Beautification from the Inside Out – How Chicago Middle-Schoolers are Changing the Bullying Culture in their School

Beautification from the Inside Out - How Chicago Middle-Schoolers are Changing the Bullying Culture in their Chicago School

How can you go wrong with a theme like “Beautification from the Inside Out”? Ms. Parodi’s eighth grade class from Richard Yates Elementary School would say that you can’t! This group of creative and enthusiastic students is participating in CRFC’s ABC Project: Action-Based Communities. Together they identified bullying as a problem in their school and together they devised a plan to help make Yates Elementary a bully-free zone.

The centerpiece of their plan is to create three murals throughout the school to help beautify everyone from the inside out. The students will need to raise some cash for paint supplies, and they’ll need to seek and get approval from the school administration. No matter the outcome, these students are learning how to be active and civically engaged members of their community. Their slogan is “Proud to be me.” Team Yates – we’re proud to know you!


Chicago Democracy Week Found to Increase Voter Turnout Among 17, 18-Year Olds

Student testimonialsToday, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, alongside a coalition of voting rights groups, announced more than 6,000 CPS students and over 3,500 17-year-olds in suburban Cook County were registered as part of the first annual Chicago Democracy Week (2/3/14-2/7/14)  – leading to a record voter turnout in the March Primary among young voters.

The registration totals are part of a report released today, “Voting Early and Often: An Evaluation of Chicago Democracy Week 2014,  the culmination of a week-long effort to expand voter registration  among younger voters led by Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the Cook County Clerk, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, Inc., Chicago Votes, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, Mikva Challenge, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Rock the Vote, and the League of Women Voters of Chicago. The report also details lessons learned for other communities interested in conducting a similar voting drive.

While Chicago Democracy Week’s principal aim was to register 17-year olds to vote, the report finds that the turnout of those who registered surpassed that of 19-45 year old voters for the first time in history.  The turnout of CPS students at the March Primary was 12.0%.  This is slightly higher than the average Chicago turnout of 11.9%, breaking a decades long trend of young voters (18-25 year olds) turning out at around half the rate of all other voters.

“This Report shows that when civic groups combine their efforts with that of election authorities and public school administrators, we can close the registration and turnout gap between young people and all other voters.  I feel a real sense of accomplishment that we managed to work together so well and achieve such fantastic results,” stated Ruth Greenwood, Voting Rights Fellow with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

Langdon D. Neal, Chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections, said, “Even though we saw low turnout rates at this election, it was remarkable that the turnout rates of 17- and 18-year-olds were higher than the turnout rates among voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The new voters were more likely than many of their parents to participate.”  On Wednesday, May 7 at 10:00 a.m., 69 W Washington St, Chicago IL, 60602, Eighth Floor Conference Room, the Chicago Board of Elections will convene a press conference, featuring representatives from the groups involved, to discuss results and next steps.

“I think we were so successful because we pulled together groups that know their audience and could target voter registration activities directly at young people engaging in the election process for the first time.” said Nisan Chavkin, Executive Director of Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago.

In Celebration of Law Day: “The Rule of Law in American Democracy: Why Every Vote Matters”

by Anita Dellaria
Elementary and Middle School Programs Manager at CRFC

“[I]f we know enough to be hung, we know enough to vote.” – Frederick Douglass

“Suffrage is the pivotal right.” – Susan B. Anthony

“[Young people] possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world, and are anxious to rectify those ills.” – Senator Jennings Randolph

In part, Congress’ purpose in designating May 1st as Law Day was, “the reaffirmation of [our] rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law.”   Carved beneath the pediment of the Supreme Court Building, the promise of “equal justice under law” paraphrases the words of the 14th Amendment that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Yet, as permanent as these words appear, written into law and carved into stone, they are not so powerful that they can’t be defeated by apathy and bigotry.  In celebration of Law Day and in commemoration of these ideals and their fragility, this year’s theme is “The Rule of Law in American Democracy: Why Every Vote Matters.”

Since we frequently take our enfranchisement for granted, it’s useful to remind ourselves that not long ago far fewer voices had a say in defining what “equality” and “justice” looks like.  We may think, from the vantage point of 2014, that all the important battles have been fought and won, but in doing so, we forget that the work to perfect these ideals will never be complete.  The irony is that the way to work toward perfecting equality and justice for all under the law is to vote for those who write and execute the laws.  And, the only way to vote for those who write and carry-out the laws is to have the right to vote in the first place.  It’s a bit of a chicken and an egg dilemma.

Imagine you don’t own land, or are a slave, or black, or a woman, or under 21.  How do you, through your own voice and agency, remove from office the people whose voices have silenced yours?  I guess you have to convince those with the right to vote that they will benefit from your being able to vote too.  And that’s just what folks did. By the mid-nineteenth century, male suffrage was nearly universal, if you were white.  The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited disenfranchisement on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” unless you were a woman.  The 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, extended the franchise to women, unless you were under 21.  Then, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the slogan “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” summed up the movement leading to the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971, extending the franchise, once again, to those 18 years of age and older.

But, the right to vote has not always been in step with one’s ability to go to the polling place and cast a ballot without having to overcome obstacles, like paying a poll tax or passing a literacy test.  Next year we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, whose passage was necessary to enforce the provisions of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.  Whether it’s voter ID’s, motor-voter registration, early voting, absentee ballots, electronic ballots, ballots for ex-felons, or registering 17 year-olds as did Illinois, the struggle to perfect those ideals continues.

In celebration of this “most pivotal right,” why not read the 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments?  Each comprises only two sentences, itself a lesson in the power of the rule of law.  Six sentences and a mere 113 words enfranchised millions of United States citizens.  Indeed, every vote matters because they’re the only ones that are counted.


