Executive Director Maryam Judar will present a national live webinar on Open Meetings Laws for Lorman, provider of continuing legal education, titled "How "Open" are Open Meetings Laws?"
CAC friends and colleagues receive a special offer of 50% off when they use codes [Priority code 15999 and Discount Code 18780069] provided in this informative brochure.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryam Judar
August 27, 2015 Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
CITIZEN ADVOCACY CENTER AND AREA HIGH SCHOOLS
WELCOME NELI FARAHMANDPOUR, TEEN VOTING ADVOCATE,
TO CELEBRATE CONSTITUTION WEEK
A former Stevenson High School student who helped win enactment of “Suffrage at 17” — a law that allows Illinois 17-year-olds to vote in primaries — will be the featured speaker at 2015 Constitution Week events co-sponsored by the Citizen Advocacy Center and area high schools. She will also be speaking at an evening forum to be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2015 at the Citizen Advocacy Center office, 182 N. York Street, Elmhurst, Illinois.
Neli Farahmandpour, a 2014 Stevenson graduate, will speak at suburban high schools about the First Amendment’s right to petition as an important thread in the fabric of American democracy.
“I think that everyone is passionate about at least one topic, and I sincerely hope that students across the state can use their constitutional rights to lobby for what they believe in,” said Farahmandpour, currently a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “And while that may not always be easy and may involve a lot of time and effort, every single student in Illinois is capable of contributing to changes that they would like to see in our state.”
Observed annually from Sept. 17 to 23, Constitution Week commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. Celebrating this event is a way to remember the importance of a document held in esteem worldwide for empowering “We the People” with the rights and responsibilities to engage in the democratic process. In particular, the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition are essential to ensure a healthy democracy and hold government accountable.
“Constitution Week recognizes the importance of our founding document by introducing students and adults to constitutional issues through dynamic speakers with firsthand knowledge of what it means to fight for freedom,” said Andrea Alvarez, community lawyer at Citizen Advocacy Center. “Ms. Farahmandpour knows from her own experience the significant role that students can play in creating political change thanks to the First Amendment’s right to petition, and she has a remarkable personal story to share.”
During a summer class before her junior year in high school, Farahmandpour learned about “Suffrage at 17” — a proposal, already law in several other states, that 17-year-olds be permitted to vote in primary elections if they are going to turn 18 by the time of the general election. Her instructor, Stevenson government teacher Andrew Conneen, broached the subject while he took attendance one day.
“He asked a fellow classmate when his birthday was, and the student replied that it was in May,” she said. “I distinctly remember Mr. Conneen turning to him and asking, ‘Now wouldn’t it be great if you were allowed to vote in the primary elections?’ ”
As president of Stevenson’s Law Club, Farahmandpour recognized the potential lobbying power that her classmates could bring on behalf of a bill changing the Illinois voting age for primaries. By early 2013, HB- 226 had been introduced in the General Assembly with bipartisan support.
“Stevenson’s Law Club and Political Action Club teamed up to host meetings regarding the proposed law and what it would entail,” Farahmandpour recalled. “In March of 2013, several students from the two clubs went to Springfield to meet with members of the Illinois Senate to lobby for the bill. I had the distinct honor of testifying in front of the Senate Executive Committee, alongside Mr. Conneen, where we were able explain why we thought passing Suffrage at 17 would be so beneficial.”
The House passed the bill in April by a vote of 95-22, and a month later the Senate passed it 43-9. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure into law July 3 in a ceremony at Stevenson High School, with Farahmandpour and other students looking on.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned was the value of bipartisan support,” she said. “I don’t think Suffrage at 17 would have passed if we didn’t have support from members belonging to both political parties. I also learned the importance of working together as a community. Everyone worked really hard — not individually but as a team.”
Farahmandpour’s experience with the First Amendment right to petition turned out to be a successful one. She believes other young people can achieve similar success if they’re willing to take the initiative and become engaged in civic life.
“One major point that I would really like to get across to my audiences during Constitution Week is the value of involvement, as well as the effects of persistence,” she said. “I think it is so important for high school students across the state — as well as across the nation — to get involved in civics.”
In previous years, Citizen Advocacy Center has hosted dynamic speakers showcasing other First Amendment freedoms. These include Mary Beth Tinker, free-speech advocate and plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court student free-speech case, and Jessica Ahlquist, freedom-of-religion advocate and plaintiff in a successful lawsuit challenging her high school’s endorsement of religion.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community-based legal organization dedicated to building democracy for the 21st century by increasing the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. For more information, visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org or call 630-833-4080.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryam Judar
August 24, 2015 Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
ELMHURST - On August 21, civics became law in the Land of Lincoln. A standalone civics semester will be required at all Illinois public high schools starting with the Class of 2020. The Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) has been a tenacious advocate for bringing back civics to Illinois public schools and played a major role in the strong coalition effort that resulted in this successful outcome.
