“When They Go Low, We Go Vote!”

The 2017 Chicago Women’s March drew a quarter of a million marchers—more than organizers had expected, and so much so that the “march” was cancelled, though feminists and activists took to the streets anyway. This year, in an impressive surprise, the Chicago march included an additional 50,000 people in the crowd from the year prior.

In advance of the midterms, the same feminist organizers decided to direct the growing energy of the feminist movement in the Windy City to the ballot box. Nearly a month before Election Day, they marched with over 100,000 voters to the polls.

Jaquie Algee, a board member of Women’s March Chicago and Board President of March On, a collective of Women’s March organizers from across the country, told Ms. that Chicago’s March to the Polls event, which encouraged early voting, centered on young and first-time voters—a potentially powerful but often outnumbered voting bloc that could decide races up and down the ballot this year.

“I think it’s important for young people to get out and vote no matter what the moment is,” she said, “whether its Trump or beyond.” Young people seem to agree: USA Today has already reported a surge in early and absentee voting by people ages 18-29 in several key states.

Algee, a self-described “civil rights baby,” also sees the group’s collective effort as a way to honor those who fought for and died for the right to vote and extend their cause. “I watched us get the right to vote,” she told Ms., remembering the day she held her grandmother’s hand as she voted for the first time. “We owe it to them, to their legacy.”

On October 13, activists gathered at Chicago’s Grant Park for live entertainment, an opportunity to meet with local candidates and to peruse the booths staffed by feminist organizations in a Voter Village while activists like Heather Booth, founder of the historic Jane Collective that provided underground abortion services in Chicago before Roe v. Wade, took the stage to speak to the crowd. Later, the group marched through the streets of downtown Chicago holding posters and balloons in the shape of a “baby Donald Trump” mid-tantrum. 

“In a society that tries so, so hard to suppress our voices,” Lauren Hogg, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, told the marchers, “the act of simply going out and voting is an act of resilience and resistance.”

They were joined in that act of resistance by voters across the country. In Seattle, voters marched to their mailboxes, ballots in hand; in Georgia and Mississippi, people boarded starred-and-striped buses emblazoned with the slogan “March On the Polls” to cast their own ballots; when early voting began in Nevada, March On organizers staged a similar rally in Las Vegas.

In addition to physically increasing the voter turnout for the midterms, the Chicago event also demonstrated the continuing power of feminist activism in the current political moment—despite immense backlash from the top tiers of the government. The massive mobilization was also perhaps a first act for what may be a stunning reoccurrence of the “Year of the Woman” as a record number of women appear on ballots nationwide and women voters report feeling as engaged and mobilized as ever.

We don’t have any other choice but to help make this country better, and I think one of the ways to do that is through voting,” Algee told Ms. “Over the course of time, if we elect the right people into office, things can change.”

Brock Colyar is a contributor at Ms. He is currently a journalism and gender and sexuality studies major at Northwestern University, where he founded a campus queer and radical feminist magazine and serves as a sexual health and assault peer educator. Much of his spare time is spent overthinking intra-feminist politics and Stevie Nicks. (Photo via Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern.)

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