Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teenage Voting: Democracy Week's Primary Objective

by Shawn Healy, Civic Learning Scholar

Chicago elections are famous for the slogan, "Vote early and vote often." However, Illinois voters rarely live up to this adage. Turnout for national and state elections fall below national averages, and youth voting in local elections is abysmal, ranking 47 among 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Next month, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in partnership with the Board of Elections, the McCormick Foundation, and a coalition of other civic organizations, is seeking to reverse this disturbing statistic. During "Democracy Week," scheduled for February 3-7, CPS and its partners plan to orchestrate a massive voter registration drive among high school students in an effort to capitalize on "Suffrage at 17" legislation passed last year. The new law enables 17-year olds to vote in the March 18 Primary so long as they will be age 18 by Election Day in November.

CPS has approximately 35,000 students in its nearly 150 high schools that are eligible to vote in March, and the "Democracy Week" coalition hopes to register at least 25,000 of them by the February 18 deadline. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett urges high school principals to celebrate "Democracy Week" by providing a central location for voter registration, making time for students to register and encouraging teachers to educate students about 2014 candidates, prevailing issues, and the electoral process.

The "Democracy Week" coalition is supporting schools, principals, and teachers in a myriad of ways, all of which are free-of-charge. Two of the organizations, the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago and the Mikva Challenge, have designed a six-lesson voter education curriculum package for teachers to use in their classrooms.

The Board of Elections has created voter registration posters for display at schools along with a robust website with more information about "Suffrage at 17." Finally, the Mikva Challenge is engaging students in local campaign work and also training them to serve as election judges.

Collectively, "Democracy Week" takes the "vote early" segment of the Chicago slogan literally with the assumption that these pioneering high school students will "vote often" as lifelong participants in our democracy.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Getting Up to Speed: McCormick 101

by Phil Zepeda, Director of Communications

Growing up and spending most of my adult life in Chicago, I was very familiar with the McCormick Foundation, probably due to my interest in local philanthropy at a young age.

But now that I have the great fortune of working for this legendary organization, I’ve been able to hear about the rich life of our benefactor, Robert R. McCormick, and gain a better understanding of his contributions to our area – some monumental and others cultural.

For instance, it was McCormick who coined the term “Chicagoland,” with historians tracing its first use back to 1926.

McCormick led the effort to expand Chicago north of the Chicago River along Michigan Avenue. In 1918, the Chicago Tribune created an editorial platform raising attention about important civic improvement issues. His “Extend the Chicago Plan” was built off of Daniel Burnham’s city plan and promoted completing Michigan Avenue and building the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

Naming Chicago’s airport “O’Hare Field” was McCormick’s idea. An outspoken advocate for honoring the sacrifices of America’s veterans, McCormick spoke at the 1949 dedication that memorialized Naval Lt. Commander Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, the Navy’s first flying ace of the 1940s.

While most of his fame came from his work as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, McCormick was a prolific writer, authoring books on topics ranging from the Civil War to our First Amendment freedoms.

When most people hear McCormick, their thoughts may immediately veer towards Chicago’s McCormick Place. It was posthumously named in his honor as he was as a major proponent of bringing more conventions to Chicago.

But his legacy has influenced countless schools, communities and lives locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. As Director of Communications of the McCormick Foundation, it’s my intent to bring more of these stories to life and share how, even today, his influence to strengthen communities can be experienced in our everyday lives.