Monday, January 10, 2011

Farewell to a True Blue Friend as DuPage Democratic Activist Amy Tauchman Departs for Denver (on "Inauguration Day")

“I think I’m gonna be sad, I think it’s today
The girl that’s driving me mad is going away
She’s got a ticket to ride, she’s got a ticket to ride, she’s got a ticket to ride
But she don’t care”
The Beatles, “Ticket To Ride”

Ever since I thought about writing an appreciation of Amy Tauchman as she prepares to leave her longtime home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois for the wide open possibilities offered by Denver, Colorado, the above stanza has been in my head as the way to open such a piece.

And yet, virtually nothing about it is particularly accurate or apt. Yes, I am “gonna be sad” because Amy is going away, but I’m also happy for her to be making a new start. Rather than a girl that’s driving me mad, she’s a woman who’s been one of my best friends over the past five years. Instead of having a ticket to ride, she’ll be driving her own car as she goes on her Rocky Mountain way.

And more than almost anyone I’ve ever known, Amy very much does care.

So I hope some of what I write conveys just how passionate she has been about many things of great import, and how impressively she has inspired change as a result.

“Sometimes we move with no choice /
To the call of wild crazy voices”
BoDeans, “Dreams”

I met Amy Tauchman almost exactly five years ago. We lived a half-mile from each other in Glen Ellyn for more than 10 previous years, but never had reason to interact until we both made our initial forays into the world of campaign politics. After meeting Christine Cegelis at a candidate debate in January 2006—she was making her second run for the U.S. House seat in Illinois District 6—I volunteered to do some office work and Amy was Christine’s Office Manager and de facto Volunteer Coordinator.

I enjoyed working for Christine and with Amy; both warmly welcomed some proactive marketing concepts I shared, though it was too late in the campaign for them to be implemented. Although Christine had done better against longtime incumbent Henry Hyde in the 2004 general election than any previous challenger (as far as I’m aware), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee— headed at the time by Rahm Emanuel—decided to enlist wounded Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth as a primary challenger. Tammy won a tough battle in March 2006—by less than 1% in a race where a third candidate, Lindy Scott, earned 16.5%—before losing to Peter Roskam in November.

Although I had made some friendly acquaintances on the Cegelis campaign, including Amy, this was before Facebook had become a ubiquitous way to further fledgling relationships and Amy & I never even exchanged phone numbers or email addresses. But soon thereafter, through the power of Google, I discovered that she was the co-leader and co-founder of DAWN (DuPage Against War Now). Given the political climate at the time, especially in DuPage County, where every elected official was a Republican (and most still are), I was somewhat surprised to find Amy’s phone number listed on DAWN’s website.

Even Amy’s compatriot in the formation and leadership of DAWN, Kathy Slovick (who continues to run the organization), says, “I felt that she was pretty courageous to allow her phone number to be published in the paper and on our website. I still remember some of the confrontational phone calls she would get from people.”

But as I soon came to know, even beyond the tenacity she brought to the Cegelis campaign, Amy Tauchman has never been one to let popular sentiment keep her from demonstrably championing her beliefs. 

“I won’t take all that they hand me down /
And make out a smile though I wear a frown”

The Kinks, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”

In 1994, as a suburban mother and housewife—albeit one who had ruffled feathers on the local PTA by surveying the entire biography section of her children’s school library and insisting that it expand to better reflect the cultural diversity of the community—Amy Tauchman dyed her hair purple.

And kept it that way for the better part of two years.

For most of us, doing something sure to engender such attention, incredulity and derision would be merely a ‘pigment of our imagination.’ (Amy loves my puns;-) But in finding her surroundings far too homogenized—in practice if not in truth—she felt obliged to shake things up a bit while advocating for a greater sense of inclusion and acceptance among citizens outside the Caucasian Christian commonality.

The YWCA of DuPage would recognize Amy’s efforts to raise cultural awareness at the Parkview School and beyond by giving her their “Racial Justice Award” for Outstanding Women Leaders in 1998. 

So although Amy wouldn’t truly “get political” until 2006 or become an avowed peace activist until 2002, her social stridency was readily apparent long before DAWN. In fact, prior to starting a family, her first job out of college (at the University of Illinois) was as a social worker at a battered women’s shelter in Pilsen.

