Week 4

Civic Engagement

“There’s a danger in focusing on consumer behavior. There’s a danger of giving the impression that the solutions to the climate crisis have to be shouldered by women and men who care enough about it to change their personal choices. They do. But as important as it is to change a lightbulb, it is way more important to change policies. And in order to change policies, we have to have new policymakers. So the most important role that individuals can play is in taking their concern and passion for a better world into the voting booth and turning out in large numbers to overcome the dominance of our political system by big money.”

— Al Gore via The Washington Post

When I started on this journey about a year ago, I was focused solely on what I and my family could do to reduce our carbon footprint. About six months ago, I went to a “zero waste for beginners” workshop, where one of the speakers stressed the importance of attending community meetings and getting involved at the policy level.

At the time, I didn’t really agree. Deep down, I think it was because doing that felt very far out of my comfort zone. Plus, I work full-time and have two kids, so where am I going to find the time to go to meetings I’m not being paid to attend?

But between then and now, something changed. This summer, I saw a notice in one of my neighborhood Facebook groups about a proposal for a new drive-thru Starbucks going in four blocks from my house. A similar development (known locally as Carbucks) was wreaking havoc in another neighborhood, where an off-duty police officer has to direct traffic because the design is so horrible. The idea of building a drive-thru in my walkable, transit-friendly and bike-friendly neighborhood hit a nerve, and I decided to go to the public meeting with the developers on a Monday night at the library.

The room was PACKED. People were mad. And while a lot of the attendees were your stereotypical long-time residents and retirees, a couple of the people who spoke up at the meeting were my age and also at their first meeting.

I got home and immediately wrote a letter to the editor of my community newspaper. They published it the next week. I felt empowered. People took notice, and tagged me on Twitter to write more. So I did, and got published again. This time it was about a contentious trash referendum that’s on the ballot in this week’s election, and how voting yes is the environmentally conscious vote. (If you’re interested, this blog by local writer Naomi Kritzer has a good synopsis of the issue.)

I joined the “Say Yes” advocacy group for the trash referendum, which is co-led by my city’s zero waste group. I attended a climate change advocacy training workshop on a Sunday afternoon. I ordered yard signs. I went to a debate. And I posted on my personal social media accounts about local politics, something I’d never really done before.

And you know what? It worked. In one example, a colleague who I’ve never talked to about politics saw my posts, did his research, and thanked me—for his more than 5,000 followers to see.

Election day is Tuesday. Also on the ballot are city council and school board races. While I’ve always voted, my research typically involved reading the endorsements online a week before and calling it a day. This year is completely different. On Tuesday, I’ll cast my very informed votes, do two hours of “text banking” (like phone banking, but via text) for the trash referendum, and probably stay up way too late following the results on Twitter.

I also signed up for a community engagement session on Thursday night run by my county at the local high school. If it weren’t for getting involved in all of the above issues, I never would have known about it, much less attended.

I’ll check back in after the election and the county meeting and let you know how they go. If you have an election this week, be sure to vote!

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