The Importance of Civic Engagement
Co-authored by: Jordyn Pusey and Dustyn Thompson
Civic engagement is, by definition, working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means protecting the quality of life in a community through both political and non-political processes by using individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.
There are many ways to positively affect your community. One way is by simply joining your local civic association and regularly attending their meetings and social events. Communities that exhibit a strong collaboration between neighbors and maintain open lines of communication tend to have a greater response from their elected officials. This is due to the fact that they possess a sense of awareness of the problems facing their communities, are actively working on solutions and are constantly in contact with those in positions to address various concerns. As the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. This remains true of issues regarding crime, code complaints, land use planning, park maintenance, transportation planning, and road maintenance; all of which civic associations can help address.
We all have the same hopes for our communities. Hopes like feeling safe in our homes; to know that future generations will have clean parks and open spaces to explore; that our schools can properly educate our children; that our property values will stay constant; that our tax dollars are being spent responsibly; that we are not exposed to toxic contaminants in our groundwater and soil; and that any development surrounding our neighborhoods will improve, not diminish, our quality of life. We also expect certain things from our elected officials. We expect that they are to remain accessible, that they will continually work to address our concerns, and do so with both transparency and openness, and that they continually uphold their oaths of office.
Unfortunately, for many communities this is simply not the case. Their concerns are ignored. They do not have the organizational strength to advocate for their own interests. They cannot find people willing to serve them in a way that will meet their needs. In today’s political scene it is clear that not all politicians are created equally. There are far too many who tend to grandstand, and who are much more interested in their own upward mobility rather than serving their constituency. When there are no strong civic leaders present to take them to task, we all suffer from our government being all the weaker. We suffer while laws are implemented which do not reflect the will of the people, but rather the will of the special interests. Our health suffers with a lack of accountability. Our commutes get longer from deteriorating infrastructure. Crime continues to go unaddressed. In these seemingly forgotten communities many have come to expect that these are the conditions with which they must live with, but this should not and cannot continue to be the case.
To maintaining a strong community requires constant diligence. It means sending emails, making phone calls, attending meetings, and joining a civic association board, or a civic umbrella group. It means setting up neighborhood crime watches. It means fighting the good fight over and over again, not because it is easy or politically sound, but because it is the right thing to do. We must protect our quality of life and remember the value of ground level advocacy.
It takes up time and effort and for some of us, and that sometimes comes at a personal toll. Yes, we may have less time with our families and less time to relax and just breathe. But I can assure you, it is worth it. Our communities are worth it. Our lives are worth it. Our futures are worth it.
*****Jordyn Pusey is the President of the Civic League for New Castle County. Their next meeting is on September 18th from 7-9pm, at the Christina Presbyterian Church and all are welcome.*****
Their website is http://www.civicleagueforncc.org/