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Launching a “Down-Ballot Revolution” in Chicago

Amanda Weaver of Reclaim Chicago is working to recruit candidates for state and local office.

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Amanda Weaver is inspiring new politicians from the grass roots of greater Chicago by nurturing, supporting and connecting them with a wider network of allies. As executive director of Reclaim Chicago, a political organization, Weaver encourages everyday people in the neighborhoods and suburbs of the city to run for office. She taps people who display charisma, drive and dedication — including everyone from nurses to teachers to community leaders — in her effort to launch what she calls a “down-ballot revolution.”

Since Reclaim Chicago started in 2014, the group has supported and helped elect three state representatives, a state senator, two aldermen and a city clerk. In 2016, they also backed Kim Foxx, who became the first African-American elected as state’s attorney for Cook County, the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the country.

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Working with a coalition of progressive groups like The People’s Lobby and National Nurses United, Weaver helps potential candidates develop long-term plans, provides them with training and establishes the ongoing network of support that people need to run for seats on school boards, in city hall, or in the state house. And when a Reclaim Chicago candidate enters office, says Weaver, “We’re going to have to hold them accountable.”

Weaver initially entered grass-roots political organizing as a student activist. She was the first in her family to attend college but her parents didn’t have the financial resources to support her, leaving her with six-figure debt by the time she graduated with a master’s degree.

She soon realized that “no amount of talking about problems, like not being able to put food on the table, was going to actually change people’s lives.” It was a tipping point she says in this video. “I feel like I bought a ticket to a broken system, ” she says. Ever since, she has been looking for new ways to fix the system from the ground up.

She draws inspiration from her mother who, after losing a son to the opioid epidemic, is now speaking out about the crisis. “If my mom can do it,” says Weaver, “then I truly believe that we can take this crisis that we have as a country, and turn it into a moment to build power and create something beautiful.”

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