Parade to the Polls began in 2013 after an eager group of high school students convinced one of our organizers to bring them to vote on the spot. In true Chicago Votes fashion, we rolled with it; loaded the students into a van and took them to go vote for the first time. We recognized in that moment that it is one thing to register young people, but it is a whole different level of civic engagement bringing them to go vote on the spot, for the first time.
The following year, knowing we were on to something special, we teamed up with the “Just Vote” coalition to transform Parade To The Polls. We rented five (creepy) white vans (the ones you see in the movies), decked them out in voting swag (aka taped posters), and drove around the South and West sides convincing people it was a good idea to jump in our van to go vote. (It worked, organizers can be very persuasive).
We hit up bus stops, train stops, grocery stores, every where young people hung out, we drove up and took them to go vote. Free ride to the laundromat with a pit stop at the polling booth anyone? After some insane gas bills and recognizing there has to be a bigger, better, more efficient way to drag folks to the polling locations, we switched to schools and school buses.
Since 2015, we have conducted over 50 Parade To The Polls, taking thousands of students at both colleges and high schools to go vote for the very first time. Our program was praised by Teaching Tolerance for our innovative civic engagement. At the beginning of each parade, we start out with a mini civics lesson, connecting the issues students care about, to voting. The students then create posters stating “Why I Vote” with their personal reason.
Some schools get the marching bands behind students as they march to the nearest polling locations. Other schools create voting chants on the buses. Either way, the turn up is real during parade to the polls as students and organizers celebrate the beginning of a beautiful voting tradition. Check out some footage Here!
PLOT TWIST; for Parade To The Polls during #Election2016, a well known Chicago hip-hop artist by the name of “Chance The Rapper” thought our idea was cool!!!!!!!! In partnership with Chicago Votes, Social Works, Prime Fortune, and BYP100; Chance held a free concert in Grant Park then led 6,000 young people to go vote at the Board of Elections. The epic night just goes to show, no idea is too small. What started out as a random voting trip from a high school on the South Side, turned into thousands of young people marching downtown with Chance.