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Harris Viewpoints: Ricardo Cifuentes (CLA'20) on Putting a Human Face to the Issues in 2020

As a part of Harris Public Policy’s coverage of the 2020 election in conjunction with the Center for Effective Government, we reached out to other experts in the field to share their perspective on the 2020 election. These are their opinions and perspectives, informed by their life experiences and worldviews (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris).

A lot of people are calling this election the “most important of our lifetime.” What’s most at stake in this election, and what makes this one different from past ones?

I think it’s the durability of our institutions that is most at stake.

Whether it’s the integrity of our elections, a free and robust press, an independent judiciary or even a peaceful transfer of power, not a day goes by that the administration doesn’t contrive some new reason to lob attacks against our democratic norms and institutions. Every rally, tweet, television appearance and press briefing becomes an opportunity for the President to put our entire civic infrastructure on trial and, invariably, proclaim it rotten and corrupt.

Now this would be troubling enough if confined to the political fringes, but with the administration elevating its antidemocratic rhetoric to governing principle, the stakes of this race could not be higher. The 2020 election was never going to be a typical contest between two candidates, party platforms or policy alternatives, but to think that the future of our democratic institutions themselves could be on the ballot in 2020 is something that would have seemed inconceivable to us just a few short years ago.

So yes, with the possible exception of the presidential contest four years ago, I think the current election is likely to be the most consequential of our lifetime. I realize that a change of administration won’t mean the end of QAnon, perplexing “deep state” conspiracy theories or even Donald Trump as a major political force. I’m hopeful, however, that it might provide much-needed space to begin restoring the legitimacy of our beleaguered institutions. Better yet, I’m hopeful that it could create an opening to identify safeguards that ensure their survival is never in doubt again.

How might the election impact your work in the Chicago civic space? What, if anything, have you been doing this cycle to make those impacts clear to those you work with?

I think it’s impossible to be doing civic work and not be affected by the outcome of elections at the federal, state or local levels. Take health care, for example. This year alone we’ve witnessed a bungled federal response to a major pandemic, seen the impact of a stalled economic relief bill for families in need, watched as the government made every effort to undermine the accuracy of the decennial census, and, all the while, continue its baffling crusade against the Affordable Care Act. While not all of these may appear to be obvious policy concerns of a mid-sized community health center like Esperanza, they are, in fact, critical issues that impact our patients’ health and well-being in multiple and profound ways.

Regardless of who prevails in this election, being able to communicate that kind of impact effectively must remain a focus of organizations like ours moving forward. At Esperanza, we’ve recently turned to storytelling to put a human face to our work and better convey the needs of our communities, staff and organization. We’ve embraced greater data transparency to establish trust and build our authority with stakeholders across the city and state. And we’ve adopted more open and frequent communication with funders, partners and elected officials, so they can better understand our decision-making processes in response to what’s happening on the ground. Advocating for better public policies and more resources has always been a top priority for Esperanza and an extension of our mission. We’re hopeful that the lessons we’ve learned this past year and the new approaches we’ve adopted can help us be more effective at it.

About Ricardo Cifuentes (CLA'20)

With nearly twenty years of development and marketing experience in the nonprofit sector, Ricardo Cifuentes joined Esperanza Health Centers in 2016, having previously served as Director of Development and Communications at Renaissance Social Services, Inc., and as Deputy Director at AIDS Legal Council of Chicago.

Ricardo obtained his BA in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago and worked in political fundraising with candidates and elected officials from Illinois and around the country before moving into nonprofit development and communications in 2002.


The news release above was originally published by the Harris School of Public Policy.