running for state legislature, Congress, and other offices,” Mr. Simpson said. “This is a part of what you can do to be active in your community.”