For young people in Chicago, yesterday was a historic day. It was the first time they had an opportunity to vote in an election that did not have Mayor Richard Daley, who along with his father before him ran the city for all but 14 years since 1955, on the ballot. Chicago will now be under the watch of President Obama's high-profile former Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, who will also make history by becoming the city's first Jewish mayor.
This election will go down as one of the hottest local races of 2011, and young Chicagoans made a big impact at the polls. Although exact turnout by age group will take a few more days to process, Chicago's five most youth-dense precincts experienced a significant 14 percentage point increase in turnout, well above the city-wide increase of 8.6 percentage points (33% overall turnout in 2007 vs. 41.6% in 2011). Chicago's most youth dense ward, the 44th, includes the Lakeview neighborhood and saw almost twice as many ballots cast yesterday than it did in 2007.
Rock the Vote was excited to be on the ground to encourage young people to make their voices heard in this race. On Thursday, February 17, more than 350 young Chicagoans attended a Rock the Vote party at Rockit Bar and Grill downtown where undecided voters got to engage mayoral candidates around the issues that matter the most to them. The party was an important part of ushering in a new level of youth-oriented political outreach and sent a message to Chicago's young voters that they clearly carried with them to the ballot boxes on Tuesday: The future is in our hands.
Students and young adults from Chicago have grown up with Mayor Daley. Although he remains relatively popular in the city, the next generation of Chicagoans embraced the opportunity to elect their own mayor last night, and for the first time in their adult lives many of them finally feel like they had a say in selecting their chief executive. Realizing that in this city's politics, such an opportunity may not present itself again for awhile, Chicago's young adults emphatically responded by increasing their turnout in greater numbers then the rest of the city and decided it was their turn to own their city's future.