“Civic education is core to the work of CAC as community lawyers routinely answer basic information about the structure and function of government. In addition, CAC community lawyers have worked with schools for over two decades to help teachers convert classrooms and communities into civic labs,” explained CAC Executive Director Maryam Judar.
CAC’s advocacy efforts for civic education policy reform at the state level include: authoring and suggesting reform recommendations within the Illinois Civic Health Index 2010 that was published by the National Conference on Citizenship and in collaboration with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; writing the “Advocacy and Policy” chapter within the Illinois Civic Blueprint that was published by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; spearheading and advocating within the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition Public Policy Committee; spearheading the creation of the Civic Education Legislative Task Force which was charged with assessing Illinois civic education standards and making reform recommendations; and advocating for hands-on civic education as an appointee to the Task Force.
“On behalf of CAC, I would like to acknowledge the partners and collaborators who played a leading role in the effort to bring civics back to Illinois public high schools,” said Ms. Judar.
DuPage County Regional Superintendent Darlene Ruscitti has been a longtime advocate for civic education through supporting civic efforts throughout DuPage County, including the convening of two county-wide Civic Summits for high school students and advocating for the passage of the “Year of Civic Engagement” Resolution by the DuPage County Board.
Former Attorney General Jim Ryan who established the Center for Civic Leadership at Benedictine University, is a vocal advocate for civic education of youth, and was pivotal in the creation of Illinois’ Legislative Task Force on Civic Education charged with assessing the current state of civics in Illinois.
Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar at the McCormick Foundation and Chair of both the Task Force and the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, is a champion for high quality civic education for all Illinois students, the promotion of the Democracy Schools program, and has been indefatigable in his efforts to strengthen civic education.
“There are many additional organizations and people who came together to bring civics back to Illinois. CAC is proud to have worked with many outstanding collaborators and to have played an instrumental role to change the civic landscape that will impact all youth,” said Ms. Judar.
“The commitment of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation was essential to the successful effort of returning civics to all public school students,” said Ms. Judar. “They have been a leader in promoting civic education for years through supporting organizations engaged in civic education. They have taken on a leadership role in advocating for legislative reform and in the implementation of their vision to hurdle financial obstacles through the establishment of a public-private partnership of foundation and corporations that will fund professional development to ensure that civics teachers receive adequate support to teach a high-quality, standalone semester of civics.”
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community-based legal nonprofit dedicated to building democracy in the 21st century by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. Visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org for more information.
Download the letter or read below.
Commissioner William Waldack
c/o Village of Downers Grove
801 Burlington Ave
Downers Grove, IL 60515
July 2, 2015
Dear Commissioner Waldack:
This letter responds to concerns you expressed at the June 16, 2015 Downers Grove Village Council Meeting about Citizen Advocacy Center’s comments that had been made at the previous Council Meeting regarding a perceived, potential conflict of interest and the general level of public participation with respect to the Village’s presentation of the Clyde Estates project. You also asked on whose behalf Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) appeared at the meeting and about the research on which CAC drew conclusions. Your comments and questions provide an opportunity for me to discuss CAC’s mission, as well as our purpose in attending the Council Meeting on June 9, 2015. CAC recognizes that, even though public officials invest substantial time and energy into making informed decisions in the best interest of the community, when issues and decisions are controversial not everyone will be satisfied with the result. The Clyde Estates project certainly seems to be a case in point.
General Information Regarding CAC
CAC was founded in 1994 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit community law office located in Elmhurst. The mission of CAC is to build democracy by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. CAC community lawyers use civic tools to promote meaningful participation in the democratic process. This strategy includes traditional lawyering, community organizing, public policy research, coalition building, media outreach, leadership development, legal advocacy, civic education, and litigation. CAC has a long history in working with community members and public bodies. We advocate for government decision-making processes where government entities not only comply with minimum legal standards but become models of the democratic process through adopting practices that maximize government transparency, accountability, and accessibility.
Citizen Advocacy Center most often becomes involved with an issue when a concerned citizen, public official, or member of the media contacts our office. CAC answers questions about what the law is in a particular area, what government bodies are required to do to comply with the law, how an individual can participate to improve a government process, and how an individual can advocate for a position using legal and civic tools. Community lawyering assistance is based on government process issues. As such, the word “advocacy” in our name does not refer to advocacy for an individual’s specific issue but rather how to engage in advocacy for one’s cause.
