Some people use social media to lash out (hello, Mr. President). Others use it to catalyze positive change. Chicago nightlife veteran Dom Brown (cofounder of Porn and Chicken) has felt pressure to do something since the minute the election was called for Trump, and his personal last straw came in late January, when POTUS issued his executive order on immigration (better known as the “Muslim ban”). Brown took to Facebook to voice his frustration and reach out to friends and colleagues who might also want to make a difference. Out of that post, fledgling activist group Activate:Chi was born.
“I felt so angry,” Brown says. “And I realized that once [we] went out and protested, that anger was gone. . . . I was feeling more inspired, and I started to think, ‘There’s got to be a way to work through the anger by still being creative but presenting a call to action.'”
Brown enlisted Mikul Wing of “future house” trio Autograf and Danny Schwartz, founder and president of online electronic-music promotions company Sin Label, to help breathe life into Activate:Chi. The organization’s private Facebook group now includes more than 400 industry members who want to use their platforms to mobilize people and create change—the tactics they’ve discussed so far include charity fund-raisers, youth voter-registration drives, and efforts to make communication with government officials more accessible. Activate:Chi hasn’t yet existed for a month, but its first public event is on the books for Monday, February 20.
The group has partnered with Chicago’s Virgin Hotel for a fund-raiser benefitting Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Bright Star Community Outreach, a south-side nonprofit working to strengthen vulnerable families and communities. From noon till 10 PM, the public can listen to a live stream featuring Chicago DJs such as Paul Johnson, Arviol & Alex, Berko, Bucky Fargo, Goodsex, and Haleigh Elizabeth, as well as make donations—both will be accessible via ChiActivated.com (which should go live any time now) and the group’s Facebook page. After 10 PM, the event will go public in the hotel’s Commons Club, which will host a silent auction, an activist meet-up, and voter registration, among other things.
“The live stream can reach anyone, anywhere,” Wing says. “You’re at home eating dinner, and you can listen to some good music—and there’s a donation button or links to get more info.”
The founders of Activate:Chi are not Trump supporters, but they want their group to be seen as apolitical. They hope to unite a diverse group of people, regardless of political affiliation, who are ready to change the direction the country is headed—and they hope to do it through art and other creative endeavors.
Schwartz, who graduated from Indiana University with a degree in political science, worked on both Obama campaigns while in school—the first of which turned the red state into a blue one. He remembers how powerful the campaign’s energy and momentum were, and he hopes that Activate:Chi can achieve something similar.
“We really want to be a mobilization of morality,” Schwartz says. “If you’re a Republican, Democrat—we’re still people. There’s still the need to have empathy for those that are most vulnerable.”
Activate:Chi says Monday’s event is just the beginning. Brown mentions the group’s plans for a project called “5,000 Voices,” which will make prepaid postcards addressed to members of Congress available at CTA stations, bus stops, and bars. He and his collaborators are also kicking around ideas such as speaker forums, pop-up phone booths to reach government representatives, and partnerships with React Presents and its Mamby on the Beach festival. They say they’ve heard some interest from Chance the Rapper’s Social Works foundation too.
Activate:Chi want to focus on working with Chicago-based foundations and helping Chicagoans make their voices heard. With luck, its movement will send ripples outward, setting an example for other cities (and for rural areas) about how easy it can be to take action.
“It’s an even playing field when it’s so comfortable and it’s so approachable,” Brown says. “There’s so many people that avoid politics. This is no longer politics. This is human rights.”