“Bleeding hearts stick together” read the text message reply from my former supervisor after I’d explained to her that I quit my job in consulting after only one year in order to return to the non-profit world. Not that I needed any validation, but I found comfort in her message. I felt I had lost an important part of myself in pursuit of a for-profit career and I yearned to escape more and more every minute that I spent in that office. My former supervisor was signaling what I had already known: I was on the right path back to meaningful work improving social issues.
However, it was exactly that – a path. It was a start. Part of me was still empty. Sure, now I was running data exports to leverage public health efforts instead of a company’s profits, but it didn’t fill the hole in my action-oriented heart.
Alas, my idea for a civic engagement “curriculum” was conceived. Here’s a brief explanation of what I did, what I have learned from it and how you can adopt similar strategies to become more directly involved with the causes that you care about.
What I Did
Around this time a year ago, I was fresh into my re-entry into the non-profit world but hungry for something more. I wanted to have an even deeper connection to making a difference. However, I realized I didn’t really have much experience truly fighting and advocating for what I believed in, and honestly didn’t really know where to start.
So I wrote up a plan for myself using a Google Doc. I set a few different goals for myself, including a set number of books to read and films to watch, choosing specific books or films ahead of time that would teach me about how others have fought for their rights and how any average citizen could do the same. I challenged myself to become involved with at least one volunteer group in order to not only meet others who also wanted to make an impact, but to develop a closer connection with my community. I regularly updated my Google Doc, documenting progress to my goals or writing a brief review of a book I’d read. Admittedly, I was not always great about following up, but I did make a reminder in my phone so that every Sunday morning I was at least reminded to check in on my progress, even if only mentally.
What I Learned
This was a one-year “curriculum” and though the year is wrapping up and I did not necessarily get to accomplish everything I’d hoped and dreamed when I wrote up my plan, I made significant progress. I have met numerous amazing people (even over Zoom!) from pushing myself to take action to be more civically engaged, and I feel like I have been able to make meaningful contributions through the groups that I have volunteered with. Overall, I’d say it was a success and I recommend pursuing a similar initiative in 2021 if you feel like I did a year ago – yearning for more actionable ways to make a difference in your community.
What You Can Do
Here is a breakdown of the different civic engagement goals I set for myself that allowed and inspired me to take action towards improving my community. The intention was to complete by the end of the year on a quarterly basis, but feel free to choose your own timeline.
Pick 3-5 films about civic engagement, or an issue you care about, and watch them. This is probably one of the simplest ways to jumpstart your civic engagement education, since all it requires is sitting on the couch and potentially indulging in some Ben & Jerry’s. While this isn’t necessarily taking action directly, it can act as a crash course on advocacy or a particular issue through storytelling and is a solid starting point.
My Film Recommendations: (all available for streaming on Netflix)
- Crip Camp
- Waiting for Superman
- Teach Us All
- Inequality for All
- Saving Capitalism
Pick 3-5 books about civic engagement, or an issue you care about, and read them. Similar to the films, if you’re more of a reader – or if you’re like me and not, but have a personal goal of reading more – a great way to incorporate a civic engagement education into your daily life is to add a few books on this topic to your reading list. Again, it could be a book related to a specific issue that you care about or are interested in learning more about, or it could literally be a book about ways to be an advocate in your community.
My Book Recommendations:
- Road Map for Revolutionaries, Elisa Camahort Page, Carolyn Gerin, and Jamia Wilson
- I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai & Christina Lamb
- Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
- Color of Law, Richard Rothstein
Pick 3-5 organizations you’d like to volunteer with and reach out to them. You don’t have to do all of them, but this is just a start to get you researching your options. Limit your list to just a few options, or even down to one, and start emailing. This may be extra challenging seeing as we are living in a global pandemic and close contact with others is discouraged, but don’t put it off for that reason! The world needs your help now more than ever, and there is surely an opportunity out there where you can pitch in, even virtually.
My volunteer recommendations:
- Take advantage of Volunteer Match
- Take advantage of Idealist (volunteer opportunities available, not just jobs!)
- Research volunteer sites near your place of residence – is there a food bank? An animal shelter?
- Find an organization fighting for a cause you care about – are they seeking volunteers who can help virtually?
These are guidelines based on what worked for me in 2020, but of course you can alter them as needed based on your schedule and what works for you. The key here is challenging yourself to learn more, holding yourself accountable for doing what you say you will and taking action towards becoming a more active citizen in a world where it is needed most.