Although we can infer that legislators will often pass laws for their own advantage, most of us still adhere to the belief that the legislators’ duty to act justly stems from their duty to keep a promise. Perhaps we should recall that despite their pledges, the legislators’ criteria for justice are their consideration for what is most expedient for them—their re-election, which is concealed often by a counterfeit concern for the general welfare of their constituency and the state’s financial situation.
Undoubtedly, our pension is not generally viewed as in the best interest of the welfare of a legislator’s entire electorate. Our pension serves no purpose, except solely for our enviable, financial promise. How should we argue then for the expediency of our rights and benefits? Is being just to a minority of citizens beneficial as a means for the majority’s attainment of happiness? Conversely, how can we argue that it is morally right that a minority of people should suffer so there is a net gain for the majority? Should not “the minority [of individuals] possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect” (Thomas Jefferson)?
There are no easy answers to these questions. All of us claim certain beliefs as truths. Nevertheless, what we must remember is that we, both retired and working teachers, cannot abdicate our right to representation in a decision-making process that affects only us, and although our entitled pension conferred to us by the State and U.S. Constitutions is not “an inalienable right,” for most of us, it is our final and only source of income.
It is up to us to secure what we have earned by opposing the wealthy influences of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and their unethical legislators. We must defend our dignity with stubborn resolve. Our primary task is to enlist every teacher and every other public employee in a unification of wills to protect our “alienable” rights and benefits that we deem fair and equitable because they are earned, incentive payments for our life’s labor. This undertaking perhaps forestalls our pro-active and continual engagement with the bankrollers’ marionettes in the Illinois General Assembly.
Indeed, our fortitude and knowledge give us power, and this power must motivate us to action. Our pensions will continue to be attacked in the future. We are intrinsically bound to one another in this regard. As Martin Luther King eloquently stated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Let us also heed King’s message of “direct action” and unify our efforts to confront wealthy interests and unethical legislation; let us “arouse the conscience of not only our colleagues but our communities” by proving that our right to a defined-benefit pension is not to be "diminished or impaired" because it is the solution and template for the preservation of justice and dignity of all workers in Illinois.
A demanding call for engagement will intensify for us in the future. We cannot remain on the sidelines. "Indifference is not an option," even though “It is so much easier to look away… so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes” (Elie Wiesel). With concerted determination and indomitable courage, let us meet these challenges before us. “What is required of us is a new… responsibility…; that we have duties to ourselves [and to others]; that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of character, than giving our all to a difficult task” (Barack Obama). Truly, “We Are One,” but only if we demonstrate a willingness to organize and to act upon principles that we believe are so valuable that to do nothing would be an injustice.