Thank you for the 500!

Dear readers and all our many friends, thank you for bringing The Rock River Times to our 500th issue.

Milestones such as this bring reflection, as they should, and what shines out quite clearly is that the community has supported our most basic purpose—to tell the truth, as best as we can discern that illusive principle—the truth about local, regional, national and international arts, culture, commerce and politics.

Recently, I heard a commentator state on NPR’s excellent On the Media program that everyone has their own truth. While his viewpoint is accurate to a degree, I respectfully must disagree. While everyone has their own interpretation of reality, facts do exist. These facts exist outside our biases, and discovering and presenting those facts through the principle of objectivity are the greatest tools of critical thinking.

Hard-news journalists are supposed to be objective and accurate as they sort through everyone else’s truths and present as many views and pieces of evidence as possible to let the reader decide.

Columnists are persuaders who use facts to impact subjects of concern. Because they purport opinion, biases are understood and the reader again decides to agree or disagree with their viewpoint.

Objectivity and presenting views from the left, the center and the right have been the hallmark of this paper as we strive to truly be “The Voice of the Community” for the times of the Rock River. We are flattered to see other media follow our lead at least in phrasing, using the words “voice” and “Rock River Valley.”

While this paper proudly lets the commu-nity speak in its pages, we do have an agenda editorially. We continue to fight for historical preservation in Rockford, the richness of many cultures, fairness and loyalty in commerce, protection for the environment, the use of alternative energy, true and affordable justice in the courts, preservation of history, equality and honesty in politics and support for the arts.

From our first issue to today, our commitment to the arts leads our agenda; that’s why the arts are on our front page, too. As has been argued in many editorials, the arts—dance, music, drama, painting, sculpture, prose, and my personal favorite, poetry—educate us about the human condition and provide and sharpen tools for everyday life.

Our coverage of the arts has inspired others to improve theirs and support the arts as well. Many people have spoken about how hard it was to get the local media to cover their artistic endeavors, and that remains an opportunity, challenge and a privilege for this paper.

Graciously, the Mayor’s Arts Awards has nominated this paper four times for the Corporate or Community Impact Award. The Rockford Area Music Industry awards (RAMIs), which this paper helped to found along with RAM magazine and Sound Concepts, won the 1999 Mayor’s Arts Award for Creative Cultural Event. We have also won the RAMI for Community Service.

Culturally, with all that concept encompasses, this region enjoys great richness. We have covered local links to everything from a Rockford visit of heir to the throne of Laos to Budapest, to Argentina, to Cuba, to our Appalachian and Pacific Coast trails, to Lewis Lemon as one of the founders of Rockford. By the way, happy Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

In commerce, we bemoaned Money magazine’s bottom-ranking of Rockford. We have stood fast against the ills of large corporations eliminating local businesses, and against NAFTA, GATT and the WTO. The only people who truly benefit from “free trade” are the oligarchs; the rest of us “pay.” As our jobs and companies fly elsewhere, even overseas, this paper stands for all the citizens of this nation.

In the city’s center, this paper was a major leader in keeping the Rockford Library in the River District, and helped to establish the River District Association itself as an organization. We remain a champion for the core, cultural corridor of our area and steadfastly oppose urban sprawl and the concentration of social services. Let’s build up, not out. Let’s build market-rate housing in the River District, not self-defeating public housing. Along with a dedicated core group, this paper’s efforts were crucial in defeating the proposed Amerock Building, and the River District united in opposition to the project.

In politics, this paper has saved the taxpayers millions of dollars. First we exposed what the city was overpaying for snowplowing. Then, and again recently, we have promulgated the reexamination of our garbage contract, saving more money. We even played an active role in the removal of the Rockford Area Central Commission TIF district tax. When have you ever seen a tax go away?

With many others, we fought taxation without representation by the federal court under the fiat of Judge J. Michael Mahoney. We receive a leadership award from the Impact Voters Association for our efforts.

We have actively campaigned for campaign finance reform and have published the campaign contributions of many politicians, showing we have overly developed issues that are the result of the best that money can buy—the proposed jail, Rock Valley College, Perryville Road and the Springfield-Harrison extension, to mention only a few.

We showed how ancient American Indian burial grounds and the rights of Tom and Jan Ditzler were paved over for the interests of a few. We lost the battle on building the road, but it literally sank and sank some more and may still be sinking. However, we still have the resilient friendship of the wonderful Ditzler family and all of the great folks we met in that struggle. Odd, how you don’t see quick take being used very often anymore to steal people’s property. We fought and will keep fighting that abuse of power.

We are still struggling for one of our primary agendas, historic preservation. Our first effort, which brought us the enmity of the powers that be, was to save the prairie-style YMCA building on the River. We lost by one vote in the Historic Preservation Commission. Yet, we helped build public support for the Coronado Theatre, and what a jewel that is. We have fought for the Armory, and that great building still stands before an uncertain future. We lost two great homes on Salem Street to the overly control-conscious Catholic Diocese, and we will continue to fight for St. Mary Church. Representatives of this paper will serve on the new committee for the restoration of the Elks Club as well. History and the art of its buildings suffer in silence when torn down by the short sighted.

Political memory is also short sighted. Accordingly, the struggle for the control of the consciousness of this country and region continues. This paper was as avid in its criticism and the call for impeachment of Bill Clinton as we are of George W. Bush. Both men have abused power and lied. Their supporters have called us right-wing kooks and left-wing conspiracy nuts. When the name-callers really attach the wing-nuts, they might see a love of country as securely fastened to the founders of this great nation as theirs. Unfortunately, for many, tolerance of different viewpoints and critical thinking does not equal courage or patriotism. Blind faith is exactly that, and unseeing adherence leads to a fall, individually or together.

Individual and civil rights will always be a concern of this paper. Gary Kaeding, who was sent to a dangerous mental hospital for political reasons, is a free man largely through the efforts of this paper. Jeff Havens, who was fired from RVC because of criticism of Chip Chapdelaine, has shown Chapdelaine’s mismanagement in detail in this paper. Arrogance and intimidation will not be suffered by this paper.

Ignoring the ignorant fear tactics that are all too prevalent today, this paper wants to let everyone take a good look at everything. That is our respective right, and we will protect that right avidly and hopefully with clarity and no fear. God bless the First Amendment and the free press; we need it.

Peering at the long view of the relatively short time of the 11 years or 500 issues of this paper, brings two things

to the forefront for consideration—people and courage. Courageous people have made these 500 issues.

To all of you who have ever worked for this paper for almost nothing, and the many who have written for us completely without pay, thank you so many times again. To all of you who have come forward with stories at great personal and professional risk, you have great respect. To all of you who have advertised your business or organization in this paper, thank you; we know you have felt the pressure as well as the advantages as we continue to grow.

This incomplete process of reflection and review has been so revealing and enjoyable to our staff. We thank everyone for the chance. In fact, we are going to continue this process for several issues to come, so our new and old readers see and remember where we’ve been.

In future issues, we’ll time travel year by year to take a good look at where we’ve been, so we may better see where we’re going.

We’ve tried to make a difference, and we think we have; again, thanks to you and your continued support. May God bless you all, and may the next 500 be even stronger!

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