A northern Illinois artist is partnering with a women’s voter organization to ensure that people are casting their ballots for the 2020 Election -- especially younger people.
Tyler Waldrop -- also known as STLTHART -- has lived in Aurora all his life. He started drawing as a teenager. From there he started doing T-shirts and canvas arts. He shared that through his art, he’s met many people and found himself talking with them about change. But, he said, nothing was ever done. Waldrop said this prompted him to do research on building equity in the community. Then he reached out to people who he’s talked with about volunteering and mentoring.
“And I just said, ‘Hey, let's have a meeting,’" he shared. "And we had a meeting right outside of Aurora City Hall. And there's probably 20 of us."
He said about half of those present decided to help with voter registration.
They created a group called GoVote500. The name refers to its goal: to register 500 people. So far, the count is less than five percent of that. But Waldrop said this group is hoping to change the culture in Aurora.
“And especially in the black and brown communities, there's really no culture of community and people coming together to fix problems as a group,” he explained. “So, this is just like the first step in getting a group of people moving in one direction.”
Waldrop’s group is working with the League of Women Voters.
Denise Elsbree is the vice president of the League in the Aurora area. She said she found out about Waldrop and his group through a community organizer. She said the nonpartisan womens voters' group emailed him and became a part of his efforts.
Elsbree explained that the League particularly wants to reach out to young voters, because COVID-19 has prevented them from going to the schools.
“For instance, like last year, we were able to go to a number of the high schools to register voters,” she said. “And actually, we registered like over 500 voters last year from like, August to March.”
Elsbree said the League is educating potential voters by showing them how to fill out the vote by mail application and giving them information about their county clerk.
She said the organization is also reminding people about the Fair Tax Amendment that will be on this year’s ballot.
Waldrop said that voting for president is great, but he is encouraging everyone to remember that voting for local officials is imperative.
“The president can't do anything without the Senate's approval, and we elect the senators," he said. "And in some of these districts, these people that are holding offices, it's a lock in,” he suggested, "Because people don't get out there. People don't challenge anything. People don't send them emails. People don't show up to city council meetings."
Waldrop said that when individuals come by to register, he gives them a pamphlet that explains who will be on the ballot. It includes senators, school board seats and other parts of government that he said people need to learn about.
Chad Dawes is the owner of Tredwell Coffee, 14 W. Downer Pl., in downtown Aurora. This is where the drives are taking place. He agreed with Waldrop about local elections. He said the local officials will drive policy change, which will impact how cities are run.
Dawes indicated that he is passionate about people using their voice by voting.
"Personally for me," he said, "I love the thought that we can just change almost the whole destiny or of our nation, just in a single vote."
Waldrop indicated that making things better comes from a simple place.
“And real change starts on your street, in your house," he said. "You know, you can't fix anything else until you fix your house, until you fix your street, until you fix your community."
Waldrop said people must be active -- and a tweet or a Facebook post isn’t going to suffice. He said people can empower their communities by getting out there and building relationships. He said once that happens, the community will feel more comfortable with challenging elected officials.
Waldrop is also pushing for people to fill out the 2020 census. And he revealed that he wants to mentor young children. He said he has thousands of experiences and he would like to share them with the youth. Waldrop explained that he wants the younger generation to take a close look at laws and realize how those rules impact them.
One way or another, Waldrop said, he will continue to strive for change in the community.
- Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.