Blessing Beget Blessings

Blessing Beget Blessings

As more news of ongoing crises in Syria and Sudan has pushed itself to the forefront of both my social media pages and my mind in recent weeks, a thought struck me. It’s one that, unfortunately, I take for granted all the time in my Katy and Houston bubble, and one that an upcoming holiday gives me a chance to reflect on.

In this country, as counties and cities, for all our black eyes, we have the ability to choose our leaders. We’re not at the beck and call of a ruthless dictator or have one-size-fits-all laws that do their best to bend our will or break our spirit. If we don’t like how someone is running Sugar Land, Missouri City or Stafford – or feel a different direction is needed – we simply nominate and select another.

Those in Syria, Sudan and other countries around the world are fighting for this freedom and others, but it’s a luxury they do not yet possess. So it’s not one any of us should take lightly or forget as we shoot off fireworks this weekend.

The Freedom in the World 2018 study by Freedom House found that, “Democracy is in crisis. The values it embodies—particularly the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and the rule of law— are under assault and in retreat globally.”

According to the study, those countries experiencing a decline in the democratic process outnumbered those that registered gains, which has happened consistently for more than a decade. The report stated that 88 countries were classed as “free,” while 49 were classed as “not free.” Sudan and Syria were found by the study – which evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries and 14 territories, assigning a score between 0 and 4 in a series of 25 indicators to give a maximum final score of 100 – have been two of the worst-rated countries with regards to civil rights and political liberties just about every time. These scores are used to determine two numerical ratings, for political rights and civil liberties, with a rating of 1 representing the most free conditions and 7 the least free.

The full report and explanation of its methodology can be viewed at

The Fourth of July, which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776, is fast approaching. This is the time we have set aside to remember the Continental Congress declaring the 13 American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Great Britain and were free and independent states.

Nowadays, we celebrate the occasion with fireworks, outdoor grilling, carnivals and events such as the “Red, White, and Boom” celebration in Sugar Land or the Freedom Rings Concert at the Stafford Centre, which are just two of many events taking place in our local neighborhoods.

Having participated in and hosted events on this holiday myself, these are wonderful opportunities for fellowship, fun and relaxation that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But at times, I also fear we aren’t thankful enough for the freedom that we have that even allows us the chance to host such events.

Following three decades of dictatorship in Sudan, Omar El-Bashir was forced to step down from power in April. In the aftermath, Sudanese people have wanted to ensure that the political party elected next is a civilian-run government. Originally, military council and civilian-opposing groups agreed on a three-year transitional period to hand the government back to democracy. However, talks of a pro-democracy country began to break down earlier this month, according to media reports. In response, the military killed dozens of protesters during a crackdown on a protest camp, bringing the death toll to 118 people as of June 11, and reports have hundreds more injured.

So say what you will about our leaders past and present. There is no perfect one. Every leader, from those before Bob Hebert to current Fort Bend County Judge KP George, likely has decisions they would like back in hindsight. Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman, Missouri City’s City Manager Anthony Snipes and those before them are not immune to errors in judgement or completely above reproach.

But though the dynamics of each area under these leaders’ charges vary widely, one thread connects them all – the ability of the people (or a nonpartisan council in the case of Snipes and Missouri City) to select or elect them. If a majority of voters do not like them, they can simply be voted out or replaced by a council at the next available opportunity.

That luxury is one that unfortunately too many still do not have around the world. Even having one country or area going through what Sudan, Syria and others have endured is far too many. These people have been forced to fight back, because they haven’t had a voice for so long.

I cannot imagine a situation like that ever occurring in modern-day America. Despite our issues and varying opinions, I can’t ever recall a time when anyone even considered the thought of a military coup – or its equivalent – being necessary on our own soil.

Why? Because we have a voice and the ability to choose our leaders, through a fair and democratic process, which so many do not. And that’s thanks in large part to the American patriots that came before us.

So let’s take a moment on this Fourth of July to reflect on our liberties, and pray and fight for those who don’t yet possess them that they might experience the freedom we now have.

‘Red State Revolt’ offers an inside look at the recent wave of teacher strikes

‘Red State Revolt’ offers an inside look at the recent wave of teacher strikes

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West Virginia teachers, who stunned the nation with their historic 2018 strike, staged a two-day walkout in February and are continuing to battle their Republican-dominated state government this summer. While the immediate issues this time are legislators’ attempts to introduce charter schools and impose stiffer penalties on strikers, the need for greater public funding of education remains the core of the struggle.

In the new book “Red State Revolt,” author Eric Blanc describes the origins of this strike and the wave of subsequent strikes it ignited across the country by giving a play-by-play account of the action — offering lessons that apply to future strikes, as well as other kinds of nonviolent action.  

Blanc was well placed to observe the strikes. Sent to cover them by Jacobin magazine, his approach could be described as a participant observer — in that he not only wrote about the strikes, but also helped organize national solidarity actions. As a former high school teacher himself, he became a trusted confidant, interviewing service personnel, students, union staffers, and various officials to get their take.

Despite admitting to an “unabashedly partisan account,” Blanc insists that he “tried to remain scrupulously committed to the facts” and expects that no one will fully agree with his conclusions. Overall, it is clear from his approach that Blanc is more interested in showing the effectiveness of certain strategies and tactics — as well as explaining the relevance of the strikes to broader political issues — than in promoting the account of any individual or group.

The backdrop

West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona were unlikely candidates for state-wide strikes in 2018. All three are so-called right-to-work states, meaning that non-union workers do not pay fees to unions for representing them in collective bargaining. What’s more, all three states are dominated by conservative Republican legislators and governors, which support laws that make it illegal — as it is in most states — for teachers to go on strike. Given this environment, teachers’ unions have long been cautious, when it comes to bargaining for pay, benefits and improved working conditions.

Previous Coverage
  • Labor organizer Jane McAlevey on why strikes are the only way out of our current crisis
  • This non-militant, “service” model of unions emerged as a result of deindustrialization, the immensely damaging outcome of the air traffic controllers strike of the early 1980s, and the closer association of unions with reformist advocacy groups, as well as the centrist Democratic party.

    Nationwide, long-term declines in education budgets have also led to lower teacher salaries — relative to the cost of living — plus increased class sizes, outdated textbooks and an overall greater difficulty in delivering the quality education they seek for their students. For example, one in five teachers has a second job and many are forced to purchase instructional materials for their classrooms.

    Enter the militant minority

    After years of relative passivity and accumulating grievances, it took a militant group of teachers in West Virginia with a “class struggle orientation” to organize their colleagues and prepare to strike. These teachers traced their activism back to the Bernie Sanders primary campaign of 2016, which spurred the founding of several Democratic Socialists of America chapters. Teachers from some of these chapters started to think seriously about taking collective action after forming a study group during the summer of 2017 to teach themselves about labor activism.

    When the new school year started, these teachers were ready to organize their colleagues around the state. Helping matters along was the state’s announcement that dues would be increased for the public employees’ health insurance plan and that teachers would be required to wear invasive body monitoring devices. The militants created a Facebook page to widen discussions among teachers and other public sector workers. From there, momentum built steadily, as the teachers organized and engaged in actions of increasing size and risk in order to build greater support. When the time for the strike came, 80 percent of the state’s teachers voted to walk out.

    The pivotal moment in the West Virginia strike occurred about halfway through the nine-day labor stoppage, when the official teachers’ unions announced an agreement with the state legislature and governor. In short, because it had failed to solve the health insurance funding issue and they were not asked to vote on it, the teachers decided to publicly oppose the agreement and continue the strike. Gathering at the capitol in Charlestown, they chanted “Fix it now,” “Back to the table” and “We are the union bosses,” asserting their voice over that of the three established unions.

