In the past few years, American civic engagement has decreased. Participation in public meetings is down by 35 percent over the past 25 years and involvement in clubs and civic organizations has decreased by half. Civic engagement is crucial for the survival of democracy and is necessary across all communities.
The lack of civic engagement can be seen in low election turnout, indifference regarding local government and misinformation regarding civic issues. The problems facing our increasingly globalized world are becoming more complex, and the channels usually used for education about them, like local newspapers, are in decline. Citizens feel powerless and without a say, not realizing becoming more involved with their community helps give them their voice back.
Civic engagement is a way for individuals to feel directly connected to their community and impact change. It promotes a broader awareness and deeper understanding of issues facing your community. It helps people to think in terms of “we,” instead of “I,” and it increases the health of a democratic society.
There are three main types of civic engagement: civic, which is regular volunteerism or membership in a group: electoral, which is helping register voters or volunteering with an electoral campaign; and political, which is speaking at government meetings and contacting officials about issues that are important to you. Americans should be participating in all three types of civic engagement.
Join diverse community-based organizations. If none exist in your community, start one. These groups provide a platform for different backgrounds to come together to work towards a common goal. While these types of organizations once were a core part of American life, they are no longer as vital as they once were. Be the spark needed to reignite the flame of civic associations; make a goal to actively participate in local organizations or a local chapter of a national organization.
Individual citizens can hold local powers accountable by serving as watchdogs, activists for truth and monitors of governance. They can become purveyors of truth and put pressure on their elected officials to uphold their campaign promises.
Understand that the only way to get other people to care about issues that are important to you is to speak up about them. Every person has a voice; use yours. Attend city council meetings and speak up. Educate yourself about the candidates running for local government, and then show up to those elections.