I learned about civic engagement when I was in the 7th grade, and the only things that I remember are the presidents and the importance of voting. However, as I’ve grown older and been challenged by womxn that I admire, mentors, and my own experiences, I’ve realized that current definitions of “active civic engagement” are ableist, elitist, and narrowed down to certain actions and morals.
In a time where marginalized communities live in fear, definitions of “active civic engagement” become more dangerous because at it’s core it means that an individual realizes that they are a part of a larger social world, and will consider and participate in social issues. Today, social issues are ruled by respectability politics, morals that are deeply rooted in discrimination, and fear of the other.
Civic engagement does not end at the polls or when your candidate does not win."
With that, I challenge people to reach deep within themselves and find the courage to defy what has been the definition of civic engagement.
Civic engagement does not end at the polls or when your candidate does not win. It does not end with protests, letters and shutting down streets in order to bring visibility to issues that threaten the lives of marginalized communities. All of these actions are important, and do not make the mistake that I am disrespecting any of them because they are all important to push initiatives. I am proud of every letter, every vote and every time that I built a protest sign. I am proud of every march, of every shut down of the streets. I do not do respectability politics, because I refuse to be a token minority or silenced so that the powers that be can think that I am an easy person to manipulate. Do not make the mistake that I won’t raise my voice through whatever means I have.
I strongly believe that we need to expand our definition of civic engagement, and encourage us to do so. It means building, revitalizing and investing in communities. It means learning about hidden histories, and about voices that have been silenced. It means creating dialogues, and fighting against fear-based narratives that surround the people who look like me, the families who fear deportation, and Trans people who just want to use the bathroom, and not be killed. It means ending the fight between non-profit organizations as they scramble for resources. The morals that lead civic engagement need to be re-analyzed.
Helping your neighbor mow their lawn.
Making sure that your younger cousins, children, and the next generation does better than we did; that they exceed our expectations, and their own by giving them the love, support, and resources that they need and maybe we never received.
These are all examples of civic engagement, even though we might not think they are. Think about the impact of social media, the small conversations that change the minds of a biased person, and having the knowledge necessary to change the world around us to be an equitable society.