    Previous Coverage
  • How free lunch and daycare are bolstering the Oklahoma teachers’ walkout
  • Spurred by the success in West Virginia, militant teachers in Oklahoma and Arizona were able to spark major actions in a matter of weeks. In Oklahoma, there was huge energy, with massive strikes taking place at the state capitol for days on end. However, there was relatively little teacher-to-teacher organizing within the schools. Instead, self-appointed leaders managing a teachers’ Facebook page were at the center of much of the communication, and there was little democratic decision-making.

    In the end, despite winning average pay increases of $6,000 per teacher and modest new funding for education, the Oklahoma teachers strike dissolved after the union called on teachers to go back to work. The problem, according to Blanc, was that Oklahoma’s teachers were “insufficiently organized to overcome the hesitancy of their union leaders” in contrast to West Virginia, where the teachers went “wildcat,” taking it upon themselves to continue the strike without the union’s blessing.

    The Arizona case was similar to that of West Virginia. A militant group of teachers understood the importance of face-to-face organizing and had liaisons in nearly every school. For Blanc, one of the most impressive aspects of the Arizona strike was that it occurred in the most difficult environment: a very conservative, anti-union state with a government beholden to the Charles Koch Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council.

    As in the other two states, Arizona militants set up a Facebook page that quickly became very popular. But, in contrast to Oklahoma, key organizers in Arizona recognized that it was critical to build from the base and made sure they had enough organizational strength to call for a strike. They also established a consultative process that encouraged input from below in decision making through what was called a “site liaison network.”

    What the strikes won

    In all three states, teachers won significant pay increases — some immediate, others to kick in later. They also won increased funding for schools and students, although those increases were small compared to the budget cuts of the past decade. A big issue in all states, still largely unresolved, is how to pay for the increased education funding.

    Beyond the specific gains by teachers and schools, however, the strikes established a foundation for further union building. Blanc quotes teachers who talked about how their participation in the intense struggle gave them a new sense of personal efficacy and collective power. As one Arizona teacher noted, “Rallying at the capitol was one of the few moments in my lifetime where I felt I stood exactly where one ought to — it was unequivocally purposeful, courageous and joyful.”

    Blanc’s overall assessment of the strikes is multi-layered. Although the immediate gains for teachers, other public sector workers, and people living in those three states were meaningful, they were by no means transformative because they did not disrupt overall power relations. While further struggles are needed to defend and entrench their gains, he argues the teachers’ movements — on a broader level — amounted to a “frontal challenge to austerity and neoliberalism.” Blanc thinks they also appear to clearly portend “a dramatic increase in working-class consciousness and organization, setting the stage for the conquest of further victories in the months and years ahead.”

    Lessons learned

    The red state revolts took place in settings different from standard labor action, where workers join unions and then engage in struggle through those unions. In the 2018 cases, unions were constrained because they could not legally call for strikes. In addition — like many unions these days — they were focused on member services, rather than fights with the bosses. That meant it was largely up to the teachers to do the hard work of organizing their colleagues and preparing for strikes. The unions did provide important logistical and financial support, which teachers recognized as crucial to their ultimate success. But the strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, were ultimately led by the teachers themselves. Teachers in other states — including Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia — also took it upon themselves to mount one-day walkouts.

    Not being able to organize within a formal union structure was a definite challenge, seen most clearly in Oklahoma, where the lack of grassroots organizing amounted to a significant weakness that ultimately led to the strike’s collapse. In contrast, in the 2012 Chicago strike and the Los Angeles strike of early 2019, all organizing was done within the union framework and benefited from union largesse, as well as an experienced, militant leadership. These more typical cases took years to develop, whereas the red state revolts built within a matter of weeks.

    Another notable difference between these two types of teacher strikes, was the role of social media in the red state revolts. Despite his initial skepticism about Facebook, Blanc ultimately concluded that without it the teachers would not have been able to organize so quickly. That being said, Facebook organizing was something of a shortcut, particularly in Oklahoma, where teachers saw what happened in West Virginia and believed that they could do the same thing using Facebook and word of mouth.

    In the end, they did indeed prove that advanced communications tools, along with very strong grievances, were enough to pull off a massive strike that actually sustained itself for several days. But that structure was built on a weak foundation that ultimately led to dissolution. The general lesson for organizers should be that social media provides excellent tools for dialogue and communications, but cannot replace the hard organizing work and democratic decision-making infrastructure necessary for a lasting social movement.  

    It is also significant that teachers are particularly well-placed to engage in strikes. Although they cannot disrupt the economy directly the way industrial workers can, they are still able to upend daily life. Students need to go to school, where low-income kids are fed one or two meals a day, and parents need to go to their full-time jobs. To use the leverage of disruption effectively, teachers have realized that they must stay on the side of their students and their communities.

    Everywhere teachers strike, they clearly articulate the objective of helping students achieve their educational goals. They also work assiduously to deliver food to students and organize temporary daycare centers in order to minimize the disruption to low-income families. In all three states, there was overwhelming support from the community, which understood all too well the deteriorating state of their schools and implicitly trusted the teachers from day one.

    This support insulated the teachers from government repression. Although state officials threatened teachers before the strikes, there was little they could do when such overwhelming numbers walked out. Blanc quotes various officials saying they knew that if they were to arrest teachers or coerce them with threats of fines, they would face a huge backlash that would only strengthen the teachers’ political standing and resolve. For their part, the teachers understood early on that if they walked out in large numbers, there was nothing the authorities could do.

    The strikes can also be seen as confirming key elements of nonviolent direct action. Teachers in West Virginia and Arizona carefully studied their strengths and weaknesses relative to their opponents in the state governments. That understanding was used to build their movements deliberately, ensuring accountability and important aspects of democratic decision making. The teachers recognized and empowered their allies — their kids and their kids’ families — and were adept at communicating their goals to society in general.

    Finally, the teachers realized the importance of building solid structures from the ground up. Yet, events moved so quickly that there were limits to how far those communications channels and self-help networks could be institutionalized.

    While “Red State Revolt” was about the teacher strikes of 2018, it tells the story of what, in essence, were progressive social movements resisting the politics of austerity imposed by hard-line conservative forces. For activists seeking to build progressive power, whether through labor activism or by organizing racial and economic justice coalitions, “Red State Revolt” is full of helpful practical and theoretical insights.

    How to Find the Best Best Car Insurance in Illinois

    How to Find the Best Best Car Insurance in Illinois

    Getting behind the wheel of a car is a big responsibility. You not only need to know the laws of the road and have a vehicle in legal, working order, but you also need to carry active auto insurance. Here’s your guide to the best car insurance in Illinois.

    Best Car Insurance in Illinois

    Table of Contents

    Buying the right auto insurance policy isn’t as easy as it sounds. Laws and regulations vary from state-to-state, there is a wide range of coverage options available, and you’d be surprised at the personal factors that can impact premium prices. You want something affordable, from a company that offers a good value. However, there are plenty of considerations when shopping around: customer service ratings, the ease of filing claims, the types of coverage offered, and, of course, the price.

    As important as the price tag may be, you don’t want to base your decision on that exclusively. You want to choose a company that will be there for you if and when you actually need to file a claim. You also want coverage that protects your vehicle, belongings, and even your loved ones every time you get behind the wheel. And finding that perfect insurance company can be a bit confusing.

    That’s where we come in.

    We want to make the process easier for you when shopping around for the perfect Illinois auto insurance policy. After hours and hours of research, we are proud to bring you the following guide. It will not only tell you everything you need to know about your legal requirements and the types of coverage available to you, but also potential penalties, how much you can expect to pay for coverage, and which insurance companies are the best.

