12 ways to be an active citizen
- Get informed. First things first - pay attention to what's going on around you. That means watching/reading/listening to a variety of news and opinions, not just the ones that reflect your own established opinions. Which leads me to my next point...
- Talk to people. Your neighbours. Your friends. Your colleagues. Anyone and everyone. Find out about what's going on in their worlds and what's affecting them. Think about what really affects you, too.
- Join community groups. Just a quick Google, or a search on a site like Meetup.com, can reveal a whole host of community groups taking action in society. If you can't find one that resonates, start your own!
- Volunteer. After you've done some research, talked to people and figured out what tugs at your heartstrings, volunteer! My advice is don't be afraid to make it a regular commitment if at all possible. Think about what you could achieve by volunteering in your chosen field once a week for a year. The potential is massive.
- Engage with your representatives. If you're from New Zealand, do you know who your local MP is? For all the Americans out there - who are your senators and congressmen and women? We're working within imperfect systems, but we do have people elected to listen to us and represent our interests, so we need to talk to them. So...email them. Write them a letter. Pick up the phone. Tell them what matters to you and why. Whether you want to raise awareness on an issue or want a policy change, here's a handy guide on writing letters to your MP.
- Attend local council meetings. When your local council holds public meetings - you guessed it, go to them! You can usually check out the times and agendas online, and can even request to speak at certain meetings. If you want to get up to speed on what has happened at previous sessions, you can peruse the minutes online.
- Make submissions on legislation. In New Zealand, you can monitor proposed legislation and have your voice heard by making a submission to parliament.
- Engage with businesses. Letter writing and phone calls don't have to be limited to your councils, representatives and government - you can engage with businesses too! You might want to write to a clothing company to find out more about how ethical/sustainable their supply chain is, or to a local cafe to request they ditch single-use plastics like throwaway straws.
- Get involved with your local library. Libraries help keep our communities connected, even in increasingly digital times. Check out what events your local library is holding: there might be book clubs, special interest groups, panels, talks, workshops, exhibitions and so much more.
- Look after our shared spaces. Love nature? Get involved in your community parks and gardens. There are always groups taking part in clean-ups, plantings and meet-ups to ensure our green spaces thrive.
- Become a mentor. Leading by example is one of the best ways to create change and there are many organisations that pair mentors with children and teens. Or, there may be somebody in your life already who would benefit from having a mentor.
Every chance you get! Local elections, national elections, referendums...get out there and do it.
Being an active citizen is all about showing up and taking part. If you have any other ideas, I would love to hear them! How are you going to play your part in the coming weeks, months and years?
Feel the fear. Be your best. Give back.