While votes are still being recounted in some parts of the country, one statistic remains unchallenged- the record numbers of young adult voters in Chicago this year. For the first time in Chicago history, millennials voted in larger numbers than any other demographic.
Although it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons for such a high turnout, a large amount of influence can be credited to Chicago Votes, a non-partisan, non-profit organization whose goal it is to build a more inclusive democracy by putting power in the hands of young Chicagoans. The organization first made major waves in 2016 when Chance the Rapper led the first “parade to the polls.” After performing a free concert in Chicago’s Grant Park, the artist-led hundreds of crowd members from the concert to an early voting location in the city on the night before Election Day.
Building on their 2016 success, the organization reported that during the 2018 city-wide parade to the polls (held on October 13), there were an estimated 10,000 attendees in Grant Park. The goal was to mobilize 2,018 first-time voters to vote early in the midterm elections. According to Jen Dean, Deputy Director of Chicago Votes, “volunteers, participants, and most importantly, first-time voters gathered in Grant Park to celebrate democracy with a #ParadeToThePolls™ for the 2018 elections.” The morning kicked off with concerts in Grant Park featuring are Chicago-based artists Kami, Lgado, Tasha, Ric Wilson, FM Supreme, King Louie, Femdot, The Mind, Tatiana Hazel, Evie the Cool and DJ Such n Such. Dean notes that the artists were chosen as a way to represent the young political power that has built up over the years in the city of Chicago. The organization also passed out a “Voter Guide,” so that when people went to vote, they knew where candidates stand on the issues they care about. One key point of the movement was to educate participants about the 54 judges that were up for election with the understanding that judges hold significant power in our criminal justice system and they are easy to hold accountable through voting them in or out. Following the parade, the organization hosted an afterparty featuring more Chicago-based artists such as King Louie, Lgado, IzziHot!, Rooski, BigBodyFiji, Sterling Hayes with Lily Mercer, and Lisa Decibel.
Yet this year’s efforts went beyond the parade. Earlier in the year, Chicago Votes created a new initiative called the “Give A Sh*t” collective, with the goal to change the culture of politics through creatives. The organization hosted voter registration and volunteer training and also sold “Give A Sh*t” t-shirts at bars as well as hosted a fashion show put together by Chicago streetwear brand Runako.
They also organized the High School Parade To The Polls in an effort to register first-time voters. In total, organizers have been in 100 classrooms over the past few years bringing students directly to the polls. Dean notes that the idea is to celebrate voting but also make it a tradition. “If you start voting early in life, you are likely to repeat that behavior as an adult,” she says.
In addition to having a lot of fun, the organization’s efforts paid off. More than 162,000 Chicagoans aged 25-34 voted in the midterm election, the city’s highest turnout in 32 years. More than 174,500 people aged 25-34 voted in the election, including early voting and vote by mail ballots, said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections. Millennials voted in greater number than any other generation.
Dean credits the organization’s success in engaging youth in a way that is meaningful to them. “We aren’t boring people, so why should politics be boring?” she asks. “Chicago is vibrant, powerful, transformative and joyful; that should be represented in our politics. Artists have the ability to drive our culture to be politically active, we are just providing a platform for them to create magic.”