A photo from the upcoming documentary, Punch 9: For Harold Washington | Courtesy of Punch 9: For Harold Washington

Before Barack Obama’s community organizing in Chicago took him to the Illinois State Senate and eventually the White House, there was Harold Washington, a Black politician who rose as high as the U.S. House of Representatives before coming back home to claim yet another title: the first Black mayor of Chicago.

With his historic election in 1983, Washington shook up the city and the nation. Now, his story will be told in full in a new documentary, Punch 9: For Harold Washington, which is currently in production. The name alludes to Washington’s slogan, which directed supporters to simply “punch nine” on the ballot to cast a vote for him, cutting through the opposition’s tactic of running candidates with similar names to confuse voters.

Earlier this month, the team behind the documentary launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $75,000 to finish editing the film, licensing archival footage and photos, and developing an educational curriculum to engage high-school and college students across the country.

With only six days left in the fundraiser, it’s now crunch time for the Punch 9 team. They need to raise $30,000 more in order to see the film through completion.

“I came to the Harold Washington story very early because I grew up in the same neighborhood that Washington lived in when he was first elected mayor,” says Punch 9 director and producer Joe Winston in the Kickstarter video. 

“All these years later, I’m wondering, ‘Who did that American Experience episode on Harold Washington?’” Winston continues, referencing a PBS show that uses reenactment and commentary to explore American history. “There’s got to be one, right?’ So I looked it up, and nobody had [done it].”

Punch 9 will cover Washington’s underdog mayoral campaign, including his win over Republican nominee Bernard Epton, and the resulting Chicago “Council Wars” in which 29 mostly white, obstructionist aldermen voted together to block Washington’s proposals and appointments for his first three years in office. 

The film also touches on some of Washington’s landmark achievements as mayor, such as making Chicago one of the nation’s first sanctuary cities in 1985 and ending partisan hiring and firing based on political patronage. The latter allowed more Blacks and Latinos to secure city employment.

“Harold Washington not only broke a color barrier, he also broke the political machine,” producer Raymond Lambert says in the video. 

Lambert won a Peabody Award for his work on the PBS documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. He also co-founded All Jokes Aside, a South Side comedy club that catapulted many Black comedians to stardom in the 1990s. 

Other all-stars on the Punch 9 documentary team include director/producer Joe Winston, who field produced 2013 documentary Citizen Koch; executive producer Bob Hercules, who worked on Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise alongside Lambert; consulting producer Robin Robinson, a six-time Emmy Award-winning former anchor for Fox 12 Chicago; and director of photography Keith Walker, who works on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday.

For the Punch 9 crew, the documentary does more than spotlight an important historical figure; it also speaks to today’s chaotic political climate.

“If you want to understand what’s happening now in politics, then you need to go back to Harold Washington,” producer Sonya Jackson says in the video.