Solutions for gun violence, support for Palestine top Chicago students’ priorities at early voting event

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As Kalli Vaughn prepared to vote in the city’s primary election Friday morning, she said she was voting because she wants answers to the violence she sees in her community – particularly gun violence that targets young people.

“The big issue for me is the killings, especially of children,” said Kalli, a 17-year-old student at Richard Crane Medical Preparatory High School on the Near West Side, who will turn 18 in May before the general election. “You go on Instagram and see the videos of children being murdered and that’s very heartbreaking.”

She carried a sign reading “We are the future” as she marched with dozens of her classmates to an early voting polling site on the Near West Side.

Kalli was one of hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students who heard from candidates in the 7th Congressional District Democratic primary, representing an area from the lakefront to the western suburbs and from Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood on the North Side to West Englewood on the South Side, at a civic education event Friday before they took to the polls to cast their vote for the first time.

The Student Power Forum and Parade to the Polls, hosted by Chicago Votes, La Casa Norte and the Chicago Teachers Union, took students of voting age at participating district high schools out of the classroom for the morning on a district-approved field trip to the CTU Headquarters to make posters, learn about candidates and march to the polls together.

Issues important to the students included gun violence, racism, and universal healthcare, all of which came up during the students’ questions to the four candidates present running for the congressional seat.

Also at the top of students’ voting priorities was supporting candidates advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, with students pressing candidates on their positions and previous statements. The loudest cheers of the day came when candidate and progressive activist Kina Collins said her “commitment to the Palestinian people” is to support a ceasefire in Gaza.

“One of the biggest issues is not getting enough help for Palestine,” Kalli said. “I hope Congress can come up with more resources to be available.”

Earlier this week, the forum garnered widespread attention after the teachers union’s emailed letter circulated on social media stating that Bring Chicago Home, the primary backer behind the Mayor Brandon Johnson-backed real estate transfer tax referendum, would be a co-sponsor of the event. Loud opponents argued the coalition’s presence would make the forum a partisan event, violating the school district’s ethics policies.

A spokesperson for the teachers union told the Tribune that Bring Chicago Home was never involved in the event and information in the circulated email was not verified. A Chicago Votes spokesperson also said Bring Chicago Home was not on the agenda, saying that the annual forum is an “opportunity to celebrate first time voters and it’s unfortunate that it is being spun into something it’s not.”

Chicago Public Schools students march along Lake Street to Union Park to vote on March 15, 2024, as part of Student Power Forum and Parade to the Polls. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Public Schools students march along Lake Street to Union Park to vote on March 15, 2024, as part of Student Power Forum and Parade to the Polls. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

On Tuesday, CPS said they had shared concerns with the teachers’ union about the event, with the union assuring the district that it would be non-partisan. District policy does not allow teachers to campaign for political races during school hours or events.

“Chicago Public Schools encourages student civic engagement with the electoral process through our nonpartisan election and civic engagement curriculum. We do not endorse specific campaigns or advocate for specific election results,” said district spokesperson Mary Ann Fergus. “CPS has shared with the CTU our concerns that the March 15 event be non-partisan and that it must comply with our ethics policy. The CTU has assured us that they will adhere to our policies and procedures, including our ethics policy.”

Students chanted and laughed with their classmates as they walked the roughly 20-minute route to an early voting site at Union Park.

Marisol de la Rosa, 18, of World Language High School, votes with dozens of other Chicago Public Schools students at Union Park on March 15, 2024, during Student Power Forum and Parade to the Polls. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
Marisol de la Rosa, 18, of World Language High School, votes with dozens of other Chicago Public Schools students at Union Park on March 15, 2024, during Student Power Forum and Parade to the Polls. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

As Nazir McBride, 18, quietly walked in the large group, he recalled how losing a friend to gun violence on the West Side last year has made him want politicians who will address racism and violence.

Even though it’s McBride’s first election of voting age, he said his family’s interest in politics has led him to become plugged into the policies that affect his neighborhood. In the past few years, he has seen elected officials not follow through on campaign promises but still wants his voice to be heard.

“After the past four years, a lot of the stuff that I got excited about in people’s speeches have failed or no change has happened at all, so I’m hoping for a different system,” said McBride, a student at Crane High School. “I hope that whoever I vote for will do what they promised.”

Kalli, from Crane, said she thought the forum gave students a chance to have a front row seat to races and be a vital part of the conversations in politics, rather than act as bystanders.

“It gave us a perspective on all the contenders, and it gave us an opportunity to hear everybody instead of being in a large crowd and not everyone getting to ask questions,” Kalli said. “We actually got a chance to connect with the candidates.”

 

 

Alysa Guffey , 2024-03-16 00:16:40

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Author : New-York

Publish date : 2024-03-15 23:16:40

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