The president of the Arlington County Civic Federation says efforts to expand the diversity of the organization’s membership need to start at the grass-roots level.
In a public letter on “The Diversity Question,” Civic Federation president Duke Banks says it is up to the roughly 80 member organizations that make up the federation to recruit participants from underrepresented racial, ethnic, age and socio-economic groups.
“We have the capability to bring in new faces using the existing structure of our member organization,” Banks said. “Hence my president’s challenge: Fill your allotted delegate and alternate slots with new faces.”
Critics, who often are more pronounced in vocal chords than raw numbers, long have complained that Civic Federation meetings are attended by those who are older and whiter than Arlington’s modern demographics. Banks, who took office in 2016, has made diversification of membership ranks one of his goals.
Each member organization is entitled to appoint four delegates and four alternates to represent it at the Civic Federation, creating a potential pool of nearly 650 people.
“Few of our member organizations have a complete complement of delegates and alternates, and we rarely have over 80 delegates who attend our monthly meetings,” Banks said.
Banks noted that the Millennial generation may have interest in participating, but not know how. He related attending a recent forum on engagement hosted by County Board Chairman Katie Cristol and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th), where he was approached by several residents in their late 20s and early 30s expressing interesting in getting involved.
“Their names were collected and forwarded to the respective civic association,” he said.
The Civic Federation dates its history back to 1915, when it was established by six community organizations. While never dormant, its relevance in the county has ebbed and flowed throughout the decades. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it had become something of an inward-looking debating society, with several individuals dominating meetings that often went on past the stroke of midnight.
In recent years – under the leadership of Banks and his immediate predecessor Stefanie Pryor, among others – the Civic Federation has worked to expand its footprint in the community discourse while also streamlining meetings in an effort to lure additional participation.