Chance the Rapper leads Chicago millennials to polls

Enthusiasm high as young voters queue for hours to cast their ballots on the eve of the US presidential election.

Chance the Rapper, Chicago
Crowds of early voters walked the streets of downtown Chicago [Felicia Darnell/Al Jazeera]

Chicago, Illinois – On the eve of the US elections, Chance the Rapper took the stage to mobilise millennials of colour to vote.

Hundreds of people filled Grant Park for a free concert by the Chicago-born, Saturday Night Live-featured star along with group Twin Peaks and other musical acts, followed by a Parade to the Polls.

The event is part of efforts to get African-American, Latino, and younger voters out in a city whose liberal leanings influence the entire state of Illinois to be blue.

This year, Chicago’s early voter turnout hit a record, with a reported 350,000 Chicagoans proudly displaying their “I Voted” stickers from mail-in and in-person ballots.

Both candidates have been pushing hard in these last weeks of the election to get African-American voters and millennials on their sides. 

READ MORE: Clinton and Trump fail to impress black voters

Chance the Rapper performed at a Hillary Clinton rally in Cleveland on Friday, in a line-up including Beyonce, Jay Z, and J Cole, who all came out to muster up support from young African-Americans for the Democratic presidential nominee.

While Clinton has significantly higher support among black voters than her rival Donald Trump, according to polls and reports, she has not managed to drum up the same enthusiasm as President Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012.

“Show the younger generation what standing up looks like,” Chance the Rapper told the crowds.

“Thank you to everyone that understands that this is what democracy looks like and wanted to have their voices heard.”

Energised crowd

Chance the Rapper had partnered with voting and community activists and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its #StayWokeAndVote campaign.

“This is a nonpartisan event but I want you to bring all that energy [to the polls],” he told the energised crowd.

After the concert, hundreds walked to the early voting “super site” in Chicago’s central downtown area, known as The Loop.

The record number of early voters – 284,506 in-person, as of Sunday night – in Chicago who cast their ballots were able to use more than 100 new touchscreen voting booths at the super site.

On Monday night, the crowd was guided down the city streets by walls of bicycle-unit police officers keeping participants on the pavement.

Along the way there were some anti-voting activists belonging to the Revolutionary Communist Party, as well as supporters of Donald Trump hoping to change some undecided, or hesitant, minds.

Both groups maintained a legal distance from the voters, but actively engaged with people standing in the line around the block down Washington Avenue.

But even in the face of the three-hour wait time, the huge crowd seemed undaunted and eager to participate.

Millennials have often proved hard to entice to the voting booth [Felicia Darnell/Al Jazeera]
Millennials have often proved hard to entice to the voting booth [Felicia Darnell/Al Jazeera]

The concept of Parade to the Polls is not new. Chicago Votes has escorted voters during other election seasons, including the historic mayoral election in 2013 when Rahm Emanuel was elected after the first runoff election in more than 20 years.

Zana Marino, a Chicago Votes volunteer, was happy to see hundreds of millennials, who could sometimes be so hard to entice to the voting booth, out and ready to cast their votes.

“Chance was inspired and wanted to do it with us,” Marino said. “I’m really happy with the turnout. Anything that gets young people interested and involved in their communities is a positive thing.

READ MORE: Rallying the black vote in Freddie Gray’s Baltimore

“Chicago is such a heavy political city. People are very vocal about what’s going on with their communities. It’s such a positive thing to get everyone together and get out the vote.

“Especially when people can talk about issues in their communities.”

That was definitely the goal for the other partner in the event, the Chicago chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100).

The pro-Black Lives Matter organisation is an activism-focused group possibly most recognisable from the shutdown of Chicago’s downtown street Michigan Avenue on Black Friday of last year.

Then, they were protesting against the city government’s handling of Laquan McDonald’s shooting.

Inside Story – What will the US election mean for immigrants?

BYP100 helped organise and control crowds at the polling lines, where participants had to stay in order to vote before the 7pm deadline.

“[My friends] were opting out of voting. But we were already down here, so I said ‘Let’s just do it now’,” said Ciera Little, a college student and Chicago native who came to support her friends, even though she had already voted last week.

“I think the event showed them more support – seeing Chance and hearing him say that to vote is important – because his voice is so important to our generation and to our community.”

Source: Al Jazeera