Civic engagement is more than just a set of practices; it is also a set of conditions. The civic engagement environment is not only informed by what we practice, but by how we are positioned in our communities. This environment exists in the interconnection of our community and individual lives. How we practice civic engagement is tied to our access to resources and opportunities, which is dependent upon the (perceived and intended) motivations behind issue-specific public engagements.
Historically, people of color and low-income residents (and many others), have often not been invited to speak, assemble and associate in an authentic way. Their gifts have gone unappreciated.
1. Embracing the Gifts of Diversity: A healthy and equitable civic engagement environment built around the assets of community members can capitalize on the benefits of a diverse set of gifts. Building strong communities starts with recognizing the power that already exists in typically undervalued people and neighborhoods
2. Realizing the Role of Race, Power and Injustice: Civic engagement doesn’t occur in a historical vacuum, and we have found that it is counterproductive to attempt to ignore or minimize history in our community conversations. When community members become more aware of how historical inequities affect the engagement patterns of our communities today, a common understanding is formed, validating the experiences of all stakeholders and inviting everyone to more thoughtfully create a new future for the community.
3. Radical Hospitality: Building communities where everyone feels a sense of belonging and ownership does not happen accidentally Inclusion needs to be intentional, particularly in the case of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Civic engagement derives its importance from its impact on people beyond the meeting, hearing, or vote. To be relevant to people’s lives, the civic engagement environment must be seen as a space for people to share their voices honestly and have a meaningful impact on community developments. Real hospitality requires a determined dedication to inclusion, a commitment to the idea that when the community comes together, everyone is represented.
4. Trust Building and Commitment: A sense of trust is tied to a feeling of empowerment When those who are the least privileged in the community are able to demonstrate their skills and abilities in a meaningful way, the community dialogue becomes a setting where mutual trust can grow. Strong community involvement will help ensure that agreements between stakeholders are honored, and foster continued support for community initiatives.
5. Honoring Dissent and Embracing Protest: Navigating change as a community means acknowledging the difficult emotions inherent in change. Nonetheless, if we navigate change intentionally, we can move forward with trust, openness, and shared opportunity. Likewise, navigating change can be equally as challenging for organizations.
6. Adaptability to Community Change: When public engagement avoids controversial topics for fear of conflict, individuals tend to produce the very conflict they hoped to avoid. Community challenges cannot be met while withholding our differences. Differences between people will ultimately surface, and then the community is left without the tools to productively navigate them. In order to discuss our differences constructively, authentic forms of dissent must be seen as a form of care, not resistance. Authentic statements of doubt shift the culture of our engagement towards openness and honesty, while building accountability and commitment among residents. A climate of open listening is the backbone of a healthy engagement process.
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