Four Reasons Why You Should Vote in Chicago Municipal Elections

By Mena Enuenwosu, Digital Organizing Fellow

A lot of people believe that the most important elections are the ones that elect the seat to the highest office in the nation; the presidential election held every four years. However, there are a set of elections that actually affect your day-to-day life a lot more–we call those municipal elections.

So what are municipal elections? Municipal elections are held to elect local governing officials. In Chicago’s case, this would be the Mayor, the City Clerk, the City Treasurer, Alderpeople from all 50 wards, and Police District Councils.

Here are four reasons why you should vote in the upcoming Chicago municipal elections.

  1. Local government offices and their decisions can, and will, affect your day-to-day life

Upset that 40% of Chicago’s budget goes to the police? Well, the mayor is responsible for creating the city budget. 

Upset about how traffic caused by construction in your neighborhood has added an hour to your daily commute to work? You’ll need to talk to your alderperson.

Want to introduce a financial education program in Chicago Public schools? You should talk to the city treasurer!

Need a sticker for your car? You’ll be heading to the office of the city clerk.

Upset about the heightened police presence in your neighborhood? Police District Councils have a say in how police engage with the community. 

Let’s break down the offices on the ballot. First up, let’s talk about the executive or the manager of the city–the mayor. The person elected Mayor of Chicago following Chicago’s 2023 municipal election, is in charge of the city’s daily operations. They have the power to appoint and dismiss key department heads–such as the Chief of the Chicago Police Department. The mayor is also responsible for presenting a yearly budget to the City Council. They have a huge say on what the city will spend its money on for the fiscal year. They should address the needs of the community: gentrification and housing, transportation, and parks and recreational areas, etc. 

On top of that, Chicago is divided into 50 legislative districts or “wards”. Each district is represented by an alderperson, who is elected by citizens to serve a four-year term. Together, 50 aldermen from Chicago’s 50 districts make up the Chicago City Council, which serves as the legislative branch of the government of Chicago. Alderpeople vote on city ordinances, zoning changes, traffic control issues, mayoral appointees, and the budget.

Next up we have the treasurer. The treasurer is the city’s banker; they keep track of the city’s finances, managing all cash and investments for the City of Chicago, the four City employee pension funds, and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. The treasurer’s office also manages a number of programs that promote financial education and small business growth in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

The City Clerk is in charge of record-keeping for the city of Chicago and its elections. The position is central to government transparency because the clerk is responsible for keeping and making official records and legislation accessible to city residents. They also run the CityKey program-providing free government-issued  ID card to Chicagoans regardless of age, gender, immigration status, or housing status.

Lastly, Police District Councils are a newer one! The newly created Police District Councils establish community oversight of the police. There are 22 police districts. Every four years during municipal elections, three community members will be elected to each of the 22 Police District Councils. Council members must live in their respective police district and cannot have been a member of the Chicago Police Department, Independent Police Review Authority, Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), or the Police Board for at least three years before they assume office. 

Council members are supposed to keep an eye on the police, hold monthly public meetings, work on the implementation of restorative justice practices, and build stronger relationships between police and community members. 

With that in mind, it is clear all five of these offices have a very real impact on each of our day-to-day lives. 

  1. When we don’t vote, decisions are made without our input.

Young people typically vote at lower rates than older people. There are a lot of reasons for this including lack of access to voting resources and civics education, and disillusionment with the current system. However, if we don’t vote, we are allowing other people to make very important decisions about our lives. 

Our experience as young people is unique; we are coming of age during a pandemic, an increased awareness of racial injustice, and extreme climate change. We are also the youngest voting bloc, meaning we will be dealing with the repercussions of decisions for the most time. 

When young people do not vote, other people get to decide the future we will live in. 

  1. We are literally paying for the city.

Anyone who lives in Chicago pays taxes to the city. Buying a bottle of soda at 7/11? Paying the city. Got a parking ticket? Paying the city. 

All of the taxes we pay go towards the city budget. The city budget is created by the mayor and voted on by city council or alderpeople. So, the people who are elected to office decide how to spend the money that comes from us–people in the city.

In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emmanual closed six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics, four of which were located on the South Side. Still, ten years later, the city only has six public mental health facilities. This is due to “lack of funding.” However, 40% of the entire city budget goes to the police department. If we vote people into office who share our values, we can create a city that doesn’t prioritize police, incarceration, and punitive responses over investing in healing and restorative spaces. 

