Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled a new 2020 census initiative Wednesday morning at the DuSable Museum, announcing that painted boards would be placed in neighborhoods around the city to raise awareness of the ongoing population count.
The boards were painted by artists affiliated with Paint The City, an organization that has sprung up in the wake of the George Floyd protests, painting designs on boarded-up windows across Chicago.
“No one knew what 2020 was going to bring today, but here we are creating life and meaning out of pain and confusion,” said co-founder Missy Perkins, speaking in front of a backdrop of the boards. She said that the group has worked with over 50 artists from around the Chicago area.
“Chicago is one of (America’s) biggest melting pots — we must honor that diversity. Much like the artists that are on these boards represent that diversity,” said Barrett Keithley, the group’s other founder. “When there’s a baby shot on the South or West side of Chicago, that rage and anger should be felt in all of Chicago. When our homeless, when our vulnerable, are being victimized, then that’s a disrespect to our strong as well. And as a city, we must own that.”
Lightfoot herself emphasized the dangers of an undercount, tying it to other forms of political participation such as voting.
“These boards will become tools to inspire change through the power of the vote. Just as we'll be doing with the census we’ll be having teams on the ground and in our communities helping folks register to vote and go to the polls,” she said. “These boards represent voices in communities who, for too long, have been under counted or not counted at all.”
But Lightfoot also used the morning’s speech to make a broader point, reiterating her belief that protests movements had been “hijacked” by “a subset of vigilantes,” and encouraging political discourse and action that aims at engagement and compromise. (Lightfoot has said before that Chicago’s protest movement erupted as the result of an “organized effort,” though there is little hard evidence to support that claim.)
“We are no longer engaging with each other in a democratic way …. Democracy requires us to engage in the public square, where we can debate and find the facts and arguments to persuade. It requires us to build coalitions and find common ground,” she said on Wednesday. “What democratic engagement doesn't mean is who screams the loudest. It doesn't mean issuing a set of demands, and then villainizing anyone who doesn't immediately pledge allegiance to your particular manifesto.”
Lightfoot also invoked the memory of civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis, who passed away earlier this month. The mayor said that Lewis was someone who “knew that advancing our democracy demanded more than a change in our beliefs, but taking that energy and changing it into engagement all across our nation.”
“Just as John Lewis did 50 years ago, and continued to do throughout his life, what the events of the past few months have revealed is that while we may have come far from where we started, we still have far to go in this incredible journey of democracy.”
Respond to the census at 2020census.gov.