    By the end of this guide, you should know everything there is to know about Illinois auto insurance, and be able to make a confident and informed decision about your next policy. So, let’s get started, shall we?

    Compare Car Insurance Plans in Illinois

    Our Top 5 Picks for the Best Car Insurance in Illinois

    Illinois is one of those states with a ton of auto insurance providers to choose from. This is a good thing, as you can definitely find a company who offers exactly what you need, at the price you’re willing to pay. However, having too many options can also muddy the waters a bit.

    That’s why we created this guide. We want to make your auto insurance shopping experience as easy and pain-free as possible. We want you to go into the process informed, knowing exactly what you need and are required to have, how much you can expect to pay, and which companies are going to best take care of you.

    We spent more than 10 hours putting this guide together, researching the laws and regulations of the state, the features offered by the companies who provide coverage there, and even the penalties if you don’t carry the insurance you need at all times. Using all of this information, we’re able to offer you some recommendations as to the companies worth looking at, the companies you should avoid, and which ones might cater more to your specific situation better than others.

    Below, we have listed five of our favorite insurance providers in Illinois. We picked one for each of the following categories based on our research and the ratings established by other industry-leading companies. However, it’s important to note that your own experience may vary. Things like your own driving record, your age, the vehicle you drive, and even the neighborhood in which you live might impact your coverage.

    With that said, let’s get started, shall we? Here are our five favorite insurance providers in the Prairie State, based on their strengths and how well they take care of their customers:

    • Best Overall Satisfaction: Auto Owners
    • Best Customer Service: Country
    • Lowest Premiums: Metromile
    • Great If You Have a Perfect Record: SECURA
    • Best If You Have a Less-Than-Perfect Record: Dairyland

    Illinois Auto Insurance Requirements

    For many of us, price is one of the biggest–if not the biggest–determining factors when shopping for a product like auto insurance. And with good reason: depending on where you live, this can be an expense of hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, and you don’t want to overpay.

    You definitely want to pay attention to the cost. You want to pay attention to the customer service grades, discounts available, and even the industry reliability ratings, too. But before you do any of that and even start shopping around, you need to know what you’re required to have.

    Each state has its own unique auto insurance laws. These dictate not only the type of auto insurance you’re required to carry, but also the minimum coverage amounts. Failure to carry the right kind, or level, of coverage will result in you being an unlawful driver… and that can bring with it a heap of trouble.

    So, let’s take a look at what Illinois requires from its drivers. You’re always welcome to buy coverage above and beyond these limits, further protecting yourself and your assets. However, the limits below lay out the state-minimum insurance required: the amount of each type of coverage you must have before getting behind the wheel.

    Coverage Type Minimums
    Bodily Injury Liability
    Death or injury of one person in any one accident $25,000 minimum
    Death or injury of 2+ people in any one accident $50,000 minimum
    Property Damage Liability $20,000 minimum

    As you can see, there are actually two types of insurance coverage that you need to hold in Illinois: bodily injury liability and property damage liability. So, what’s the difference between the two?

    As the name suggests, property damage liability is meant to protect various types of property. This coverage can be used to repair or replace another vehicle, someone’s home, objects, buildings, and even signs or structures, if they are damaged or destroyed as a result of an auto accident for which you are liable (or responsible). In order to be a legal driver in the state of Illinois, you will need to carry property liability coverage of no less than $20,000.

    Then you have bodily injury liability. This type of coverage is intended to pay for medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, etc. if you are responsible for an accident and someone else is injured. Drivers in Illinois will need to carry a policy with at least $25k/$50k coverage. This split coverage is intended to protect one or more injured people; if you’re responsible for an accident and one person is hurt, they will receive up to $25,000 in coverage. If two or more people are injured, your $50,000 (minimum) in coverage will be split between them accordingly.

    Additional Coverage

    So, you now know what levels of insurance coverage you’re legally required to carry if you are going to be a lawful driver in the state of Illinois. But you’re not limited to these coverage amounts.

    In fact, it’s often a good idea to buy more insurance coverage in each of those categories–or even buy optional coverage types–to further protect yourself, your vehicle, and your assets. You’ll pay more each month on your premiums, but it can provide added peace of mind and even save you thousands if you’re in an at-fault accident.

    For example: let’s say that you’re at-fault for an accident and the property damages equal $25,000 (it’s easy to do, too–imagine totalling a new Corolla or even just rear-ending a Tesla). If you only have the state-minimum coverage amount of $20,000, you’d be personally on the hook for that extra $5,000.

    However, if you’d purchased additional coverage through your insurance carrier, you wouldn’t have to worry about paying for those additional damages out of pocket, or being sued for them if you couldn’t afford to pay.


    Sure, it’s wise to have auto insurance coverage every time you get behind the wheel of a car. More importantly, though, it’s the law in Illinois. If you don’t carry a policy that is both valid and has adequate coverage, you’re setting yourself up for some serious penalties.

    Notice that I said you need adequate coverage. It’s not enough to simply have auto insurance–you also need to ensure that you meet each of the state minimum mandates for coverage types, or you’ll be an underinsured driver (which is illegal). This is just as bad as being uninsured, as far as the law is concerned.

    If you are stopped for a traffic violation or involved in an accident (regardless of fault), you’ll be asked to provide proof of your auto insurance coverage. If you don’t have valid coverage at that time, you’ll be issued a citation. When that turns into a conviction, you can expect some stiff fines.

    • For the first violation, you’ll be fined no less than $500
    • Additional violations, or violations for continuing to drive even after your license plates are suspended for a previous insurance violation, are given a fine of no less than $1,000

    In order to reinstate your license plates following a violation, you’ll need to provide current proof of coverage and also pay a $100 reinstatement fee. If you’re a repeat offender, you’ll be required to provide the same proof and pay the same fee, but only after a mandatory four-month suspension period.

    As inconvenient as it would be to pay fines and even have your plates suspended while you purchase adequate coverage, it’s the least of your concerns when driving un(der)insured.

    A Bigger Risk

    The thought of a $500-$1,000+ fine and license plate suspension might be enough to deter you from driving without state-minimum auto insurance coverage. However, that’s not actually the thing that should worry you the most.

    You should be most scared of getting in an accident.

    No one leaves their driveway in the morning thinking that they will be responsible for a car accident, yet it happens all across the state every day. As great of a record as you may have or as responsible of a driver as you may be, you could still inadvertently cause a car accident… and if you do, you’ll have more to worry about than just a citation.

    Yes, you’ll receive a citation following an accident (regardless of fault), if you don’t have the proper insurance coverage. If you’re at-fault, though, you’ll also be responsible for the personal injuries, car repairs, and any other property damage that occurred as a result of the accident. Without auto insurance, you’ll be stuck paying for these expenses out of pocket.

    If you don’t have enough savings to cover repairing or replacing the other driver’s car, covering their medical bills, etc., you could be sued for the damages. Your future wages could be garnished and your assets seized… such as your home, other vehicles, savings accounts, property, and more.

    Makes those monthly auto insurance premiums seem a little less painful in comparison, don’t you think?

    Proof of Insurance

    After you buy, or renew, an auto insurance policy, you’ll be provided with proof of insurance. This document, also called your insurance card (whether or not it’s an actual “card”), will serve as your personal reference guide to your policy as well as give proof of valid coverage whenever you’re required to provide it.

    Some insurance companies will mail you an actual plastic insurance card, which you can keep in your wallet alongside your driver’s license and credit cards. Some companies will just send you a sheet of paper with the information, while others will provide you with a PDF online or via email, which you can print from home.

