Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered a full-throated defense of American democracy Wednesday before urging Chicagoans to safeguard the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights by responding to the 2020 census.
“Our democracy is under siege,” Lightfoot said in the Roundhouse Courtyard of the DuSable Museum in Hyde Park.
Lightfoot celebrated the protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, but again decried “vigilantes” determined to “hijack” the protests and use them as a cover to commit crimes and attack police officers.
Lightfoot said the Paint the City initiative was one of many “glimmers of light” that emerged from the “dark time” of the unrest that damaged businesses across the city but was especially intense on the South and West sides.
An alliance of artists and neighborhood business groups, Paint the City worked to turn boarded-up buildings into works of art as a form of protest.
The boards, which have been preserved, will tour the city as part of an effort to encourage Chicagoans to fill out the census, register to vote and then cast a vote in November's presidential election, Lightfoot said.
“Even in this fraught and fractured moment, the power of democracy is still real, a power that transforms lives for the better, but only, only, if we embrace one of its key tenets, and that’s equality for all,” Lightfoot said.
President Donald Trump is a symptom of the sickness ailing American democracy, not a cause, Lightfoot said.
The true challenge facing the country’s civic institutions stems from a lack of the “respectful engagement” democracy requires, Lightfoot said.
“What democratic engagement doesn’t mean is who screams the loudest,” Lightfoot said. “It doesn’t mean issuing a set of demands and then villainizing anyone who doesn’t immediately pledge allegiance to our particular manifesto.”
Too often, true engagement is conflated “with social media snark” that serves only to “deepen the divides” that complicate the search for solutions, Lightfoot said.
“Make no mistake, this toxic environment is fomented by extremes on the right and the left, neither of which leave room for compromise,” Lightfoot said. “Compromise is not a dirty word. Compromise is not complicity or capitulation."
Chicagoans can seize their democratic power by participating in the census, Lightfoot said.
“If you are not counted, you give your power, you give your voice away to someone else,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor first sounded the alarm about Chicago’s census response more than two weeks ago, when she gave the city’s 55% response a letter grade of C and said it threatened millions of dollars in federal aid to the city.
Since that event, the response rate has not budged, even after Lightfoot enlisted Adam Hollingsworth, the Dreadhead Cowboy to visit areas with low response rates and urge people to fill out the census.
Hollingsworth did not appear at Wednesday’s event, which struck a much more serious tone than the event on July 16, where Lightfoot donned a light green cowboy hat and played the Lil Nas X hit “Old Town Road.”