  1. You have the right to vote in Illinois

In Illinois, all citizens over age 18 who aren’t serving a conviction can vote. Still, that means community members without citizenship and those in prison are locked out of our democracy. When people aren’t viewed as constituents or voters, elected officials aren’t pressured to hear and address their needs. That is why it is important we fight for a democracy that includes all of us. 

In the meantime, though, it is our responsibility to vote for people who will create a future where all people are valued and included. 

Go Vote

By Caleb Dunson

This is a peculiar moment in time. We have only partially emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have yet to fully understand how it’s affected our country socially, politically, and economically. Donald Trump was defeated in 2020, and yet the threat of authoritarian control looms with his return and Florida Governor Ron Desantis eyeing the presidency. We have stood against dictatorship by sending military aid to Ukraine, but the coming months of the war, the results of which will alter the global democratic movement, seem the most decisive yet. In essence, we have lived through a series of history-defining events, and now we stand on the other side with the task of determining a way forward. 

This moment is crucial. We must address the questions created and elevated in the past few years. How will we solve issues of inequality worsened by the pandemic? How will we fight back against politicians who seek to obscure history and oppress the disadvantaged? How will we build an economy that serves everyone? Because the answers to these questions are so consequential, we must take seriously the task of selecting people to answer them.

It might seem that the sole power to make key political decisions rests in the hands of our national representatives, but the people we choose to speak for us at the local level are just as, if not more, influential. They have the power to answer those crucial, nation-shaping questions, and to do so in a way that has a direct bearing on our day to day lives. They determine who can afford to live in the city, how our education system serves our youth, and how economic opportunity is distributed between our neighborhoods. They influence what our justice system looks like, how we offer mental health support, and who receives access to public health resources. 

Because of this, the stakes are high in this election. The past four years have been marked by controversy, chaos and turmoil. We are trying to figure out how we will address the longstanding problem of police violence, how we will reduce crime without punitive measures, and how we will invest in the development of our underfunded neighborhoods. And we are doing this while trying to emerge from the pandemic as a world-class city. The leaders we elect today will preside over the effort to address these problems. They will set the priorities for our city and set us on a path toward a future Chicago.

This is not to say that voting will automatically solve all of our problems. It’s not a silver bullet. But nevertheless, it’s a crucial action among many that we all must take if we want to change our city. It’s an opportunity to voice our desire for a better Chicago, and we cannot waste it.

I am currently writing this from the United Kingdom. I ordered a mail-in ballot over a month ago and it never made it to this side of the Atlantic, so I have been disenfranchised in this election. This has reminded me of just how precious the vote is. Though I cannot vote this time around, I hope that you will. I hope that you will take the opportunity to have your say in the direction of this city, and to prove that when the community calls for change, it does come.

Love Letters to Chicago

Young Chicagoans were asked, “what do you love about Chicago?” These are their responses.

From Temi Akande

Dear Chicago,

Summer in Chicago is a dream. Whether I’m going to the Garfield Conservatory, biking near the lakefront, shopping on Michigan, or living my best life on a yacht. Summertime Chi makes you feel like life is worth living for real. I wasn’t born in this city but it has truly embraced me and shaped me into who I am in so many ways. I’ll forever be indebted to you and you’ll always be considered home, Chicago.



From Jelena K

Dear Chicago,

Chicago is about culture. There’s not many places where you can be in one room and hear 4 different languages at once. I love it! The food is better than anywhere. I think another thing that makes Chicago special is, we all go through the seasons together. We’re all goin through it in the winter months, but as soon as the sun comes out we are ready to grow! As someone in customer service, I think we help hold each other down through the tough times, mentally/spiritually, and then celebrate with each other, without even really realizing! Chicago is connection!


Jelena K

Love Chicago & committed to its betterment? Vote!

Chicago Votes’ complete 2023 Voter Guide is out and available on The Vote Center!

Take our love-themed, teen magazine-inspired voter guide with you to the polls. It breaks down important election dates and processes, like voter registration and vote-by-mail deadlines. On top of that, the guide includes a mayoral candidate questionnaire and explanations of the offices on the ballot.