When CAC identifies and seeks to address a systemic issue, we do so through a community lawyer or an intern who is supervised by a community lawyer. CAC has a highly regarded internship program that since 1994 has hosted over 200 students, the majority of them law students. The internship program offers a unique opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in understanding how government operates.
CAC Issues of Concern Raised in Downers Grove
CAC was contacted by a Downers Grove resident who raised concerns about disclosures of potential conflicts of interest and about the significance of resident input for the Clyde Estates Project. After reviewing available information and documents with respect to the questions brought to our attention, CAC identified some ways in which we believe democratic practices could be improved.
With respect to the conflict of interest issue, CAC conducted research, reviewed publicly available materials, materials made available through the FOIA process, and spoke with concerned residents. CAC concluded that a conflict of interest was not present. However, considering the controversial nature of the project it was understandable how there could be a perceived conflict of interest among the general public. CAC identified specific procedures that could be adopted to increase standards. CAC recognizes that it is your viewpoint that clear disclosures were made to the Village Staff and members of the Council members during the planning phase. CAC, however, addressed the issue of what processes are in place to ensure that the disclosures are also clear to members of the public seeking to educate themselves on proposed projects. Working toward our mission to address systemic issues of concern related to the democratic process, CAC commented on how to address perceived, potential conflicts of interest at the June 9, 2015 meeting. While the comments were in reference to the Clyde Estate project, the adoption of higher standards would apply to all proposed projects in Downers Grove to avoid similar concerns in the future.
With respect to the public engagement piece, after speaking with concerned citizens about the meetings that took place, reviewing documents, and having a CAC community lawyer observe the Council’s interaction and response to the public, CAC concluded that while the process may have been quite extensive and certainly complied with the law, still more could have been done to engage the citizens and give them a voice in the project. As such, the public comment made by a CAC community lawyer regarding a “no” vote was not a commentary on the substantive project but rather a commentary that the Village Council should withhold approving the project until a higher standard of public engagement had been met. While CAC recognizes that not everyone could be completely satisfied with the outcome of such a controversial project, we advocate for the most transparent, accessible, and interactive process that is possible.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss how Downers Grove may increase democratic protocols to become a model of government transparency, accountability, and accessibility. If you think that an additional discussion could be helpful, I would be happy to meet with you.
Please accept my personal invitation to you and all the Commissioners to join us on July 28, at 7 p.m. at the CAC office located at 182 N. York Street in Elmhurst for Intern Democracy Night, where current students will be sharing their internship experiences.
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
cc: Mayor Martin Tully, Commissioner Bob Barnett, Commissioner David Olsen, Commissioner Greg Hosé, Commissioner Gina Vattimo, Commissioner Bill White
With deep sympathy, CAC mourns the passing of longtime board member and treasured colleague Milton F. Honel. Our condolences to Rosalie and the Honel family.
Below is an update on HB 4025 from Shawn Healy, Chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition
Please prepare and send your emails no later than this Friday, June 12.
Thanks for all of your help to date in our legislative effort to bring civics back to Illinois high schools through HB 4025. After passing the Illinois General Assembly by strong, bi-partisan majorities, the bill moves next to the Governor's desk. I'm writing to request your help in reaching out to him via email, urging Governor Rauner to sign this transformational legislation.
Sample email language is provided below. I encourage you to add your own qualifications and experiences as a civics practitioner and/or advocate. Also here is a link to additional information on HB 4025.
Upon completion, send your email to Governor Rauner using the online comment form on his web site.
If time permits, you may want to follow up with a phone call to the Governor's office at 217-782-0244 to ensure that your email was received. Please prepare and send your emails no later than this Friday, June 12.
Thanks in advance for your timely attention to this critical outreach. Together, we are bringing civics back to high schools throughout Illinois.
Yours in civics, Shawn
Shawn P. Healy, PhD
Chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition
Shawn Healy also served as the Chair of the Illinois Civic Education Task Force and has been working tirelessly to pass HB4025.
Contact Governor Rauner via email
Suggested email script - please personalize:
I am respectfully asking you to sign HB4025 which requires high school students in Illinois to take a civics course before graduating.
Illinois is one of only eleven states without this requirement.
Quality civics courses have tremendous impact. For example, when Florida recently introduced a required civics course (in middle school), 61% of Florida students achieved proficiency in civics, compared to 23% of middle school students nationally in the most recent NAEP Civics Assessment.
Citizens with high levels of civic knowledge vote regularly and participate broadly in our democracy.
Please help improve the civic health of our state by providing all students with a civics course.
Please sign HB4025.
