Commentary

11/11/2010 by Armando Botello II

Family meals and challenging times spark civic engagement

Now, there are even more reasons to sit down and eat with family and friends.

Talking about politics at the dinner table encourages an engaged citizenry according to findings of the 2010 California Civic Health Index (CHI), a new Congressionally-chartered study, by the National Conference on Citizenship, in collaboration with California Forward, Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, and the Center for Civic Education.

Because California is so large and diverse, the study, Financial Crisis, Civic Engagement and the New Normal, compares the Golden State with Texas and New York, both states with similar size and demographics. The good news is California exceeds their averages on every area of civic engagement measured; the bad news is these averages are less than ideal.

Other key findings of the CHI show that Californians mirror the national averages in many areas of civic education including voter turnout for presidential and midterm elections, participation in one or more non-electoral political activities and attending public meetings. In addition, social engagement in California is growing by about nine-percent a year, compared to an average of two-percent for the rest of the nation.

The CHI was released on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, at a conference of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy.

Pete Peterson, Executive Director of the Davenport Institute, said the financial scandal in the City of Bell is an obvious example of what happens when a community does not have strong civic engagement in place. Lack of voter participation in Bell directly led to elected officials taking advantage of the local populace, according to Peterson. Many involved in the study believe stories like the one in Bell, as well as California’s current economic situation, fuel California’s increasing civic engagement rate.

The study also found that a people become more civically engaged by simply discussing politics at the dinner table, an area in which California lags. The Golden State ranks 46th in this area.

David B. Smith, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship, told conference participants, “eating dinner with your family or those you live with and talking about local affairs or current events builds social capitol and gives people a more critical mind into thinking about ways to go out and solve community problems.”

Other speakers at the conference included John Hale, associate director of the Center for Civic Education; and former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, also a member of California Forward’s Leadership Council.

Armando Botello II is the communications associate at California Forward. 

Categories: Speak Up CA, Civic Engagement, Civic Engagement, Speak Up CA

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