From Demerike Palecek

Dear Chicago,

Chicago has always been so welcoming and loving. It’s inviting to educate each other and share cultures with food, holidays, and beautiful conversations. I live in uptown and the diversity when I walk down the street makes me beyond proud to be here and share with my neighbors.



From Rosalyn Murga

Dear Chicago,

From eating pizza Nova, checking out as many festivals as I can, to discovering new murals, playing soccer at the lake and a having a carne asada BBQ right after. Summertime in Chicago is the best!

I was born here, grew up in Pilsen in the 90’s. Summer was about playing in the streets until dark. Waiting for the ice cream car to pass by, for the elote cart to honk it’s horn or the paleta man to pass by with his frozen cart ringing it’s bells. As I grew up and explored the city, I realized how lucky I was to take a 10 minute bus ride and get to Chinatown or a 20 minute train ride and I’m in the loop. I can go south, north, east and west, and I would discover so many rich and vibrant communities with so much to offer.

Yeah it’s fun to look at the fountain light up in Grant Park or see your reflection at the bean and check out all the tourist attractions. But honestly, there’s nothing better that cruising down DuSable LSD on a summer night with good music, great people and finding a new spot to eat and chill. Would I leave Chicago? No- although the cold can change my mind from time to time. Even with a polar vortex, Chicago is and will always be home.



From Kim Sanchez

Dear Chicago,

I moved to Texas last August, and I miss the DuSable lakefront and 606 bike trails. I miss bike lanes in general. I miss being able to take the CTA bus or train virtually anywhere. I miss the murals on every other block. I miss not having to travel very fast to find an assortment of delectable cuisine. I miss Chicago house music and my friends’ DIY shows. I don’t miss the way CPD and Mayor Lightfoot interacted with the Black Lives Matter demonstration participants.



From Claude Hill

Dear Chicago,

What do I love about Chicago? I love the sunrises, sunsets and the people. I love the memories. Those things no longer here. I love the Taste of Chicago and the evolving bus and train lines. I love to watch folks riding their bikes most of the time. I love to sit on the bench and sketch, as birds tickle the tip of their beaks on the lakefront’s watery waves. I love when the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl back in the 1980s and their win printed on the front page. I love the Chicago bulls 6 championship basketball wins in the 1990s and its exciting parades. I loved when the White Sox, the Black Hawks and the Chicago Cubs won their championships on their greatest days. I love the ingenuity of our brilliant youth, and the diversity of our neighborhoods. I love my Chicago because it is my home, and it is my living breaths. It is a loving mirror of my roots and it’s cultural depths. I have lived through it’s first woman and black mayor, as Chicago took it’s first diverse steps. And I get to share my love for Chicago with you. I am looking forward to what comes next. I love you, My Chicago.



We love you, Chicago!

Broken? Policing

By Caleb Dunson

“He was a human piñata for those police officers.” That’s what lawyer Antonio Romanucci said of the death of Tyre Nichols. Mr. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten by five Black police officers after being pulled over at a traffic stop on January 7. The officers pulled him over on what they claimed was suspicion of reckless driving. He fled. They chased. They caught him. They beat him. Savagely. They bragged about the beating. He died three days later. 

The video of his death has been released to the public, and news publications are playing it on a loop like it’s a snuff film. Media commentators are calling the officers “bad apples” who don’t follow protocol, officers that tarnish the good name of law enforcement. Politicians are offering exaggerated expressions of grief and calling for subdued protests in their cities. All of this feels so familiar, and so sickening. 

Much of the nation is seeking a solution to this horrifying killing within the existing arrangement –– convict the officers of kidnapping and murder, place more constraints on police conduct, make police civilly liable for their violent actions. In these solutions they display a fealty to the law, even when it has so clearly betrayed humanity, even when it has allowed a man to to be so brutalized that his death paints horror across the faces of us all. But there comes a point at which we have to confront truth: the law has failed us. There is no recourse to be found in the courtrooms or congressional halls. That truth has been before us for a while now.

There is something unique about this murder, in particular. It came at the hands of five Black men, which many argue is proof of the fact that the presence of white people is not necessary for the perpetuation of white supremacy. That’s true. The fact that 5 Black men did this shows that, contrary to the beliefs of so many politicians, diversifying the police force will not make it any less of a violent, totalizing institution. Tons of police departments across the country have been trying to diversify their ranks. Police still killed over 1100 people last year (and a disproportionate number of those killed were Black). There’s more to this, though.

