By Haley Velasco
Thousands of millennials turned out in Chicago to attend multiple protests throughout the weekend. On Friday, multiple activist groups, including student and political organizations, joined together to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump, which took place earlier that day in Washington, D.C. On Saturday, an estimated 250,000 people attended the Women’s March on Chicago, which aimed to bring attention to protecting the rights and civil liberties of women, according to the event’s organizers.
For a majority of the millennial generation, this was the first large-scale protest environment they have been involved in during their lifetime. The weekend’s events gave millennials, which total 69.2 million in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, a chance to engage politically.
Dr. Benjamin Knoll, Ph.D., John Marshall Harlan Associate Professor of Politics, Centre College, explained that political science research shows that people acquire and shape their political identities from life experiences.
“There is a lot of research that shows that big, transformative events in someone’s young adulthood, specifically late high school, college years, through their late 20s, that’s where political identities are valuable,” Knoll said. “This event, it’s hard to predict the future, but given its magnitude, I would not be surprised as those once in a generation kind of things.”
Student walkouts and activist groups join forces Friday
George Vassilatos, an 18-year-old student from the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and a leader of the Chicago Students Union, a student-led group working to represent the students of Chicago Public Schools, was one of the young people working to organize the rally against Trump held at Daley Plaza Friday. The group help lead student walkouts from various high schools across Chicago on Friday. These students joined the activist groups at Daley Plaza who demonstrated and hosted speakers during the afternoon. According to Vassilatos, schools have suspended several students who chose to protest.
“I think that young people have always been at the forefront of a lot of political activism,” Vassilatos said. “This is one of the first major national things that popped up [for this generation]. I think although there is a lot of concern and uncertainty, there are these previous models and examples. Everything from the 60s and the Black Panthers to Occupy a couple of years ago. … It’s really exciting to be working on something like this.”
When compared to historic marches, Ryan Rock, 24, co-founder of Student and Graduate Activists, whose group joined Chicago Students Union and many other groups that organized via Facebook, said that, “It’s clear that [these] movements met great success because so many people stood up and made their voice heard. That is what inspires me and keeps me hopeful.”
He added that the protests were necessary because of the message that Trump has been spreading throughout his campaign and in the early days of his presidency.
“I find it inspiring to see so many people finally standing up against this rampant hate and bigotry that has swept the nation. The protests that so many of us are involved in won’t keep [Trump] out of the oval office,” Rock said. “That ship has come and gone. What they will do is make politicians think twice about supporting Trump’s policies.”
The students who walked out from different public schools across the city were dissatisfied, especially with some of the policies that will affect their education directly.
“The purpose of the student component, which was a CPS led walkout, was to demonstrate to the incoming administration that the students of Chicago and the whole nation … will not stand for the continuation and adoption of … policies that have been systematically destroying public education,” Vassilatos said. “We’re not only glad to be in the streets in solidarity with a really broad coalition, but also to take a stand in for what we believe in.”
Thousands join Women’s March on Chicago on Saturday
Saturday brought about a different type of demonstration as Chicago held its own Women’s March. The event started at 10 a.m. in Grant Park with speakers including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) and Michele Smith (43rd), the founders of Youth for Black Lives and members of the Chicago cast of “Hamilton.”
“The city of Chicago made a statement,” said Liz Radford, co-chair, Women’s March on Chicago, in an emailed statement. “And we want this to be just the beginning. We encourage everyone to keep moving one inch, one foot, one mile forward to protect and advance women’s rights.”
The march, which was scheduled to travel from Grant Park down Jackson Boulevard to Federal Plaza, was canceled and remained a rally as the streets were flooded with five times the number of people that were estimated earlier in the week.
“[It’s] important now is to recognize that people of all ages are disengaged from the political process. It is our hope that increasing involvement can be achieved through awareness campaigns and protest,” Rock said. “It’s not just millennials, everyone is tuned out. Our job is to tune them back in.”