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The huge protest that forced Donald Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago last week was inspired by Trump's divisive rhetoric. But activists and organizers say it may have been just as big a factor in the Democratic races in the state.

In the Democratic presidential primary, the momentum of the rally's big success helped drive voters to the polls—turnout in early voting was the highest in city history. Hillary Clinton edged out Bernie Sanders to win, according to ABC News projections.


And in a lower-profile but critically important race, activists also helped a reformist challenger, Kim Foxx, unseat the city's top prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, who has been a target of Black Lives Matter protests.

Many of the young activists who led the protest against Trump's rally are strong supporters of both Sanders and Foxx. Ja’Mal Green, a 20-year-old student at DeVry University and one of the protest’s organizers, said he thought their victory in forcing Trump to cancel the rally motivated liberals who were more likely to back Sanders.

“All I see around Chicago is ‘feel the Bern,’” Green said. “People are supporting Bernie and Kim. I think the momentum is on both of their sides.” He noted, however, that neither Sanders nor his campaign was involved with the anti-Trump rally.

Green said that he liked Sanders' policies, and that when the senator was a college student he was arrested for organizing "just around the corner from where I live now."


In Chicago, Sanders tried to take advantage of the unpopularity of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who many believe tried to cover up the video of a white cop shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. After that video was released in November, protesters took to the streets demanding Emanuel's resignation. A poll by the Chicago Tribune in January found that he had a dismal 27% approval rating. Four in 10 Chicago voters wanted Emanuel to resign, including half of black and Latino voters.

Emanuel served in Bill Clinton's administration and was President Obama's White House chief of staff at the same time Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. He endorsed Clinton in the primary.


Sanders seized on that connection while campaigning in Chicago over the last few days.

“Hillary Clinton proudly lists Mayor Rahm Emanuel as one of her leading mayoral endorsers,” he told reporters on Saturday. “Well, let me be as clear as I can be: Based on his disastrous record as mayor of the city of Chicago, I do not want Mayor Emanuel’s endorsement if I win the Democratic nomination.” In campaign ads, he touted the support of Chuy Garcia, the Latino challenger who lost to Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral election.


Meanwhile, Clinton avoided going anywhere near Emanuel during multiple campaign events in the city over the past few days. A mayoral spokesperson told Bloomberg Politics that a meeting was nixed because of scheduling conflicts, but “the mayor's support for President Clinton and Secretary Clinton is well-known.”

“Bernie sent a signal that immediately connects this race to a critique of Rahm Emanuel,” said Amalia Pallares, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois. “These local issues really are informing people's votes in the presidential election.”


Clinton also led in Cook County, 53% to 46%, with almost all the vote counted there.

While an outright win in the state was beyond his reach, Sanders won half of Latino voters in Illinois, according to exit polls, and 29% of black voters—significantly more than in most previous primaries.


On primary day, a group of black activists paid for airplanes to fly banners over the city with the message “Chicago Stands with Laquan, Hillary Stands with Rahm.”

A plane flying the message "Hillary stands with Rahm" by the Willis Tower on primary day.
Courtesy Tess Raser

“Hillary Clinton supports Rahm Emanuel, who is implicated in the violence our community faces here in Chicago,” said Tess Raser, one of the activists who organized the planes. “We wanted to tell people, if you call yourself progressive, you also really need to be paying close attention to the state’s attorney’s race.”

That race will get less national attention than the primary result, but for many Chicagoans, it was the more important election on the ballot Tuesday. Alvarez, the incumbent, has been criticized by many activists for taking 400 days to charge the cop who shot McDonald 16 times.


Foxx, a former prosecutor, ran on a platform of reforming Cook County's criminal justice system. “A kid was struck down in a really horrific fashion," she told me in November. "There should have been a mad dash to gather information and focus on getting justice for this kid.”

She will face Republican candidate Christopher Pfannkuche in November, but is favored to win in the heavily Democratic county.


The results show how Black Lives Matter protesters have been able to translate power in the streets to wins at the ballot box. At a national level, the presidential campaign has divided activists in the movement: Sanders has won the support of protesters like Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, while Hillary Clinton was endorsed by a number of mothers of black men killed by police. (Michael Robbins, the lawyer for McDonald's family, said that McDonald’s mother did not want to get involved in politics and that he did not know how she or her family were planning to vote.)

On the Republican side, Trump won the Illinois primary, including among Republican voters in Chicago.


So if Chicago's massive anti-Trump rally helped set the political stage in Illinois, could similar actions around the country shake up primaries in other states? Green, the young protest organizer, said he thought the Stop Trump movement would only grow in size.

“Chicago sets the tone,” he said. “If [Trump] comes back to town, it’ll be the same result but bigger. We’re going to keep holding politicians accountable who are discriminating against Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, and women.”


Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.

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