This murder shows that the issue of policing, while shaped and colored by race, is fundamentally one of power and democracy. Being a police officer is having the power to, under the pretense of the law, stop anyone for virtually any reason, and then subject them to harassment and physical abuse. The Memphis police chief was unable to find evidence of the reckless driving the officers say they stopped Mr. Nichols. Being a police officer is having the power to, under the pretense of the law, terrorize and threaten and intimidate. Those officers, without cause explanation, threw Mr. Nichols to the ground and tazed and beat him. Being a police officer is having the power to, under the pretense of the law, determine who lives and who dies, and almost never face the consequences of that decision. These officers were charged with murder, but they were also able to post bail and return to their families as if nothing happened. They were fired, and law enforcement around the country are distancing themselves from these officers, but that kind of action is only done to protect the legitimacy of a destructive institution. Make no mistake, there will be no defunding or abolition to come from this.

This state-sanctioned power, which the police wield with reckless abandon, is more reflective of an authoritarian regime than the democracy we claim to have. The mandate that comes with this power –– to preserve the perception of order, even if it comes at the expense of human life –– does not reflect the will of the people. It is so grimly clear that the American police state is the gravest violation of truth, justice, and equality. It is our country once again falling short of its ideals. 

People will make apologies for this situation, trying to justify the individual actions and social institutions that have created this perverse outcome. A lawyer for one of the officers said, “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” but that point is irrelevant. When you vest that much power in a small group of people and ask them to unrelentingly enforce order, abuse will happen, and death will happen. It’s been happening ever since the establishment of the modern police force. It’s bound to keep happening as long as we show deference to power and force instead of love and humanity. 
I’m not entirely sure where we go from here. For the sake of Mr. Nichols’ family, I hope those officers are brought to justice. But we cannot rely on the carceral system to address the issues of race and domination that that same system relies upon. And we cannot expect police to suddenly stop killing people at rates higher than any other democracy. I do know this. I know police domination must be brought to an immediate end because our people are dying. All of our people are dying.

Hip-Hop is Art, Not Evidence

By Alejandro Hernandez

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution officially states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Among many of the rights that it protects for us, is our artistic expression. However, there is one art form that seems to be an exception to these protections: Hip-hop music. 

In the last month, 28 members of the Atlanta-based hip-hop label Young Stoner Life (YSL), most notably Young Thug and Gunna, have been charged with 56 indictments of different RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges including armed robbery, aggravated assault, and murder. Leading these charges is Fani Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney who previously indicted rapper YFN Lucci along with 11 others with 105 RICO charges in 2021. Part of the evidence that the courts are using in both YFN and YSL’s cases are song lyrics and visuals from music videos.

Imagine yourself in Young Thug’s shoes for a moment. You’re born and raised in a difficult environment plagued by violence, police surveillance, and inaccessibility to wealth and resources. You do what it takes to survive in that environment while using your musical talent to become a successful career artist. You may draw on some of your lived experiences for inspiration, and after enough time, you become discovered by a label and change your life forever. In time, you invest your own money and resources into creating your own label so that you can help others that were once in your position, and you’re able to do so with great success, discovering future stars like Lil Baby, Gunna, and the late Lil Keed. Then, all that labor and effort comes crashing down with the very art you made to build your empire being used against you in the court of law. It’s fucked up, isn’t it?

While the YSL indictment is the most recent and most high profile of any similar, there has already been an ugly precedent set against rappers by the judicial system of the United States going as far back as the FBI surveilling NWA following the release of “Fuck Tha Police” in 1988. In an interview with Crime Report in 2019, authors of the book “Rap On Trial” Erik Nielsen and Andrea Dennis estimated as many as 500 cases in which rap lyrics were used as evidence, some of which successfully imprisoned artists going as far back as 1990.

As mentioned earlier YFN Lucci was indicted after prosecutors used his lyrics and social media posts as proof of his ties to Bloods. In an article written for Complex earlier this month, Andre Gee points out “In January 2021, the state of Maryland ruled that rap lyrics were permissible as evidence of guilt… The ruling set a dangerous precedent for prosecutors in other states to follow.” following the sentencing of a man who recited lyrics through a jail phone to a friend. This directly contradicts to alleged right to artistic expression that is supposed to be protected by the first amendment.

