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Evanston, Illinois – Equity & Empowerment Plan: What happened to “Access”?

Evanston, Illinois – Equity & Empowerment Plan:  What happened to “Access”?

Early in 2017, the City of Evanston, IL created an Office of Equity and Empowerment. According to the Office’s webpage, “The City of Evanston has embarked on a new mission to more intentionally address issues of access, equity and empowerment. Diversity and inclusion are core values of the Evanston community. To achieve lasting change and better outcomes for our community, we must leverage our diversity and actively practice inclusion. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is the smart and necessary thing to do.”

In June 2017, the Equity and Empowerment Coordinator (Patricia A. Efiom) released a Draft plan of action and through August 11, 2017 invited comments (Do you have any comments, questions, or concerns about the Equity Plan?). People have also been making public statements at City Council meetings, committee meetings, etc.  Much discussion is still taking place through various social media sites.

Below are my questions and comments, which I posted on the City’s website on August 11, 2017. I do not know whether these comments will be made public, but I am sharing mine here. They have been slightly edited for clarity.

The gist of my questions and comments can be boiled down to one further question: If the new citywide mission is articulated as more intentionally addressing issues of “access, equity, and empowerment”, why is the Office called “Equity and Empowerment”? Why is the staff title “Equity and Empowerment” Coordinator? Why is the draft proposal titled “Equity and Empowerment” Plan of Action?

In other words, what happened to “access”?

I don’t really know what the City means by “access” because none of the term have been defined.  To me, being more intentional about access means making sure everyone has a seat at every public decision-making table. That’s grassroots democracy. Logistically, that may sound like a nightmare. But it’s actually what we should be fighting for.  A worse nightmare is doing constant damage control when everyone does NOT have a seat at the table — witness the entire history of the United States, including every day this year. Luckily we have a model of grassroots democracy on this very land — the Iroquois League, also known as the Haudenosaunee.

Hint to those who are concerned about fitting 75,000 seats into the City of Evanston Council Chambers: Not everyone wants to participate in every decision. But we do need to know that we can participate if we want to.

I, for one, am willing to help figure the logistics out.

Submitted to the Office of Equity and Empowerment, August 11, 2017 by Debbie Hillman

Thank you for putting so much time into this and for asking for feedback. I have some questions and some comments.


1. What is the current working definition of “equity” and “empowerment” for this Plan?

2. Other than workforce equity, what relationships does this Plan address? Is this Plan dealing with equity
— within City government?
— between City government and residents, businesses, institutions, etc.?
— among residents, businesses, etc. (in which case the City’s job is to maintain a level playing field)?
— some other relationships in Evanston?
— all of the above?

3. Privilege in 2017 Evanston takes many forms. In addition to white privilege, does the Plan recognize and plan to address any or all of the following:
— male privilege
— Christian privilege
— human privilege (vs. non-humans, including the land, air, and water)
— ownership privilege
— money privilege
— adult privilege
— “expert” privilege (degree, title vs. life experience)
— privilege of a name (e.g., Tanya vs. John)
— privilege of “stakeholder”
— privilege of organization (vs. individual)
— employer privilege
— other ?

4. Will there be a place within the City of Evanston to file discrimination complaints — e.g., a Human Rights or Human Relations Commission? What about complaints about city employees?

5. What is the budget of the office of Equity & Empowerment office for implementing the Plan over its timeline (18 months)? Can a portion of that budget be allocated through a public participatory budgeting process — which would demonstrate equity-in-action?


My experience in equity issues is that most inequitable situations arise from inadequate or incomplete democracy, i.e., decisions that get made without the benefit of everyone’s input and everyone’s personal authority (a vote). Problems arise especially when those who would be impacted by a decision are (a) not included from the very beginning, and/or (b) excluded from some or all of the process.

So far as I can tell, the draft plan does not question many of our existing processes both within city government and elsewhere. This includes:
— the structure of city government, looking specifically at how decisions get made
— structure of boards, commissions, etc.
— the electoral process
— deep cultural traditions of all kinds that impact our everyday decision-making processes (e.g., absence of women’s public authority, public education teaching to the test rather than living skills, fear of public discourse)
— other places where decisions are made (e.g., county, state, federal government)

Thus, I would recommend reviewing, at minimum, three specific areas of public decision-making to see how they inhibit equity and participation in the decision-making process:

1. “Representative” democracy a contradiction. The deepest problem is the belief that someone can represent someone else or represent an entire community — or that nine people can represent an entire community in all ways. Logically, that is not truly possible. Politically, “representative democracy” is an oxymoron that we have all bought into for far too long. No one can represent me but myself. No one can represent the community except the totality of all the community members.

2. Boards, commissions, etc. Our systems of boards and commissions — appointed by one person (the mayor) and approved by nine others (the City Council) — creates a second level of distance between my voice and any public decision.

3. Private meetings by public officials. Public decisions in Evanston are often thrice removed from most voters’ voices by the quantity and frequency of private meetings that take place between officials and private interests regarding a project, an ordinance, an allocation of city resources, etc. Often these meetings take place long before any public meeting, hearing, or announcement.

This issue of private meetings has become more insidious since the expansion of Evanston’s Economic Development Department. The insidiousness lies in the conflict between (a) the City’s legitimate concern about the global extraction economy’s impact on the City of Evanston (and on Evanston’s residents, businesses, and neighborhoods), and (b) the City’s key purpose as a governmental jurisdiction in the U.S. — to maintain level playing fields in all areas, including economic development.

Recently it seems as if City staff have been encouraged to have “internal working groups” where the public is included only by invitation. No agendas or minutes are posted. This may violate our current Illinois Open Meetings Act. It most certainly violates modern trends towards more participatory democracy.