Civic participation refers to when individuals or a collective of people engage through formal or informal activities such as voting or volunteering to benefit their self, families or entire communities. People’s right to participate civically should be protected, broadened and encouraged to exercise regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, or even age. Decision makers must be responsive to individuals and communities’ needs communicated through their civic participation. The strength of our democracy and the ability to protect everyone’s rights and interests requires inclusive civic processes at all levels.
Disparities and Statistics
Race and Ethnicity: Voter discrimination and suppression has undermined civic participation in communities of color, particularly among Black communities. In the 2000 Presidential election, over half of uncounted votes were cast by African Americans, although they only represent 11% of the electorate.⁴⁴ Systemic policies themselves have perpetuated unequal opportunities in civic participation due to the racial inequities embedded in our society. The mass incarceration of Black men and laws disenfranchising returning citizens has led to approximately 15% of the Black male population to loose their right to vote.⁴⁴
Socioeconomic Status: Civic participations is greatest among higher income, home-owning individuals who are more likely to be asked by others to volunteer, failing to include low-income renters.⁴⁴ Also, we know money has great political influence that leads decision makers to overlook other forms of civic engagement for donations. This is concerning considering that of contributions above $200, 89% come from predominantly White zip codes, 3% from Black zip codes, 2% from Latino zip codes, and <1% from Asian zip codes.⁴⁴ Given that donations have great influence to have your interests heard, the interests of low-income communities of color will often be undermined and overlooked by decision-makers.
Health: When community members are able to civically participate, they are improving the social cohesion in their community—they are building networks and a collective sense of trust and value for the wellbeing of their community and its members.⁴⁵ Effective civic participation will not only increase the opportunity for transformative community changes but studies have shown, civic participation like volunteering can also improve an individual’s sense of purpose and belonging, improving their behavior.⁴⁶