PEORIA — U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth brought words of praise with her for volunteers and activists Monday night, and a simple request: Keep it up.
The Hoffman Estates Democrat was the keynote speaker at the Peoria County Democrats' Presidents Day Dinner, and devoted much of her speech to the importance of engaged citizens fighting for things in which they believe.
Citing that activism as a check against President Donald Trump's administration that started on its second day with the Women's March, Duckworth told the near-capacity crowd at the Itoo Hall the momentum was with them.
"People got used to turning out. People got used to being part of a movement, and they hadn't done that since the civil rights era," she said, sitting aside U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.
Pulling from her own military background and lingo, Duckworth said such activism is "manning the perimeter for our democracy."
Duckworth gave the example of two parents of disabled children who stood daily at the Senate office next to hers, hoping to sway wavering Senate moderate Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to vote against a GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Despite being office neighbors and having the chance to lobby Murkowski, "I was not the one who convinced Lisa Murkowski to vote against repealing the ACA," Duckworth said. "Those kids were. You (as advocates) were."
And Duckworth urged the crowd to get involved in the debate on gun control following last week's school shooting in Florida. Noting an emerging group of engaged teens getting attention for tackling the issue and advocating protests and walk-outs, she asked, "Are we going to have to wait until the kids shame us into doing something? That's what they're doing right now."
In a broader sense, she told attendees, they have a chance to not only stymie Trump but enact an agenda of their own if they can successfully drive people to the polls in November, with only two dozen seats needed to flip control of the U.S. House to Democrats.
"If we can win that Senate seat in Alabama, we sure as heck can flip some (House) seats in Illinois," she said.
Duckworth also touched briefly on her recently announced pregnancy, which brought with it a wave of headlines — and a promise of potential reforms to a Senate that has no provisions currently for her to actively participate in debate and vote on issues if she takes any maternity leave.
She said she found the media attention on a simple pregnancy "perplexing," but the fact that she will be the first sitting senator to give birth told her that "we don't have enough women in leadership positions."
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255.