The 2012 Bughouse Square Debates | Newberry

The 2012 Bughouse Square Debates

David Ratowitz, Soapbox Speaker 2012

David Ratowitz, Soapbox Speaker 2012

Elise Shoenberger, Soapbox Speaker 2012

Bughouse Square Debates, 2010

Tom Tresser, Soapbox Speaker 2012

Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist, 2012 Soapbox Champion

The Chris Madsen Quartet playing at Bughouse Square 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

1 pm

Washington Square Park (a.k.a., Bughouse Square), 901 N. Clark St. (across from the Newberry)

We commemorated Chicago’s long history as a hub of free speech with an afternoon of public debate, soapbox speeches, heckling, and music at this year’s Bughouse Square Debates. Next year, bring your loudest heckling voice, mount the open soapbox, and keep free speech alive and well. The 2013 Debates will be Saturday, July 27.

Newberry President David Spadafora presented the John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award to Laurie Jo Reynolds in recognition of her dedicated defense of the rights of prisoners, and for her work for prison reform and for the closure of the Tamms Correctional Center through Tamms Year Ten, a legislative and artistic initiative. Through her work for prison reform, Ms. Reynolds has demonstrated a commitment to free speech both through her work as an artist of photography and video, and through her actions to close Tamms and stop prisoner abuse and torture in the state of Illinois.

The Main Debate

Who’s to Blame for the Great Recession, Big Government or Big Business?

Jon Anderson, Occupy Chicago
Eric Kohn, Chicago Tea Party

2012 Soapbox Debates

(A friendly competition to be named Champion Soapbox Speaker and awarded the Dill Pickle.)

Jamie Albert, “Political Toxicity in Higher Education: The Analysts and the Solutionists in Decomposing America”

The Atheist at Large, “Why Is It Important to Debate Faith?”

Bill Bertsche, “Is it Arrogant to Say that Jesus is the Only Way to Heaven?”

Russ Bruzek, “Citizenship Is a Daily Call to Arms!”

Mary Hallan FioRito, “Abortion in America–Does Legal Abortion Help or Hurt Our Country?”

Beth Kregor, “Mobile Food in Chicago: Let Freedom Roll!”

Meghan McGrath as “Yellow Kid” Weil, “Doc Meriwether’s Miracle Cure-All Elixir!”

Scott M. Priz as Robert Ingersoll, “About the Holy Bible”

David Ratowitz, “Down and Dirty: Three Reasons Progressivism Has Made Chicago The Most Racially Segregated and Corrupt City in America”

Elisa Shoenberger, as “Red Martha” Biegler, “On the Madness of Capitalism”

Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist, “An Appreciation of Appreciation”

Tom Tresser, “Privatization is the Symptom, Not the Cure for What Ails America’s Cities”

Drop by the Open Soapbox and speak out for yourself! (The Open Soapbox will start around 1:45 pm.)

Soapbox Judges:
Ted Cox, Chicago Reader
Robert K. Elder, journalist and Managing Editor, Chicago
D.L. Hopkins, Time Out Chicago

Music by the Chris Madsen Quartet.
The Chris Madsen Quartet is one of Chicago’s most in-demand jazz groups. The ensemble has performed at many venues in Chicago as well as New York City including Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Andy’s Jazz Club, and the Jazz Showcase. Today the group features Dan Effland on guitar, Joe Policastro on bass, and Mikel Avery on drums.

About the Bughouse Square Debates

Bughouse Square (from “bughouse,” slang for mental health facility), the popular name for Washington Square Park, was the city’s boisterous and radical free-speech space from the 1910s through the 1930s. Orators mounted soapboxes and spoke to responsive, vocal crowds. Radicals, bohemians, poets, atheists, and religionists of all persuasions entertained bystanders. The square’s core contributors, however, came from the ranks of the Wobblies, men and women of the Industrial Workers of the World whose radical views, wit, and humor made them champion soap boxers and perennial crowd favorites. World War II and a post-war crackdown against socialists and communists, however, led to Bughouse Square’s decline and, by the mid 1960s, it ceased to exist. The Newberry revived the Bughouse Square Debates in 1986.

Speaker Biographies

Jamie Albert is a folk singer and union and protest song revivalist, who performs about labor, poverty, and other social justice related issues. Jamie is also a “wobbly,” a.k.a. a member of the IWW.

Jon Anderson (main debate) is part of Occupy Chicago. In June, he graduated Summa Cum Laude from DePaul University, majoring in “Peace Studies, Social Justice, and Conflict Resolution.” As a Marine veteran, he joined fellow veterans to return their Global War on Terror medals to NATO at the summit in Chicago in May.

The Atheist at Large is a vocal Atheist trying to show people that when it comes to their god belief, they are not thinking rationally. He had a chat room on, called “Debate Faith.”

Rev. Dr. William Bertshe has been an assistant pastor at the Moody Church since 1994 and currently works with more than 80 ministry partners of the church all over the world.

Russ Bruzek is a Chicago native, an actor, and a writer.

Mary Hallan FioRito is the Executive Assistant to the Archbishop at the Archdiocese of Chicago. A graduate of Loyola University School of Law, she has spent more than 20 years working in the pro-life movement. 

Eric Kohn (main debate) is a liberty evangelist and has been committing politics professionally since 2002. He is active with the Chicago Tea Party and program director for America’s Future Foundation - Chicago, an all-volunteer organization developing the next generation of liberty leaders in Chicago.

Beth Kregor is the Director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School.

Meghan McGrath, formerly of COTC-DCASE, is a Senior Poetry Editor at Narrative Magazine. She will speak as Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil, who got his start peddling snake oil for the Chicago confidence man, Doc Meriwether (its chief ingredient was rainwater).

Scott M. Priz is a performer and historical re-enactor in Chicago. He is speaking as Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, who, in the late nineteenth century, toured the country on the topic of free thinking.

David Ratowitz campaigned for US Congress from Illinois’ 5th District in 2010. He is the Republican Committeeman for the 47th Ward and a libertarian.

Elisa Shoenberger is a renegade historian. She works in the nonprofit world by day, is an MBA student by night, and is an historical re-enactor in all the times in between. Today she is the Marxist-feminist “Red Martha” Biegler.

Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist is the fictional character created and played by Roger Scott Jackson. Brother Sam’s “evangelism” is ironic, humorous, and thought-provoking.

Tom Tresser has been an educator, activist and champion of democracy for over 20 years. His latest nonprofit enterprise in civic engagement is CivicLab (