When Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, youth turnout is very low. Considering that past participation in municipal politics has traditionally been even lower than the midterms, it’s safe to assume that it will take a special candidate to get young people to turn out to vote in the upcoming Chicago mayoral election.
The biggest lesson coming out of the 2014 midterm elections, for those who are concerned with your politics, is that young people are turning out to the poles.
Young people across the city were titillated by the candidacy of Dr. Amara Enyia, which only ended in December. Amara Enyia, the 31 year old daughter of Nigerian immigrants, and the qualities necessary to motivate young people to come out and vote. It remains to be seen who will take her place now, but she had some recommendations for those who might like to try. “It’s about service. Everything that we have is supposed to be used to advance the cause of humanity,” she responded when asked about why she was running.
Chicago Voices Series
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Recent polls show that Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, could be in trouble. Half of the city doesn’t approve of his performance and some early forecasts have show him barely pulling in a third of the vote both before and after potential run-off elections. The mayor has received most of his criticism from the Left and members of his own party. he has come under criticism for his education policies and attitude toward the city budget, as well as a general perception of him being too conservative. Amara sees things a little differently. If her strengths are that she understands what life is like for most Chicagoans, Rahm’s weakness is that very lack of understand and his lack of “Curiosity,” about what most Chicagoans go through on a day-to-day basis. “I just don’t think he gets it,” she said.
Amara stood out among the other challengers to the mayor in that she is younger than most of the current candidates by more than a decade, African-American, and a woman. In an era in which the financial and political connections that often disadvantage young candidates, especially those from the underrepresented communities can dictate who wins public office, Amara might seem like an underdog, but she has a lot of historical examples to look up to in this city. “I went to the funder of Jane Byrne last week, the first and only woman to be mayor of the city. I ran into many individuals who worked on Harold Washington’s campaign, the first of two African American mayors. I think that in 2015 we are ready for a different kind of leadership-I mean that in terms of policies, ideas, and experiences. There are those who are quick to discredit me because i am black, because I am young, because I live on the West Side, because I am a woman, but we’ve not had enough like me.” Amara’s vision for Chicago begins with the reestablishment of a commitment to public goods in the face of the increasing privatization of public assets. While some of this privatization has happened on Mayor Emanuel’s watch, other privatization efforts occurred in the past. During former Mayor Richard Daley’s tenure, parking was privatized in Chicago and now the city is known for its scant and ridiculously priced parking.
Amara is passionate about reversing the wave of privatization. Although her ideas, such as her call for a public bank might seem radical to some, she sees such measures as vital if the city is to keep struggling neighborhoods afloat.
She believes that small-scale community driven development is necessary to renovate our economically disadvantaged city. Unlike others who take a hard line against gentrification, Amara has a more nuanced approach. “I believe that you can change the community and keep the people there,” she told us. “One of the biggest things hat I talk about is community-driven. Right now, a developer comes in, talks to alderman, signs a contract, cuts a deal and afterward holds a community meeting and tells them what happens.”
“You address violence through investments. Conditions of poverty create conditions where violence is allowed to thrive.”
She believes that community members need to be given more say when development is planned for a neighborhood. What to do about education, affordable housing, and even the aesthetic of an area should all be the collective of the city, the developers, and the people who are already live in the city.
Public safety campaigns modeled on privatized police forces and increased policing have Amara worried as well, especially that expansion of red light and speeding cameras that replace officers on the ground. These may seem like petty issues, but Amara sees it all as being intrinsically linked to decreased investment in public goods. “You address violence through investments. Conditions of poverty create conditions where violence is allowed to thrive,” she remarked.
To get to the root cause of violence, Amara believes that we need tofocus on investing in Chicago’s neighborhoods. According to her, “thefirst step is to put our education system back into the hands of education professionals. We need a moratorium on charter schoolds, our public neighborhood schools need to be fully and adequately funded. This issue of testing, the fact that we overtest our kids is bad policy.” It’s a message that polls well, but that has been hard to implement for progressives all across the country.
Coming off the tales of another catastrophic midterm loss, progressives are desperate for a win. While the Mayor of Chicago may consider himself to be in their camp, his defeat would send a strong message to corporate America that the progressive movement still has teeth. Polling shows it’s possible, but only a candidate that can galvanize a young and diverse audience to compete with the Mayor’s entrenched advantages will be able to pull it off. Perhaps Amara Enyia’s candidacy is a road-map for doing just that.
Check out Amara Enyia for Chicago on Facebook here.