    Today’s insurance companies also offer mobile apps, where you can access all of your policy documents (including your proof of insurance). If you’re on-the-go and get into an accident or are asked to provide proof, the mobile app can be a quick way to pull it up.

    No matter which medium you’re offered or what you choose to utilize, the fact remains: you’ll need to have accessible proof of auto insurance coverage on your person at all times when you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle.

    Your proof of insurance will include certain information. Depending on the company you buy coverage from, this information could include your:

    • Name (as the insured) and the names of others covered under the same policy
    • Vehicles covered under the policy
    • Policy number
    • Dates of valid coverage
    • Insurance company’s name, address, and phone number

    Some companies will also include things like your policy limits or state-mandated minimums on the insurance card.

    Random Sampling

    Illinois is one of the states that can, and will, randomly request that you provide proof of valid coverage. This is done through a sampling questionnaire, where drivers are chosen entirely at random by a computer and asked to prove their compliance.

    If the computer chooses you to participate in the random sampling, you’ll be sent a questionnaire. It is mandatory that you respond, and you’ll need to provide both your insurance company and policy number to prove that you have valid coverage.

    If you don’t have coverage, or simply don’t return the questionnaire as required, your license plates will be suspended.

    Average Cost of Coverage in Illinois

    The cost of auto insurance can have a pretty wide range, depending on the company you choose, the coverage you need, and even your own personal factors. No one wants to overpay for premiums, but there’s also some merit to the old adage, “you get what you pay for.”

    At the end of the day, though, cost is a factor to most of us and our budgets dictate that we have to shop smart. That’s why it’s important to know what the average cost of insurance is in Illinois, how much you can afford, and which insurance companies will give you the most value for that price.

    Compared to other states, auto insurance rates in Illinois are just below the national average. While the actual premiums you’ll pay will depend on a number of factors–like your age, driving record, vehicle, coverage level, and area in which you live–it’s good to know that, on average, drivers in the Prairie State are paying less than half the country.

    Based on info provided by Quote Wizard, we found that the average auto insurance policy in Illinois will run drivers about $804 per year. Considering that the national average is currently $889.01 per year, you’ll save a fair amount of cash each year by living in this state.

    It’s important to remember that this average accounts for all policies purchased in the state, so it must be taken with a grain of salt. Drivers who buy full-coverage auto insurance with comprehensive coverage are included. Drivers who only buy state-minimum liability coverage are included. Both sides can skew the average, so we’ve broken it down further for you.

    As mentioned, the average cost for auto insurance in the state is $803.64. This includes all policies for all drivers. For drivers who only buy liability coverage, though, the average annual cost is $446.72. For the drivers who opt for collision coverage, this will add an average of $309.71 a year. And if you want comprehensive coverage on top of that, expect an average premium bump of $128.13 annually.

    Coverage Price
    LIability $446.72
    Collision $309.71
    Comprehensive $128.13
    Total Cost Per Year $803.64
    Price Per Month $66.97

    Once again, though: these are only averages. Depending on the level of coverage you want to buy and your own personal factors, your premiums could vary in either direction. Plus, you may also qualify for certain discounts through select insurers, which could impact your price tag.

    Discounts are often offered for being a safe driver, student, military member, or for purchasing multiple-driver policies. If you bundle multiple insurance products together–such as your auto insurance and homeowner’s or life insurance–you can also snag a lower price.

    Cheapest Car Insurance in Illinois

    We all want to know where to find the best deal, whether we’re talking about auto insurance or tennis shoes. You may have even scrolled through this article until you found this specific section, just to learn where you can buy the cheapest car insurance in the state.

    And we will get to that. However, it’s important to note a few things.

    First is that, as with many things in life, “cheap” does not equal “quality.” Just because you find that a company offers a rock-bottom price for your auto insurance policy doesn’t mean that they are the right option for you. You want to choose a company that meets your needs, fits your budget, and will be there for you if you ever need to actually file a claim. The only thing worse than overpaying for insurance would be choosing a company that didn’t stand behind their customers.

    The second thing to note is that the insurer who is cheapest for you may not be the same one that’s cheapest for your mom, your brother, or even your best friend. Some companies might prefer drivers with squeaky-clean records and decades of driving experience. Others might specialize in offering policies to those with a few blemishes, but who are looking for reliable coverage now.

    It’s important to find out which company is cheapest for you, then decide who actually gives you the best value.

    To start figuring out which companies offer the most affordable coverage in Illinois, we created Tom. Tom is our sample driver, who will allow us to see if there are insurers who are consistently priced lower than the others, giving you an idea of where to start your search.

    Tom is a 30-year-old single man, who lives in Peoria (we’ll talk about the significance of this later). He graduated from college with his bachelor’s degree, owns his own condo, and drives a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

    Here’s a look at what Tom can expect to pay from some of the leading insurers in the state, when searching for minimum liability coverage:

    Insurance Company Monthly Premium
    Metromile $40
    Utica National Insurance Group $47
    SECURA $49
    Country $61
    Dairyland $65
    Cincinnati Insurance $66
    Rockford Mutual $69
    Safe Auto $73
    American Family $80
    Auto Club Group $92
    The General $97
    State Auto $135
    Liberty Mutual $144
    Nationwide $172
    State Farm $185

    Insurance premiums are impacted by the driver’s location, though–sometimes significantly. Peoria is a city with an average premium rate just below the state’s overall average. Let’s see how much more Tom could expect to pay each month if he lived in a higher-cost area, like Chicago, instead.

    Insurance Company Monthly Premium
    Metromile $39
    Utica National Insurance Group $59
    SECURA $57
    Country $74
    Dairyland $150
    Cincinnati Insurance $99
    Rockford Mutual $111
    American Family $113
    Auto Club Group $128
    State Auto $190
    Liberty Mutual $210

    As you can see, almost all of the insurance providers’ quotes went up significantly. The exception was Metromile which, shockingly, went down $1. However, Tom is stuck paying quite a bit more for his state-minimum coverage just for living in a more metropolitan area.

    Regardless of where he lives, Metromile seems to be a budget-friendly option. Following that company, Tom (or you) may want to look into Utica, SECURA, and Country, as they are consistently affordable insurers.

    Cost of Auto Insurance in Illinois

    So, we have shown you how much “Tom” can expect to pay for his state-mandated auto insurance coverage, whether he lives in a city like Peoria or a more expensive area, like Chicago. But how does this relate to how much you can expect to pay for your auto insurance?

    As we mentioned before, we can’t tell you precisely how much your premiums will run. In order to do that, we would need to know any number of personal factors about you–ranging from your age, address, and marital status to your vehicle type, how many miles you drive, and even your credit score.

    The different things that can impact your premiums include your:

    • Age
    • Gender
    • Marital status
    • Driving record
    • Education
    • Vehicle(s) covered
    • Whether your vehicle is financed, leased, or paid in full
    • ZIP code
    • Whether you own or rent your home
    • Miles driven each year and the purpose of those miles (work commute, pleasure, etc.)
    • How much coverage you want

    Plus, every auto insurance provider weighs each of these factors uniquely, resulting in the difference in premiums that you’ll see when requesting quotes.

    As you already know, though, the average annual premium amongst Illinois drivers is just under $804 a year, with $447 being the average liability-only cost. So, that gives you a baseline of what to expect.

    Here’s what we can do to help you narrow your expected costs down further, though. We have created a few sample driver profiles (just like Tom from above, except even more detailed), and gotten insurance quotes for each of them. We used both insurance quote aggregators and specific insurers’ quote engines to find these numbers, offering you an even clearer idea of how much you’ll likely spend on coverage.

