Chicago’s millennials are making their voices heard in this election. After the success of Chance the Rapper’s one-day music festival, Magnificent Coloring Day, the nonprofit he cofounded the same month, SocialWorks, is hosting a get-out-the-vote event on Monday afternoon that includes a free rooftop concert atop the Wabash and Lake entrance of the Virgin Hotel (203 N. Wabash).
The event begins at 3 PM, and a few hours later—before early voting ends at 7 PM—partygoers will march to the Chicago Board of Elections (69 W. Washington), then demonstrate the political power of young adults by casting ballots en masse at the nearby Loop supersite (15 W. Washington). Organizers expect around 700 people to attend.
Update: Due to capacity issues, the location of the concert event has changed—rather than at the Virgin Hotel, it will be held at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. The march to the polls is scheduled to begin at 5 PM, and the early-voting site remains the same. Chance the Rapper will make a short speech and then lead the parade.
The celebration attached to this “Parade to the Polls” will include performances by Twin Peaks, Taylor Bennett (Chance’s younger brother), Malcolm London, Stefan Ponce, and others, as well as a DJ set from OddCouple. (The press materials promise a “special guest” too—wonder who that’ll be.) Attendees can make signs for the march, and artists will paint murals along the hotel’s walls and windows, adding to the rally’s carnivalesque vibe.
For this event, SocialWorks has partnered with music-and-lifestyle blog Prime Fortune and nonprofit Chicago Votes. I talked to leaders from each organization—Justin Cunningham, Kemdah Stroud, and Nicole Johnson—about the importance of rewriting the narrative for Chicago’s millennials of color.
Tiffany Walden: Why a parade? How is having a “Parade to the Polls” the most engaging way to rally our generation to vote?
Justin Cunningham, 23, cofounder of SocialWorks: We definitely wanted to show a sign of strength. It’s easy to knock off Chicago as this crazy, violent place. When you come to the event on Monday, you’re going to see a lot of faces that look like me, that look like Nicole, and that look like Kemdah. We’re not just all out here killing each other. We want to rewrite our own narrative.
Kemdah Stroud, 21, cofounder of Prime Fortune: When I got to the University of Southern California, everybody was like, “Oh, where are you from?” Chicago. And the first thing that came out of everyone’s mouth is “Chief Keef.” So to be addressed by a bunch of blonde-haired, blue-eyed people, and the only thing they know about your city is Chief Keef—it’s very saddening. Chicago has the most beautiful culture that nobody sees. We thought a parade would be the best idea. A parade is something positive. It’s something like a concert. It’s just so empowering and infectious. It’ll elevate the spirits of our city.
How important is it not only for other millennials of color in Chicago to see this parade but for people outside the millennial generation and outside of Chicago as well?
Stroud: We do tend to come together when negative things happen, but it’s also important for us to come together to just celebrate ourselves and to celebrate the fact that we are here, we are alive, and that we are empowered and have the ability to do whatever we dream of.
Cunningham: These are all individuals who come from Chicago’s south and west sides and are taking their city and communities by storm. I really even can’t put into words how powerful it will be. It will definitely show how powerful it is when we get 1,000-plus individuals all out there raising banners, not dissing a candidate but just saying “I’m here and I give a damn.”
Nicole Johnson, 27, outreach manager for Chicago Votes: If we can re-create that and reproduce that for the next [election] cycle—especially if we’re doing this early, in 2019—then this particular group of constituents and voters will have to be reckoned with and definitely approached by candidates. You’ll have to come correct or you gotta go. Like we said “Bye, Anita” [State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez], we’ll say bye to whoever else.
People tend to have this perception that we aren’t going to vote because of the lost Bernie Sanders campaign and mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton. What do you say to folks who feel like millennials aren’t going to come out and vote because we’re disconnected from this election?
Cunningham: Wait and see. We’re activating them right now.
Stroud: I feel that people believe that millennials are only good for tweeting and wasting our lives on Instagram, but give us five years and watch us create something better than anybody has ever done.
Johnson: This is the type of event that people would have to do a year in advance. We did it in [a month or so]. So I think just being able to pull off amazing and effective programming, but do it our own way—that speaks volumes as well.
What does it mean to have musicians involved in this parade?
Stroud: The fact that we can get people like Twin Peaks, Taylor Bennett, and Malcolm London—artists that you see on TV and hear their music—you know their message is to bring people together. Their message is to create a change for the better.
Can you tell me about the activities? I hear there will be an “interactive zone.”
Cunningham: People should expect to communicate through the arts. Virgin Hotel is a really cool partner, because they’re allowing us to do some really crazy things with their space, such as having musical performances on top of their [roof] as well as creating interactive zones on their windowsills. We’re going to have artists paint some really cool things on their windows.
Stroud: Basically, expect a whole lot of fun, a whole lot of free stuff, and a whole lot of people.
But there’s still a bit of responsibility that goes into voting. Do you want people to read up on the candidates and other ballot measures before they come?
Johnson: Through Chicago Votes, we’ll have voter guides for some of the main elections as well as the judges.
Stroud: There will definitely be a huge push towards education throughout the event.
Cunningham: That’s why we partnered with BallotReady, who have this really cool consumer-style report on all the candidates where you can click different issues—health, environment, prolife—and filter through it based on your needs and what you want.
By having this parade, by helping people register to vote, and by leading people to the polls, what type of narrative do you hope to rewrite for black millennials—especially black millennials in Chicago?
Stroud: We hope that the narrative becomes: Hey, I’m a young person from Chicago. I take pride in the fact that I’m aware of what goes on around me. And I also take pride in that I engage in my rights. I engage with other people. I engage in the arts and I engage with my culture.
Johnson: The mission of Chicago Votes is to address and build up new leaders within the millennial demographic. We’d like to show them that everything starts with grassroots organizing.
Cunningham: It doesn’t take a lot to start your own movement of positivity. All you need is your vision, a good group of friends, and the work ethic. You can do it.
Because not everyone will be able to vote early, I also asked all three participants in the Q&A to work together to come up with the three most important things millennials should know about voting on Tuesday:
1. Felons do not know that they can register to vote and vote. We’ve actually gotten quite a few people with felonies on their records registered to vote. They were told that they don’t have that right—and that’s not true. You can register same-day. All you need is a driver’s license and a social security card.
2. You can use your phone. You can use any study materials that you have at the polls. You want to make sure you’re in compliance with the rules—so no snapping pictures while you’re at the polls, unfortunately.
3. You don’t show up to a test unprepared. So study! The down-ballot vote matters just as much, if not more, than the presidential vote.