“I don’t give a damn for the same old played out scenes / 
I don’t give a damn for just the in-betweens”
Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands”

After settling in Glen Ellyn in 1989 following stays in Colorado and California, Amy—who had a somewhat nomadic childhood before spending her teens in Peoria, IL— long valued her ability to stay home with her three kids while her (now ex-) husband Roger served as the family’s breadwinner. Yet complacency was never part of the equation.

Among other passions and pursuits, she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, set upon writing 500 pages of a novel, went to Portugal alone for a month to study Portuguese and earned a lead role in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance at Glen Ellyn’s Village Theatre, despite not having acted since high school.

Still, as she tells it, despite an American dreamlike existence in Chicago’s Western Suburbs, the all-too-serene street corner where contentment meets malaise kept her awake at night.

“All of the things I was discovering about the smallness of my world led me to suggest that: A) we move out of Glen Ellyn, B) Roger seek a reassignment that would let us live abroad or C) we take the kids out of school and travel around the world.”

And C they did. As detailed in Ramble On! Six Months Around the World With Yer Typical American Family—written by Roger with help from Amy and their daughters Alex & Lauren and son Kevin—from January through July 2001, the Tauchman family went from Glen Ellyn to Costa Rica to Peru to New Zealand to China to Jordan to Italy to France and to a total of 20 foreign countries.

When Amy told me about this excursion a few years ago, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. And today she recalls the experience as having made her “feel more fortunate, and much less acquisitive,” especially in observing those in some of the more developing countries, where most can only fantasize about the fundamental freedoms we take for granted.

“For many people we encountered, America represented the possible blossoming of any dream they’d ever had,” conveyed Amy. “The trip, and all that we witnessed, renewed my sense of appreciation for the United States. Upon arriving home, I walked down the tarmac yelling, ‘I love America!’”

Unfortunately, everything would soon change. And in the wake of the journey of a lifetime, the forever-mutated world would force Amy Tauchman to explore new places within herself.

“Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine? / 
Is this not what you expected to see?”
Pink Floyd, “In The Flesh”

Even in the first half of 2001, as her family circled the globe, Amy didn’t have to have rabbit ears to hear the worldwide disquiet over the man elected (hanging chads notwithstanding) the 43rd President of the United States of America.

And her horror over the attacks of Sept. 11 soon gave way to heartbreak over how George W. Bush chose to handle the aftermath.

“His racism was positively scary to me. He personified all the fears I’d seen in the eyes of people in the underdeveloped world.” Elaborating, Amy suggests, “As the entire world was embracing us with compassion, President Bush squandered the opportunity for a deep discussion about how we’re going to live on this planet with people with different wants and needs.”

Far ahead of most Americans—myself included—and even many liberals, Amy never bought into Bush’s stated rationale as the invasion of Iraq loomed.

Amy Tauchman and Kathy Slovick
In October 2002, she attended a peace rally in Wheaton and encountered a fellow mom from her children’s school who she presumed had differing political perspectives. But she and Kathy Slovick soon bonded over their mutual abhorrence for the proposed war and decided—with no overt prior intent—to start an anti-war organization that they christened DAWN.

One of their first actions was to conduct an opinion survey at the Glen Ellyn train station regarding the attacking of Iraq. To their surprise, more than 70% of the presumably largely conservative commuters said that it “was a bad idea.” But by the precipice of war in March 2003, their polling revealed local sentiment had reversed.

Although history has largely validated the viewpoints of Amy, Kathy and hundreds of DAWN supporters, the grim consequences for American soldiers and Iraqi citizens provides Amy with no sense of solace.

But she offers, “I think we took peace demonstrations to the heart of America. Although we didn’t exactly ‘change things’ in a military sense, we made it harder for our neighbors to gloss over what was happening.”

As Amy’s involvement in partisan politics increased, her active participation in DAWN devolved. But in remembering their early years working together, Slovick states, “I can honestly say that she is one of those unforgettable people whom you meet and they somehow inspire you to become the best person you can be.”

