The 2016 Bughouse Square Debates | Newberry

The 2016 Bughouse Square Debates

Environmental Encroachment Brass Band

Environmental Encroachment Brass Band

Pondering the main debate.

Pondering the main debate.

Ammad Hyland, age 13, runner-up for the 2016 Dill Pickle Award.

Ammad Hyland, age 13, runner-up for the 2016 Dill Pickle Award.

The Bughouse 2016 Soapbox Judges, Mandela Okere, Rachel Goodstein (the 2015 Dill Pickle Award Winner), and Elizabeth Tandy Shermer; and Rick Kogan, Emcee.

The Bughouse 2016 Soapbox Judges, Mandela Okere, Rachel Goodstein (the 2015 Dill Pickle Award Winner), and Elizabeth Tandy Shermer; and Rick Kogan, Master of Ceremonies.


Ready to heckle!

Ready to heckle!

Join us for the 30th anniversary of the "modern" Bughouse Square debates!
Saturday, July 30, 2016

Noon to 4 pm

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

Free and open to the public; no registration required.
Open to the Public

Join Rick Kogan and the Newberry Library for Chicago’s favorite free speech event! The Environmental Encroachment Marching Band will kick off the program at noon with lively musical entertainment, followed by the Main Debate, soapbox speakers, and the presentation of two awards: the Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award and the Dill Pickle to the champion soapbox orator.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Newberry-sponsored Bughouse Square Debates events, QR codes will link attendees to clips of the late Studs Terkel, musing on his recollections of visiting the original Bughouse Square in the 1930s, and also his thoughts on some of the soapbox speech topics (selections from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, an initiative of the Chicago History Museum and WFMT Radio Network).

In addition, nearly two dozen local organizations and causes will set up information tables in the park, with volunteers to answer your questions.

Bring your loudest heckling voice, mount the open soapbox, and exercise your First Amendment rights. Take it to the park this summer! And don’t miss the Newberry Book Fair before and/or after the Debates!

Learn more about the history of Bughouse Square.


Noon: Music

Environmental Encroachment

1 pm: Welcome and Introduction to Bughouse Square

Rick Kogan

Chicago 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins

1:15 pm: Presentation of the 2016 John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award to WITNESS

David Spadafora, President of the Newberry
Yvette Alberdingk Thiejm, Executive Director, WITNESS

1:30 pm Main Debate

How, amid political gridlock in Illinois, can the city of Chicago provide necessary public services for its residents? Raise revenues? Slash spending?

Is Chicago Broke? Solving the City’s Budgetary Woes

John Nothdurft of the Heartland Institute and Tom Tresser, activist and editor of the book Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, will offer their perspectives on these hotly contested issues during the Main Debate, followed by a Q&A with the audience.

Heckling of a civil and friendly nature is encouraged. A Q&A with the audience will conclude the main debate.

2:30 pm Soapbox Speeches


  • Michael Brennan, How Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Compare
  • Robert Bionaz, Betraying the Public Trust: Politics, Cronyism, and Administrative Bloat at Chicago State University
  • Scott Summers, Recasting Our Governance: The Case for a Parliamentary System in the United States
  • Kate Duva, Power to the People Who Care: A Warrior Mama’s Manifesto


  • Gail Schechter, Not for Cowards: The Power of Nonviolence
  • Ammad Hyland, Making School Better from a Kid’s Mind
  • Ada Cheng, It Takes More Than Your Words: How to Stand with Me as a Victim of Hatred and Bigotry
  • Kenny Damara, Who is GOD?


  • Monica Metzler, City of Big Shoulders and Big Science—Chicago’s Reputation Needs to Change, because Science!
  • Andy Anderson, Censored News in America: Evidence That Would Alter the Political and Economic Landscape in America If It Were Not Intentionally Suppressed by the Mainstream Media
  • David Ramsay Steele, Why I Am a Global Warming Denier
  • Scott Whitehair, Kickstart Your Crowdfunding away from Me


  • Come one, come all! The open soapbox will be available for airing grievances and spreading good news. Just show up and get in line! Back by popular demand, the Society of Smallness will return this year to curate the open soapbox.

4 pm Dill Pickle Awarded to the Soapbox Champion

Download the day’s program.

