Wrap-Up: Parade to the Polls with Chance the Rapper

By Jill Brownfield, TurboVote Partner Support Lead, and Andrew Snyder, TurboVote Campus Outreach Lead

If you’re a fan of Chance the Rapper, you may have seen in the news that Chance and his newly organized nonprofit organization SocialWorks played host to a free concert at Grant Park in downtown Chicago followed by a Parade to the Polls on election eve night. The evening's performances concluded with Chance the Rapper playing hits from his latest album Coloring Book, delivering a positive and nonpartisan message to the crowd about the importance of voting. He then led a march of thousands of young voters to an early voting site, where attendees amplified their voices in the voting booth.

Organized by SocialWorks, Prime Fortune, and Virgin Hotels Chicago, with help from Democracy Works, Boost Mobile, Chicago Votes, and Black Youth Project 100, the event was an inspirational and positive call to young voters to participate in the democratic process. Young artists including OddCouple, Eryn Allen Kane, Twin Peaks, Taylor Bennett, and Malcolm London also performed and spoke from the stage to the crowd about the importance of voting. With an estimated 6,000 attendees, the free concert and march were a history-making event created for and by young voters.

Chance called attendees to follow him from the stage to the voting booth. “At the end of this show, we’re going to have a very cool, very peaceful, but very lit parade, march, exhibition of democracy: exactly what it looks like. Show what it looks like through the streets, what it looks like to get up and make a decision, and be a part of customizing and creating what your society looks like.” Chance’s arrival flanked by thousands of fans at the early voting site caused quite a spectacle, with lines to vote snaking around several city blocks. Ultimately, the event contributed to the most successful day of early voting in Cook County history, with more than 700 early votes being cast by event attendees that evening.

At Democracy Works, we began working with Chance and SocialWorks a few months ago when we discovered they’d been promoting our TurboVote tool as a voter registration resource at concerts on the Magnificent Coloring Day tour. With common goals of working to help young people participate in the political process through our higher education partnerships, and SocialWorks’s mission to civically engage Chicago’s youth, formalizing our partnership was a logical next step.

As the Parade to the Polls came together, SocialWorks pulled their community networks and contacts into the planning process, including organizations like Virgin Hotels Chicago, Prime Fortune, Chicago Votes, and BYP 100. These local organizations tapped crucial armies of volunteers, bringing people power to help with event security, crowd control, and marshalling the march to the polls. We also brought our contacts at Boost Mobile and their Boost Your Voice campaign to join in the fun. They brought the infrastructure to live stream the whole event online, which led to an additional 500,000 online event viewers. Together, we all worked through some unexpected obstacles like a competing large parade (congratulations, Cubs!) and a last minute venue change to pull off a historic event. In the midst of such an overwhelmingly divisive campaign season, it was our distinct pleasure to work with these organizations to pull off this display of direct action and democracy.

Monday night’s celebration was the culmination of months of work by Chance and SocialWorks to register thousands of voters. In doing so, Chance became a generational icon using a megaphone to encourage young voters in the face of media narratives about low turnout, apathy, and ignorance. Chance’s team worked with the NAACP and their #StayWokeAndVote campaign to register voters in person at recent tour stops while utilizing TurboVote to digitally call voters to action. While Millennials have often been criticized for “slacktivism,” Chance used his large social media following to tweet out TurboVote for voter registration and orchestrated the Parade to the Polls to connect fans directly to the act of voting in an overwhelmingly positive and nonpartisan way. 

We at Democracy Works played but a small role in putting this extraordinary event together as part of a wider Party at the Polls campaign, which is hosted by The TurboVote Challenge. But the reach of this movement was national. Each event across the country invited the entire host community, was nonpartisan, and free-of-cost to those attending. They occurred near polling locations during election or early voting hours. In an election cycle dominated by divisiveness, we wanted to add volume to the voices of our partners to help Americans celebrate what makes our country strong: democracy.

And celebrate in Chicago we did! Thanks to all of the individuals and organizations that made this event happen, and we look forward to future Parades to the Polls!

Brandon Naylor