Our Power, Our Mission, Our Future
Civic engagement is a powerful tool for eliminating racism. In fact, it is the one tool that disenfranchised groups consistently rely on to create a more representative democracy. While we can use this tool in a variety of ways, from acts of civil disobedience to serving on the school board, laws have been changed and communities have been empowered when community members dedicate their time to doing something for the greater good.
Defined as working to make a difference in communities through both political and non-political activities, civic engagement addresses public concern and promotes a better quality of life for community members.
For many, the term “civic engagement” refers only to voting, but civic engagement is a much larger body of work. That full breadth of work is important, because voting alone cannot create systemic change. Throughout American history right up through the present, voting has only been accessible as a privi- lege, and not a true civil right. Voter suppression remains a very real challenge for many marginalized communities.
The hard work of ensuring communities can and do get out to vote is so important. But this work is best coupled with meeting the day to day needs of those communities through direct service, raising awareness on the issues that impact their lives most and advocating for policy change. Civic engagement is most powerful when the full spectrum of civic life is valued and all community members can choose how they’d like to participate.
Each of us can stand against racism by engaging in our communities in a meaningful way.
HERE ARE SOME WAYS WE CAN EACH PLAY A ROLE:
The dedication of time, money and other tangible resources towards addressing community needs both through volunteer work and careers in public service (including running for office) has made an impact on the day-to-day experiences of individuals throughout history.
Did you know? The Black Panther party birthed the nation’s first free breakfast school program in Oakland, California, in 1968 to address a need in low-income Black communities. Within a year it grew to serve 20,000 school-aged children in 19 cities around the country, and in 23 local affiliates every school day. It is credited for inspiring the creation of today’s school breakfast program.
The decision to engage in the electoral process through voting, volunteering at the polls or on campaigns, and financially supporting candidates that represent the needs of your community has made an impact on who/whose concerns are represented and addressed in public office.
Did you know? In the face of state-backed voter suppression mechanisms in Alabama, local, on-the-ground organizing and voter turnout mobilization efforts made a critical difference in the state’s Senate special election in December, leading to increased turnout among Black voters – particularly Black women. Since 2008, Black voters had accounted for approximately 25 percent of Alabama’s electorate in statewide races; in the special election, that number jumped to 29 percent.
When community members gather to identify issues that directly impact them, they can use their collective power to create change in their community. By advocating the shared needs of the community, we can hold those elected into office accountable and begin to impact systemic change through policies and institutional practices.
Did you know? In 1982, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union organized one of the largest Asian-American strikes in history with 20,000 workers going on strike in New York City’s Chinatown demanding economic justice for immigrant employees. Within hours of rallying together, their demands were met and victory was won.
*501c3s are more limited than individuals in how they can engage in the electoral process.
Please review YWCA’s GOTV Guide for a better understanding of what YWCAs can and cannot do as an organization.