“Passion is no ordinary word”
Graham Parker, “Passion Is No Ordinary Word”

After reconnecting with Amy following the Cegelis primary—one of the smartest, most fruitful things I’ve ever done—I became involved in DAWN. From street corner vigils in downtown Glen Ellyn to a petition drive to have an Iraq War question added to the 2006 election ballot to prompting supporters and opponents to fill the house at otherwise somnambulant local township meetings, it was clear that this wasn’t a peace group that simply sat around pontificating.

Besides the fundraising Shakespeare nights that introduced me to Roger and my mom and sister Allison to Amy, Kathy and other peaceful folk—and allowed me to create two of my favorite promo flyers (2006 at left and 2007 linked here)—my favorite DAWN moment with Amy came when we paired up to seek petition signatures at the Lisle Eyes To The Skies Festival.

Before entering the grounds of the 4th of July Weekend fest, Amy said to me, “Here’s Roger’s number. If I get arrested, call him and ask him to bail me out.”

Not exactly “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” but despite some trepidations and glares from police and attendees, it turned out to be a rather gratifying experience as we collected dozens of signatures and convinced at least a few veterans we conversed with that we were fighting to protect their brothers from harm in an unjust war.

“Whatever happened to all this season’s losers of the year / 
Every time I got to thinking where’d they disappear?”
Cheap Trick, “Surrender”

In October 2006, Amy had been hired as a consultant on Joe Vosicky’s campaign for the Illinois General Assembly in District 46. Bob Peickert was the campaign manager and they brought me aboard to do some paid marketing, including creating direct mail pieces and newspaper ads. After an excruciating election night that saw Vosicky lose by 299 votes—still the closest margin in memory by a DuPage Democrat in a state race—Amy, Bob, others and I resolved that rather than get depressed, we would turn others blue.

Thus, Operation: Turn DuPage Blue—a progressive grass roots awareness initiative independent of the reigning Democratic party structure in DuPage County—was hatched. As part of the charter Steering Committee, Bob Peickert served as Chair, Amy was Executive Director and I was Marketing Director (you can still see the now dormant website I created and maintained).

It was an amazingly unified effort fueled by the energy of many like-minded individuals, but in coordinating numerous meetings, putting together a community outreach effort, prompting hundreds of supporters to march behind the OTDB banner in multiple parades, bringing a Camp Wellstone training weekend to College of DuPage and garnering considerable press attention, Amy’s outstanding organizational abilities were abundantly obvious.

“We broke though the static,” states Amy, reflecting on the effect of OTDB, “We added enough voices, created enough of a wave, to amplify recognition of Democrats in DuPage.”

Although I relocated to Skokie in the summer of 2007, I remained in regular contact with Amy and actively involved with OTDB through the ascension of its leadership into the Democratic Party of DuPage County.

In March 2008, Bob Peickert was elected Chair of the DPDC and Amy became Executive Director. That year also saw—for the first time in DuPage (at least in decades)—more Democratic primary ballots cast than Republican. In winning the Presidency, Barack Obama earned 55% of the local vote (four years earlier, John Kerry gained just 45%). Three Democrats were elected to the DuPage County Board, which had been exclusively Republican. And Bill Foster, a Democrat whose district included a significant portion of DuPage, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to Justin Heath, a Youth Advocate for OTDB and the DPDC, “What Amy has meant to Democratic politics in DuPage County is immeasurable and her passion will keep me fighting for change for decades to come.”

“Today I am starting the rest of my life / 
Today, I can touch the sky”
Bob Mould, “Moving Trucks”

In February 2009, attendance at the DPDC’s Presidents’ Day Gala—its principal fundraiser—was roughly 400% higher than the previous year, and remained high in 2010 (click for details about this year’s Presidents' Day Gala on February 13, 2011). Between 2009 and 2010, DuPage Democratic candidates were fielded in virtually every local, state and national race. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn—who, along with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White, now frequents DPDC events—was re-elected by a close margin and Madigan & White won new terms with their DuPage tallies soundly trouncing Republican opponents.

Yet despite tremendous efforts, no one—least of all Peickert or Amy—views the results of 2009 and 2010 as anything but a disappointment for the Democrats, in DuPage Co. and nationally. There is still plenty of work to be done and for at least her first year in Denver, Amy will be telecommuting.

