Displacing Democracy: Economic Segregation in America

Displacing Democracy: Economic Segregation in America

Displacing Democracy: Economic Segregation in America

Displacing Democracy: Economic Segregation in America

Synopsis

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 Democracy demonstrates 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.

Excerpt

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. the new residents of West Manor organized block clubs and civic groups, secured better city services, and voted at high rates; it was an economically, socially, and civically vibrant community, the type of community that forms when resources are abundant. Despite the fact that West Manor today remains an urban neighborhood that is nearly 100 percent African American—characteristics that many observers might associate with poverty and urban decay—the neighborhood has maintained its middle- and upper-middle-class identity and its vibrant and active civic life. Over the past forty years West Manor has remained a thriving community with good schools, safe parks, big homes, and high levels of civic engagement.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1962, other black families moved into a newly completed housing development called Thomasville Heights across town in southeastern Atlanta. Families moved there as part of a relocation initiative designed to assist people displaced by urban-renewal projects in downtown Atlanta. City officials chose this area in the southeast for the relocation of . . .

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