New Online Privacy Policy Allows White House To Take Twitter, Facebook Comments To Use For Public Advocacy

How do you feel about the White House’s new online privacy policy? Comments you make on social media platforms can now be used for public advocacy. Is this okay or an invasion of your privacy?


WASHINGTON (AP) — A new Obama administration privacy policy released Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to, mobile apps and social media sites, and it clarifies that online comments, whether tirades or tributes, are in the open domain.

“Information you choose to share with the White House (directly and via third party sites) may be treated as public information,” the new policy says.

The Obama Administration also promises not to sell the data of online visitors. But it cannot make the same assurances for users who go to third-party White House sites on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

There will be no significant changes in actual practices under the new policy. But legal jargon and bureaucratic language has been stripped out, making it easier for readers to now understand that the White House stores the date, time and duration of online visits…

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The Cup of Sugar and Bad Cold Defense

by Anita Dellaria
Elementary/Middle Schools Program Manager
Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago

“‘Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in,’ said the Wolf. So he huffed and he puffed and he blew his house in.”

Students work closely with attorney volunteers to understand legal concepts
Students work closely with attorney volunteers to understand legal concepts

One of Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago’s civic learning  events is a jury experience conducted with 2nd and 3rd grade students in Chicago public elementary schools. The trial is State v. Wolf based on The Three Little Pigs and the outcome might surprise you.

We all know the story. A belligerent wolf pounds on the doors of the three little pigs, bellowing and demanding to be let in. When the pig with the straw house and then the pig with the stick house refuse entry, he huffs and he puffs and he blows their houses down. Only when he is faced with the sturdiness of the brick house and the ingenuity of the third little pig is the wolf defeated, ending up in a boiling pot of water.

Students weigh evidence
Students weigh the evidence

Time after time the unexpected happens. Despite his place in the popular imagination as a predator and all-around bad guy, the wolf is found not guilty. Out of 187 votes cast this year so far, the wolf has been found not guilty by 152 individual school children and guilty by only 35.

How can this be? Perhaps the answer lies in the wolf’s (a.k.a. B.B. Wolf) version of the story. According to his testimony, he had a bad cold and a great desire to bake a cake for his grandmother. When he knocked on Fran Pig’s door to borrow some sugar, he sneezed and blew down her straw house. He ran to Stan Pig’s house to tell him about his sister’s house, but he sneezed again and blew down his stick house. He then ran to Dan Pig’s house to tell him about his brother and sister and to borrow some sugar when he sneezed again, but Dan Pig’s brick home withstood his ferocious “achoo!”

The jury foreperson delivers the verdict
The jury foreperson delivers the verdict

Some might say his story is a bit incredible, but the defense produces a receipt for cold medicine, and it is this receipt that jury members consistently cite when asked to explain their not guilty verdicts. They also cite what they perceive as a bias against B.B. Wolf. Relying on Fran Pig’s admission during cross-examination that not only did she not know B.B. Wolf but that she didn’t want to know him, the students detect good old-fashioned prejudice. “After all, he is a wolf,” she stated.

As any attorney volunteer who has participated in this event can tellyou, the children are concerned with “getting it right,” and acknowledge the difficult choice they face. When asked what he learned, one student responded, “I learned that whether you want a defendant to be guilty or not you need evidence to prove it.” When asked what it felt like to be on a jury, one student responded, “Being on a jury is hard because you have to hear both stories and…it is a hard choice.”

The receipt for cold medicine is very convincing
The receipt for cold medicine is very convincing

We can think of all sorts of reasons why the wolf won, but we can’t completely discount that the wolf is found not guilty because 2nd and 3rd graders do understand the importance of fairness, rational decision-making, and the awesome responsibility that comes with having the power to curtail another person’s liberty.

How should a citizen feel when she sits on a jury? Let’s hope she feels like the third grader who said, ““I feel brave and alive.”

For more information about State v. Wolf, contact Jessica Chethik at

Preview the program here!


How We Listen Speaks Volumes

CRFC Guest Blogger
CRFC Guest Blogger, Lindsey Micucci

Guest Blogger: Lindsey Micucci
High School Student and Illinois Youth Summit Participant, Lindsey Micucci, shares what she has learned about listening and leading. Views do not necessarily reflect those of CRFC.

School, home, and the Illinois Youth Summit are places where we learn that the world can be a hard and confusing place. Even though we each have different voices on all topics, sharing these opinions in a civil manner says a lot about someone’s character.

Through my participation in the Illinois Youth Summit, I have learned that pointing fingers won’t solve anything. Shaking heads, rolling eyes, and coughing are all signs of disrespect and bad leadership. Leadership is holding yourself to a higher standard, not by your actions but by your words. People don’t want a leader that is a bully or a pushover. They want someone who’s well-spoken, respectful, and a good listener. That’s what we should aim for. We should aim to become leaders. Whether it’s the leader of our homes, of our schools, or of our country, we should hold these qualities so high, that they become our own goals for ourselves.

Words are how we communicate our feelings and how we think. Using words, is more influential than actions done with one’s head down and eyes turned the other way. During debates, we’ve all seen dirty looks shot at the other side of the panel. Is it the other side, or the wrong side? Is there a wrong side?

We, as students, as human beings, are entitled to our own opinions. When we are speaking in a format that requires debate, our words should be objective. Our ability to create rational arguments, which are non-biased, is still strong even with the inevitable disagreements that will occur. Arguments are to be spoken with authentic voices and facts, not guesses that are pulled out of the air.


Strengthening Democracy One Classroom at a Time