Putting in my hours
Given the national epidemic of civic disengagement that got us here, we should all get more comfortable with the idea of working our asses off to keep this democracy of ours up and running. While the road ahead isn’t entirely clear, I know enough now to put my head down and get to work. Here’s my admittedly human, radically teachable, and proudly values-based plan to start putting in my hours.
Over two weeks have passed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. In the time since, Trump’s cabinet picks and public statements have done little to settle concerns that his presidency poses a grave threat to our national security and values. In the absence of a clear call to action, I’ve wrestled with how to act and how to serve the communities and nation to which I’m so deeply indebted.
The question, “What type of response do my values call for?” has proved helpful, forcing me to get clear on which matter most. Several stood out to me: civic capacity (our ability as citizens to effectively engage our communities), Constitutional integrity (doubling down on the inviolable tenants of our form of government), local scale (neighbors figuring out how to live and solve problems together), and service (dedicating my skills to advance others welfare). They proved quite valuable in helping me figure out how to get to work.
- CIVIC CAPACITY
I’ve long been struck by how paralyzed my well-informed, well-meaning friends and family are when confronted with issues that require them to engage the proverbial public square. We’re called on regularly to take action in this space, and yet our experience with these institutions is so limited that we do not act, we do not think to act, because we don’t have the capacity (ability, power, experience, understanding) that allows us to imagine how we could.
It is possible to advance change in our communities through civic engagement. It requires a sober understanding of political and policy constraints and opportunities, creative and thoughtful strategy, discipline and organization. Though we use these skills widely in other domains, most Americans have little concept how to do so within local, state and federal policy and political systems. The work of civic engagement, it seems, has become a professional’s domain.
I would like whatever action I take to offer an alternative to the dominant national media narratives of passivity and estrangement — instead focusing on civic education, strategy, and personal responsibility.
2. CONSTITUTIONAL INTEGRITY
To be honest, this label, “Constitutional Integrity” was my best stab at capturing the spirit of U.S government that I’ve internalized since grade school. It represents many things to me — protecting minority rights, creating an environment that allows businesses, individuals, and families to thrive in balance.
It is possible to exhume a national narrative that transcends those of today’s political factions. Given the challenge ahead, activists need to be well-informed and versed on the historical principles that transcends our political disagreements, and resurface the common language and identity that give us reason to continue to live together.
Trump’s rhetoric proudly disregards (and sometimes actively rejects) that unifying thread, but we need to live and breath this narrative if there’s going to be any vision of our country worth fighting for.
3. LOCAL SCALE
Healing and hearing are needed everywhere across our country and neither is possible at a national scale. If we heal and grow together, it’s going to take place in living rooms, church gatherings, school ice cream socials, and neighborhood picnics. After having done local advocacy work in my hometown of Cleveland and now Denver, it’s clear to me how much local politics and experiences matter, how much potential they have to shape and advance our understanding of how we can work together through policy to create healthy, connected, prosperous communities.
It’s also clear to me that local civic life is dreadfully neglected today by the institutions that shape our lives (schools, employers, retailers). I want my work to live local, feel local, feel real, and hopefully elevate local civic space as a forum for real work that allows people to deliver impact.
My privileges and power carry with them a responsibility to ensure the welfare and development of those around me, especially those who lack the privilege and power to effectively advocate for themselves. I do this by supporting their safety, protecting a space in which we can all pursue authentic lives of dignity and agency. Most important of all, I do this by listening, remaining relentlessly humble and willing to learn, doing my homework and my best to work alongside others (instead of for them).
I am particularly concerned with addressing the threats to immigrants and religious and sexual minorities who are increasingly targeted by violence and may be simultaneously losing the modest protections our government offers them.
Driven by these values, I know I can do some good with imperfect skills and a teachable mindset. Considering my skills and experience (research, tech, organizational strategy), I’ve decided to devote my civic time these next few months to develop a report card to help aggregate info about and prioritize advocacy work.
These are some of the characteristics I’d like the report card to embody.
- Ecosystem-focused: capture and evaluate the ecosystem of local, state, and federal legislation, nonprofit services, and private sector influence that shape individual experience. Where the for-profit sector is involved (ex: telecommunications companies and mass surveillance), I will investigate industry norms and practices and rate them.
- Local: probably focused on my hometown of Denver
- Replicable: published in a format that is replicable for other communities (hope to put those web design/programming skills into action)
- Person-centered: examining policy in terms of affect on individuals (victims of hate crimes, housing discrimination, police abuse-of-force)
- Strategic: Provide a succinct description of where the current ecosystem of legislation and NGO advance our national goals and where they fall short
The report card I envision will identify and help prioritize political and policy gaps in several areas of concern: surveillance of Muslims, hate crimes and discrimination (immigrants, LGBTQ, religious minorities), deportation of immigrants, access to women’s health care and abortion, mass surveillance, and press access/censorship).
My hope is that this report card will empower other local activists to take well-informed, strategic action to bolster protections through policy initiatives (at all levels), pressure on for-profit government collaborators, and collaboration with nonprofits.
First deadline: By Sunday, Nov 27, I will:
1) Create a template for organizing research on the topics I’ve listed using either Google docs or some other easily shareable platform, and
2) Do preliminary research on one topic (probably hate crimes/discrimination) and input in template, and
3) Write a post describing the process.