    Of course, you probably won’t perfectly relate to any of these four sample drivers. However, you are probably closer to one of them than the others, and can at least determine which companies are worth looking at first, just based on these numbers. You can also see how specific factors might impact prices, so you can be prepared to see the same impacts on your own quotes.

    Our Subjects

    All four of our sample drivers live in Highland Park, IL, within the 60040 area code. Why did we pick this city? It’s average annual auto insurance cost is only $2 above the state median, making it a good middle ground.

    Illinois car insurance example

    Our four Illinois sample drivers

    Our first sample driver is Little Timmy, 22. He’s just your typical college kid, living in an apartment and paying off his 2012 Chevrolet Impala. He has average credit, and has also managed to get two speeding tickets in the last couple of years. Timmy also drives about 15,000 miles a year between school, work, and heading home to do his laundry on the weekends.

    Our second sample drivers are John and Jane Smith, a 42-year-old married couple. Both have their bachelor’s degrees, they own their home, have good credit, and they each drive about 16,000 miles a year. They have a paid-off 2011 Chevrolet Equinox and are still paying on their 2014 Toyota Sienna. Both have excellent driving records, except for a small fender bender that Jane was responsible for two years ago.

    Next up, we have Straight-Laced Sally. As the name implies, she’s a pretty ideal driver –at 35-years-old, she has a perfect driving record, excellent credit, and a college degree. She drives her 2010 Toyota Camry approximately 10,000 miles a year and owns her condo.

    Last but not least, we have Grandpa Joe, 65. He has a clean driving record, good credit, a college degree from many years ago, and owns his home. He also drives his 1998 Honda Civic about 8,000 miles a year.

    To reiterate: you probably won’t be a perfect match to any of these sample drivers. However, there is probably one of them that you lean toward, who you can relate to more than the others. This might be in terms of your driving record, age, or even your vehicle and the number of miles you drive in a given year. You can use this connection to gauge how premiums change from provider to provider for the same driver, to see which companies you should research first.

    With that said: here’s a look at the quotes we received for each of our four Highland Park drivers. All quotes are for basic, state-minimum coverage, and are provided by The Zebra.

    Little Timmy John & Jane Smith Straight-Laced Sally Grandpa Joe
    Dairyland $112/month $95 $75 $64
    Metromile not given not given $67 $28
    Safe Auto $140 $96 $71 $69
    Liberty Mutual not given $192 $136 $49
    Elephant not given not given $81 not given
    Country $178 $122 $57 $45
    SECURA $185 $85 $45 $42
    The General not given $219 $111 $108
    Pekin Insurance not given not given $82 $48
    Rockford Mutual $255 $130 $63 $51
    Cincinnati Insurance $293 $161 $72 $55
    Hastings Mutual not given $98 $67 $61
    Utica National Insurance Group not given not given $51 $66
    Auto Club Group $300 $228 $100 $90
    American Family $323 $271 $84 $77
    State Auto $640 $240 $140 $138

    As you can tell, costs can vary significantly. The change is not only dependent on drivers’ individual factors, but also varies from one issuer to another. You can expect to find similar results when searching around for your own policy.

    We do see some patterns, though, that might help you when price-hunting. For instance, Utica and Metromile weren’t available for all of our drivers, but for those who did receive rates, they were some of the cheapest providers around. Dairyland was also one of the most competitive for each of our drivers, while State Auto was the priciest for everyone.

    We also see the impact that an accident or traffic citation can have on insurance premiums. Poor Timmy is going to be paying an arm and a leg for coverage; hopefully, he can work on that lead foot. After driving record, age seems to be the next-most-important factor in pricing. While the other factors–such as your education and credit score–definitely play a role in your premiums, they seem to be much less impactful.

    Illinois’s Unique Car Insurance Rules

    Each state plays by its own rules, and this is definitely the case when it comes to auto insurance. This means that each state has its own laws, regulations, and even quirky ways of going about managing drivers and their insurance policies.

    Here are a few things you’ll find when buying auto insurance in Illinois that you won’t find everywhere else.

    Illinois Automobile Insurance Plan (ILAIP)

    Being a high-risk driver can cause many issues, whether it’s due to a failure to pay past auto insurance premiums, too many accidents/citations, or convictions of offenses like DUI/DWI. One of the lasting impacts is that you’ll have trouble finding an insurance provider who actually wants to offer you a policy. You may even have your current coverage canceled by your existing provider, leaving you high and dry and unable to legally drive.

    If you are a high-risk driver who cannot seem to find a company willing to sell you auto insurance, you’ll need to turn to the Illinois Automobile Insurance Plan, or ILAIP. The ILAIP was designed to connect these otherwise-denied drivers with insurance companies who will offer them policies for a set number of years.

    The ILAIP opens the door for struggling drivers to actually find state-mandated coverage, but it doesn’t mean that said coverage will come cheap (or even be affordable!). These auto insurance policies will usually cost quite a bit more than the average, in fact. However, if it’s between an expensive policy made possible through ILAIP or simply being denied coverage by all providers, this could be your only choice.

    ILAIP isn’t an insurance provider; instead, they cycle through and assign high-risk drivers to the different providers in the state. These providers are required to offer policies to the assigned drivers, charging up to the Plan’s established maximum cost. These ILAIP policies can last one year or multiple years, and your insurer isn’t required to renew your policy once their assigned term has ended.

    Once your ILAIP term ends, you can begin your search on the voluntary market. However, if you still have trouble finding a provider who will offer you a policy, you can apply for ILAIP coverage again.

    SR-22 Certificate

    Certain driving missteps–like DUI/DWIs, too many driving citations, reckless driving, or not carrying adequart auto insurance coverage–can result in some serious penalties. One of those penalties is being required to carry an SR-22 certificate.

    These are not utilized in every state, but Illinois does issue the requirement when warranted. If you’re told that you need to carry one of these certificates, you can expect it to be a bit more difficult (and much more expensive) the next time you shop around for an auto insurance policy.

    Those with an SR-22 requirement will need to purchase an SR-22 auto insurance policy. These policies can range in length from one to five years, and are designed for high-risk drivers who would otherwise not be allowed behind the wheel.

    Once you’ve purchased an appropriate policy, the Office of the Secretary of State will file to get your SR-22 certificate issued. Without the filing of the SR-22 certificate (following your purchase of a compatible policy), your license will simply be suspended in the state.

    Credit Can Be a Factor

    You know how important your credit score and history can be. It impacts everything from your interest rates to approval on things like a home mortgage or even credit card applications. Did you know that it can also affect your auto insurance premiums, though?

    That’s right: depending on your credit history and even your FICO score, you could see your auto insurance costs go up or down. Not all states allow credit score to be factored into the cost of premiums, but Illinois does.

    You may be asked for your approximate score when requesting an insurance quote. Insurance companies may also run a soft pull on your credit report to get an idea of where your score stands as well as see any negative reports you may have.

    It’s important to note that an insurance company cannot deny you auto insurance coverage based on your credit score alone. They also can’t cancel an existing policy that you already have just because of negative credit issues. However, they can charge you more or less based on these factors.

    Your ZIP Code Matters

    As you saw in our Tom example above, location matters. Living in a more rural area can often result in a lower auto insurance premium (probably because less traffic and crime results in less opportunity for accidents or other damage), whereas living in a metropolitan area is usually more expensive. You may even find that moving a couple blocks away–and winding up in a different ZIP code–can substantially change your premiums in either direction.

    Your personal factors will still matter quite a bit when it comes to how much you’ll pay. But as much as your driving record and age and vehicle and miles driven matter, your ZIP code also matters. And some ZIP codes can mean premiums that are almost double what they would be in other areas of the state.

