Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Bughouse Square Debates

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum partnered with the Newberry Library and the Poetry Foundation to produce last Saturday's Bughouse Square Debates at Washington Square Park. The annual event pays homage to Chicago's free speech tradition associated with this site and the adjacent former Bohemian Dil Pickle Club.

This year's event began with a recitation of Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric." It was performed by three Chicago-area participants in "Poetry Out Loud," the Poetry Foundation's national poetry recitation contest for high school students.

The John Peter Altgeld Award was then presented to Jorge Mujica for his leadership in last year's immigration marches in Chicago. According to Mujica, "everyone in the United States not only has a right to free speech, but the right to exercise it. That's what the marches are all about."

The soapbox portion of the debates then unfolded as 12 speakers alternated on three soapboxes located throughout the park. Among the topics of discussion included: local production of agriculture, socialized transportation, decriminalization of prostitution, popular election of Supreme Court Justices, dogs at outdoor cafes, and the need for neighborhood sex shops.

The declared winner of the Dil Pickle Award was Ed Yohnka of the Illinois chapter of the ACLU for his speech "Why Defend the Offensive? The Importance of Free Speech." In defending the right of the Westboro (KS) Baptist Church to stage funeral protests, Yohnka drew the scorn of a few participants. He let them have their turn at the microphone, kept his composure, and seemingly won the argument.

The program ended with a voter slam facilitated by the Bread and Butter Forum. The participants were given 90-seconds to spout off about the topic of choice, immigration reform. The range of perspectives began with unencumbered borders to mandatory military service for incoming immigrants, even building a wall around Chicago to keep out immigrants from Indiana. Second City members added color commentary to the slam and brought audience members into the mix.

For more extensive coverage of the Debates, see the article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune or today's Washington Post. We hope to see you next year on the final Saturday of July for the next rendition of the Bughouse Square Debates.


Post a Comment

<< Home


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at