Transition Memo to Mayor-Elect Lightfoot

To: Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot

From: Stevie Valles, Executive Director of Chicago Votes

Objective: A more open, representative and diverse government, free from conflicts of interest.

Initiative: Create a City Government that reflects, respects and validates the voices of Chicago youth. (For the purposes of this memo, youth refers to people between the ages of 18 and 35)

The following is an explanation of how Mayor-Elect Lightfoot’s values of Equity, Transparency, Accountability, Diversity, and Inclusion, and Transformation will be infused into this initiative:


  • Establish Youth Advisory Council: A committee of youth stakeholders should be established to represent the lived experiences of youth in Chicago. Representation should include youth who have been incarcerated, experienced frequent unemployment, students, organizers, and artists. Participants should receive a city stipend.
  • Utilize Data to Identify Community Groups from At-Risk Communities To Make Appointments: Data should be utilized to identify groups to make appointments to the youth advisory council. Community groups should come from communities that are the most in need. Specifically, areas that do not have community schools, lack access to fresh produce, have high incarceration and unemployment rates, have less access to mental health supports and have higher rates of violence.


  • Ending Closed Door Meetings: City government should end the process in place where an authority can decide who can and cannot come into meetings. This process has been used to deliberately keep youth out of meetings. Specifically, city council meetings that are open to the public.
  • Diversifying the Time and Location of City Council Meetings: The time and location of city meetings should be scheduled to ensure more young people are able to attend.
  • Improve Public Facing Communications: Public facing communications should be improved to have more live television and/or online coverage of meetings, and at least a one week notice of legislation to be discussed in meetings.
  • Citywide Participatory Budgeting: The city should enact a citywide participatory budget process.


  • Give Youth an Official Role in Holding City Government Accountable: The city should establish a Youth Advisory Council to serve as the youth voice in city government and be a watchdog, on behalf of youth, for areas of city corruption.
  • Community Elected Public Advocate: Alternatively, or in addition to the Youth Advisory Council, the city should consider an elected position of Public Advocate to be an independent watchdog on behalf of ALL citizens in Chicago.


  • Remove Alienating Language from City Government: Official titles like Alderman or Committeeman should be changed to Alderperson and Committeeperson to be gender inclusive. All language should be vetted to ensure it doesn’t alienate any of the city’s citizens.
  • Give Voices from Nontraditional Places a Formal Role in Decision Making: Youth that have had interactions with city agencies should have a formal role in advising those angencies functions. For example, youth that have been incarcerated should have a voice in policing and incarceration; youth who were raised in foster care should have a voice in advising improvements to the foster care system.
  • Oversight to Address Inequities Proven By Data: The Office of Inspector General’s website proves disturbing trends in policing, gender wage gaps, and budgeting. There should be independent oversight to hold those responsible for these trends accountable.


  • Youth Should Take the Lead in Creating a New Political Culture in Chicago: The culture of corruption in Chicago politics must be transformed and replaced with a culture of innovation, ideas, equity, and love. Youth voices must lead the way in making this process happen. In order for that to be achieved, Chicago youth should have an official role in city government in the form of an advisory council.

What is happening now that should keep happening?

  • Witness slips on the county level.
  • Participatory budgeting on the ward level in some wards.
  • Data tracking by the office of Inspector General.

What do we need to implement in the next 100 days?

  • A Youth Advisory Committee.
  • Ending city hall lockouts.
  • An Executive Order to reform alienating language.
  • An Executive Order to permit community groups to make appointments for the Youth Advisory Committee.

What we can plan for in terms of long-term implementation?

  • Mandated citywide and ward-based participatory budgeting.
  • Changing the municipal election day to summer.
  • Elected Public Advocate.

What challenges will we face?

  • The tension between new voices and ideas conflicting with those of the status quo.
  • Overcoming distrust of City Government and its officials by youth.

“Imagine Smokin Weed in the Streets Without Cops Harrassin”

By: Stevie Valles


For decades black, brown, and poor people have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. These ‘impacted communities’ have seen their freedoms stripped away because of racist, capitalistic drug policies that terrorize lives. When a person is swept up into the “criminal justice system”, it’s not only an assault on them, it’s an assault on the lives of their families and the livelihood of their community. 

Recreational use of cannabis is likely to become a reality this year in Illinois. The Governor has committed to legalizing it and is finalizing the bill with lawmakers now. This is an important step in the process and Chicago Votes is encouraging lawmakers to prioritize the lives of people and communities that have been damaged by criminal convictions related to cannabis. 

From policing, education, crime, jobs, housing, to immigration, young people in Chicago directly engage with essentially every societal system. Youth care, we have been impacted, and we have opinions on the issues. People between the age of 18 and 35 (millennials) are the largest voting bloc in Chicago. 

As an organization that represents the voice of this demographic, we are taking the stance to ask the Illinois legislature to legalize adult-use cannabis, expunge convictions, and invest revenue back into communities torn apart by the War on Drugs.

1. Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

We are a long way from Nas’ dream of ‘smoking weed in the streets without cops harassing’ but legalizing cannabis in an equitable way will get us one step closer. When legalized, Illinois will become only the second state to do so by way of legislation; which gives us an opportunity to focus on the issues that matter most to us like, equity (policing, community investment, criminal expungement, employment opportunities, etc.) while the language for the bill, is still being drafted. 

Additionally, cannabis has proven health benefits including; chronic pain and stress relief. It also builds community in a similar way that social alcohol consumption does. We can no longer sit by and wait, now is the time for Illinois to lead the country in having the most equitable version of legalized recreational use of cannabis. 

2Expunge convictions and release people incarcerated for charges related to marijuana, and provide employment opportunities for those wrongly convicted. 

Now is the time to pass legislation that heals as much pain from the past as possible and invests in the future. The criminalization of people who use drugs has been a vehicle of the criminal justice system for Black and Brown people. Many scholarly arguments have compared the mass incarceration problem in the United States to modern day slavery. We are indebted to the generations of families and communities that have been torn apart. Everyone who has been harmed for a crime related to cannabis should be awarded the following as restoration: 

  • Criminal record, related to cannabis wiped clean.
  • Those who are currently detained should be released immediately from parole, pretrial detention, electronic monitoring and any other form of state-sanctioned monitoring.
  • Prioritization by law for employment in the legal cannabis industry including: distribution, growing, security, construction and everything that falls in between.
  • Prioritization for loans and distribution licenses.

They deserve a seat at the table in an industry they pioneered.

3. Use Cannabis revenue for investment in impacted communities.

We are living in a “progressive” age where phrases like “community justice” and “equity” are thrown around with little regard for their definitions. We believe that earmarking a majority of the revenue generated from the recreational cannabis industry for communities that have been directly impacted by the War on Drugs is a real example of equity and community justice. The distribution of that revenue should be controlled by community elected boards that are set with a mandate to ensure adequate and transparent distribution of funds. This revenue should not go to pension funds for institutions like the Chicago Police Department. 

There is no way to fully atone for the lives lost, the money spent, and the families torn apart by the war on drugs. These recommendations to 1) legalize weed; 2) expunge convictions and release people from incarceration while providing employment, and 3) use cannabis revenue to invest in impacted communities, can help initiate the healing and community restoration that is needed. There is a lot of work to be done and while we are thrilled that weed will likely be legalized this year, we can’t lose sight of the whole picture.