Investments in civic health will be needed as we recover

Article was written by Amy Greil, Community Development Extension Educator. 
Originally published in The Kenosha News.

o doubt Kenosha has, over the past weeks, experienced tremendous tragedy and challenge during which community members have demonstrated remarkable moments of grace, courage and fortitude.

While the road to recovery and healing will be long and deliberate, it is a journey we need to take as a community, together. I find myself grateful that our community has been afforded a window of opportunity now, despite the anguishing loss of life and livelihoods, to remake social systems to be more equitable and just.

Because it should not necessarily take a crisis to enliven — or sustain — high rates of community engagement, I went searching for information about civic participation and found a report from the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies titled “Civic Health in Wisconsin: Connectedness in Context.” Findings presented in this report are based on the National Conference on Citizenship’s analysis of the U.S. Census Current Population Survey data, summarizing data about Wisconsin residents’ civic engagement and community connectedness.

Definitions, examples

High rankings in civic health reflect the degree to which citizens participate in their communities, running the gamut from local and state governance to interactions with friends or family. High degrees of civic health relate to the overall well-being of neighborhoods and communities that may include residents’ group memberships, extent of charitable giving, volunteer and voter registration/participation rates, attendance at public meetings and even supporting local businesses.

Social cohesion and connectedness are related terms in the report, defined as a series of interactions between friends, families and neighbors, such as eating dinner with friends or family and trusting your neighbors.

Broader Findings

Wisconsin data demonstrate relative strengths when compared to other states in terms of civic health metrics of social connections. milies and communities, causing fractured communities, polarization and withdrawal from public life.

Looking to the future

According to the report, Wisconsin ranks high nationally in voter registration and voter turnout, but our state has shown a dramatic drop in voting rates in recent years. And Wisconsin has experienced a decline in the competitiveness of local elections more broadly with increased rates of uncontested races.

Furthermore, the availability of — and use of — local media sources has reduced in recent years, posing areas of concern when considering how informed a populace is.

Residents also self-report that they do not “do favors for neighbors,” indicating, perhaps, a shallowing of relationships.

So even if we see patterns of local activism in cleanup efforts, food drives and peaceful protests diminish, there are still a myriad of ways that community residents can stay engaged in meaningful ways to make a difference. These investments in civic health will be needed in the long recovery phase in Kenosha —it will take everyone doing their part to rebuild “better.”

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