Tim Arnold is a current DePaul student in the Political Science program. He was able to spend a day with Alderman Smith and get a view of what life is like for Chicago politicians. Read his essay below:
I’ve always thought of politics as the most direct avenue between public want and societal change. The legislature, in particular, empowers the people, providing a sophisticated platform for policy debate. Senators, representatives and city council members alike have the difficult task of advocating for their constituents. They look out for their own, making sure that no one’s opinions, or subsequent rights are left in the dust; that’s an admirable service.
Through DePaul’s Professional Exploration Program (PEP), I spent a day shadowing Chicago Alderman Michele Smith of the 43rd Ward. Upon arriving at City Hall, Alderman Smith greeted me with a warm smile and handshake. We bonded over talk of her work in Lincoln Park and within minutes she had me accompany her to the traditional mayoral gift presentation ceremony. I felt incredibly lucky because this holiday ceremony is normally exclusive to city council members. I mingled with some of Chicago’s most influential politicians, including Mayor Emanuel himself! It was amazing how quickly I felt like one of them. Aldermanic powerhouses were treating me with the utmost respect, sharing their insights on current Chicago issues.
Little did I know, the excitement had just begun. From the ceremony, I was directed to find my seat in the viewing balcony of the main City Hall chamber. I got out my notepad and pen, sat back, and was blown away by the commotion that ensued. The chamber was jam packed with camera crews, politicians, security teams and countless protesters. I coincidentally came the same day as Mayor Emanuel’s last-minute mayoral address. He was to discuss the investigation of the Chicago Police Department in response to the Laquan McDonald video. Tensions were high and it was clear that it would be an historic day. The mayor gave a tearful speech, pointing out the injustice of racial discrimination by law enforcement. Many protesters scoffed at his “apology,” screaming for his immediate resignation. I’ll admit, part of me was terrified to be in the midst of such a volatile situation, but the learning opportunity was far too great to miss out on. I was moved by many of the speakers, especially by one alderman who said, “It's not the person, it's the position. And it's not the personality, it's the policy." I left City Hall reminded of the true responsibility of all politicians; to promote the wellbeing of ALL. Changes must be made, and I was lucky enough to see policymaking in progress.
The rest of my day was focused in Lincoln Park, where Alderman Smith’s ward office is located. I had a chance to meet with her staff, sit in on meetings and get a better idea of how an alderman actually oversees a district. She gave me fantastic tips for getting started in politics as well as how I can become regularly involved in 43rd Ward activities. All in all, the experience was wonderful and I highly recommend that other students take advantage of the PEP Shadow Program. No matter what major you are pursuing, this program has strong connections that can set you up for future internships. I, myself, will return to the ward office in March as a part-time intern. Just remember to be open to anything. Who knows? A shadow day could uncover a passion you never knew you had.