By Bob Skolnik
The election of Donald Trump as president last November left Riverside resident Jennifer Fournier shocked and outraged. Like other progressive women she had hoped and expected Hillary Clinton to win and become the first female president of the United States.
Fournier, like about 4 million other Clinton supporters nationwide, had joined a closed Facebook page called Pantsuit Nation, which was created shortly before the election as a place where Clinton supporters could gather online without fear of being trolled.
After the shock of Trump's victory began to wear off, Fournier and other local women decided that they needed to get off the sidelines and take a more active role in politics and government.
The first step was attending the women's march in Washington to protest Trump's inauguration with her friend, Bridget Doherty. But they quickly decided that they wanted to do more than march.
"We are all woken up," Fournier said. "I had not been paying attention to politics at all before the election, before the march. And I started paying attention. I saw things that I didn't agree with it and I started speaking out about that, and that kind of represents what we're doing as a group."
Other local women also went to Washington for the march, including Riversiders Lisa Janunas and Nilsa Sweetser, but they did not meet Fournier and Doherty until after the march.
"We all kind of found each other," Fournier said.
One week after the march, the four organized a postcard-writing event at Riverside Public Library to encourage people to write to Trump and members on Congress and let them know that they would be keeping an eye of them.
Three weeks later, on Feb. 12, the four Riverside women launched their Facebook page as the West Suburban Chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow, a statewide organization created after the November election as an offshoot of Pantsuit Nation. The phrase, "action for a better tomorrow" comes from a line in Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech at the 2016 Democratic Party Convention.
The group has grown in seven months to include about 35,000 members spread out in various chapters across Illinois. The West Suburban Chapter has 262 members, mostly residents of Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside. More than half live in Riverside according to Fournier.
The chapter is emerging as a player in community affairs. The chapter sponsored a rainbow flag banner that hung in Guthrie Park for a week in June to celebrate Gay Pride Month, which stirred some controversy. Members of the group also unsuccessfully lobbied local village boards not to opt out of the new Cook County minimum wage and accrued sick time laws.
Members of Action for a Better Tomorrow say they are not disheartened by not prevailing on the minimum wage issue, though Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield all voted to opt out of the law.
They say they are just getting started.
They intend to keep a close eye on local governments and to make their voices heard and, more importantly, to effect change.
"I think that we learned a lot as an organization going through the process and figuring out how to navigate," Fournier said of the minimum wage fight. "We learned a lot about what we could do better every other subsequent time. If anything, I think this has strengthened our resolve."
The chapter has begun to send members to observe village and school board meetings and report back to the group, which holds monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of the month. They most recently met July 11 at the Brookfield Public Library.
"We are a grass roots organization focused on accountability in government," Fournier said. "We're focused on monitoring our local governments."
Perhaps the best way to think about Action for a Better Tomorrow is as the League of Women Voters with attitude.
Action for a Better Tomorrow has a more overt ideological perspective than the League of Women Voters, even though the fledgling organization is officially non-partisan. But it is not non-ideological.
"It's progressive," Fournier said of Action for a Better Tomorrow's orientation. "There's a bit more focus and concentration in organizing for change versus educating on issues, which we do a lot of, but we kind of take it one step further in understanding the processes for how things are able to impact change and use those channels and pathways to do so."
Riverside Village President Ben Sells said that he welcomes the group's involvement, even though he, most of the village board and the group differed over whether Riverside should opt out of the minimum wage ordinance.
"I like any group that pays attention to local affairs," said Sells, who appeared at one of the group's monthly meetings and was rigorously questioned. "I think the more people who are involved and learn about what's going on in the village the better."
Sells tried to join the group's Facebook page, but the chapter decided that elected officials could not be members. State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) was also not allowed to be a member, but the wives of Zalewski and Sells are members.
Ken Circo and Courtney Greve Hack, who are members of the Riverside Library Board, which is an elected position, were listed as members on the chapter's Facebook page until the Landmark asked why they were allowed to be members but Sells and Zalewski were not.
The west suburban chapter has discussed a range of issues including bullying in schools. A member of the group met with Riverside Elementary School District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye to discuss the issue.
District 96 is adding a unit on healthy relationships next year at L.J. Hauser Junior High School in part as a response to concerns expressed about bullying.
Roughly 90 percent of the members of the west suburban chapter are women, Fournier said, but more men are starting to join.
"I'd say the majority is young parents, but we also have a lot of people whose kids are off to college," Fournier said. "They also have been woken up, too, and didn't really participate in politics before, so we're all kind of learning together, figuring it out."
Lindsay Morrison, of Riverside, joined because she likes the chapter's focus on local issues. For Morrison, the election of Trump served as a call to action. She went to the Chicago Women's March in January and wanted to do more.
"I was looking for next steps and a way to continue being involved, but I was also looking for something more local," Morrison said. "As a member of a group that's motivated to be involved, and involved here locally, I can have an impact."
The founder of Action For a Better Together is Georgia Logothetis, whose day job is serving as the managing director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council. Logothetis, who lives in Niles, was an active member of Pantsuit Nation and has been interested in and active in politics her entire adult life.
"We are a progressive organization," Logothetis said of Action for a Better Tomorrow. "We fight for a progressive, issue-based platform, and when it happens to be supported by Republican, we'll cheer them on that."
The handful of statewide leaders of the group, all volunteer positions, provide research, support and training to local chapters which are autonomous. The state leaders teach members how to be effective advocates and educate members on which state and federal issues are worth taking on. The local chapters decide what issues to concentrate on.
"Our internal mantra is we're about better action, not just action," Logothetis said. "We're very research-based, we're education-based, so it's not a protest group or anything like that."