Chicago Needs 'All Hands on Deck' to Stop the Violence
Posted by Katie James on April 23, 2014 at 11:36 AM CDT
Forty-five people were shot over Easter weekend in Chicago. Of those forty-five, nine people died. Six of those shot were children.
For Chicagoans, headlines relating this type of news is routine and, for the most part, elicits a shake of the head and a protracted sigh visibly denoting weariness and helplessness that borders too much on apathy. For the rest of the world, it cements Chicago’s reputation as crime capital.
Too often it seems that the only conversation happening around the issue of violence is one sensationalized and propagated by the media, one that relates the numerical facts and opinionates on strategies in place or not in place and repeatedly simplifies the issue so that ultimately it becomes a problem lacking sufficient context. What we need is a real city-wide conversation that is not reductionist and does not exclude. We need honesty. We need emotion. We don’t need clichés or platitudes. We don’t need band-aid solutions. We need values and understanding and empathy and a firm resolution from everyone in the City of Chicago to stand up and not only say, “This needs to end,” but to also collectively proclaim, “I want to be part of the solution.”
An editorial piece in the Chicago Tribune yesterday pulls back the multi-layered wrapping encasing the problem of violence on Chicago streets and encourages residents to begin to peer more openly and intimately at the heart the issue:
This isn't the time to look at annual murder numbers, which have been in decline. Or criticize Chicago cops, who didn't pull these triggers. Or at federal authorities who have done much to contain gangs, guns and drugs, and now will organize a new anti- violence scheme. Or at any other avenue that shifts blame from where it squarely belongs. We write much here about violence, about strategies, about body counts. But after a weekend such as this, we ask that each resident of metropolitan Chicago focus on Monday's words from a mayor who undeniably cut to the heart of this rampant bloodshed:
"Every child deserves a childhood, regardless of where they live. But to do that, our city and community, the neighborhoods that make up this city, cannot live by a code of silence. They have to live by a moral code. Now I've read some of this, and I just want to say this, when some people go: 'Well, it's the weather.' It's whether you have values."
If we approach violence in this city as a disregard of values, then everyone is implicated. Responsibility transfers upward and outward, beginning most severely with those who commit these heinous, selfish acts and transferring along a chain to touch even those who choose to remain silent and distance themselves from what they believe doesn’t affect them.
But the violence does affect them, as it affects everyone who calls this complex city home. Our values should be the propeller to a conversation that searches for solutions.
Because this isn’t a problem that belongs to the south side or the west side. This isn’t a problem just of gangs, just of drugs, just of guns, just of poverty, just of culture. This isn’t a problem for only the police to solve, or the schools, or the mayor, or the feds. This is a city-wide problem structured through an intricate and often invisible web that stems beyond the places and the people we most frequently assign blame. It’s a problem of the masses and not the few. The Tribune editorial today asks if Chicago is helpless. With street violence plaguing the city for decades and no relief in sight despite a continuous stream of strategic reprieve tactics, the national image of a weakened and vulnerable Chicago postures the city as defenseless against its own residents.
Except, the ethos of Chicago is a far cry from helplessness. So it’s up to Chicagoans from the north side, south side, west side, loop to collectively revive and expand the conversation on violence and situate themselves as a coordinated system building toward a solution. A communicative and engaged city reaching beyond neighborhood barriers, income barriers, racial barriers is not a helpless city. Chicago does not have to continue spiraling chaotically toward its own demise. Let’s stand up collectively in conversation, as other cities do when tragedy strikes, and affirm that the violence needs to end and existing structures sustaining that violence need to change. Forty-five people were shot over the weekend and thousands others remained silent and apathetic; where has the value for human life gone? We cannot truly be a city of progress and innovation until all residents are accounted for and all lives in this city are perceived as valuable. The City needs all hands on deck for this task—needs a chorus of voices chanting for change and deliberating on what can be done individually and cooperatively to transform the culture of violence swallowing our beloved city.
Is Chicago helpless? Well, no, so long as we start trying to help ourselves. Let’s talk about how.
Getting on the Bus: Reflections from ADPTDC13
Posted by Katie James on June 18, 2013 at 02:08 PM CDT
I’m hoping to make the bus.
You could say that Denise Fairchild led me to the bus stop in Denver. She herself had ridden that bus before—back in the 1960s, just a few years younger than me, from Nashville down to Memphis, Tennessee. Fairchild now helps drive the bus, and she’s making sure that people like me not only get on, but eventually take over the wheel and drive our students to their “generational destiny,” as she so eloquently put it.
For all you literal-minded folk out there, Fairchild did not find me wandering the streets of Denver lost, nor did she plant me at a bus stop in the city. While I certainly would have enjoyed the opportunity to stroll with Fairchild, President and CEO of Emerald Cities Collaborative, through downtown Denver and chat while we waited for the bus, I had no such experience. In fact, the only bus I hopped on was the free 16th Street MallRide that dropped me off just a few blocks from the Marriott as I toured the area during lunch, well within the city limits and leading to a predetermined, physical point devoid of the abstraction complementing Fairchild’s call to ‘get on that bus.’
