If you clicked this article and started reading, chances are you have the intention of being an engaged citizen and leaving a mark on your local community. But you probably feel it, too: it’s so easy to get sucked into the grind of everyday life.
Because when we’re juggling work, school, hobbies, chores and family time, citizen participation seems like a great idea in theory, but how can you possibly make time for it?
Not to worry! Because the good news is that citizen participation doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. There are many things you can do as a citizen to uplift your community and the people in it. Some of them will cost you little to no effort, but with such a tangible impact on your neighbourhood, how could we ever call them ‘small things’?
Let’s take a look at different ways to get involved and leave your mark on politics and public life — without having to clear your calendar.
10. Stay up to date on (local) politics
Do you know who’s in charge? Who has the decision-making power, and what are their plans for your community? Knowledge is power, so make sure to stay informed on what happens around you. Read the local newspaper or newsletter at Sunday breakfast, talk to your neighbours, and attend town meetings whenever you can find the time.
9. Volunteer in your community
Whether it’s walking a shelter dog every weekend, signing an online petition about a local cause or serving beers at the yearly fundraiser for the local school — every small act of volunteering goes a long way. After all, you’re directly impacting the existence of important organisations, charities and individuals in your city or municipality.
8. Share your ideas and spark the debate
Is your city or municipality launching a digital citizen participation project? Great, because that allows you to share ideas and have conversations about local topics that matter to you, without even having to leave the comfort of your own home. Plus, it gives you a clear view of what the administration is planning to do with your input.
We get the chance to let our voices be heard every couple of years at the ballot box. It might not feel very impactful when you’re checking the name of your choice, but the importance of casting your vote can’t be understated. Elections allow citizens to keep the administration accountable, and to weigh in on the direction and prioritisation of policy. Safe to say, getting informed and voting for your favourite candidate is one of the best ways to engage as a citizen.
6. Check your privilege and create space
Almost every person in this world is born with a certain amount of privilege. That means that they have a special advantage over certain other people or groups. Whether it’s about ethnicity, social status, gender or physical ability, it’s important to be aware of the privileges you hold, because if you use them in a powerful and positive way, you can truly transform society. Get informed on topics that don’t affect you directly, and create space for voices that aren’t heard as often in your community.
5. Scratch that cultural itch
Going to the library, visiting a local museum or heading to a concert isn’t just fun and enriching, it’s also beneficial for your community as a whole. Cultural organisations enable people to read, write, and appreciate arts and music in an inclusive and accessible way. Your library card or museum tickets can really make a difference in the way these organisations function.
4. Settle down with a book
We told you engagement doesn’t have to take a lot of effort, right? We weren’t lying! Grab a drink of your choice, get settled in the cosiest nook you can find, and dive into an interesting book on politics or democracy. Don’t know where to start? Take another look at our curated list of top 10 must-reads that’ll inspire you to get involved.
3. Support local businesses
That cosy family bakery on the main square? The vegetable stand that’s been selling on the market for 25 years? The new coffee place across the street? For them, it makes a huge difference where you buy your croissants, zucchinis or latte macchiatos. Instead of shopping in bigger chains, try spending your hard-earned money at a local business. It’ll make your community flourish!
2. Watch your ecological footprint
You don’t want to live in a smoggy nightmare full of dirt and litter, and your neighbours don’t, either. Keeping your community clean and healthy is an individual responsibility for everyone, and the good thing is that small changes make big differences. Reduce the amount of useless plastic or non-recyclables you buy, see what you can re-use, and recycle the rest! Or maybe join #TrashTuesdays and take 10 minutes to pick up litter while you’re out walking that shelter dog?
1. Take matters into your own hands
Agreed, this one takes a little more time and effort. But is there a certain topic that’s close to your heart, and are you passionate about making a change? Then why not get started with your own citizen initiative? Gather the signatures you need and put your proposal on the council’s agenda, join a group of like-minded peers, or why not join local politics? Become a member of a local party, help them with the campaigning in your city or municipality, or even get on the list yourself!
As citizens, we hold more power than we think. We can drastically change and improve our communities and the lives of the people in them if we put our minds to it. So let’s get to work! How are you going to start?