Call script: I have just emailed Governor Rauner asking him/her to sign HB4025, but I wanted to call the office to also voice my request and confirm that my email was received.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2015
Contact: Maryam Judar
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
ILLINOIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY PASSES BILL REQUIRING CIVIC EDUCATION
AS A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION REQUIREMENT; HEADS TO THE GOVERNOR
ELMHURST – On May 30, House Bill 4025, a bill mandating civic education in Illinois as a high school requirement has passed through the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor. Illinois is currently one of only 10 states in the nation that does not require civic education. At a time when bipartisan divisions run deep in the General Assembly, the civic education bill sponsored by Representative Conroy (D-Villa Park) in the House and Senator Cullerton (D-Villa Park) in the Senate, passed with strong bipartisan support. In addition, the Citizen Advocacy Center played a major role in the strong coalition effort that successfully generated public awareness for how required civic education could change the civic landscape in Illinois.
“Our state needs well-prepared students who have the ability to tackle tough issues impacting their communities and Illinois. A semester of civics will provide students with the knowledge of how government works and how to impact government decision-making on issues they care about,” said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.
The legislation is supported by funding through a public-private partnership led by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to provide high-quality, school-based civic learning opportunities for all students in Illinois. Over three million dollars have been pledged over the next three years to provide history teachers with professional development in civic education.
HB 4025 is based on recommendations of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Civic Education, of which Ms. Judar was an appointed member. In 2014, the Task Force recommended that Illinois require a stand-alone civic education course in high school after analyzing the current state of civic education in Illinois; civic education laws in other jurisdictions with mandated civic education; and best practices in civic education in other jurisdictions. The primary goal of requiring civic education is to increase civic literacy by increasing the capacity of youth to learn the knowledge, skills, and practices necessary to become civically informed and engaged.
Hundreds of people testified in favor of civic education when the Task Force held multiple public hearings throughout Illinois. Additional Task Force recommendations include: revision of Illinois Social Studies Standards, which is currently underway; a required civic service learning project in middle and high school; access to professional development aligned to best practices; and involvement by students in the election process.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-partisan community-based legal nonprofit dedicated to building democracy in the 21st century by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. Visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org for more information.
The 2015 intern program runs from June 1st to August 7th.
Thanks to you we have plenty of work to keep our interns busy!
Rebecca Kaplan is a rising second-year law student at the University of Michigan Law School. She earned her undergraduate degree in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. While at University of Illinois, Rebecca was Editor-in-Chief of the University of Illinois' literary magazine.
Megan Manoj is a rising Junior at Elk Grove High School. She is an active member of the Varsity Speech Team, Chamber and A Capella Choirs, and Varsity Cross Country-Track & Field. She is also active in her church and community. Megan plans to use her experience as a CAC intern to develop the skills necessary for a successful future in a legal career.
Nick Parker, originally from Dayton, Ohio, is a rising 3L student at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana. He was recently elected Editor-in-Chief of the Indiana Journal of Law & Social Equality, and works in the Career Services Office as a research assistant. His undergraduate majors were in Political Science and Sociology at Ohio State University. Nick is excited to work with the Citizen Advocacy Center to empower local citizens to make informed decisions and get involved in the political process.
Greg Tsonis, a native of the Chicago suburbs, will graduate in June from The University of Chicago Law School where he served as a Comment Editor for the University of Chicago Legal Forum. Prior to law school, Greg worked for Target, including as a manager and district manager in the Assets Protection department. He also earned his undergraduate degree in political science from The University of Chicago. Greg enjoys sports (go Hawks!), reading, and trying new restaurants. Greg will be working at CAC as a legal fellow.
Kathleen Tunink hails from Des Moines, Iowa and is a rising 2L at the University of Iowa College of Law. She previously attended Drake University and double majored in Accounting and Law, Politics & Society. Her honors thesis was on the international definition of rape through case studies from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Her interests include bicycling, yoga and traveling.
Kelsey Weyhing is a rising 2L at Chicago-Kent College of Law where she participates in the Chicago-Kent Honors Scholars Program and the Society of Women in Law Society. Kelsey graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in English and Gender Studies. During her undergraduate career, Kelsey demonstrated her commitment to public interest by working for the Michigan Women’s Commission and volunteering with the Michigan State University Model United Nations Organization. Kelsey also enjoys reading, baking, and spending time with her cat, Oscar.
Jumeka Wilson is a rising 3L at Ohio Northern University College of Law. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, JuMeka's studies have taken her to Atlanta, Georgia and Cape Town, South Africa. She enjoys traveling, cooking, and dining at new and exciting places.
Thank you for action and your passion! HB4025 passed in the IL House of Representatives on Friday April 24th with a vote of 81 in favor and 29 opposed. You can see how your representative voted here. Now it goes to the IL Senate. CAC will continue to keep you informed of developments. Thanks again!