How can the people reconstruct the economy to make it more fair, equitable, inclusive and humane?
That was the question posted to a panel of experts Saturday morning as part of a "Community Economic Restoration" series at Elgin's Gail Borden Public Library.
The answers were as multifaceted as the question itself.
One opinion, voiced by Vincent Gaddis, was that Americans must focus on intrinsic values, such as strengthening relationships with God and family, instead of working more to simply earn money to buy material objects by which their "value" to society is measured.
Gaddis, a Benedictine University professor and pastor of the New Generation Christian Center in Aurora, said Americans consume the most per capita on the planet yet most people are unhappy and 35 million were in poverty as of 2007.
"What's the solution? We need a revolution in values," he said. Otherwise, "we'll forget about the poor, we'll forget about the homeless and chase the money until the next cycle brings us right back here again. - The question is what kind of world do we want? Do we wait for the collapse or do we begin the transition now?"
Mae Hicks Jones, a human resources executive who has taught at Elgin Community College and Judson University, said people need to be vigilant about monitoring their credit report and should constantly be on the lookout for ways to increase their skills to get the job they want, not the one they're stuck with.
"Handle your business. Free checking does not always mean free checking. Do some research," she said. "You have to make some moves. You can't just sit back and wait for things to happen."
Diane Nilan, an Aurora woman who sold her home four years ago to travel the county in an RV to make a documentary about homeless children, said lawmakers need a better understanding of homelessness and that the depth of the problem can't be measured just by counting people staying at shelters.
The panel discussion, which was attended by about 25 people, was sponsored by the Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice, Black Business Owners and Community Networking Organization, Elgin Rainbow PUSH and MoveOn.org's Elgin Council.
The panel suggested 10 ways people could help. They ranged from national actions, such as contacting Illinois' two senators and President Obama, to organizing a community garden to grow food for area food pantries.
Citizens for Peace and Justice is gauging interest in a garden venture next year and is looking for volunteers and ideas.
"People who volunteer in such a community garden can learn about nutrition and organic gardening," said Mary Sheesgreen, the group's president, also mentioning the economic downturn as an incentive to garden. "It has lots of possible meanings and purposes."
For information about the garden effort, call (847) 742-6602, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit fvc4pnj.org.