SPRINGFIELD — Marchers sang and chanted Tuesday on the final stretch of a 200-mile trek across Illinois to demand a state budget, a mood that was dampened later when several allegedly disruptive protesters were removed from the House gallery and a fatigued group waited outside Gov. Bruce Rauner's office in hopes of talking to him.
People from across the state including an unemployed disabled couple, a nurse, students and a World War II veteran, joined the Fair Economy Illinois coalition's March to Springfield to call for a budget that supports low-income families, students, the elderly and others who have borne the brunt of Illinois' historic two-year budget impasse. Some had started walking in Chicago.
Secretary of State Police estimated as many as 400 individuals convened at the Capitol.
Fifteen marchers who helped begin the event in Chicago on May 15 led the final procession to the Capitol steps after making stops across the state listening to residents' concerns and relying on a network of strangers who housed and fed them as they spread their message. They walked about a dozen miles per day.
About 15 marchers — including two from McLean County — stopped in Bloomington on May 24 for a "listening session" at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
"Walking 200 miles is not something I ever thought I'd do," said 24-year-old Samantha Nichols of Chicago, a pastor-in-training. "I had no choice but to march because this crisis hurts all of us."
Nichols told The Pantagraph last week that she was a chaplaincy intern at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal last summer.
Social service providers and universities have received no state funding since a temporary spending plan expired in January.
Dr. Alfred Klinger, another member of the inaugural group and a retired physician, celebrated his 91st birthday during the march. A WWII veteran, he said government support via the G.I. Bill made medical school possible. Klinger and his fellow marchers say their budget plan would offer young people opportunity and give the elderly a sense of security.
Marchers contend their proposal would raise $23 billion to finance universal health care and free college tuition and fully fund public schools, social services and infrastructure needs by closing so-called corporate tax loopholes and taxing the wealthy at higher rates.
"This would give us all a step up," Klinger said.
The throng shouted chants about the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan such as, "Rauner, Madigan, can't you see, human needs beat corporate greed!" and carried a banner outlining their vision for Illinois as it wended its way toward the Capitol.
But the triumphant mood dampened somewhat under the dome when roughly a dozen chanting protesters were removed from the House gallery as lawmakers considered a plan related to state services for seniors. Some protesters were seen being dragged out of the gallery by security staff.
Illinois secretary of state spokesman Henry Haupt said no arrests were made.