It’s no coincidence that this direct criminalization of hip-hop most directly affects young Black and Brown artists, as this is just another example of America’s long history of systemic racism. This creates a double standard with other artistic mediums. Think of how many popular films depict white men committing violence. Not only are the filmmakers absolved from any guilt toward committing a crime (and rightfully so) but those films are often glorified in our culture, which is it’s own separate conversation. Many classic rock and country songs also depict violent crimes, but you’ve never heard of a case in which Freddie Mercury was put on trial for murder after singing “Mama, I killed a man/Pulled my trigger now, now he’s dead.” However, hip-hop artists are often blamed for poisoning their community with the music they make that’s just a reflection of social inequities that already exist in the hood. 

In Chicago, we witnessed Rahm Emmanuel close 50 schools in the South and West sides in 2013, yet he pinned the crime rates on drill artists, most notably Chief Keef who is effectively banned from the city due to outstanding warrants for his arrest. In New York today, history is repeating itself. In a separate article for Complex, Andre Gee writes about mayor Eric Adams’ expressed intentions to ban drill music completely from social media, claiming that the genre is contributing to the number of violent crimes. 

Currently, the status quo of America stands that white men can draw inspiration from violence for artistic purposes, but when a Black person does it, it’s taken as a literal threat to society. The response of politicians is reactive, turning the musicians behind hip-hop into scapegoats for their city’s crimes instead of addressing the structural racism at the root of the issue. Our elected officials should be taking a proactive approach by funding Black and Brown communities through education, healthcare resources, and better employment opportunities, however, that would require them to relinquish their positioning within the existing power dynamics of class and race in this county.

The current YSL indictment should be treated with the utmost serious conviction. Young Thug recently urged fans to sign a Protect Black Art petition that calls for the limitation of using art as criminal evidence. Gunna just published an open letter in which he claims his innocence, vowing to fight against these charges that are an infringement of his rights. It’s important that we fight too. If this is what courts can do against high-profile artists, imagine the type of punishment they inflict on smaller independent artists with less funds and legal resources. White America simultaneously punishes and profits off the stories of Black artists every day, and will continue to do so until we all collectively decide to shake the table instead of seeking a seat at it.

Whether or not you’re an artist or even a fan of hip-hop at all, it’s important to organize with our communities and take a stand every day against the system that continually polices every aspect of the lives of Black and poor people. Hip-hop is the most consumed and influential art form that exists today after being born from working class Black and Caribbean immigrants who simply found a new way to express themselves freely with the limited resources they had in the first place. If we truly want to continue progressing the culture forward, we have to actively protect it. In order to ensure we never give up the fight to protect it though, we have to understand the historical and racial implications of its existence in the first place.

These Tragedies

By Caleb Dunson

Three mass shootings in 10 days. 32 dead.

213 mass shootings this year. In classrooms, in churches, in nightclubs. At flea markets, on street corners, at community events. On trains, in cars, in homes.

After the Parkland mass shooting, we marched out of schools across the country mourning those lives lost and demanding gun control. But four years and over fifteen hundred mass shootings later, it seems we’ve marched to nowhere. 

Far away on Capitol Hill, our politicians will strut across marble floors to sit in their grand chambers and make pronouncements about the horrible tragedy of these mass shootings. They will give speeches, put together press clips, and post statements on social media so that everyone will know how bad they feel about the tragedy. Then they will tell us that there is nothing they can do to stop a future tragedy. 

We will grieve. The thoughts and prayers, Twitter takes, and think pieces will circulate for a few days. We will argue a bit over what we can do about this tragedy. Some of us will protest. Some of us will vote. A lot of us will move on. None of it will matter. 

It won’t matter because we court violence in this country. We have invaded and stolen and enslaved. We have raped and beaten and lynched. We have tortured and shot and bombed. We have done these things under the banner of the red white and blue, in defense of life, liberty, and property.

The mistake we make is in seeing violence as an aberration in our nation’s history, as an unfortunate stumble in pursuit of a more perfect union. Violence is a necessary component of the American project. It takes center stage in an ongoing story that indicts the character of our nation. The collective dance we do in moments like these –– the outpouring of emotion, the government inaction, the acceptance of the status quo –– shows just how accustomed we have become to this pattern, 415 years long, of American depravity. 

