Your community is where you live, work, and raise a family. It’s home and for better or for worse, at times it could use some improvement. It’s easy to feel like getting involved in local community initiatives is a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be.
You can easily take proactive steps through civic engagement to improve your community, and we’re seeing examples of this all around the world.
In 2020, our voices have been channeled in the form of protest against systemic racism, the fight against climate change, and more. It’s an outlet to make our concerns reverberate in the ears of elected officials forcing, them to change our community for the better.
But what happens when we are not in the streets making our voices heard? How do we continue to practice civic engagement and actively help our communities?
Here are five concrete ways that anyone can become more connected to improve their communities on their own time.
1. Stay up to date on local news
Before you can change anything, you have to be informed of local issues. This may sound obvious, but it’s the a necessary first step that is often overlooked.
Citizens exposed to a lower volume of coverage are less able to evaluate their member of Congress, less likely to express opinions about the House candidates in their districts, and less likely to vote. This is true for people regardless of levels of political awareness.As Local News Goes, So Goes Citizen Engagement: Media, Knowledge, and Participation in U.S. House Elections George Washington University & American University
Luckily in today’s digital age, we can stay connected to local news by reading the news, listening to podcasts, tuning in to public radio, and more. For those of us who use the holy trinity of social media – Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook – you can take advantage of these powerful platforms and follow local news and your elected officials online.
I also know that social media can be overwhelming at times, so be sure have a well-balanced media diet. I recommend finding two or three short newsletters that can inform you on important news, legislation, and elected-officials in a bite-size manner. Some of my favorites are The Skimm, Axios, or The Guardian.
Voting is single handedly one of the most powerful tools we can use to engage and change our community. It is no secret that lasting change happens from the bottom up, and when you deliberately use your vote, you are deciding to have a say in how your community develops.
I challenge you to vote at the local level and federal level.
You’re a local in your own community, so make your locality what you want it to be – full of economic opportunity, diversity, green spaces, healthy air, free wifi, and more. These are a few pillars that can enable an economy to pay you back, and when you start to follow your local officials and offices, you can find find out when and where you need to vote.
For example, in New York City we said no to Amazon’s new headquarters being built in Queens. We stood up to Jeff Bezos by engaging our community and making sure that our representatives worked on our behalf. After all, that’s why they’re in office—to work for us.
Our elected officials want to hear from us as their constituents, and learn about how we feel regarding specific legislation, confirmations, and general political issues. The more you contact your elected officials—be it through emails, calls, or letters—the more they understand the public’s attitude towards an issue.
Think about the nation-wide protest erupting in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and how some of our elected officials have taken action in the form of new legislation and accountability.
This is what democracy looks like, and it requires your official vote!
3. Support your community-based organizations
Pick an issue you are passionate about – be it racism, biking, corporate sustainability, homelessness, mobility, pay gap, resiliency, water pollution – and fight for it by supporting your local community organizations.
“Fake woke stuff we do on IG dies in a week…We have to donate our time and money to organizations.”Hasan Minaj, American comedian, writer, producer, political commentator
Why? Because the people who work at community-based organizations care deeply about these issues. They are actively working everyday to make incremental changes so that you and I can have a better quality of life. It is one of the most altruistic, continuously impactful forms of civic engagement that can result in long-term, positive change.
I implore you to pick one or two organizations in your local area, and to read about their news, projects, and to volunteer and donate when you can. You don’t have to support all the causes, just the ones you care about. You can also sign up for the organization’s newsletter that will keep you up to date on local government issues.
4. Attend city council meetings
I was skeptical of public meetings at first because I thought they would be a less funny version of Parks & Recreation, but I was wrong. Turns out, I really enjoyed them because I learned first hand what was happening in my community. I was also able to share my thoughts, and meet my city council-members representatives.
In a short 60 minutes, I was more informed than I had ever been online. To hear other citizen’s concerned voices in conjunction with council-members representative’s voices was like watching democracy happen before my eyes. Given democracy can be like watching flowers grow sometimes, this was an eye opening experience. It was an easy method to practice civic engagement and paid me back in dividends.
When you show up for these public hearings, you are showing up for community. I highly recommend attending at least once public hearing or find your community-based organization and attend one of their meetings. Not only will you know about important policy changes, but you will meet like-minded individuals who also want to use civic engagement to improve their neighborhoods.
5. Support Local Businesses
Supporting your local businesses has never been more important than in 2020. These mom and pop shops depend on you making a conscious decision to support them over a big chain.
Local businesses provide a slew of community benefits such as:
- Generating a greater investment back in their local community
- Higher commitment to their workers
- Shopping local is better for the environment
- More than a quarter of small business owners are immigrants
- Unique product selection
Local business owners often put their entire life savings into a store, and when you support them, you are also supporting your community. So try to balance out your Amazon two day shipping by shopping local every now and then. It can make a world of difference for these businesses and your community.
Civic engagement is important, no matter your cause
Find a cause you’re interested in and use one of these five methods to practice civic engagement and improve your community. If you cannot attend public meetings, look into supporting a community-based organization.
Whatever level of support you can manage breathes life into these organizations. These folks need your support, and their positive outcomes directly benefit you and your community. It is a win-win situation so continue to actively become engaged with your environment, local businesses, and community-based organizations.