Englewood Matters: No Vote! No Voice!
In communities of color it’s no secret that voter turnout is low.
Across the city, Chicago voter turnout overall has been low in recent years. In the February 2015 primary election, only 33% of Chicago voters showed up to the polls according to DNA Info. Then, in April’s run-off election, 40% of Chicago voters showed up.
The article notes, though, that turnout was highest in affluent communities like Beverly and the far North Side, and lower in South Side, African American communities like Greater Englewood and Chatham.
Eighteen of Chicago’s 50 wards are predominately African American, and these accounted for 40% of the votes cast in the February 2015 election, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Overall less than half of the city of Chicago is exercising their right to vote, neglecting their civic duty. According to the latest 2010 census there are 51,938 registered voters in Greater Englewood and 1,441,637 total registered voters in Chicago. Citywide, reported by the Chicago Board Elections, 592,524 Chicagoans cast ballots in 2015.
When individuals do not show up to the polls they lose power in their communities and do not hold their elected officials accountable for doing what is right. They lose power and the right to voice their concerns on current hot topics in Englewood like community input on TIF (Tax Increment Financing) reform, having an elected school board, gun control, education and childcare reform.
“That’s my voice and I think my voice is important. It’s my duty, it’s my right and it’s my privilege,” says Deborah Payne, President of the Southwest Federation Block Club. Payne says she has encountered residents age 50 and under who expressed that voting doesn’t make a difference.
Englewood residents are not voting, according to Payne, because they are uneducated about politics and in some cases have been disappointed by elected officials who made empty promises.
As we look at many social injustices happening across the nation, the first question usually is how can we fight back? Lately activists and community groups have been holding peaceful protests to raise awareness on issues and put an end to injustices.
The protests in some cases have proven to be successful or at least grab the attention of powerful politicians. However, citizens cannot wait until things get out of hand to react. Instead they must be proactive by using their voice and right to vote to prevent these injustices.
Voter education is something that is absolutely needed and should be mandatory in all communities, says Darryl “Smitty” Smith, Candidate for 6th District State Representative and Englewood Political Task Force President. Smith adds, we as a community need to understand what happens when the numbers are low at the polls: We allow outsiders who do not resemble the community to make quality-of-life decisions for us and allow government funding to be spent in other communities.
It has been stated that senior citizens show up to the polls more so than the younger generation. And according to a recent report by the Humanist, Millennials (ages 18-33) feel disconnected to the electoral process.
“Unfortunately, millennials as a group aren’t particularly civically engaged,” the article says. “For one thing, we are notoriously distrustful of government. We are not as tied to incumbent economic interests as older generations and feel less connected to the existing power structure. And though we are called on to ‘Get Out the Vote’ each election cycle, rarely are we consulted when legislation is drafted.”
According to Smith, some of the excuses he’s heard as to why the younger generations are not voting: “Nothing will change if I vote, I can’t vote because I’m a felon or I’m going vote in the general elections.” In Illinois if you're convicted felon who is no longer incarcerated you automatically qualify to vote.
Since 2012, Englewood Votes! has been working to educate voters on the electoral process, their voting rights and overall voter education. Founded by Sonya Harper, recently appointed 6th District State Representative, Englewood Votes! is a non-partisan voter registration and political awareness campaign designed to increase voter turnout and educate voters in Greater Englewood.
Englewood Votes! hosted several voter registration drives around the community, including at high schools, and also hosted voter education forums. In 2015 they hosted their first political symposium for the municipal election.
The push for more voter education has been voiced around the community and Englewood Votes! is working to address these concerns.
Residents who are protesting not just in Englewood must realize their demands will eventually fall on deaf ears if they are not civically engaged, and nothing will change if laws made decades ago are not rewritten. “Black Lives Matters” just as much as “Every Vote Counts.”
No Vote, No Fight
Smith paints the picture very clearly: "When you don't vote you give lawmakers an excuse to ignore you and your community needs. You can’t complain if you don’t vote and you can’t fight fairly for your community when you don’t vote."
In Illinois if you have been convicted of a felony and are no longer incarcerated you are able to vote.
When people don’t vote, it’s business as usual, says Smith.
The next primary election is March 15, 2016. According to the Chicago Board of Elections “a voter may also register and vote on Election Day (March 15), but only at the precinct polling place assigned for that voter's home address.”
Posted in Neighborhood News, Community Organizations