That we refuse to meaningfully confront this tremendous failure of state formation and governance is troubling. That we normalize these perverse events, this mass death, is disturbing. It is a display of willful ignorance of America’s moral stench, which is growing more pungent by the day. 

The moralizing usually comes at this point in pieces like these; the “here’s what you should do to stop this from happening again” kind of rhetoric. But I have nothing left to say. I can’t tell you what to do with this information. I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I don’t know what to do when communities are suffering, people are dying, and help is nowhere to be found. I don’t know what to do when our government is, and has always been, failing in its most fundamental duty: keeping us safe. And even if I did know what to do, I’m not sure it would be enough to stop a slide toward ruin four centuries in the making.

So for now I will just continue to hope and pray that, against all odds, these tragedies will end.


By Yas Tadross

If 2020 was the commodity of breath, then 2021 is the abundance of death. 

So many bodies have been lost. 

In America, the only thing that is abundant is death.

We never ask, could these deaths be preventable?

Often the answer is, they are worthy of their violence. 

That your life chances are disposable like a plastic toy, only to be thrown into the dumpster when you have been used up.

We often think visibility will save us all, but what do we have left when we are not desirable to the masses?

The answer: we don’t have anything but flesh.

I wake up most days to a knot in my stomach the size of a ball of yarn hoping that all the strings will be let loose. 

These mornings, scrolling through people’s lives finding out another Black Trans person dead, a person dying of illness in a healthcare system that seeks to escalate death rather than prevent it, another person losing vital resources and not knowing when they will ever get that back.

I don’t know how to grieve these days because how do you mourn a death when there are so many?

How do people selectively choose who they want to grieve?

I often resort to dissociating, allowing my body and my spirit to separate from each other hoping that I get through the day. 

Alignment frightens me because this world is too overwhelming. 

I wonder what it would mean to collectively grieve together?

In grieving, I hope we move beyond empathy. 

I hope we honor people more than just their accomplishments, that they existed. 

We are brought to this Earth to be with each other, not to produce and isolate.

That dissociating is only a tactic of surviving rather than being. 

I understand death is part of our life cycle, 

I want to end the systems that destroy our life chances.

Yaz is an activist, writer, and tiny house enthusiast. Their writing explores issues of being Black, Arab, Transgender, women/femme in both public and private spheres. They also explore topics of grief, reimagining romance, and navigating borderlands.


By: Ojo Taiye

Ojo Taiye is a young Nigerian who uses poetry as a handy tool to write his frustration with society.

Everything ages to amnesia

Leaving a convenient myth

We struggle to hold

The scab breaks

History becomes tensed

As truth goes transparent

The scars lived

Underneath our bed

At night—in the morning

When the policeman stops

And searches for me   

For my torn name

For my family’s grief

4 Days Before Christmas

By Jordan Esparza

In the beginning of December, my dad contacted our apartment building ownership to let them know we would be looking to extend our lease. We decided that, at least for another 6 to 12 months, we would stay put and reassess our living situation at some point in the next coming year. At the time, we were renting a two bedroom apartment in the 7th ward of Waukegan, Illinois. It wasn’t much. Like most apartments and housing these days, you don’t even really get what you pay for. 

On December 21st–ten days until the end of the month, and four days before Christmas–building ownership responded to my dad letting him know that if we chose to extend our leasing agreement we would have to increase our rent payment by nearly double. As you can imagine, this wasn’t possible. Not only was it outside of our financial means, we had less than a pay period to come up with double the money for our home. 

It was devastating. We spent the next week endlessly searching for a place that we could afford and would approve our application in a rapid fashion. Luckily, we found a place on the 30th and began the move that night. 

My family has always been way closer to poverty than we have been to affluence, throughout my life. And, in this instance, we were genuinely a couple hundred bucks away from being homeless. The reality that, “it could happen to anybody“ hit me that day of the 21st when I was told our rent would double if we wanted to stay put. How is this just?

Much of America is aware that we are in a full-blown housing, encompassing all forms of housing–home ownership, homelessness, rent disputes, and more. In America, ownership is the bottom line; the end-all-be-all. If there is ownership, there is no need for humanity. Thankfully, my dad and I were able to handle this situation–barely, but we did. What about the others, though? What about my downstairs neighbor who they informed on the same day as us that they would no longer be accepting her section 8 voucher? What is to happen to her and her family?

