The following is a guest blog from our friends at icitizen, a smartphone app that makes it easy to stay connected with elected officials and your community.
Civic engagement. What is it? If your first thought was “vague buzzword,” you’re not alone. And it’s partly true.
It has a pretty broad definition, it essentially means being engaged with your community. And it can take any number of forms, from participating in the electoral process to volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.
So why should you care? You have a full-time job, friends you need to catch up with, parents you need to call, life going on. It’s hard to even keep up with current events.
But if you care about what happens in your neighborhood, then you care about civic engagement.
But how can you be engaged and up-to-date on civic issues? It’s not as taxing as it seems, and you might even do some of these things already. It really depends on how much time you want to dedicate. We’ve put together a list of eight ways you can be civically engaged. Now, this list is by no means comprehensive. But, it’s a good start to get you thinking about how you can be involved with your community.
There is never a shortage in the need for volunteers -- that goes for any city or town. River and park cleanups. Delivering meals to the medically ill and elderly. Spending time at homeless shelters. Don’t forget your place of worship – it will have community-focused efforts among its service committees. Want some ideas? Check out VolunteerMatch, they have tons of opportunities that match your interests!
Know your representatives.
Knowledge is power. Knowing the right elected officials to communicate with is essential to getting things done. While learning who’s who can be a little daunting, there are resources out there to identify your reps and know where they stand on the issues you care about. Civic tech platforms are on the rise and give insight at the palm of your hands.
Join your Neighborhood Crime Watch.
This is your chance to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes – even if it’s not as glamorous as Benedict Cumberbatch. Don’t have one in your neighborhood? Organize one. Talk to other residents about how your tight-knit community can easily keep an eye out for crime. They’ve proven to be pretty effective at deterring crime. The U.S. Justice Department’s most recent study found neighborhoods with a Neighborhood Crime Watch have 16% less crime on average!
Start a petition.
Something bugging you about what your City Council is doing – or not doing? Is there a civic issue that you’re particularly passionate about? Organize a campaign. It doesn’t need to go viral in order to make it a success. Getting involved can be as simple as sitting behind a card table in the shopping mall with a clipboard and pens, or giving a short presentation during your next neighborhood barbecue. Gather support for your cause.
Get involved in your local Chamber of Commerce.
If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, this is especially relevant to you. Chambers of Commerce exist to protect and promote local business. They’re also a great way for you to network with other companies in your area and learn about how your city or town’s professional landscape is growing. It’s one form of civic engagement with a positive return on investment.
Attend City Council meetings.
This is an amazing way to learn about pressing civic issues in your community. And, most will have periods when attendees can voice their comments, giving you the opportunity to voice your opinion on important issues that affect where you live. Want a stop sign placed at the end of your street? Don’t like that your neighborhood is being rezoned for the third time? This is one way to keep the local officials that represent you accountable.
Obviously, this is, without a doubt, the most powerful way you can be civically engaged. It’s also one of the most underutilized powers citizens have. In fact, only 19 percent of 18-24 year-olds and only 28 percent of 25-34 year-olds voted in the 2014 General Election (US Census Bureau). That number decreases even more if you hone in on local elections. Your vote is your voice. It’s one of the only things proven to have more influence over an elected official than lobbyists’ funding.
Help others register to vote.
Registering to vote may not seem as cool filling out a ballot, but it’s an important step in taking advantage of #7 above. The process varies across states, so there are plenty of resources, like HeadCount’s voter registration info, to find out what your state does. And when you’re getting yourself registered, spread the word to your network. If you think one vote doesn’t make a difference, the more voices you have rallying together, the more powerful it becomes. Help your friends and community get registered to make their voices count as well.
So there you have it. Eight easy ways to be civically engaged. See, civic engagement isn’t just a vague buzzword. It’s an active part of being a citizen. And it doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. Chances are you probably do some of these activities already.
If you’d like to be more involved with civic issues but don’t have that much time, we have good news for you! The new, reinvented icitizen will make civic engagement even easier. We hope you can join our community, sign up for your spot today!