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July 29, 2022

Five Ways to be Civically Engaged Everyday

By Paul Henderson

When most people think of everyday civic engagement or civic advocacy, they tend to picture those people who attend every single community meeting. Or those people you see being interviewed on television by your local newscaster. Or those people you see standing with picket signs in front of your City Hall. While it’s understandable that these are the first images that come to mind, you should be aware that these people are the ones who have dedicated a significant amount of their time and efforts to civil advocacy. Not everyone has the time, nor the passion for a single cause, that these people have, and that’s ok! We can’t all be Greta Thunberg, but we don’t all need to be. Ten million people imperfectly advocating for something is more effective than one person advocating for it perfectly. Here are five things you can do that don’t require much time or effort, but can make a difference in turning your passion for causes you care about into action.

1.     Follow a Thought Leader in or Advocate for Something You Care About (or Want to Learn More About) on Social Media

In all of my speeches, I end by telling folks to learn more about things that they don’t know about. You can do this by listening to someone new give a speech, or listen to his or her podcast. You can do this by reading articles. You can do this by searching the internet. Social media is criticized sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s an ineffective means of civic advocacy. Not only can you learn a great deal in a short amount of time about the causes you care for, you can also use your own platform to educate others.

When you see videos, comments, or articles reflecting your own feelings or evolved positions, take a few second to post about it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn account (or TikTok for all you young folks out there). We can’t expect others to care about reform, accountability, and justice more than we do ourselves, and sharing our values is a way to let our friends, families, and neighbors know where our own values lie. Inviting others to explore our beliefs and causes at the mere click of a mouse might be daunting at first, but I can promise that you’ll facilitate discussion and get others thinking about those beliefs.

2.     Join a Group Whose Mission is Something You Care About

Maybe you want to increase voter turnout in the United States. Maybe you want to change the criminal sentencing laws in your state. Maybe you just want to get the potholes in your own neighborhood fixed. I guarantee you that there are groups out there that are already advocating for and taking action on those things; all you have to do is seek them out. In today’s age of technology and social media, this will probably take you five minutes.

Oftentimes these kinds of organizations already have some sort of structure in place, a mission statement, and a plan to go about achieving that mission. They will tell you how you can volunteer to help, and will be absolutely fine with you not making a substantial time or effort commitment. Any help is good help. Plus, you have the added bonus of being able to meet people who share your interests! Who can say no to making new friends?

3.     Donate to a Cause You Care About

This one catches a lot of undeserved flak. Some say it’s a cop-out of actually having to dedicate yourself to a cause. Others say that donations never go completely to their intended recipients. These people have valid concerns, but they forget the singular most important element of civic advocacy: doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

As I said in the beginning of this piece, 10 million people imperfectly advocating for something is more effective than one person advocating for it perfectly. Donations allow those people you see being interviewed on television to be there in the first place. They equip the most passionate and dedicated members of your cause to take action on your behalf. Of course you should vet whichever group that you are considering donating to in order to make sure that your money gets to where you want it to go, but as long as it does, donations can be a great (and easy) way to engage in civic advocacy.

4.     Write a Letter to your Local Newspaper for Publication

 Is there an issue you are passionate about that you feel isn’t being addressed? Do you feel that those people you see picketing at city hall, being interviewed on TV, or attend those city hall meetings are missing the point? Are you hesitant to express your passion in a physical sense because you don’t want to have to deal with the potential for censure or disparagement? Writing a letter to your local newspaper is a great opportunity for you to express your beliefs without fear of ostracization. Your local newspaper will probably preserve your anonymity if you ask.

You may be pleasantly surprised what the reaction is. Some people may read what you wrote and think “wow, I’ve never thought about it like that before,” or “hey, I’m not alone in my beliefs, someone else is thinking exactly what I’m thinking.” True, you may also be disappointed with the reception. But making your voice heard is the foundation of our democracy, and if you don’t advocate for something you care deeply about, who else will? It just might kickstart others into action too!

5.     Host or Attend a Debate Watch Party

One constant in our society is that people love getting together for watch parties. Sports, Lord of the Rings marathons, the Bachelor, you name it. There’s often tons of conversation at watch parties too. Hosting or attending a debate watch party, whether the debate is at the local, state, or national level, is a great way to make politics fun. Not only will you feel more engaged, your friends will too. Maybe even enough to start taking action!

 This is also a fun way to figure out what causes you’d like to advocate for if you don’t know already. Debates tend to consist of the most pressing issues facing our local, state, and national governments. You might be surprised at which issues you find yourself listening the most closely to! If you see a candidate you agree with, look at his or her platform and consider ways in which you can help with his/her election. And at the very least, you’ll be able to have a fun get-together with civic-minded people.

Paul Henderson

Director of Department of Police Accountability

Paul Henderson is a nationally recognized speaker, veteran prosecutor and champion for social justice. He is the Director of the Department of Police Accountability, where he and his legal team are tasked with investigating all complaints regarding police use of force and misconduct. He is an active member of the American Bar Association.