    Top Car Insurance Companies in Illinois

    So, which auto insurance companies are other Illinoisans choosing? Are there certain providers that are more popular than others, and why?

    We did the research to find out who the most popular providers are in the state, and just how much of the market share they hold. Here’s a look at the top five companies in the state:

    Illinois car insurance market share

    Most popular car insurance companies in Illinois

    Being popular doesn’t always equate to being good, though. We also wanted to find out how these companies measured up in terms of quality, rather than just relying on just quantity.

    Let’s look at how each of these insurance providers stacks up in terms of customer service and financial stability. When it comes time to file a claim against your policy, those are the things that will matter most… not their popularity.

    Customer Satisfaction

    No one wants to overpay for auto insurance (or any purchase, for that matter). More important than the cost, though, is whether you buy a product that will be there when you actually need to use it. Auto insurance is no different–you want to ensure that you choose a company that will have your back if and when you ever need to utilize your coverage.

    Popularity says something about a company and its customers, but it’s not the whole picture. You can hold the biggest market share and still be a company that doesn’t really take care of your customers. This is why customer service ratings are so very important; if other customers find that an insurer takes care of them when the time comes to file a claim, there’s a good chance they will take care of you in the same situation.

    This is why we took the time to compare service and financial security ratings. We looked at the five most popular insurers, giving you a good idea of how they compare and how their existing customers think of them. This way, you can have a comprehensive idea of which ones are worth a second look… regardless of the price.

    To adequately gauge this, we used the scores and evaluations from two leading industry authorities: JD Power and A.M. Best. Both are respected throughout the industry and offer us a comprehensive view of the reliability, strength, and performance of each of these auto insurance providers. With their ratings, you can get a great overall idea of which company will best take care of your needs.

    State Farm

    Talk about dominating the market here. In Illinois, State Farm accounts for a whopping 29.5% of the auto insurance market. They aren’t the highest-ranked company according to JD Power, but they do have ratings worth applauding:

    • A.M. Best: “A++” (Superior) financial strength rating and “aa+” long-term issuer credit rating
    • JD Power: #6 in the region with a 4-star overall satisfaction rating


    This auto insurance provider covers 7.6% of the drivers in the Prairie State, bringing in second-place. It’s interesting to see just how far of a difference there is between the first- and second-place companies, though Country actually has better customer satisfaction ratings than the insurer above:

    • A.M. Best: “A+” (Superior) financial strength rating and “aa-” long-term issuer credit rating
    • JD Power: #3 with a 5-star overall satisfaction rating


    Next up is Allstate, with the third-largest share of Illinois drivers at 6.7%. They have average satisfaction ratings, too:

    • A.M. Best: “A+” (Superior) financial strength rating but “aa-” long-term issuer credit rating
    • JD Power: #10 in the region with a 3-star overall satisfaction rating

    American Family

    This insurance provider doesn’t have a nationally-recognized name, but they have decent quality ratings. They also hold 4.6% of the Illinois market.

    • A.M. Best: “A” (Excellent) financial strength rating with an “a+” long-term issuer credit rating
    • JD Power: #11 in the region with a 3-star rating in overall satisfaction


    Bringing up fifth place is Farmers, carrying 4.1% of the Illinois market. While there are still many companies who hold smaller market shares in Illinois, there aren’t too many who scored lower on JD Power’s customer satisfaction survey:

    • A.M. Best: “A” (Excellent) financial strength rating and an “a” long-term issuer credit rating
    • JD Power: #19 in the region with a 2-star overall satisfaction rating

    It might also be interesting to note that while Auto Owners Insurance didn’t make it onto our market share list, they were given the highest award by JD Power for customer satisfaction. They beat out every other company on the list–even insurers like USAA, who always top the list on quality–to score 5 stars.

    Need More?

    Whether this is your first auto insurance policy or your fifteenth, the process can be confusing. We hope that this guide has helped you determine how much you should be paying, what you need, and which factors will impact your coverage.

    However, if you still have questions or concerns, or have specific issues that weren’t addressed here, you can always get help directly. You can contact the state’s insurance division directly or check out their website, which includes various resources and fact sheets to help resolve any residual issues you may have.

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    Topics: Auto InsuranceInsurance

    Scouts provide blessings at Bells

    Scouts provide blessings at Bells

    Girl Scout Troop 4210 donated a blessing box to Bells Elementary School for their take action project and as a good way to give back to their community. The box is located outside Bells school for those who need food or hygiene items or if someone has items they would like to donate.

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Letter: Garage a blessing to those in most need


    Garage of Blessings is a nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to assist others in a time of need. The Garage of Blessings collects new and used items from those fortunate enough to have the ability to give and share their donated items with those in need. The Garage of Blessings is a conduit from within the community to give back to the community as needed.

    No questions are asked of why the need. People in troubled times have needs including food, clothing and other basic items. The Garage of Blessings facilitates the collection of donated items and provides to those in need, regardless of their situation.

    Garage of Blessings has dozens of committed volunteers who make the program work and are truly the heart of the organization. The volunteers of this community and the surrounding areas come to give their time to assist others. These volunteers are from all walks of life and have one thing in common, a desire to help those in need. Some volunteers have had the need to use the Garage of Blessings at certain times in their own lives and understand what it is like to be in a position to rely on someone else for their needs to be met.

    People in need of Garage of Blessings services include those who are between paychecks, low income, victims of domestic violence, newly started families, experience change in life circumstances, homeless, senior citizens, Navy personnel both current and retired, and others including their families.

    Garage of Blessings services include, but are not limited to the following free items: household goods, school supplies, baby and kids items, birthday supplies, notary services, mentoring, classes and events, coats, homecoming dresses, emergency food and support services.

    We understand and acknowledge the issues of homelessness in our community, as well as the services provided to all people who are in need. We look forward to being an on-going part of a multi-approach solution with other partners to help reduce any negative impacts experienced in our communities. We welcome a civil and open dialogue that results in positive outcomes for all. Representatives from businesses, civic groups, nonprofits, churches and government, as well as other interested parties, need to continue to work together to collaborate on best practices in order to tackle this local, county, state, and national level problem.

    You can help support our communities by donating your time and volunteering with us. If you are unable to do so, we also gladly accept donations of money and tangible goods. Thank you for your ongoing support of serving our communities.

    Thank you for your previous and future support.

    Garage of Blessings board of directors

    Mark Geer, Bobbi Hawley, Dawnita Hunsberger, Julie Lauderdale, Diane MaKaeli, Brian McMahan and Bruce Moen

    The future of video marketing: Growth and demand

    The future of video marketing: Growth and demand

    In today’s ever-changing world of technology, video is coming in fast and hard to dominate both the entertainment and marketing space. With multiple devices to choose from — from mobile to tablet, desktop to streaming video on our televisions, more and more people are not only using video to make purchasing decisions, but also changing the way they receive their entertainment. The days of “Prime Time” are over.

    Let’s start with video as streaming content

    According to Statista, in 2018:

    • Over 85% of all internet users in the United States watch online video content on any of their devices
    • 25-34 years watched the most video content
    • Adult males spent 40% more time watching video content than adult females

    According to Nielsen:

    • More than 64% of people with a WiFi connection are streaming online videos, up 17% from last year

    According to a Google-commissioned Nielsen Study

    • 47% of 17 to 49 year olds consider themselves “light” traditional television viewers, and 27% do not watch traditional television at all.

    Where are folks getting their entertainment? According to Statista, YouTube is king, with Netflix coming in at a close second when it comes to streaming entertainment.

    Most popular video streaming sites
    Source: Statista

    The business case for video

    The preference for video content is not just limited to streaming online movies and shows or watching YouTube video clips, video is now extending into brands with studies showing that consumers (over 50%) are interested in video content from brands or businesses that they support (HubSpot, 2018).

