by Beth Posner-Waldron
Civic engagement, to me, means being involved with what is going on in my community and the country. My goal is to be involved and try to make a difference for the betterment of all. Civic Engagement means putting my faith into action, by following my personal and UU values such as respecting the “inherent worth and dignity of each person” and protecting “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”.
While many people think of civic engagement as something you do during elections, to me, civic engagement is what happens in between, not just during elections. Click here to see a variety of action items you can take to make a difference locally and nationally.
Civic engagement is not always easy and from my own experience, I know it can be hard to step out of your comfort zone. Before I ever thought of myself as an activist, more than 15 years ago, I met with my state representative about something very important to me, the marriage equality bill. I was nervous and intimidated but attended the meeting with another member of the UUCW community. With her support, I sat down with Representative Alicea prior to a critical vote in the statehouse that kept same-sex marriage legal in Masschusetts. While I wasn’t the only one from our church who had a meeting with him, it felt like I had an impact. I believe that our talks with him helped to broaden his thoughts on the subject and helped influence his decision. Other members of the congregation met with or called their representative and wrote letters on behalf of marriage equality. Through this civic engagement, we were able to help preserve legal marriage for same-sex couples in our state.
Leading up to the 2019 Presidential election, I was motivated with Ruth Silver to form a team under the Side With Love Task Force that we called Get Out the Vote. The team worked to ensure that more people were registered and had the tools necessary to take part in what would be the most contentious election in recent history. I attended the UUtheVote Organizing School over the summer, led by the UUA. I also listened to panel discussions with the non-partisan, Black-led organization, Center for Common Ground. These groups reinforced my desire to do what I could to fight the oppressive voting regulations that were disproportionately impacting communities of Black people and other minority groups. Due to Covid-19 and social distancing, phone banking from home took the place of large groups of people making calls together in one room and door-to-door canvassing. I got hooked on making non-partisan phone banking calls and was invited to help train others to make calls. Through this work, I became part of a new community, joining together over zoom from all across the country. Members of our Team and others at UUCW volunteered with several non-partisan organizations to make phone calls, write letters, and send text messages and postcards to potential voters in key states that ultimately helped defeat Donald Trump and win two important Senate seats in Georgia during their special election. I am deeply humbled and grateful to all the people who rose up and joined in making a difference in these two elections.
After the election, civic engagement took on a new focus for me. I wanted to hold my state and federal representatives accountable to me as their constituent. I found a number of different ways to do this, including
- expressing my support or dissatisfaction with a bill that is pending to be passed by making phone calls or sending emails to them;
- signing a petition on behalf of an organization trying to get action taken on an important issue;
- spreading the word to friends, family and my community of faith about issues important to me and encouraging them to take action;
- posting an action item on my Facebook page or Church Peeps or the #GetOuttheVote Team Facebook page; and
- calling people in other states with a phonebank to help them take action on an important issue.
I’ve learned that civic engagement can take so many different forms. Sometimes civic engagement means standing on a corner at a busy intersection holding a sign or driving in a votercade or walking in an organized march in solidarity with others. It could also mean attending a rally in opposition to the organizer, letting them know that I don’t support what they’re promoting. Civic engagement can also be calling or writing letters and postcards to voters to thank them for their past voting efforts and encouraging them to stay engaged and vote in the upcoming local and midterm elections, not just the national election.
It can be overwhelming and time-consuming to weed through all the issues that need attention. Our UUA advocacy group, UUMassAction, makes it easy. Beginning in 2021, once a month, UUMassAction holds an “action hour” where a staff member walks people from UU congregations and other like-minded folks through the process of sending emails, making phone calls, and signing petitions on a variety of justice issues which always overlap with racial justice. They provide a document with action items that are prioritized for that month. You can pick an item you are passionate about or do all of them with the instructions provided. Even if I don’t attend, I can follow the document to take action on my own but it is easier and feels more empowering to do it with others. They also coordinated an advocacy day last Spring where myself and others were able to meet by zoom with our state representatives and senators in order to lobby for passage of important bills during the 2021 legislative session.
Civic engagement also means speaking up: when you see something, say something. Being part of the Side With Love Task Force and the UUA Beloved Conversations workshop series, I was exposed to films, articles, and books that broadened my thinking about what it means to be a white, middle-class, person of privilege and allowed me to have discussions within a safe community that gave me confidence to speak up when I heard or saw something that did not sit right with me. I felt bolder and more motivated to bring up questions related to racial justice in my professional meetings that I might earlier have kept to myself.
I am motivated to take action by the events that transpired during the years leading up to and during the Trump administration and the storming of the capitol on January 6th, 2021. While it may feel like individual actions don’t amount to much or that there’s not enough time in the day, I am driven by this affirmation in our UU Hymnal by Edward Everett Hale:
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
These words of hope and inspiration are echoed by Andrea Miller, founding member of Center for Common Ground, who explains that phone calls and emails to our representatives can make a difference:
- At the federal level, 10 phone calls and 15 emails make an impact.
- At the state/local level, 3 phone calls and 5 emails make an impact.
Margaret Mead sums up my belief in the power of organizing and taking action in small, but deliberate steps: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
You are only one and I hope you will not refuse to do something that you can do. Here are some specific things you can do to stay engaged right now.
What does civic engagement mean to you? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I welcome you to join me in civic engagement and being an activist for social and racial justice. Please reach out to me directly or by email at GOtV@uucworcester.org.
Member of UUCW since September 1990
Coordinator, Get Out the Vote Team
Member, Side With Love Task Force