But, the ties that bind notwithstanding, she is also ready to shake the Etch-a-Sketch clean. Last year, she and Roger ended their 27-year-marriage. Their youngest children are now college seniors and their oldest lives in Texas. Amy came to realize that some of her personal habits needed readdressing. And her two brothers in Denver offered an opportunity to assist with their food business.

So Amy Tauchman, who has never shied away from a challenge, is—in a literal sense—heading for the hills. Although, as I’ve said to her, Denver is just a bit further west from Skokie than Glen Ellyn, family and political connections promise to bring her back to the area somewhat regularly and there are myriad communication options to remain in touch, I will miss her more than I can say.

And so will anyone in DuPage County and beyond who aspires to a greater sense of democracy. Or just plain decency.

When asked about Amy’s effect in the time they’ve collaborated, community activist and former candidate Kathy Salzano didn’t focus on wins and losses, money raised or strides made, but simply courtesy and class.

“When my children volunteered for local events, I was always surprised and impressed that Amy was sure to personally write them a ‘Thank You’ note. I appreciate how she has always expressed her gratitude and offer her my heartfelt “thank you!”

As, of course, do I.

A farewell poem I wrote for Amy; click to enlarge
“You came along just like a song / 
And brightened my day”
Barry Manilow, “Can’t Smile Without You”

Hopefully, this treatise has highlighted Amy Tauchman’s tremendous energy, her unwavering passion, her extraordinary efforts to “bring more people into the system and ensure that fewer are left out.” Clearly, she has done amazing things, had a monumental impact and already has her paint brushes out to beautifully adorn a newly blank canvas.

But that’s only part of the story. Amy and I, with & without additional family & friends, have shared many laughs, numerous tears and untold open-hearted conversations. All of my lyrical references here, except “Ticket to Ride” and the video below, represent concerts we attended together. We have eaten several meals together, spent countless hours over coffee (although I don’t drink it), visited museums and planned picnics. We talk regularly about books and art and theater and movies and music and travel and society and culture and careers and relationships and many, many things beyond peace and politics.

She is as good a person as I’ve ever known and even better for constantly working to improve herself—and the lives of countless others, near home and all around the world. Amy sums up the impact of her activism to date by saying, “I think I helped people get and stay excited. I always did all I could to make people feel included, whether on a micro or macro level.”

I’ll conclude simply by saying:

I love you, Amy, and wish you what you are…the very best.

(If you want to wish Amy well and don't have means to do so personally, leave a comment below and I'll be sure she sees it.)


Greg Boyd said...

Great post. She sounds like a wonderful person. Good luck in Denver!

LTauchman said...

What a thoughtful tribute to my mom's expansive achievements throughout the 'Glen Ellyn' period of her life!

Truly a touching sendoff. No one could have said it better than you!


Seth Arkin said...

Lauren, thanks for the kind words. Hope you're doing well.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to hear Amy is leaving. I wish her the best. Even though I'm older than her, I have always thought of her as one of my role models. I enjoyed our time working together.

Anonymous said...

Seth, thank you! This was a beautifully written piece; thanks for making me (even more) proud to be her daughter!

Seth Arkin said...

Thanks Alex. I know she's just as proud to be your Mom. I hope you & your siblings are adjusting OK to all the changes; I know it can't be easy.

Julie Nolan said...

So you are taking all of your wonderful talent energy and perspective and heading west! Well, Denver's lucky to have you and we are sad to see you leave DuPage and Glen Ellyn
Best of luck as you start this new phase of your life.
I'm happy that our paths crossed, however briefly, in this life.
Julie Nolan

Retired Military Patriot said...

Amy changed my life when she recruited me at a DAWN event and then to become a PC and get involved with her and Bob Peickert's movement Operation Turn DuPage Blue and then as outstanding leaders of the DuPage Dems. Your outstanding post taught me many things I didn't know about Amy. I am equally in awe as you are at her character, integrity and marvelous ability to come up with challenging ideas and implementing them immediately. She won't be missed by me because she will be part of my life for the remainder and fortunately because of modern communications, will continue her outstanding work for DuPage Dems and progressives who know we will never quit working for change to improve our governments and lives.

Anonymous said...

Is she taking Peickert with her?

Laurel Bault said...

Fabulous Seth! Thank you for writing this tribute to an amazing woman!

Anonymous said...

Peter and Kristin from Naperville wish Amy the best.