Why Chicago’s low voter turnout is bad for our kids

My neighborhood of Woodlawn was one of several asked to come back to the polls this week and finish the job we started in February. The 20th ward aldermanic election field was narrowed down to two contenders: Willie Cochran and Che Smith. This post isn’t about their political prowess or plans to decrease gang violence and bring new commerce to the area – though there’s plenty of interesting stuff there.

This post is about the sad example of political apathy we’re setting for our kids.

I’m no historian, but its important to note that it took, by my count, four constitutional amendments to get to the point where I have the free and clear right to vote alongside my white counterparts.

The 13th amendment abolished slavery, the 14thdefined what makes a U.S. citizen, the 15thprohibits denial of voting rights based on race, and the 24thmade it illegal to throw up financial hindrances to voting. If you’re an African American woman like me, tack on the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Do you see where this is going?

I’m pissed.

According to the Tribune, only 32 percent of 20th Ward voters voted in the Feb. 22 race, compared to 42 percent citywide. Estimates from Tuesdays’ run-off are hovering about 25 percent.

I’m both angered and deeply saddened that the same people who cluck about how no one cares about our area couldn’t be bothered to show up to vote themselves. Given the low voter turnout, odds are that the teacher who lives down the street and is in charge of explaining the judicial system to our kids didn’t vote. Neither did the beat cop who lives around the corner and knows firsthand how badly we need allies in the struggle against those who would have this neighborhood crumble. The landlord who is sick of vacant lots on every block may not have voted, and the same goes for the group of guys who stand in that vacant lot every.single.day.

We take pictures with my son whenever we go to vote. Our polling station workers are used to “the lady with the baby on her back.” We take pride in investing in our neighborhood with our dollars and our vote.

But one day, we will have to have one of two conversations with our son about politics and the neighborhood we brought him home from the hospital to. Either Talk #1, where we explain why we had to move away, move to a neighborhood/city/suburb where the other mamas and daddies who work as hard as us take few minutes to do the minimum of their civic duty and elect people who are able to lead and guide us to bigger and better things. Or Talk #2, where the place where we lived has been through some rough times, but the people around us, the neighbors you’ve known all of your life, decided it was time to step up and make this block a neighborhood and this ward a community.

I hope it’s Talk #2.

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