Politicians, advocacy groups, and even blogs love to use catchphrases such as “empowered citizenry” and “grassroots movement” to engage the public and inspire them to make a difference in their community. And like many others, I become motivated to make my voice heard, but then quickly lose sight of my goals. I believe that many people have innovative ideas and insights into how to improve their community but never take action because we, quite frankly, just don’t know how.
Although I certainly am not qualified to provide a formal framework for community organizing, I do know that it starts with meeting your neighbors, even if it begins by simply acknowledging them in passing. Get to know the community you live in. Spend more time outside. Welcome new residents, and attend community events. Join your neighborhood association if you have one, or create one if you don’t. You might be surprised by how many people share similar ideas for the community.
Apart from the social benefits of being active in your community, your opinions will have an outlet to be heard and received. Your voice, by itself, may feel like it is too small to matter. But imagine your voice echoed by an entire community! Without connecting with others around you, you may never know that other people have the same feelings about an issue. But once you collaborate, you become part of a collective voice. And a collective voice is not easily ignored. You will have the power to influence policies and laws in your area.
So, this summer, I challenge you to invite an unacquainted neighbor to your cook-out or pool party. You will be building a connection that might, just might, enable an empowered citizenry or incite a grassroots movement to truly improve the place you live.