Most participants in Tea Parties cite their love of freedom as instrumental to their involvement with the movement. For Tea Party Patriots Chicago organizer Steve Stevlic, however, freedom is not just a buzzword. The concept of freedom is fundamental to his core beliefs.
In the early 1970s Stevlic’s father Jovisa was a customs official in the former Yugoslavia when he was arrested and falsely charged with being a western spy. It seems the secret police did not approve of some of his reading material when they broke into his house. The elder Stevlic had a taste for classic western literature including nasty, subversive stuff like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Even by communist standards, however, the case against him was so flimsy that after conviction, he got a retrial. In evaluating his case, Jovisa Stevlic’s attorney could find only one certain way for his client to avoid a long prison sentence – flee the country. Being a practical man, Stevlic took this advice, obtained false documents, and left his homeland.
As his son now wryly recounts the story, “In a socialist country, you have to use fake papers to get out of the country. In a free society, you need fake papers to get in.”
Stevlic moved first to Germany, then to the U.S. where he took a variety of jobs as a bartender, sausage maker, and insurance salesman before finally settling into a successful career as a real estate broker. Along the way, he married, raised a family, and taught his son Steve what a gift American freedom is.
Today, the married father of two lives in Berwyn and facetiously calls himself a part of the “angry for-profit mob,” a reaction to the liberal media’s negative characterizations of the Tea Party movement.
Stevlic organized the Chicago Tax Day Tea Party rally held in Daley Plaza earlier this year and is one of the leaders of the Tea Party Patriots in Chicago, although his participation in the movement was somewhat serendipitous.
Like many Americans, he saw CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s rant from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and, as he puts it, “I could see that we were going down a path where government was doing a lot of things that were completely unsustainable and he said those magic words: ‘I’m thinking about having a Chicago Tea Party and all my capitalist friends are invited.’”
On February 27, 2009 Stevlic was working in training and development for a downtown hospital and found his way to one of America’s first Tea Parties on his lunch break. He liked what he heard and went to the next Tea Party on Tax Day of that year also. Next, because of his involvement in the health care industry and his passion for the subject, he was chosen to be a guest in the audience on Chicago Tonight on WTTW where he would have an opportunity to question Senator Dick Durbin on the proposed health care legislation. Up to that time, Durbin had eschewed participating in any town halls, so Stevlic jumped at his chance. “Asking Senator Durbin a question at a town hall meeting is about as rare as the Cubs going to the World Series,” he says now.
Stevlic grilled Durbin who waffled on the constitutionality of compelling citizens to buy insurance and assured his audience that the Senate bill would have no individual mandate. It was clear from the substance of the questions and the shallowness of the Senator’s answers, that Stevlic had a greater mastery of the topic than the number two man in the United States Senate. Stevlic’s performance was so impressive, in fact, that it was picked up by the Mark Levin show and Stevlic was subsequently asked to take a more active role in the Tea Party movement locally.
Today, in addition to holding the large rallies that they are known for, Stevlic’s group also holds monthly meetings. “The number one purpose of our organization is education,” he says. “We want to educate voters on our three pillars which are liberty, constitutional principles, and fiscal responsibility.”
Not only are Chicagoans paying attention but so are elected officials and candidates. Stevlic says, “We’re here to hold politicians accountable. We’re here to let them know how we feel. Up to this point, they have been listening.”
They have been listening, indeed. The most recent monthly meeting attracted dozens of attendees and included many politicians trying to curry favor with the group. This year the group has also invited many candidates like State Senate candidate Cedra Crenshaw and Congressional candidates Joel Pollak and Isaac Hayes to speak. Many of the group’s members have subsequently signed on to volunteer in those campaigns.
As a first generation American, Stevlic continues to hold strong reasons for participating in the Tea Party. He says, “The reason that I’m involved and I think the reason that most everyone is involved is the future of our children and our grandchildren. My parents immigrated to this county and I think if you talk to a lot of people that have moved to this country by choice they have a very different perspective on what’s going on. That is, that we are creeping toward socialism and more government control over our lives.”
To Steve Stevlic and the Tea Party Patriots, that is totally unacceptable.
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