At the bottom of this article you will see no GoFundMe account, Cash App, Zelle, or any kind of fundraising effort. That’s not what I’m here for, and I particularly do not need saving. I want action. As a people, we need to demand rights and protections for renters. We need this information to be abundant and we need a humane relationship between property owners and renters. If anyone knows of any policymakers currently working towards this I would love to extend my lived experience in advocacy for the cause.

A nation with mass homelessness is not a strong nation. A nation of mass poverty is not a strong nation. A government set up to only work for big business is not beneficial to the people. I ask that you all just meditate on the situation that I’ve explained and ask yourself “how much longer are we willing to wait for change? How much longer are we willing to wait for a better opportunity at a good life?” We cannot wait. These are things that we must seize. Our lives, collectively, depend on it.

Between Worlds

By Caleb Dunson

In the summertime, music blares from cars and homes. Songs from the Isley Brothers and Chief Keef mix together to envelop your ears in a new, chaotic soundtrack, its bass rattling the ground you stand on. The smell –– a mix of car exhaust, weed, and liquor –– thickly coats the air. The warmth brings seniors out onto their porches and young folks out onto the block, both groups with nothing good to do. In the morning, working adults dressed in suits, scrubs, and fast food uniforms find their way onto the elevated train that screeches by every seven minutes. They don’t return until the sun has nearly set.

At night the street lamps and illegal fireworks create beautiful constellations, and the moon shimmers in the background. The train still shrieks and the music still blares, but now the chatter of evening conversations floats through the air. Gunshots echo sometimes, but with the fireworks, it’s hard to tell just how often. 

Go a couple of blocks westward, though, and it’s quiet. The mornings are filled with birds whispering, squirrels scurrying, and runners panting. The elderly move in packs on their morning walks, gossiping and judging the quality of their neighbors’ massive lawns. The air is fresh, the trees and grass pristine, the houses glistening in the sun. On one block, a kaleidoscopic BLACK LIVES MATTER mural is plastered on the pavement. It was defaced last summer, but no one talks about that. 

In the afternoon, teenagers, mostly white, spill out of the local high school. Some wander about, and others rush to sports practice, all of them talking about everything and nothing. The night returns to quiet as the perfect four-person families settle into their homes to have dinner together and watch evening tv shows. The idyllic life in the idyllic neighborhood. 

There are two worlds, and I live on the threshold between them. My house sits on the street that separates Austin –– one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago –– from Oak Park –– a white middle-class suburban paradise. It’s a wide street, the buses run on it, the train perpendicular to and above it. Potholes riddle the pavement on the city-side, but the suburb side is always freshly paved. 

Oak Park was first settled in 1835 as a small rest station for travelers. But after the 1848 construction of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, settlers began moving to the town in droves. In 1865, one of those settlers, Henry Austin, purchased 470 acres of land just east of Oak Park to establish a settlement he would call “Austinville.” He envisioned the town as a quiet, greenery-rich, temperance community, and built it into exactly that, incorporating the area into the collection of suburbs known as the Cicero Township. 

Among other amenities, Austinville’s elevated train service ––– developed in the late 1880s –– drew people to the town, and by the 1890s Austinville had become the largest settlement in the Township. When Austinville looked to extend its elevated train through Oak Park, the Oak Park residents refused, but because of its sheer population size and political power, Austin steamrolled the smaller suburb and got the extension approved. Just before the turn of the 20th century, Oak Park and the other small suburban towns retaliated by voting Austinville out of the Township, and it was soon annexed to Chicago in 1899 under the name Austin. Thus began the tension between the two neighborhoods.

Today, that elevated train runs westward from the business district in downtown Chicago, through Austin, and straight into the heart of Oak Park. It transports white-collar workers from the blissful suburb to the bustling city. It takes money straight from the heart of Chicago and sends it right out into the suburbs, skipping over Austin. 

The only time Oak Park residents and Austin residents interact, if you could call it that much, is on that train. During morning rush hour, they crowd onto the elevated platform, waiting silently next to one another. Once on the train, they ride in silence. The only exchanges they share are “is this seat open” as they pile onto the train cars, and “excuse me” as they quickly brush past one another. And they exit in silence too, the Black Austin residents trickling off the train as it travels eastward through the neighborhood and approaches downtown, eventually leaving train cars full of white workers.

