Community staple and mother of two encourages Assyrian engagement in upcoming election
March 2019 | By Joe Snell | Photos contributed
LINCOLNWOOD — In September 2017, after years of volunteering in her community and participating in local elections, Atour Sargon attended a breakfast with Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. The event, centered around women’s empowerment, was an attempt to get Assyrian professionals in Chicagoland to think more seriously about local politics.
Nearly twenty Assyrian-American women attended the breakfast. With plates of eggs before them, Schakowsky led discussions on topics including leadership and emphathy. “Women are emphathetic,” Schakowsky said to the group. “They are very careful in their decision-making processes.”
Sargon listened to the Congresswoman with rapt attention. She had considered working in local politics, but as a mother of two and as the First VP of the Lincolnwood PTA, she wasn’t sure if she had the time. After the event she reached out to Schakowsky, who would later become one of her closest political mentors.
“Jan put things in perspective for me that this is something I can definitely do,” Sargon said. “I realized I’m qualified to do this and I shouldn’t think twice about it. I should pursue my dreams.”
“I think this is a woman that’s just getting started,” Congresswoman Schakowsky said. “She’s just an exciting new force in local politics and I think she has a very bright future. I think she can fly.”
Now, a year and a half after that breakfast, Sargon has gotten serious about representing her Assyrian community and is running for a Board of Trustee position in Lincolnwood’s upcoming April 2nd Consolidated General Election.
“I have ties to this community, I grew up in this community and I have always been active in the Assyrian community,” she said. “I think this will break the barriers for our community to reestablish that feeling to come out and vote and participate in local government.”
GROWING UP IN LINCOLNWOOD
Atour grew up on the North Side of Chicago. Her family moved to Lincolnwood when she was 15 and she began attending Niles West High School, where her family regularly volunteered in the community.
“Although both of my parents worked endless hours, they still made time to volunteer to our local community,” she recalled.
She went on to study political science at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, where she was one of the founding members of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac student movement. After graduating, she worked as an office manager and legal assistant at a law firm in the loop.
For eight years, Sargon put her political ambitions aside and worked at the firm. She eventually got married, had two kids, and continued staying active in her community. But the pull toward local politics eventually drew her back to school, where she earned a graduate degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern. She started becoming more involved in local leadership roles, eventually becoming the First Vice President of Lincolnwood’s School District 74 PTA.
In late 2017, current Illinois State Senator for the 8th district Ram Villivalam announced he would run against incumbent Ira Silverstein. Sargon believed in Villivalam’s interest getting to know her community, so she offered to help his campaign by knocking on doors, hosting meet and greets at her home, and introducing Villivalam to the area’s Assyrian community. Villivalam went on to win that election by over 20%.
Her efforts didn’t go unnoticed. After Villivalam’s election, Sargon was invited to join with her local political party on their upcoming slate. Schakowsky then recommended Sargon for the class of Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership Training Academy, a group that prepares women to pursue elected and appointed positions.
“Atour’s so anxious to continue learning about how to be an effective legislator, how to be an effective public servant, and how to win elections,” Congresswoman Schakowsky said.
ALLIANCE FOR LINCOLNWOOD
Sargon is running for a Board of Trustee position on the “Alliance for Lincolnwood” ticket alongside longtime Lincolnwood residents Craig Klatzco and current trustee Jesal Patel.
The Lincolnwood Village President, Clerk, and a six-member Board of Trustees are elected at large for four-year terms. Trustees are responsible for setting policy, overseeing land usage, and managing finances.
“We have a focus on economic development while maintaining a responsible and sustainable fiscal policy,” Sargon said. “Most importantly, we want to serve our community. We’re going to stay accountable for our community and we’re going to do it with integrity.”
On April 2nd’s Consolidated General Election, voters will have six choices for three open Trustee positions, with the “Alliance for Lincolnwood” ticket going up again three candidates from an opposing slate.
“We have never had a more qualified Assyrian candidate running for political office,” said Billy Haido, co-founder and Board of Director of Vote Assyrian. A non-profit organization based in Chicago (see our previous article), Vote Assyrian strives to encourage civic engagement among Assyrian Americans. “Our community needs small victories on a local municipal level and I truly believe Lincolnwood, Illinois is where it starts.”
Lincolnwood, a village just north of Chicago in Cook County, has roughly 12,500 residents. The last mayoral race in the village was won by less than 300 votes. That’s why, with the help of her friends and community members, Sargon began building a list of confirmed members within the community who were not yet registered. Her team began relentlessly pursuing those individuals to register to vote through a strategy similar to the one used on Villivalam’s campaign: knocking on doors, hosting meet and greets, and getting her face out into the community.
“The Assyrian community in Lincolnwood can make a huge impact on a local election,” she said. “Local politics affects where property tax dollars are going as well as safety and economic development decisions. It will affect their everyday lives and we just have to really stress that.”
Atour emphasizes the importance of all Assyrians in Lincolnwood to vote.
“We have the right to vote,” she said. “Many Assyrians fled their countries because of the lack of freedom. It’s the most basic right we can participate in.”
Vote Assyrian is hosting a meet and greet with “Alliance for Lincolnwood” candidates this Sunday, March 3 from 2pm to 5pm at the Assyrian National Council of Illinois (9131 Niles Center Road, Skokie, IL 60076). Learn more about the event by visiting the “Alliance for Lincolnwood” Facebook page.
Learn more about Alliance for Lincolnwood by visiting their website: www.allianceforlincolnwood.com