In Chicago, we don’t have political parties; everyone is a Democrat.  However, we do have Chicago political tribes. I will give a detailed overview of our political tribes, we don’t have political parties; there are not enough Republicans in the city to even really discuss them.  

Chicago political parties  

Chicago is not a two-party city.  All politicians and the vast majority of our residents are Democrats.    What we do have are political factions or what I call, Political Tribes.  These tribes have been pretty consistent since the beginning of Chicago.  There have been a few moments in time, when the system was disrupted, but like any good machine, it was quickly repaired.  

As you may have noticed, Chicago is a democratic city.  Just because we are all democrats, doesn’t mean there aren’t factions within the party. We do and the fighting between the tribes is fiercer than Obama v Boehner. Except, in Chicago politics no is trying to stop abortions or publically claiming that evolution is “just a theory.”  We do, however, have politicians go to jail ALL THE TIME, so 6 in one hand, half a dozen in the other. 

*Disclaimer: technically, we do have Republicans in the city… they just don’t vote republican until federal elections.  Hint, most of them are the white Machine Voters…You know how Native American Indian’s views are never represented in national political opinion polls because of their low percentages?   Well, Republicans are the Native American Indians of Chicago politics.  You know they are important, that they played a large role in the foundation in the creation of Chicago, but for all intents and purposes, they have no political power or representation.  There is a significant number of Republicans in the suburbs and the rest of Illinois.  Maybe in another series, I will give an overview of the political landscape of Illinois.  It’s a very similar structure to Chicago in terms of corruption, hot-air politicians, and machine-ran campaigns BUT there are Republicans.  The low number of Native American Indians part is true for the state too.  

Below are my descriptions of the tribes; where they live, how to get in good with the group and how to piss them off. 

Chicago political tribes

Non/Low Participants Voters:

Chicago has a history of enticing poor people to vote by offering cigarettes or $10 for voting straight democratic. Extremely poor African Americans that live in high crime areas, Most of the members of this tribe are too busy trying to survive to engage in the politics.  And unfortunately for the Machine Tribe, federal law has made it illegal to offer people money in exchange for votes.  But around election-time, there is always a big push to engage (cough, cough, offer cash or food) to this tribe to vote.  

Where they live:Primarily in low-income areas, institutional facilities, and are homeless and can be found living in Lower Wacker. 

How to get in good with this group:  Actually be working on a long-term sustainable plan to end poverty. Don’t be outwardly afraid of them. Don’t speak louder if they don’t speak English well.  Ask them questions about themselves, their dreams, and how they got into their situations.  See if there are any practical ways that you can help (i.e. bus cards, food, blankets, support organizations helping this demographic)

How to piss this group off:  Criticize their parenting; be judgmental about the decisions they make in a context you probably will never understand. Say something like, “have you tried to get a job?” 

How to piss you off?  Ask about their healthcare.  In particular, ask how often they go to the emergency room for common illnesses. 

 Chicago political tribes

Progressive voters (PV)

Description: Progressive voters are one of Chicago’s most highly visible, highly educated, highly organized tribes. This group is the most racially diverse of all of the Chicago tribes.  Full disclosure: this is the group I most identify, thus, the very light critique. 

(Afro-centric blacks, IPO Latinos in Little Village and Pilsen, GLBQQ communities, 2nd generation east Asians, a surprisingly high number of young South Asians, most white college graduates who 1) work in non profits 2) ride bikes regularly 3) don’t live in Lincoln Park or Old Town 4) brings their lunch to work. 

Where they live: Hyde park, South Shore, Uptown, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, West Town or are originally from Evanston, Madison, Wisconsin or Oak Park.  

Way to get in good with this group:talk about what a shitty job Rahm Emanuel did as mayor.  Bring up “police corruption” and/or why we should free Mumia. Write something on Facebook or Twitter about the phrases,  “white privilege,” “ institutional racism,” or school to prison pipeline.”  Use the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.  Whether you actually participate in the protest isn’t as important.  You get extra points if you tell them you supported Chuy Garcia for Mayor last election.

