Civic engagement is one of the longest-running and most contentious debates in the political and community sphere. The numbers don't tell a very positive story. According to the National Civic and Political Health Survey, only seven percent of the youth participate in political activities or community engagement.
But the low numbers don't live with the youth only. Even senior members of society are taking a back foot in civic engagement.
So, what can you do differently? Have you been playing your civic engagement roles, and do you know why having a voice in the political and community sphere matters?
Let's dive into that.
What is Civic Engagement?
The simplest definition of civic engagement is the individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues that are of public concern. In a broader perspective, civic engagement covers political and non-political processes that promote the quality of life in a community through the combination of knowledge, skills, motivation, and values.
Civic engagement stems from an individual's moral and civic responsibility as a member of a large social fabric. This makes them view social problems as partly their own. Therefore, the individual is willing to address these issues collectively with other members of society, arrive at possible solutions, and work together to implement these solutions.
In a democratic state, civic engagement lies at the foundation of democracy. Democratic governments are created for the people, by the people, from the people.
You exercise your democratic right by voting on election day. But are you exercising it afterward by sitting down with the state or local government officials you elected and voicing your concerns, needs, or changes that'll improve society and quality of life?
Why Does Civic Engagement Matter?
Historically, civic engagement was a core part of American society that French sociologist and political theorist, Alexis de Tocqueville, admired the lengths to which Americans went to exercise their voices in political and societal matters.
He documented his observations in the book, Democracy in America, stating that a healthy democracy thrives with civil associations through a society willing to work together for the common good.
Therefore, civic engagement carries many benefits for individuals and society at large. These include:
Since the government is for the people, from the people, by the people, civic engagement keeps the embers of democracy burning. We have a massive stake in the decisions that shape our country, and civic engagement is the conduit for exercising this responsibility.
Through civic engagement, we can effectively address issues surrounding healthcare, education, immigration, environment, gun violence, housing, and foreign policy.
Civic engagement shapes our community's culture and helps us build social connections. Moreover, we experience community problems firsthand that can be addressed by sitting down with our political leaders and voicing these concerns.
We form stronger, more resilient communities when we participate in civic engagement.
There are massive opportunity gaps and inequities in the form of race, education, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors that have historically stifled growth in communities.
Underrepresentation in the political and civic sphere has contributed to these inequalities. Therefore, the voice of these marginalized individuals and communities go unheard, leading to perpetual injustices.
Starting to participate in civic engagement fights these inequalities. It starts opening up the road to better engagement and participation from members of these communities since they feel heard and represented.
How Can You Contribute To Civic Engagement?
So, how do you know whether you're contributing to civic engagement?
There are numerous paths you can take to exercise your voice in society. These include:
Political participation through voting, registering as a voter, or being an election judge
Volunteering with organizations that improve community well-being or participating in community service projects
Educating other community members on government and history
Advocating for proper legislation
Representing fellow citizens by election or appointment such as to a school board or city council
Learn More from This Book
Perhaps one of the best books touching on modern civic engagement is Civic Engagement: Making a Change Together by Ronnie. L. Smith. The book dives deeper into this topic, comprehensively looking at the history of civic engagement and why we should understand and participate in it.
The book aims to stir readers to start discussions surrounding community issues and work towards common goals. You should also be inspired to take the first step towards being the next community leader, state, or regional-level politician.
The author talks about civic engagement, starting from an early age in school to adulthood when we've grown into adults capable of running for office. The writing and arguments made are informed by extensive research he's done on civic engagement.
Grab your copy here.