It’s a strangely beautiful feeling to be marching to an early-voting location through the evening streets of downtown Chicago with Chance the Rapper as grand marshal and thousands of millennials in tow.
The crowd intermittently chanted lyrics to Chance’s urban radio chart-topper “No Problem” or aggressively shouted “Fuck Donald Trump!” Some onlookers took pictures from office windows, while others waved in solidarity or jumped into the parade.
The organizers at local nonprofit Chicago Votes did most of the legwork for Monday’s Parade to the Polls, but adding a socially conscious superstar like Chance to the mix amplified the group’s reach enormously, sending turnout through the roof—though a good chunk of the crowd was too young to vote.
It also showed the strength of millennials as a group, despite older generations’ lack of faith in young people’s ability as leaders and voters. “There’s so much power in you,” Chance said during his four-song set before the parade—and the 23-year-old might as well have been talking about himself too. After cruising through the Coloring Book tracks “Angels,” “Blessings,” and “No Problem,” the south-sider encouraged everyone to use voting in this election as a way to “customize and create the way your society works.”
“Y’all voting on the future right now,” he added.
The Parade to the Polls event changed venues at the last minute “due to capacity,” the rapper explained on Twitter. The original location outside the Virgin Hotel on Lake and Wabash couldn’t accommodate the number of people who’d RSVPed before showtime—organizers had planned on only about 700 people. On Windy City Live, Chance appeared with his father, Ken Bennett, and his little brother, Taylor Bennett, to announce that the pre-parade concert had been moved to Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park.
Eryn Allen Kane kicked off the show, singing “Bass Song” from her debut EP, Aviary: Act I. She followed it with upbeat covers of Justin Timberlake’s “Señorita,” the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body,” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Twin Peaks walked out to much applause, and their brief set got a small mosh pit started in the middle of the crowd—volunteers did their best to keep fans from knocking down the barriers in front of the stage.
OddCouple DJed throughout, playing favorites like Chance’s “Juke Jam” and Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.” In Chicago style, the audience recited the lyrics to every song. After Taylor Bennett performed, local activist-turned-rapper Malcolm London came on. “Last year, I almost got killed,” he said by way of introduction—referring to his scuffle with Chicago police during the Laquan McDonald protests in 2015.
At about 5:20 PM, the Social Experiment’s Peter Cottontale jumped onstage to welcome his buddy Chance. “We came out tonight to stay woke and vote,” he said.
During his set, Chance made sure to remind the crowd that this was a nonpartisan event. He also made sure to acknowledge all the kiddies in attendance. “I know some of y’all niggas are not 18,” he joked—and he asked everyone not old enough to cast a ballot to stay out of the parade, in hopes of keeping the size of the crowd under control. Organizers hadn’t secured permits to block the street, so Chance asked everyone to stick to the sidewalks—which worked about as well as you’d expect.
Marchers spilled into the streets as they followed Chance to the early-voting location on Washington, where they joined the already long lines—and where the star of the show voted as well.
To borrow words Chance had spoken from the stage: “I’m here to make sure that everybody stay woke and vote.”