Way to piss this group off:ask them if Obama’s deal with to focus on Health Care instead of, what he promised, Immigration reform, is to largely to blame for our immigration policies now. Ask about Obama not shutting down Guantanamo Bay and his commitment to corrupt military coups. Basically, ask them about Barack Obama’s policies, not him as a person.

Chicago political tribes

Lake Front liberals

Description:  Lake Front Liberals are the Progressives of yesteryear.  This group is very passionate about systems changes, inequality, and ending racism.  However, most of this group is over 50 and have mortgages, children, and are running nonprofit organizations so they have no time to be an active part of the movement. Also, as their children approach high school, a large number of this group will quietly plot their move to the suburbs but only the progressive ones: Evanston or Oak Park.  Those who live in any suburb with less than a 5% minority population feel incredibly guilty it but make up for it by adding political and/or progressive bumper stickers to their car.    

Chicago Lake Front Liberals Political Tribe

Where they reside: LFL’s live in Hyde Park, Logan Square, and Rogers Park almost exclusively. All volunteered and donated to the Obama campaign extensively. 90% of this group is 50 and over and worked on Harold Washington campaign.  This is the group that makeup the leadership of the vast majority of non-profit and social service organizations in the city.  They secretly don’t hate Rahm Emanuel.  

Way to get in good with this group:talk about the racial unity that happened with the Washington campaign. Actually, just mention Harold Washington, they’ll take over the rest. 

Way to piss them off:1st ask them their thoughts on Chicago public neighborhood schools and then ask where their kids go to school. 

How to piss you off:  Find out how much money they make serving low-income communities.  

Chicago political tribes


Pension Voters (for Machine Voters) 

Machine voters

Description: Ethnic whites (those that identify first as Irish, Polish, Jewish and then American), South Side middle-class blacks, Latinos with city contracts and/or members of HDO.) 99% of this group have government jobs and/or government contracts.  Usually, they have families with multi-generational government jobs. 

Chicago Machine Voters

Where they live:Mostly far south, Far Southwest, and Far North communities. Beverly, Hedgewitch, Peterson Park, South Shore(Jackson Park).  They live in areas that have large demographic of city employees all of whom are required by law to live in the city limits.  

Way to get in good with this group:Ask them to talk about their boss. Usually it’s someone who is under qualified and arrogant. Slamming the boss is always a good way to bond.

Ways to piss them off: talk about pensions and how that sort of job security is not in any other field but government.

Way to piss you off: ask them about the retirement benefits. 

Chicago political tribes

Republican Voters

Description: they aren’t enough in the city to categorize but you can spot them on the Metra, high society fundraisers, and coming to church at Old.St. Pats on Sunday and/or working at the Chicago Tribune.  Also, most of the recent college graduates from Big 10 schools but they are still registered to vote at their parents home and/or don’t vote.   Either way, they are a non-factor.  But you can catch them at Cub games and/or the bars that surround Wrigley Field.  

Chicago Republican Voters

How to get in good with this group: talk about our states pension problems. Discuss the fiscal problems in our state. You’ll get extra points if you think services to the poor are the problem with budget and not our subsidies to businesses.

Where they live:The 30 and over age group live in small pockets in Gold Coast, high-rises downtown, Old Town. Mostly they live in the suburbs and are only in the city for cultural events or work.  The recent college graduates live and party in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Wicker Park. 

How to piss this group off: talk about how the suburbs leech of the city. Talk about how much you love Paul Krugman and that you think he is an economic genius. Ask them their favorite thing to do on the south or west side of Chicago (Hyde Park doesn’t count.)  Bonus points if you mention taxing CTA and Metra like they do in Washington, D.C. 

How to piss you:  Ask them to describe their kids school. Oh, one more, ask them about the diversity in their neighborhood, church, workplace, and/or friendship circle.  You get bonus points if they have more than 2 friends of color.

p.s. you will never get those bonus points because they don’t.


*This content was created by ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson and are my personal opinions.

**Photo by Darla Warlick

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