    Facing the growing demand by users for more visual content, more brands are building video into their marketing strategy to build sales, brand awareness, trust, and a growing customer base. Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are the most common.

    Share of market

    • Up from 63% last year, 81% of businesses have incorporated video into their marketing strategy, and more than 83% of marketers attest that video content has the best ROI. (Hubspot)
    • Facebook is growing in video use with 81% of businesses preferring Facebook for their video marketing. (Buffer)
    • Every week, 24.3% of companies publish videos. (Buffer)
    • Of all global consumer internet traffic video made up 75% in 2017 (Cisco).

    Increased reach with video

    Increased conversion rates with video

    • Conversion rates are increased, with video, by 80% (Unbounce).
    • According to HubSpot, emails with video have an increased click rate of 300%.
    • A purchase is 1.81X more likely to be made when a consumer views a demo video (Adobe).
    • According to Wirebuzz, utilizing video increases revenue 49% faster than not using video marketing at all.

    User preference

    Sales benefits

    • When it comes retention, videos are key with a claimed 95% of viewers retaining the message of a video, versus just 10% of message retention with text only. And when it comes to calls-to-action (CTA), 95% are more likely to remember it after watching a video, versus just 10% when the CTA comes in a text format. (Forbes 2017)
    • Facebook stories are taking root with 62% of people claiming they were more interested in a product after seeing it in a Facebook Story.
    • Looking to get your website to the top of a Google search? Websites with video are 53X more likely to land on the front page of a Google search.
    • Conversions rates jump to 80% when landing pages include video. (Unbounce)
    • Webpages with video increase time spent on the page by 2.6X. (Wistia)
    • According to Google, nearly 50% of internet users search for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store.

    Device preference

    • Video use on mobile is rising 100% year-over-year. (Insivia)
    • Of all total videos watched, 75% are on mobile devices. (eMarketer)
    • Video viewership is 1.5X greater on mobile than on any other device (Facebook)
    • Over 51% of all video plays are on mobile devices (Adelie Studios).

     Social use

    • There are 48% more views on social media posts with video. (HubSpot)
    • There are over 8 billion video views per day on Facebook. (TechCrunch)
    • Facebook’s video platform is visited by 75 million people each day. (Adweek)
    • There are over five Billion videos watched on YouTube each day.
    • On YouTube and Facebook, 45% of people watch more than an hour of video per week.
    • 82% of users watch video content on Twitter.

    Video frequency

    Popular streaming video sites


    From cat videos to beauty video blogs, to “how-to” videos. YouTube is the second most trafficked website, after Google. But not only can it be used to entertain, but it can also be used to access and market your brand to your audience in a space they’re already in. Branded video content has increased 99% since June of 2017, and 87% or marketers have published video content to YouTube as of 2018 (Wyzowl). Another 40% of millennials trust YouTube content, and 60% say that the content has changed their worldview. Almost half of YouTube video consumption is made through a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

    Key stats


    While YouTube still holds the lead, Facebook is quickly becoming a popular destination to watch videos, with over 500 million people watching 100 million hours of video every day (TechCrunch)

    Key stats


    We’ve all heard of Netflix and chill – and it is pretty chill that Netflix is the number one paid streaming video provider. While it does fall behind YouTube on average – considering that it’s a paid service with 72.9 million monthly users, that’s nothing to balk at. And accessible in over 200 countries, its traffic share is easily seen as the top video streaming site in the world.

    Key stats

    What’s the future of video?

    What are some key insights, and best practices when it comes to incorporating video into your marketing platform?  The above article gave you a fairly accurate picture of how your audience is consuming video, and the way in which you create your videos should be directly tied to that, not only with how your videos are created and presented but also the way in which they will perform best.

    Key insights

    • The top three most effective types of video content are customer testimonials (51%), tutorial videos (50%), and demonstration videos (49%). (Forbes)
    • Nearly two-thirds of consumers prefer video under 60 seconds. (Bitable)
    • By 2022, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic — 15 times higher than it was in 2017. (Cisco)
    • By 2020 there will be close to one million minutes of video crossing the internet per second. (Cisco)
    • Nearly four-fifths (79 percent) of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2022. (Cisco)

    Magic, sex and blessings at an unconventional seder in Berkeley

    Magic, sex and blessings at an unconventional seder in Berkeley

    The JeWitch Collective is exactly what it sounds like: a group of people who are connected to Jewish spirituality, magic-based practices or both. They traffic in terms like pagan, neo-pagan, feminist, queer, Earth-based Judaism and “reclaiming” (as in the belief that they are reclaiming magical Jewish feminine practices proscribed by Jewish authorities long, long ago).

    Last month I attended the group’s “Song of Songs Seder Celebrating Queer Sexuality” at Urban Adamah, the Jewish urban farm in Berkeley. Song of Songs makes sense for a seder celebrating any kind of sexuality; this book of the Bible is a lengthy, sensual, explicit love poem.

    Why this time of year, though?

    The seder was held on Pesach Sheni (literally, Second Passover), an ancient observance instituted to give people who were unable to go to the Temple during the holiday a second chance to make their obligatory Passover offerings. Those welcomed back into the Temple included people who were ritually unclean during Passover. That element of Pesach Sheni makes it a clever, compelling choice for a seder geared toward bringing queerness and magic into (or back into) Jewish ritual practice.

    “Some queer religious Jews have adopted it as their own, deeming it Religious Tolerance Day” I was told by Susala Kay, a co-founder of JeWitch and an author of the seder.

    Before the seder, attendees meandered the farm engaging in a variety of ecstatic stations. Urban Adamah is a beautiful (dare I say, magical?) enough place any day — but that day it was transformed into a “magical garden.”

    Upon entering, one passed immediately through an area where a singer and percussionist played. This first station was “Sound Cleansing: Clearing Toxic Patriarchy.” (What a relief!)

    Meanwhile at the "G-Spot of Abundant Blessings" ...
    Meanwhile at the “G-Spot of Abundant Blessings” … (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)

    Another station was called the “G-Spot of Abundant Blessings,” where individuals could come forward to “receive a magical blessing dance,” as explained in a handout with a list of suggested blessings. A trio of blessers would call one out from the handout — among them “May your lips and tongue explore petals and stalks until love pleases,” “May you live among your lover’s lilies, and immerse yourself in their fragrance” and “May the schmutz of your life be washed away.” After calling out the blessing with gusto, the trio would dance around the blessee and embrace the person with a tallit.

    There were people of all genders, sexualities and ages (no children, though). On the paths of the farm, older Berkeley Earth mothers with long hair danced around with younger shorthaired Oakland radicals in denim jackets. I was so busy taking in the scene that I didn’t make it to all the stations.

    After a while, we all proceeded (at length, with dancing) into the yurt where the seder would take place. It was cramped inside. Several leaders sat at a low table at the front. Most of us sat on the floor.

    A lot of things happened inside, too many to recount. There was singing throughout, led by the always soulful and engaging musician Jewlia Eisenberg. The master of ceremonies was Rabbi Eli Cohen, a Renewal rabbi who lives in Santa Cruz.

    A pair of dancers morphed into Hebrew letterforms. They were a bet, symbolizing a “strong foundation and shelter,” and then a mem, symbolizing mayim (water) and the prophetess Miriam.

    To sanctify the space, maggid Jonathan Furst, a co-founder of JeWitch and a fixture in the Bay Area’s lefty Jewish spiritual scene, led us in “acknowledging the elements, the directions, and calling in the sacred Hebrew animals that go with each of the directions.” Furst had us call out: “Hamizrach! The East!” The East goes with the element of air, he said, imploring us to “breathe in a big gust of air.” The sacred animal of the East, evidently, is the lion: “Let out a lion roar!” Everyone complied with gusto.

