With the 2023 mayoral election rapidly approaching, names such as Ald. Raymond Lopez, businessman Willie Wilson and, of course, incumbent Lori Lightfoot have proven to be some of the most recognizable so far.
However, J Saxon, a genderqueer Bolivia-American activist, hopes to put his name in the mix. Saxon talked about their new bid for the city's big seat.
Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Windy City Times: You have been a critic of Lori Lightfoot since her original bid for mayor. Given the tumultuous last few years, how would you have handled things differently with regard to COVID and the civil unrest?
J Saxon: With COVID, the major difference would have been consistency. There were a lot of big media criticisms of the extremes we went through in order to keep Chicagoans indoors for the summer of 2020, but then a year later, with the advent of vaccines, we went from 0-60 with our regulations. Suddenly everyone was allowed outside again, Lollapalooza even happened. … I would have kept the consistency that local, state and federal governments have dropped. There are currently 500 Americans dying each day of COVID, but we are not giving it nearly the attention it got in 2020 or 2021. In terms of civil unrest, I think that a major criticism I have is the time that the mayor shut down public transit and raised the bridges; this kept working Chicagoans from being able to get home, keeping thousands of people stranded in the financial district.
WCT: How did your journey for political office begin?
JS: It all started when I began having political conversations in different friend groups as early as December of last year, trying to figure out who we were going to submit 14 months in advance. I confronted a friend, and they suggested that I run given my online presence and personality. I later got a call informing me of the murder of a close friend in the queer community in Logan Square, and that spurred me to combat Lori from the left and from the queer community. … Winter is hard here but this winter, in particular, made me re-evaluate what I care about and who I am. I put the idea on the backburner and went to the AIDS Memorial Garden. And I felt like the event was a glorified electioneering position for Pritzker and Lightfoot. I found the speeches to be offensivethat they were framing AIDS as something that was over. The refrain from both Lightfoot and Pritzker was that a lesson had been learned and that we were applying what we had learned to the present moment. In that moment, I was in the crowd and fuming. … I walked up to the podium, and I started screaming at Pritzker and Lightfoot. I said, "How dare you come here and tell us that AIDS was a lesson we've learned when there are still people dying every day from COVID? You've taken this out of your responsibility as leaders, but where is your leadership?"
WCT: In what ways do you think the city is headed in the right direction?
JS: It's easy to be critical, but it's interesting to see what is working well. I think that some of the newer initiatives that Lightfoot waited until this election year to pull out. The one Chicago plan where we're working to address equity in the South and West sides. That looks pretty good, but it kinda blindsided me that it came out in this 11th hour. Where was this two years ago? There could have been that effort the whole time. I don't want to be critical of that effort now because it is important to redirect resources to those areas. But I would like to see the same numbers of support that the casino got. It's great to have one project to have in line with the views of progressivism, but we have one plan like that and 10 others that are corporate-minded.
WCT: It is no small achievement that this city elected a cis lesbian woman. What sort of challenges do you face as someone who is gender non-conforming? Are there any advantages?
JS: I've noticed that people who have followed my campaign are from gender-diverse backgrounds. They're coming from younger demographics. The advantage to being gender-diverse is that it's so inspiring for people to see someone like themselves in politics. I think that the challenge is that not many people read me as gender-diverse; people use "he/him" for me all the time. I have to consolidate the amount of energy that I have to spare to correct people about how they perceive me. I would rather have them not misinterpret what I stand for over who I am. It's not fair for me to criticize Lori for running on identity politics while also doing the same. I can't lie about who I am. And ultimately, the intersectional identities that I represent inform my values and how I interact with people from certain communities. But ultimately people shouldn't vote for me because I check certain boxes.
WCT: How do you honestly assess your chances of becoming mayor in a packed race like this?
JS: The only advantage that I have is that I have totally different stances on these issues. The hardest part for me is currently fundraising to be able to meet the level of visibility other candidates [have]. What I can do is show up at places to fight for people who need to be heard. I go places I have never been to meet people I have never met. To me, it's not about the fact that I have to win because if I am not doing this, how can I expect someone else from my community to stand up for what they believe in? So far, I have many people in my friend group that are inspired just because I am trying. It's to bring people hope that someone who isn't a political insiderwho doesn't have this cloutcan try and do this and do it in a way that is authentic and sincere in the way that we connect with the communities that we care about.
Be sure to visit www.saxonformayor.com for more information regarding Saxon's campaign.