Of White Shirts And Brown Shirts


We’re still hearing about the City of Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Monday night at Emerson Middle School (in Niles), which reportedly was attended by as many as 350 residents. 

The main event of the evening was a public hearing on what requirements should be built into the new Special Use Permit being created to permit temporary homeless shelters in Park Ridge, like the PADS shelter currently planned for St. Paul of the Cross School’s gymnasium.

You might think that this issue itself would have enough substance to satisfy all of the interested parties without the need to resort to sideshows and gimmicks.  If so, you would be wrong, as the supporters of the PADS shelter decided to add a fashion statement to the proceedings.

By pre-arrangement, those supporters arrived in white shirts – perhaps because they couldn’t collect enough white 10-gallon hats to effect the “Western” cliché of the “good” cowboys versus the bad ones.  These “white shirts” seemed intent on presenting a show of force to the P&Z members, most of who looked like they never bargained for this kind of “heater” issue or this much public attention when they sought their appointments or re-appointments to P&Z from Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark.

For the record, Frimark – a PADS supporter – was observed in the audience wearing a suit, the coat of which he soon doffed to highlight the white shirt underneath.

We question the wearing of partisan garb of any type – in this case, white shirts – in the context of local government proceedings like the P&Z hearing Monday night.  When used as they were at Emerson, the shirts clearly served to visually divide the audience while at the same time claiming for the pro-PADS contingent the “good guys” persona – and providing a subtle form of intimidation as well.

Ironically, throughout the PADS shelter debate, it has been the pro-PADS forces who have chided the opposition for creating “divisiveness” in the community, and it has also been the pro-PADS forces (including Mayor Frimark) who have repeatedly questioned the “Christianity” of the members of the opposition – under the self-serving but legally erroneous view that this is a “religious” rather than a civic issue.

Although these shirts were white, the concept harkens back to a more troublesome political paradigm from 1930s Germany and the wearing of shirts of a different color – in that case, brown – to identify a particular political faction and intimidate its opposition.  One of the tactics of those “brownshirts” was to attack their opponents (principally, the Jews) as morally inferior.  Sound familiar?

The debate over the Special Use Permit requirements is a serious one with far-reaching implications for the entire community.  It should be conducted and decided on the merits of the competing policies and ideas, not on shirt color or the sturm und drang it encourages. 

But if either side wants this matter settled by raw numbers of supporters or opponents rather than by policy considerations and ideas, then the best way to get accurate numbers is to put the issue to advisory referendum on the April 2009 ballot.

Any takers?