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Spotlight on Walden // Aug 07, 2017

Being an Engaged U.S. Citizen

Dr. Ben Tafoya
Dr. Ben Tafoya

There are always ways to increase your engagement as a U.S. citizen, says Dr. Ben Tafoya, a contributing faculty member in Walden University’s School of Public Policy and Administration who also writes a quarterly column for the American Society for Public Administration’s PA Times magazine. “Voting is the entry cost of citizenship,” he says. “Since elections only typically occur every 2 years, it’s natural to want additional outlets.” Here, he shares a few ideas on how to give back to your community.

Home in on specific goals. For any effort, it’s important that there are near-term victories. For example: After a demonstration or letter-writing campaign ends, did you see results? “Work toward a goal that can be achieved,” he explains, since it will “give you positive reinforcement and an interest in achieving your next goals.”

Consider starting at the local level. Small efforts can lead to immediate change. Make an appointment to speak to your city council representative about issues that concern you—and invite your neighbors. “If you show up with a dozen people, you’ll get serious attention,” he explains. “Your local officials aren’t elected without reflecting the population’s political choices, but some ideas are relatively new, so there isn’t a high rate of political diffusion yet.” For example, in Massachusetts, a citizen-led committee helped put a referendum on the ballot to push paid sick leave in the state, and it passed overwhelmingly. Their involvement meant a lot since a bill on the same topic was unsuccessful in the legislature.

Try communicating in new ways. You can send e-mails or letters to your local, state, or federal representatives—and each will be read—but know that phone calls receive the most attention. You may also consider circulating a petition for signatures. It has the added benefit of allowing you to meet your neighbors to discuss issues that matter to you.

Listen in your community. Consider volunteering at a local organization to learn more about the topics that are most important to your neighbors. Go to town hall meetings to listen to your representatives. It may eventually inspire you to bring an idea forward. These meetings frequently allow time for citizens to share their concerns or questions.

Above all else, Dr. Tafoya says, there’s “a continuum of ways you can get actively engaged to promote positive social change—simply choose the best fit for you today.”