    Hanegev! The South! Eish! The fire! Feel the warm, passionate fire in your body. Make yourself hot.” People moved around, gyrated, jumped, rubbed their hands together. “The sacred animal of the South is the human — we are the fire animals!” Furst exclaimed. “So make your most essential human sound.” “Oy!” someone cried out, to a good deal of laughter. It was a playful yet earnest event from start to finish.

    the sign reads: "Jewitched use magick, ritual & love to rise up against oppression"
    A sign hung on the outside fence at Urban Adamah during the JeWitch Collective’s “Song of Songs Seder Celebrating Queer Sexuality,” May 19 (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)

    At one point, while saying the blessing over bread, we were told that we would be reciting it in the feminine form, rather then the traditional masculine. “If you’d rather use masculine, you can,” the leader said. “Or just go someplace else!” someone called out. There were laughs and some mild gasps.

    Much of the seder was taken up with explanations of the items on the seder plate.

    Local writer and poet Andrew Ramer led an explication of the three pieces of matzah. He likened the unleavened bread to people who don’t receive the care and acceptance they need to flourish: “Rushed, neglected, not kneaded by caring hands, we grow up afraid that any touch might cause a break … As we celebrate queer sexuality, let us bless our cracked surfaces and sharp edges. May we bravely see our brittleness and lovingly see our beauty.”

    The reading about the egg on the seder plate was led by singer-songwriter Anna Cone. It symbolizes “the Divine Feminine” and the “Cosmic Vulva.” She cited Songs of Songs 5:4-5: “My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening. My heart beat wild. I rose to open to my love …”

    Things proceeded more or less in that vein for the duration of the seder. I’m sure it is easy for many Jews to dismiss this all as made-up, New Age nonsense thought up by a bunch of apikorsim. But take a closer look: The subversive use of biblical text, the clever use of Pesach Sheni and the commitment to community tell me that these people are deeply knowledgeable and serious about their Judaism.

    It isn’t quite the Judaism for me, but I’m glad it exists.

    We could use a little more sex and sensuality in mainstream Judaism. We could use a little more playfulness and queerness. My hope is that, as has happened with other fringe Jewish spiritual movements, elements will creep into mainstream Judaism, breathing new life and texture into our religion.

    7 Game-Changing Facebook Ad Strategies for E-commerce

    7 Game-Changing Facebook Ad Strategies for E-commerce

    Facebook marketing has never been easy. Competition is always increasing as more businesses focus on the platform, causing ad costs to continue to rise by over 20% per year. In order to succeed, marketers need to be savvier than ever.

    The good news is that Facebook still offers a potential audience of over 1.5 billion daily active users. To effectively reach your ideal customers on Facebook requires proper preparation and planning. Otherwise, your campaigns are unlikely to produce the results you expect. To do this, it’s important to keep up with the latest Facebook Marketing Strategy. Luckily, there are many approaches you can take to get started.

    Do you know that website visitors fall in various segments? It’s important to think about marketing to each segment in a unique way. Here’s how you can start thinking about segmenting your potential customers:

    • First time leads: These are potential customers who have never seen your site before. These are often referred to as Cold Leads in marketing terminology.
    • Lukewarm leads: These shoppers have browsed your site, but not made a purchase. Think of them like window shoppers in brick and mortar store.
    • Your followers: In a case where your online store has a blog or uses social media, your followers, subscribers, and readers fall into this category. They contribute to regular traffic that visits your website.
    • Warm leads: These are those customers who are likely to buy from you. With a small push, you will be able to convert them into purchasers.
    • Repeat customers: Customers who have previously made a purchase and are likely to do so again fall into this category.

    To have a successful Facebook strategy, it helps to think of your customers in these segments. Each group has needs and shopping habits that you can appeal to. With that in mind, here is a comprehensive list of 7-must use Facebook ads strategies which will help general you to generate more online sales:

    Abandoned Cart campaigns

    Picture this: someone spends a lot of time on your site, browses their favorite items, and adds them to cart. But before they make their purchase, they abandon your site! How do you get them to come back and make a purchase?

    Abandoned cart campaigns are just what you need. These campaigns aim to back customers to your store to complete their purchase.

    As a part of this strategy, you can run Facebook ads to target shoppers and have them come back to make a purchase on your site. But what if a customer has already made a purchase? With the help of the Facebook Pixel, you can automatically create (and update) segments of only customers who have abandoned their cart.

    As a bonus, if you get shoppers to engage via Facebook Messenger, you can send automated abandoned cart campaigns directly via the platform.

    Upsell campaigns

    This type of campaign is intended for repeat customers. What does it involve?

    Your eCommerce cart software(e.g. Shopify) should already have a history of customers’ previous purchases. Using this data, you can target buyers with ads showing product recommendations that match their tastes and encourage them to make another purchase.

    You can also inform customers about any discounts or promotional offers for their favorite products. This is a proven strategy used by many leading brands to improve their customers’ lifetime value (LTV).

    Video-based Content

    Long gone are the days of sending regular page posts to customers. Wait for what?

    By this I mean, gone are the days of text-based posts; video is the new medium of communication. Instead of sharing posts with only images or text, try sharing videos and video ads with your customers. They are much more likely to watch and engage with your content, while can ultimately lead to generating more sales.

    Facebook Dynamic Product Ads

    These are the remarketing ads that use Facebook’s algorithm to showcase multiple products for your customers. The products are based on what users have searched/purchased in the past.

    Dynamic Product Ads (DPA Ads) are proven to increase conversions because they show customers the benefits of various products within just a single ad. This is another useful tool to help you automate your Facebook ads.

    Turning your potential customers into real customers

    Think of this like drawing window shoppers into your physical store with a great promotional, thus converting them into buyers.

    With Facebook ads, you can create an audience of potential customers who have seen your videos or browsed through your products but not yet made a purchase. Maybe these customers thought your price point was too high, or they simply didn’t feel a sense of urgency to make a purchase.

    You can create campaigns that address any possible objections and invite customers to come back and make a purchase.

    To get started, you can use the following trick: divide your Facebook audience into smaller segments and target them with ads tailored to each group. For example, you can explain your product benefits, show customer testimonials, or present any offers/discounts that would encourage them to make a purchase.

    Combine Facebook ads with content marketing

    Most businesses use Facebook marketing strategies to generate cold leads, engage warm leads and encourage repeat customers. Why not combine your Facebook ads strategy with content marketing?

    Combining ads with your content strategy can help strengthen your brand’s image and reach a wider audience. Another benefit of this approach is you don’t need to spend large amounts on ad campaigns – just create engaging posts or tips and tricks that include how your product works. Wealth simple, a Canadian online investment management service shows a great example of promoting their blog content on Facebook:

    You can then retarget any leads generated from your content marketing using ads targeting your previously created Facebook audiences.

    Give it a try and watch the magic happen!

    Branding is the next frontier

    Customer love brands. And shoppers are known to show more interest in making a purchase after getting to know a brand.

    Developing your brand can be as simple as creating videos. Attract customers with a captivating story about your products or about your brand itself. Don’t be afraid to educate customers about your brand when viewing your ad.

    People like to see authenticity. What else can you do to present a story that wins over your potential customers? Let your creativity flow and attract new shoppers with enticing video ads that clearly demonstrate your brand’s story.


    By implementing these strategies you’ll be well on your way to dominating Facebook. The only thing standing in your way is you.

    So what do you think, are you ready to beat your competition?