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The Young and the Registered

The Young and the Registered

Last March, the rattle and thump of drums filled the foyer of Marie Sklodowska Curie Metro High School as the school’s drum corps led dozens of students out of the building and onto the sidewalks of Chicago’s South Side. The young marchers waved hand-drawn signs, laughed, chatted and chanted as they made the two-block rite of passage. But the parade also carried an air of seriousness. These students were on a Parade to the Polls, headed to vote in a runoff election that would choose the next mayor of their city. Many of them would be voting for the first time.

The parade was not some one-off civic event. It was the culmination of a voter education and registration program that paired social studies classes with Chicago Votes, a nonpartisan group that advocates for the rights of young voters. Staffed by activists, the organization has cheerfully hammered away at institutional barriers that make it more difficult for young voters to reach the ballot box—successfully lobbying for same-day voter registration, for example. The group is also directly engaging youth on the city’s South Side, which includes many of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods. By its own count, Chicago Votes has registered some 22,000 new voters.

“We want to beat back the narrative that young people don’t care, that they’re apathetic,” says D.J. Jackson, Chicago Votes’ organizing director. “After so many years of disappointment, a lot of them are in places where they feel nobody cares, no one is looking out for them. It’s very important they know that we hear them, that we understand where they’re coming from. Then we have a chance to show them the changes they can make by becoming politically active and voting.”

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