Soapbox Speakers

  • Andy Anderson is a semi-retired HVAC service technician and Vietnam veteran. As a hobby, Andy sifts through books and large bodies of facts and creates condensed one-page summaries on a variety of topics. He finds that many topics are censored or suppressed by the mainstream media.
  • Robert Bionaz spent 22 years in law enforcement before earning his PhD from the University of Iowa. He currently teaches history at Chicago State, where he is chapter president of University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100.
  • Michael Brennan is a retired court researcher, teacher, debate coach, and community organizer, and a current activist on a number of issues involving fairness and decency.
  • Ada Cheng is a recovering academic and a professor turned storyteller, improviser, and stand-up comedian. She is now pursuing theater and performance full time and uses creative mediums to engage in social critiques.
  • Kenny Damara is originally from Hyderabad, India. He currently works at The Moody Church as a Pastor. Kenny speaks regularly in Chicago, and other parts of the world, explaining the good news Jesus Christ offers us in a world of constant bad news. Kenny is the author of Divided Desire, a book about the desires of the human heart, and the influence media and technology have on our desires today.
  • Kate Duva, aka Kate O’Rourke, is a mama, poet, novelist, exiled schoolmarm, play therapist, community organizer for families, Caring Economy advocate, ecosexual, ritual-maker, and lifelong Chicagoan. You can find her at or Power to the Parents:
  • Ammad Hyland participates in the Centro Romero Dare2Dream Youth & Teen Program. Aged 13 years, he has already become a commanding presence behind the bullhorn at Chicago area demonstrations. He is also a reliable expert on the American education system, having done over 2,000 hours of observational research in a local school over the last year. Keep your eye on this young man—he hopes to run for office someday!
  • Monica Metzler is a former policy wonk who got bit by the science bug (and disappointed she didn’t become spiderwoman). She runs the nonprofit Illinois Science Council.
  • David Ramsay Steele is the author of books on psychotherapy, atheism, socialism, and George Orwell. He can often be heard expounding a libertarian point of view at the College of Complexes.
  • Gail Schechter is a community organizer, fair housing advocate, and certified nonviolence trainer. She is the former executive director of Open Communities, a civil rights organization serving Chicago’s northern suburbs.
  • Scott Summers is the Illinois Green Party’s 2016 candidate for the United States Senate.
  • Scott Whitehair is a professional storyteller, producer, and teacher. He is the host of This Much Is True, creator of Story Lab Chicago, and director of Do Not Submit Chicago—all programs designed to get his neighbors listening to and telling stories. He has performed and taught all over the world, but is thrilled to live in Chicago.

Soapbox Judges

  • Rachel Goodstein, 2015 Dill Pickle Award Winner
  • Mandela Okere, Chicago Debate League
  • Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Assistant Professor of History, Loyola University Chicago

Altgeld Award

This year’s Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award goes to the organization WITNESS, which was founded in 1992 to help record, preserve, and disseminate stories that might otherwise go unheard or unseen and to empower individuals to use video to expose inequality, injustice, and abuses of power. The organization provides training on how to safely record videos, preserve them, and share them with the appropriate audiences to maximize their impact.

Among WITNESS’s recent projects, it has trained and supported activists working to protect sex workers’ rights in Eastern Europe, to fight forced evictions in Cambodia, to campaign to pass the Elder Justice Act in the United States, and to illuminate stories of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Video offers a uniquely visceral way of communicating. Over the past few years, viral video footage has confronted millions of Americans with the tragic consequences of racial inequality and has fueled an ongoing national conversation on race and policing.

As the recording and sharing of video continues to factor into debates of great consequence, it becomes increasingly important that individuals document the world around them safely and responsibly. WITNESS’s work ensures the continued use of video as a source of documentary evidence and a tool for change.

These activities demonstrate a commitment to free speech and civic life as exemplified by Governor John Peter Altgeld, for whom the award is named.

Food and Drinks

5411 Empanadas return, joined this year by Firecakes Donuts! Both vendors will set up food trucks on Walton Street between the Newberry and the park for your refreshment needs. Water will also be available in the park.

Cost and Registration Information 

Free and open to the public; no registration required.