In the aftermath of the horrible terrorist mass murder in Orlando, Florida last week, I heard a similar sentiment from across the nation:
“We need the people of the United States to come together.”
What really frustrates me is that, a few weeks from now, the media will have moved on to the next breaking story, and the memory of this tragedy will have faded from our national consciousness. We will never have had much of an opportunity to “come together”.
Where can we, as a people, “come together” to discuss the lingering issues with which we continue to struggle, such as gun control, hate crimes, terrorism, LGBT rights, religious freedom, violence, and immigration, to listen respectfully to people that have differing opinions and ideas, and to build consensus around solutions?
You might want to start in your own backyard.
The Call for Public Engagement
I’ve been a local elected official in my city, Artesia, California, for over 9 years. And I can safely say that there is no better time than now to engage with your local government. Your local government is the place where you can create a public, deliberative space for civil dialogue and collaboration.
“Why would I want to create such a space in my own community?” you ask.
Because your own community has issues that need to be addressed and problems that need to be solved.
People just like you and me want to feel safe in their communities. We want more parks and recreational opportunities, less traffic, better schools, and more access to fresh food. At the same time, we want our streets swept and maintained, our sidewalks repaired, and our trash to be collected. Well, all of these things and more are the responsibility of your local government.
If you, your neighbors, and your elected officials cannot address these issues at the local level, how do we expect our county, state, and national government to address their issues?
Local governments have created collaborative forums, where constituents receive information about issues and problems. These forums also discuss issues and have constituents collaborate with elected officials and staff. Lastly, these forums created civic innovations in public deliberation. Civic entrepreneurs have also developed a wide-range of deliberative initiatives at the local level.
How You Can Act on Your Civic Responsibility Right Now
I have found documentation of these public, deliberative spaces for civil dialogue and collaboration in local governments all over the United States: Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Alexandria, VA, Inglewood, CA, Springfield, IL, Dubuque, IA, Kuna, ID, Northampton, MA, Fort Wayne, IN, Orford, NH and Portsmouth, NH, and cities throughout California, as well as in Sedgewick County, KS and Sarasota County, FL.
In the United States, there are a total of:
- 3,069 counties
- 19,492 municipal governments (called cities, towns, boroughs, districts, plantations, and villages)
- and 13,051 independent school districts
There is ample opportunity for you to engage.
One key way you can act on your civic responsibility right now is to contact your local, state, and government elected officials and voice your concerns.
Here’s how you can find your elected officials and their contact information.
- First, go to this site created by the League of Women Voters.
- Then, type in your ZIP code.
- Lastly, see your elected officials and their contact information, from federal, to state, to local, to county representatives.
- It’s that easy.
So, what are you waiting for?
I know it’s not always that simple to take action and civic responsibility. And contacting your representatives is only one way to do so.
So let me know what the barriers are to your participation in your local government, and I’ll seek to address your issue individually or in a future blog post.
Photo credit: © Bodilya | Dreamstime.com