Displacing Democracy

Displacing Democracy: Economic Segregation in America

Amy Widestrom
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Displacing Democracy
    Book Description:

    In recent decades, economically disadvantaged Americans have become more residentially segregated from other communities: they are increasingly likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods that are spatially isolated with few civic resources. Low-income citizens are also less likely to be politically engaged, a trend that is most glaring in terms of voter turnout. Examining neighborhoods in Atlanta, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Rochester, Amy Widestrom challenges the assumption that the "class gap" in political participation is largely the result of individual choices and dispositions.Displacing Democracydemonstrates that neighborhoods segregated along economic lines create conditions that encourage high levels of political activity, including political and civic mobilization and voting, among wealthier citizens while discouraging and impeding the poor from similar forms of civic engagement.

    Drawing on quantitative research, case studies, and interviews, Widestrom shows that neighborhood-level resources and characteristics affect political engagement in distinct ways that are not sufficiently appreciated in the current understanding of American politics and political behavior. In addition to the roles played by individual traits and assets, increasing economic segregation in the United States denies low-income citizens the civic and social resources vital for political mobilization and participation. People living in poverty lack the time, money, and skills for active civic engagement, and this is compounded by the fact that residential segregation creates a barren civic environment incapable of supporting a vibrant civic community. Over time, this creates a balance of political power that is dramatically skewed not only toward individuals with greater incomes but toward entire neighborhoods with more economic resources.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9035-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: A Theory of Economic Segregation and Civic Engagement
    (pp. 1-26)

    An African American middle and upper-middle class emerged in Atlanta in the early twentieth century, and after World War II these families increasingly sought homes away from the impoverished, decaying, and densely populated urban core. Additionally, and despite great effort by segregationists, residents of formerly all-white neighborhoods found it more difficult to maintain policies of racial exclusion as the civil rights movement gathered momentum. Beginning in the 1960s, middle-and upper-middle-class African American families moved into the formerly white neighborhoods west and southwest of downtown Atlanta, including the area known as West Manor.¹ The new residents of West Manor organized block...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Understanding Civic Engagement in Context: Methodology and the Logic of Case Study Selection
    (pp. 27-55)

    Understanding whether levels of civic engagement may have changed over time as a result of trends in economic segregation is vital for deepening our understanding of citizen participation in American politics. We know a great deal about national trends in voter participation and civic engagement, as well as about the factors that contribute to an individual person’s sense of political identity, but our understanding of how local context—the neighborhoods where people spend their day-to-day lives—contributes to the development of civic disposition and, consequently, levels of civic participation remains incomplete. In order to understand this we need a research...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Public Policy and Civic Environments in Urban America
    (pp. 56-109)

    The story of urban decline and attempted renewal in the United States has been told and retold, and the broad contours are well known. But the effect of urban development policies implemented in the mid-twentieth century needs further examination, especially the degree to which those policies reconfigured the spatial arrangement of city dwellers along economic lines.

    Policy makers in Atlanta, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Rochester, and many other cities, enacted policies that effectively created neighborhoods of segregated and concentrated poverty as well as neighborhoods of segregated and concentrated wealth, even if their stated goals were to promote a more general...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Economic Segregation and the Mobilizing Capacity of Voluntary Associations
    (pp. 110-141)

    During his visit to the United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted that a defining feature of the American character was an enthusiasm for joining together in groups, from town-hall meetings and procedures of direct democracy to church communities working to address social concerns. The freedom to assemble is protected alongside the freedom to speak and worship in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and even in a nation that rewards individual initiative and prizes personal liberty, the propensity to come together in a voluntary, civic, or religious organization remains a distinctly American trait. Americans are more...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Economic Segregation, Political Parties, and Political Mobilization
    (pp. 142-184)

    Citizens learn and practice some of the important building blocks for political participation by way of their involvement with voluntary associations, and residential segregation along economic lines diminishes the ability of community organizations to recruit and mobilize neighborhood residents in impoverished communities, while in prosperous communities these same types of organizations thrive and often flourish. But while organizations are vital for promoting civic engagement, levels of political participation are also more directly influenced by political parties, political operatives, and candidates. In a democratic republic, where citizens choose delegates to serve as their representatives, the relationship between elected officials and the...

  8. Conclusion: The Dynamics and Implications of Economic Segregation, Civic Engagement, and Public Policy
    (pp. 185-194)

    The findings offered in this book suggest that the commonly accepted notion that low-income citizens do not vote because of their individual economic status misses a significant point: low-income citizens are increasingly finding themselves living with other low-income citizens, which diminishes the neighborhood’s civic tools vital for civic and political mobilization. Conversely, wealthier citizens have been able to segregate and isolate themselves in prosperous communities with robust civic environments. The result is an urban landscape increasingly defined by enclaves of not just economic wealth and poverty but also civic wealth and poverty. This in turn promotes certain levels of voter...

  9. APPENDIX A. Vote Counting Decisions in Atlanta, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Rochester
    (pp. 195-196)
  10. APPENDIX B. Interview Protocol and Schedule for Neighborhood Associations, Parent-Teacher Associations, and Churches
    (pp. 197-203)
  11. APPENDIX C. Interview Protocol and Schedule for Elected Officials and Public Officials
    (pp. 204-210)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 211-248)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 249-252)
    (pp. 253-255)