CHICAGO (CBS) — From the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to the state of politics in America, University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor and former Chicago alderman Dick Simpson is tackling it all in his new book, Democracy’s Rebirth: The View from Chicago.
Simpson told CBS 2’s Jim Williams what he thinks needs to be shored up in the nation’s democracy during this time of great divisions. Simpson says the nation’s democracy needs to be reborn, because it’s in trouble.
WILLIAMS: "To what extent is democracy in peril?
SIMPSON: "I think democracy is in grave danger. We have problems that are visible here in Chicago, and visible in the nation," Simpson said.
The UIC professor and former Chicago alderman, in his book "Democracy’s Rebirth," writes that the powerful symbol of the danger facing democracy was the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last year. But there are other troubling signs, he says: too much money in politics, low levels of participation among voters, income inequality, and systemic racism.
WILLIAMS: "In municipal elections, Chicago elections, voter participation is rather low. How do we get more people to participate?"
SIMPSON: "I was surprised in 2019, and that critical election of a new mayor and new City Council, participation was only 30%. In our presidential election, it went up, with 67% in 2020, but we still have a problem; not only in voting. We have a problem that our voices aren’t heard in government."
WILLIAMS: "How could we have this stagnant participation at a time when folks have email, folks have social media. They have any number of ways of communicating their frustrations and their desires?"
SIMPSON: "Well, but they don’t have a way of getting those aggregated in an effective fashion. Yes, they can certainly post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter, but that’s just going out in the void. If they’re going to be effective, they have to communicate with their elected officials, and that’s simply not easily done, and elected officials have trouble cutting through the clutter. So what if they get 20 emails about something? They represent, an alderman represents 50,000 people. So they can’t pay attention to four or five emails alone."
Included in the title of Simpson’s book: "The View from Chicago." He writes what’s happening here can be seen in many other parts of the country.
WILLIAMS: "Now, you write in the book that Chicago is the epitome of American politics and society. Some people wonder what Chicago has in common with, for instance, a rural community in Alabama. And you would say what?
SIMPSON: "Well we’ve had the same racism over the many decades. Racial segregation was the rule in Chicago until very recently, and we still have racial discrimination."
"If you look at the problem of the middle class, the middle class is disappearing in rural areas, because farms, family farms are disappearing. In Chicago, our middle class used to be 42% of the Census areas, and today it’s only 16%. We are losing the middle class across America. We can’t allow that to continue."
One positive thing Simpson noted: the recent law requiring Illinois’ public school students to have civics education.
Thursday night, Simpson will have a conversation with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who wrote the book’s foreword. The 6 p.m. Thursday at the Harold Washington Library downtown.
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April 20, 2022 at 04:57PM