In his January 2017 farewell speech in Chicago, outgoing President Barack Obama, talking about the threats facing American democracy, touched upon the toxic persistence of racism, and spoke of how “Hearts must change”. In the same speech, he also said, “I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago — you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.” Now, in what seems to be an effort to pick up on the cues of the former president, Chicago has become the largest American city to elect a black woman as its mayor earlier this week. A former prosecutor, Lori Lightfoot, 56, is also the first openly gay mayor to hold office in the city. And, she defeated another African-American woman, former alderman, Toni Preckwinkle.
Obama had risen through the ranks in this territory, serving three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. Lightfoot’s win, in the context of contemporary American politics, goes some way towards dulling the sharp divisiveness that has marked the Trump presidency. People at the lower end of the power and privilege spectrum — blacks, gays, women — the fact that they, too, can pursue their dreams, make a difference, is an American story that lost lustre following Trump’s election as president. Trump has supported an assortment of anti-gay measures. His views on women have been regressive.
Lightfoot’s victory is a significant electoral fightback. She is armed with an encouraging liberal legacy as well: Chicago elected its first black mayor in 1983 — Harold Washington. In 1909, the civil rights organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was first established in Chicago. At her election night party, Lightfoot told the crowd, “You did more than make history. You created a movement for change”. Her victory is a heartwarming moment.
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