Before becoming a Dominican University Schmitt Scholar, Angelica Moreno admits she wasn’t politically active. She’d even received a gentle reprimand from her mother after failing to vote in an election.

“She sat me down and said, ‘So many people don’t have a voice,’” Moreno recalled. “She said, ‘You have a voice; use it to help those who don’t.’”

Moreno took that advice to heart. Today, the Dominican senior is a volunteer with the People’s Lobby, a Chicago-based organization working to support progressive public policies, bills and candidates that put the needs of people and the environment first.

Much of her work is undeniably grassroots: Knocking on doors and canvassing residents on social issues like gender, race, community safety and the environment.

Moreno is currently canvassing residents on what candidates for public office can do to make them feel safer in their communities. The candidates Moreno is working with are running in primary elections this month: Illinois State Sen. Karina Villa of the 25th District in Kane and DuPage Counties, and Delia Ramirez, who is running in the newly drawn, Hispanic-majority 3rd Congressional District, with stretches from Chicago’s Northwest Side to Bartlett and West Chicago.

“The project involves going out into the community, making sure individuals know we are campaigning for the cause, making sure we know what the community wants in community safety, and then relaying that information to the candidates,” Moreno explained.

Canvassing takes place just about every weekend, she said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of helpful information on what people value and what they want to see in their communities,” Moreno added.

Volunteers like Moreno also participate in “textbanking,” which involves sending text messages to voters, encouraging them to vote for specific candidates who are allied with the People’s Lobby on specific causes.

It was Professor Paul Simpson, director of civic learning at Dominican University, who introduced Moreno to the People’s Lobby during the 2021-22 school year. At the time, she had just been named to Dominican’s Schmitt Scholars program, which requires participants to engage in a year-long project aimed at social change and community partnerships.

The Schmitt Scholars program serves as a “launching pad” for students to explore the many ways people can become involved in social change, Simpson said.

“The People’s Lobby wants to advocate on behalf of communities throughout Chicago, and I felt like the kinds of policies that Angelica was envisioning were very much in line with that — of wanting to help families and people who are struggling in Chicago,” Simpson said.

Moreno says becoming a Schmitt Scholar marked a turning point in her life as it prompted her to become politically active.

“It made me feel more responsible for things happening in my community,” she said. “There were so many people who were passionate about (activism) and I had the power to be passionate about it too. That motivated me to do more than I had been doing.”

Growing up in Aurora, Moreno said she saw poverty among the city’s large Hispanic community and many people lacking access to jobs, healthcare and education due to their immigration status. In high school, a friend confessed that being undocumented prevented her from applying to colleges, Moreno said.

“That really broke my heart,” she said.

This, too, sparked her interest in becoming involved in social causes while a student at Dominican, she acknowledged.

Simpson notes that Moreno has approached her activism with the knowledge that work must be done collectively with other people and with the understanding that change takes time — and may not always come during a particular campaign. Many people walk away from an initiative after viewing it as too heavy to tackle, he said.

“What blows me away about Angelica is she sees that movement work is demanding and it’s a set of skills that accumulate over a lifetime,” Simpson added. “She’s thrown herself into the challenging work of persuading, door-knocking and phone calling when a lot of us are afraid to do that because it feels intimidating.”

As her work with the People’s Lobby continues this summer, Moreno said she hopes to learn more leadership skills and bring in more volunteers. Her work earned her a 2022 Excellence in Experiential Learning (ExcEL) Scholar Award from Dominican University and she plans to use the funding to support her canvassing efforts and attending various leadership events.

She plans to continue her work in activism after graduating from Dominican in December with a degree in business, focusing on economics and management.

“In every single industry, you can advocate for something,” Moreno said. “It’s always important to use your voice.”