Civic Duty Days

Erin Argyle Barnes
Oct 15 · 3 min read

One Way Employers Can Strengthen Democracy

As an employer, I’m always looking for structural ways to support my team in their health and wellbeing. We know that individual health is so often tied to community health: strong communities mean, among other things, better health outcomes, reduced crime, and better education for our children, so making space for my team to be able to be active participants in their neighborhoods gives them and their families better health outcomes. So, from my perspective, allowing time to give back to the community is just as important as providing sick days.

ioby’s StrongMan Contest for Civic Muscle at the 2015 Park(ing) Day in Brooklyn, NY, featuring Neil Carlson, co-founder of our independent coworking space, the Brooklyn Creative League.

When my cofounder Brandon Whitney and I started ioby — a nonprofit focused on building civic leadership in our neighborhoods — we wanted our internal organizational values to reflect our mission. For example, we’ve always given Election Day off, and Brandon created ioby’s Whole Person Policy inspired by the work of Parker Palmer. And a few years ago, after a series of high-profile killings of people of color by police made it difficult for many of our staff to feel fully present at work while also showing up for those in their community who were struggling with pain and grief, we decided to add an additional 5 days of Paid Time Off (PTO) for civic duty.

At ioby, a Civic Duty Day is not the same as jury duty. Civic Duty Days are designed to give ioby staff the time to do what we need to do to be active participants involved in everyday democracy. Activities can include neighborhood volunteering, get-out-the-vote volunteering, fundraising, self-care and community-care to respond to local and national emergencies, writing letters, meeting with local elected officials, making calls, going to a healing workshop, and personal health to recover from civic duty activities that fall on weekends.

A couple weeks ago, at a retreat with other nonprofit leaders, we were discussing structural ways to increase civic participation in the United States. Given that nearly 15% of Americans cite lack of time as their reason for not voting, and 75% of Americans cite it as their reason for not volunteering, employers can make a big difference in how Americans show up in public life.

I asked my team what sorts of things they’ve used Civic Duty Days for. In addition to the typical answers about park cleanups, phone banking, door knocking and canvassing, postcard writing, attending demonstrations like the Women’s March and the Climate Strike, I heard some interesting stories.

  • One ioby staff person used her Civic Duty Days to attend Reverse Ride Alongs where she acts as a guide with cadets for the entire day. This program allows cadets to see the community they will be serving and for the community to have a voice in how they see policing and what ways best to be approached by new police officers.
  • An ioby staff person used Civic Duty Days to attend trial for an activist who was arrested for protesting; this would have been impossible to attend otherwise since trials are often during the day.
  • Another ioby staff person used his days to stay home with his kids while his wife attended demonstrations.
  • At ioby, we talk a lot about civic muscle, but sometimes just regular muscles are important, too! An ioby staff person used Civic Duty Days to plant trees in a neighborhood in Pittsburgh where air quality is extremely poor and children have some of the highest asthma rates in the country.
  • This summer, an ioby staff person user her Civic Duty Days to volunteer at a rock and roll day camp for gender-marginalized youth.

I’m proud that ioby has made space for these activities, and I hope other nonprofit leaders will join us in trying out Civic Duty Days.

Erin Argyle Barnes
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