Changing the Frame: Civic Engagement Through a Racial Equity Lens

A new analysis by the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago applies a racial and ethnic equity lens to capture a broader analysis of civic life.

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Traditional measures of civic engagement recognize people using their right to vote or donating their time, money, or labor for the greater good of the community. While these acts contribute to our social fabric, they are not the only ways people engage in civic action, particularly communities of color. 

Summary: Changing The Frame

This report counters the perception of declining civic participation in Chicago by taking into account the way Black, Latinx, and working-class people engage in their communities, from helping their neighbors to organizing civic action. 

According to the analysis, race and class differences in civic engagement disappear or reverse when including a wide range of less formal activities and forms of collective organizing practiced among Black, Latinx, and working-class people in Chicago. The study also finds racial inequities and the practices as well as policies that reinforce them shape how Black and Latinx communities choose to engage in civic participation. 

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Report Recommendations:
Ways to Inspire Civic Action

  • Civic engagement metrics need to pay attention to how seeking justice and racial equity drives the civic participation of Black and Latinx communities. As the report shows, there is extensive evidence of activities that are not counted. 
  • Public institutions often fail to see the public as partners in finding solutions to the city’s problems. Investing in community organizations and local movements that can rebuild trust between the public and government agencies is one of the most important ways to protect and strengthen the vitality of democracy in Chicago. 
  • Government officials and politicians looking to increase voting in Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities should prioritize policies that address the root causes of inequities in communities of color. Addressing inequities in employment, education, housing, health, and community safety will increase confidence in government effectiveness, heal civic trauma, and encourage greater voter participation in Black and Latinx communities. 

The Takeaway

The recognition of civic participation within Black and Latinx communities is extremely important as we can see a correlation with political education and voter turnout. Continuing to advocate for a changing conception of civic duty will establish an accurate representation of civic health here in Chicago. The Trust believes in civic health as a foundational element in our attempts to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap.

For More

Rethinking What It Means to Be Civically Engaged
By Maritza Bandera, September 28, 2022

Trust Talks: Episode 9
Coming soon.

Building Collective Power

All of our communities will be stronger when local residents are able to tell their own stories and have their voices included in the decision-making that affects their lives. Helping residents harness their collective power helps them work together to drive action that creates positive change for all.

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Closing the Racial & Ethnic Wealth Gap

We’ve made a 10-year commitment to closing Chicago’s racial and ethnic wealth gap. The work will not happen overnight, but in partnership with donors, nonprofits, community members, business leaders, and local government, it can be done.

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