2018 Bughouse Square Debates

Call for orators, slam poets, activists, dreamers, doers!

Exercise your First Amendment rights at historical Washington Square.

At a time when political polarization is intensified by the extremes of digital discourse, the Bughouse Square Debates are a public forum where people can encounter new ideas and share their own in person!

Ground Rules

  • Speeches under 3 minutes.
  • Participants under 25 years old.
  • Solo, pair, team, whatever. Bring it.
  • Your words or someone else’s with attribution.
  • Competitive, if that moves you.
  • Hate has no home here. Racist, sexist, homophobic, gender-biased, ableist, or otherwise derogatory speech that is degrading to any specific group of people will not be tolerated.

Event Details

Join the Newberry for Chicago’s favorite free speech event! Bring your loudest heckling voice, mount the open soapbox, and exercise your First Amendment rights. Take it to the park this summer! And don’t miss the Newberry Book Fair before and/or after the Debates!

Full Event Schedule

12pm Live music from Environmental Encroachment
1pm Welcome Rick Kogan, Master of Ceremonies
1:10pm Presentation of the 2018 John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award to the University of Chicago on behalf of President Robert Zimmer
1:25pm Performance by Genesis Academy Summer Institute Students
1:35pm Main Debate
2:30pm Soapbox Speeches, including the Youth Soapbox organized by students from GCE Lab School with special guest emcee, CBS Chicago’s Vince Gerasole
3:30pm Performance Interlude while the Soapbox Judges make their decision
3:45pm Dill Pickle Awards to the Soapbox Champion and The Windy City Pickle Speaker of Truth Youth Bughouse Award

Youth Soapbox Awards

Windy City Pickle Speaker of Truth Youth Bughouse Award

As a rule, grownups cannot be trusted. They have left us a ginormous mess. However, we honor some exceptional old-people doing a rock-solid job righting wrongs, slaying dragons, and empowering youth voice (since we’re the ones who are going to need to clean it all up).

This year’s Speaker of Truth Awards will be presented to:

Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General
Edie Canter, Executive Director of the Chicago Debate Commission

Our esteemed panel of Bughouse judges will determine award winners in the following categories:

Windy City Dill Award
The highest honor. This award goes to the most memorable speech of the day.

Firestick Award

Given to the most passionate speaker.

Cauliflower Award

Given to the speaker who draws attention to an under-recognized issue.

Green Bean Award

Given to the youngest speaker.

Beer Briny Award

All talk is exhausting. Coveted spectator award for the person or group adding the most color and charm to our Bughouse. Humor, costume, theatrical appeal, sparkle and general good vibes are always a plus.

Future Leaders Awards

Given its tireless work to protect the most vulnerable among us, student organizers have chosen the ACLU of Illinois’ Next Generation Society to receive the Protector of Everything We Hold Dear Award. On behalf of ACLU’s Next Generation Society, Peter Hanna will be honoring all Youth Bughouse participants with the Future Leaders Award.

Food Trucks

Information Tables

  • About two dozen local organizations and causes will set up information tables in the park, with volunteers to answer your questions. Would your organization like to be represented? Write to [email protected] or call 312-255-3610.

Learn more about the history of Bughouse Square.

Supported by a grant from the Chicago Free for All Fund at the Chicago Community Trust.

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone. Make a donation today.

Special Thanks To:


Schools Say Enough Sidewalk Challenge at St. Sabina Church

Join us at the Faith Community of Saint Sabina’s Annual End of the School Year Peace March & Rally

We’ve been invited to do a massive Schools Say Enough Sidewalk Challenge around Saint Sabina. The entire Church. HUGE. Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson, Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Emma Gonzales, along with Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of Parkland, Florida.

We’ll start writing names of schools, victims, and survivors of gun violence at 1pm, with the most community activity around 6:45-7:30 pm. Stay for a little. Stay for a lot. Many hands make light work.

Saint Sabina Church at 78th Place and Throop Street.

Check out the Chicago Sun-Times coverage of the National Die-In protest across from Trump Tower: https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/protesters-stage-die-in-to-commemorate-pulse-nightclub-shooting/

Schools Say Enough Sidewalk Challenge

The Chicago Wear Orange Party for Peace

We’re thrilled our Schools Say Enough Sidewalk Challenge has been invited to participate at The Chicago Wear Orange Party for Peace on June 2nd!

All are welcome to volunteer or to simply enjoy the event. We’ll be asking people to write the names of schools affected by gun violence on the pavement, creating a massive public representation of the ever-growing problem.