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West Cook News

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Oak Park’s Buchanan no stranger to the limelight, or to white privilege

Local Government

By W.J. Kennedy | Oct 17, 2019

Susan Buchanan

Susan Buchanan’s shouting down her white male colleagues on the Oak Park board during a discussion about amending the village’s diversity statement fits with her radical past but is at odds with her own upbringing of white privilege.

At the October 7 board meeting, Buchanan told Trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney, both white males, to "shut up" when they asked to clarify "systems of oppression,” a term in a revision to the village’s diversity statement.

"Why are you arguing what is a system of oppression?" Buchanan asked. "You've never experienced one, so shut up!"

Susan Buchanan pictured in college | The Denison

Even Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, a native of Palestine, did not meet Buchanan’s diversity threshold. She rebuffed him when he tried to intervene by saying that his "skin was white enough.”

The 58-year-old Buchanan has a history of getting in trouble for acting out on her extreme positions. In November 1983, she joined a group of fellow Denison University students who traveled to Washington, D.C. to protest American aid to the Contras, who were battling the socialist, Soviet Union-backed Sandinistas for control of Nicaragua.

“What our country is doing is wrong,” she told the student newspaper. “Those people are struggling for their own government, and we’re just repressing them. If we cut off aid, they’ll become weak and will inevitably ask for help from anyone.”

She also told the paper that the U.S. must withdraw all military forces and economically support only the government.

“We have to stop speculating on what (the Soviets) are doing and just do what is right for the people. This isn’t to say I trust the Soviets not to intervene, but we can worry about them later.”

Two years later Buchanan was arrested in June 1985 during an anti-Contras demonstration at the Ohio State Capitol Building in Columbus, according to published reports.

Buchanan has a privileged background. She was born in 1961 in Chicago as her father, John, entered his third year at the University of Chicago Divinity School in Hyde Park.

She spent her early childhood in south suburban Dyer, Indiana while her father worked as a student pastor before moving with him to Lafayette, Indiana, where she attended elementary and middle school.

At 13, she moved to Columbus, Ohio where she attended high school. In 1980, she enrolled at Denison University in suburban Columbus, where she studied physics and played violin with two classmates in a group they called the Susan Violin Trio.

The Rev. John Buchanan is the former pastor of Chicago’s celebrated Fourth Presbyterian Church at 25 E. Chestnut in the heart of Chicago's Magnificent Mile, across the street from the John Hancock Center.

The church is best known to non-parishioners as the setting of the 1997 feature film "My Best Friend's Wedding," starring Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney and Cameron Diaz.

Rev. Buchanan became nationally known for pushing for the ordination of gay and lesbians, which the Presbyterian church did allow in 2011. He retired from Fourth Presbyterian in 2012.

Susan Buchanan’s tirade brought backlash from the community.

Oak Park resident and former journalist Matt Baron wrote in an opinion piece published in the Chicago Tribune that Buchanan “established a new low for conduct.”

“To place Trustee Buchanan’s misbehavior in broader context: in over six years of serving on local government boards, I have never witnessed anything remotely resembling such a scene. Further, in my 20 years as a (former) journalist covering hundreds of local government meetings—including some that were wildly dysfunctional—the only close analogy would be the three-ring circus that was the Town of Cicero’s public proceedings. And even by that measure, Trustee Buchanan established a new low for conduct.”

Abu-Taleb worries that Buchanan’s outburst would give outsiders a bad impression of the community.

“I am concerned that some of these media clips create an impression of Oak Park as a divided, intolerant community,” the mayor wrote. “That is not who we are. Oak Parkers are welcoming, loving and inclusive -- and that is why my wife and I chose to live and raise our family here.”

Buchanan said that she has received threats over her statements.

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