Last weekend, myself along with my two colleagues—Norma Ramos, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Catalina Nava, Program Coordinator—attended the 2013 American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment joint national meeting in Denver, Colorado. Representing the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), our team was enthusiastic about the theme for this year’s meeting: 21st Century Citizens: Building Bridges, Solving Problems. Three full days were spent listening to inspiring speakers, learning from thought-provoking panels, and interacting with engaged teachers, practitioners, and students about ways the educational experience should be one that comes to once again value the liberal arts for their potential to instill in students the intellectual and practical skills necessary to operate within a 21st century community-centered civic structure; instead of preparing students only for a skill-specific workforce, we must broaden our focus so that students develop the capacity for critical thinking and public participation based upon the learned arts of rhetoric, logic, ethics, and more modern academic areas such as the sciences, literature, history, and even religion. A well-rounded graduate with transferable skills is highly valued not only in the community and in matters of citizenship, but increasingly in the work sphere as well. Adopting such a viewpoint in favor of the liberal arts is indeed critical for creating a national atmosphere in which one’s job is no longer disconnected from civic engagement, the latter of which is typically seen as an ‘after-hours only activity’, always riding the heels of work; we must incorporate the values and lessons of the liberal arts—“the arts of citizenship,” according to Peter Levine, Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Director of CIRCLE, Tisch College/CIRCLE, Tufts University—beyond the classroom so that we come to define ourselves not solely by our job title or degree, but by our actions as citizens, both in the workspace and in the community:
Hello, my name is Katie James and I am a citizen involved in work that helps connect fellow citizens to government.
It’s quite a different approach to the introductory rituals that require us to not just state our name, but to also state our purpose defined by our work when publicly declaring our identities. As Americans, our purpose should be citizenship. Our purpose should be citizenship because, despite where our diverging political preferences fall on the Left/Right spectrum, we all have an obligation to uphold the wellbeing of our individual and communal selves by making good on our promise of democratic citizenship; we have a responsibility to uphold our end of the bargain that requires us to actively participate in the public sphere on matters of governance and social justice and to provide a check and balance on the power granted to those representing our interests at all levels of government. Education in the liberal arts—and consequently education for citizenship—provides us with the social consciousness necessary for our widespread engagement and gives us the values, facts, and strategies that Levine sees as necessary for equipping students in the 21st century with the problem-solving tools needed to improve our communities.
So, our IPCE team came back to Chicago from Denver with notes jotted on notebook pages and ideas stored in mind attending to ways we can move forward with our Institute work of creating a more effective democracy by engaging citizens. With conference sessions ranging from incorporating deliberation and discourse into the classroom to using new media to tell stories of political engagement to expanding the use of twitter on campuses, there were plenty of paths for learning relevant and adaptable to our unique role as an Institute within a university in which we must constantly navigate our interactions among scholars, students, community leaders, and citizens. We’re excited about potentially incorporating some of these ideas in the upcoming year—of which we’ll happily keep you posted.
ADPTDC13 was my first conference as a practitioner in the field of civic engagement and as part of the IPCE team. Coming from an English language and literature background where the work has too easily fallen into an insular slump that makes it difficult for academics and graduate students to substantiate their work in the so-called real world (a statement that I know many of my past colleagues in the English department would take issue with and disagree), ADPTDC helped assign new value to my educational training. I have always put my faith in the fact that, as an English major, I would graduate not only with highly marketable communication skills for the workplace, but also with a heightened consciousness of current social and political issues in my community and country and the capacity to act upon real problems. My experience in the classroom prepared me extensively for the first, but only a handful of teachers here and there really promoted an academic agenda that used the real world as a text to supplement literature, really crossed boundaries in their own work and encouraged students to do the same in order to reframe the discussion so it might be relevant to us as community members, as U.S. citizens, as global citizens. Fairchild and Levine infused the conference with an inspirational call to transform the educational landscape so that it teaches for change, teaches to build a sustainable future, teaches to address challenges and problem solve, and above all, teaches how to be a citizen. We can’t just equip students with the tools and not also provide an instruction manual; educators, practitioners, and administrators at colleges and universities must hand students the tools and simultaneously help them realize the context for the tools’ use, the appropriate practice for such tools, and the necessity of these tools. Higher education, particularly the liberal arts, hands down to students the responsibility to act in the real world as informed and engaged citizens; however, it is likewise the responsibility of their teachers—as Fairchild passionately explained from her own experience as a student in the ‘60s—“to guide us [students] to good outcomes, to get us out of college . . . to nurture our leadership potential, to nurture our intellectual curiosity and capacity, to channel our energies and idealism to productivity and to make sure that we make a real difference.”
So, while I may have missed the bus during my educational career, I found out in Denver that it’s not too late to hop on. I got on in Denver because of Fairchild, and I want to infuse my work with a purpose to help others who may have missed the bus as well. I got on the bus, and now I want to drive the bus. Ambitious, yes. But we all have a responsibility—educators and practitioners alike—to drive students and their adult compatriots in the direction of action and engagement so that they might answer the call of citizenship and work to build stronger communities and a more effective, responsive government.
IPCE Staff Member