When 2012 Double Chai in the Chi honoree Benjamin Singer wrote to us about where he saw himself in 10 years, he didn’t realize how much of that he would accomplish in the first lap.
“I'd like to manage an organization that works with business, political, and grassroots leaders to advocate for improved ways to run our elections,” he wrote last summer.
Well, he’s not running the ship just yet, but in his work with the national nonprofit advocacy organization Common Cause, which among other issues advocates for holding elected officials accountable, he has helped Illinois become a leader in the area of campaign finance reform.
May 31 ended Common Cause’s successful five-month campaign to get the Illinois legislature to pass a resolution calling for a national amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision. The 2010 ruling gave first-amendment protections to corporations wishing to spend unlimited money on election campaigns. In a bipartisan action, Illinois became the 14th state to call for an amendment.
Singer said he was in Springfield at least once a week working with legislators on both sides of aisle to gain sponsorship in the Illinois House and Senate, and also mobilized grassroots constituents all across to the state to talk to their legislators.
“The victory wasn’t just that we called for this constitutional amendment, but that we did it with bipartisan support,” he said.
Singer was also rewarded in the past year for his previous work as Media and Communications Manager for A Safe Haven, an organization that works with the homeless. His magazine-style annual report received an award from the Publicity Club of Chicago. Singer will participate again this year in A Safe Haven’s RUN! To End Homelessness on July 14.
Also on his 10-year to-do list, Singer said he still wanted to be with his girlfriend, Beth Horwitz. The couple took their first step to making that happen by getting engaged in December while in Panama. The wedding will be “sometime next year when it’s nice,” he said. “Right now we’re just enjoying being engaged and taking it easy.”
One way they’ve already done that is through bride and groom classes at Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel Congregation, which they participated in with fellow 36 under 36 honoree Jenna Benn and her now-husband.
“[Being named 36 under 36] was a great experience, particularly to be able to meet and start forming relationships with many of [the other honorees],” Singer said. “I think that’s part of what has made our community so successful is that we are able to form these ties with folks who are involved in so many different things within our society and we’re able to work together across those areas.”
In terms of what he hopes to accomplish going forward, Singer looks forward to working under a new grant from major Chicago foundation to do important organizing around improving the way elections are administered, including access to polls.
As a North Lakeview resident, he also wants to address the growing issue of gang violence in neighboring Uptown. After listening to a February episode of This American Life centered on Chicago’s troubled Harper High School on the South Side, Singer said he’s come to the conclusion that violence is not simply about gun and drug control, but about kids who lack hope and consequently don’t value their lives in the way that people with more opportunities do.
“I’m really interested in ways that we can stop [gang violence],” he said, “because not only should these kids have opportunities to succeed in their lives, but the resulting consequences of them not [having these opportunities] is putting everyone else in danger.”
Living down the street from Anshe Emet Synagogue, he and Beth have gotten involved in the shul’s social action committee, Na’aseh, which is part of the Lakeview Action Coalition, and he hopes that vehicle can be the beginning of greater action.
When he’s not busy advocating for change, Singer has plans to continue pursuing one of his other passions—dance. He recently bought him and his fiancée dance lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
Keep up with this past 36 under 36er by checking out his website, www.BenjaminDSinger.com