Main-Dempster Mile mobilizes Evanston voters ahead of Nov. 3


Courtesy of the Main-Dempster Mile

Vote signs are posted in windows of Main-Dempster Mile businesses. They are part of Main-Dempster Mile’s efforts to get Evanston residents to vote.

Nick Francis, Reporter

The Main-Dempster Mile, a coalition of Evanston small businesses, is rolling out new efforts to get out the vote before Nov. 3.

The group is hosting bake sales, selling themed merchandise and initiating other campaigns encouraging residents to vote. Katherine Gotsick, the executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile, said the group is just doing its part to increase voter turnout — and she’s seen long lines at voting stations already.

“I would take a bet — a hefty bet — that turnout will not be below 50 percent,” she said. “And I would be extremely surprised if it was below 75 percent.”

The Main-Dempster Mile does not hold any particular political affiliations, but individual shop owners do, Gotsick said. Some businesses have been encouraging customers to vote for a certain candidate.

Even though owners do not form a political “monolith” in their beliefs, Gotsick said the businesses are united on the idea that voting is an essential civic duty.

“My shop owners would all applaud everyone exercising their right to vote and lining up around the block to do it,” she said. “It’s a pretty politically engaged town to start with, and people certainly are engaged.”

Lena Kim, owner of niceLena & Friends, is backing Joe Biden in the presidential election. She’s encouraging her customers to do the same.

Beyond the “vote” signs in her store’s windows, Kim handmakes buttons, mugs, posters and other political merchandise in her store, featuring notable political figures, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

“I make a lot of this stuff myself, so I can put any messages that I choose,” Kim said. “I am choosing to put that out there. I just have to do what I can.”

Because Illinois historically votes blue, the efforts of local businesses might not have much impact on who wins the presidency this November, Emily Glazer (Medill ‘10), a current Wall Street Journal reporter and former Daily Northwestern editor in chief, said.

“I don’t think (their advocacy) will have a tangible impact on the presidential race,” Glazer said. “It could have an impact on what we call like down-ballot races, or local races that are happening.”

The Main-Dempster Mile’s community outreach events are what Glazer calls “relational organizing”: campaigning between two groups with pre-existing personal connections. In this case, the business and Evanston residents are the two parties organizing together. In light of social distancing, Glazer said relational organizing has become an essential campaign strategy during the pandemic.

Moreover, Glazer said Main-Dempster Mile’s relational organizing will probably lead to higher turnout among the country’s fastest growing voting bloc: Generation Z.

The personal connection that makes relational organizing effective is present in Evanston, Kim said. The conversations she has with residents in her store, she said, are not just a political tool, but are part of the overarching sense of community that makes the Main-Dempster Mile unique.

“People literally will share too much,” she said. “You’re kind of in the moment with them. When you actually see a human being and they agree with you, it is a relief.”

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Twitter: @nick24francis

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