When Oak Park residents decide to venture into Austin, they often do so to exploit and extract. In March of 2021, when the City of Chicago was beginning to distribute the COVID vaccine, they decided to vaccinate adults in “underserved community areas” before allowing all adults across the city to get vaccinated. Austin was one of those community areas. And yet, as I stood in line outside of my neighborhood vaccination site, I saw several groups of white families trying to appear as if they lived in the neighborhood and not-so-subtly whispering about their post-vaccination brunch plans in Oak Park. They were never caught.  

Around the same time, the City of Chicago launched a capital program to invest in a list of “traditionally underfunded community areas,” and once again Austin made that list. Soon after the program’s launch, the city began awarding contracts for development projects in Austin. The crown jewel contract was a redevelopment project on the Laramie State Bank, a sprawling multi-story building with cream bricks and gold terracotta sculptures etched into its walls. Several Austin-based organizations applied for the contract. It was won by Oak Park Regional Housing. 

In the early 20th century, Austin turned into a refuge for middle-class European immigrants, and with those immigrants came expansive housing development projects. Victorian mansions, two-flats, bungalows, condos, and apartments, along with massive parks and green spaces sprouted up around the neighborhood. But by the 1960s, redlining had reached its height on the predominantly Black South Side of  Chicago, and middle-class Black families, frustrated with discriminatory housing laws, began moving to Austin en-masse. In response, white Austin residents, convinced that the influx of Black families would tank their property values, sold their homes and fled to the surrounding suburbs like Oak Park, taking their tax dollars and investing power with them. Real estate brokers took advantage of the mass exodus, selling newly vacant properties to Black families at exorbitant prices and offering predatory mortgages. Property values depreciated, and with manufacturing jobs disappearing throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the neighborhood was plunged into social and economic disarray. Businesses died, families left, crime rose. The neighborhood fell.

When my mom, fresh out of graduate school, bought our third-floor condo unit in 2007, Austin was framed as an up-and-coming community, and the idea of the neighborhood being re-annexed by Oak Park seemed plausible. But nearly 15 years and two economic crashes later, nothing much has changed. The Victorian mansions are hollow, as if their very essence has been sucked out. Their roofs are cracked, their paint is peeling, and their foundations are crumbling. Only their broken facades remain, offering a haunting image of what once was. Vacant lots line the streets, mixing concrete and waist-high weeds. The parks’ trees are infected with ash beetles, which eat away at the trees’ bark, leaving them smooth and weak. The grass in the park has died, leaving patches of dirt littered with liquor bottles, crack bags, and junk food wrappers. 

And yet, in spite of that, community persists here. When I was 6, my mom used to take me to the town hall building, a structure reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, to play basketball. The local park district didn’t have jerseys for us, so we had to play shirts and skins. That same year I was in a summer program at the now-closed Marcy Newberry childcare agency. We ate cheap lunches, played on old playgrounds, and took one major field trip to a fast-food restaurant. I got my first haircut from an old childhood friend of my dad; they had grown up together in Austin. In fact, my parents first met while working high school jobs at a McDonald’s in the area. On special occasions, my mom would take me to MacArthur’s, a soul food restaurant that served huge portions and vowed to keep their prices affordable for the community. 

Backyard parties played stepping music and got the old folks dancing as if it was their heyday, and graduation parties showered young folks with gifts and praise to celebrate their success. When news broke of kids getting shot in our neighborhood, the entire community mourned. Vigils were held, and streetside memorials were made with pictures, stuffed animals, and flowers. 

I love Austin, despite its struggles. I love that my neighborhood has shaped me, showing me just how chaotic and messy and magnificent the world can be. I love that Austin’s relationship with Oak Park has opened my eyes to injustice and gifted me with a passion for building a better society. I love that thinking about home keeps me grounded as I sit in stuffy classrooms with sons of billionaires, waiting for my moment to build that better world. 

I love how the 100,000 lives in my neighborhood have been threaded together, how we find beauty as we cover those vacant homes with spray paint and turn them into art, how we find joy as we repurpose those vacant lots into playgrounds, how we find community as we congregate in those dying parks to celebrate holidays and family reunions. It’s not the idyllic life, but it’s beautiful.


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