3 Ways to Get Involved in Local Government
Our country is at a turning point and as more and more people demand justice for Black men and women, you may be wondering how you can get involved and make a difference. One key way is to get involved in your local government. Did you know that there are over 500,000 elected offices in the United States and that most of them sit within 89,000 local governments? Local governments run our city utilities, libraries, fire departments, public swimming pools, parks, local law enforcement, and schools, just to name a few. Local government consists of city councilmembers, mayors, county commissioners, sheriffs, and school boards.
In his article, “How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change,” former President Barack Obama highlights, “It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards with the power to monitor police conduct are elected as well.”
Local government touches every aspect of your life and affects how well you and your fellow community members can thrive in society. If you aren’t sure where to start with local government, here are three first steps.
Attend (Or Virtually Attend) a City Council Meeting
There’s hardly anything in your life that your local government doesn’t have some influence over. The easiest way to know exactly what your local government does and who is a part of it? Attend their meetings.
The agendas of city council meetings are available publicly on your local government’s website. If you want your city council to address an issue you care about, you can request they add it to their agenda. Once you are at the meeting, listen closely to what topics are presented and how your city councilors address them. What are their solutions? What are their thoughts and ideas for making your community a better place to live?
Often, city council meetings will have a reserved time period, either at the end or the beginning, for citizen participation. This is when you can verbally share your thoughts on a particular subject. Maybe you don’t like that tax increase or you want to see state grant money go to a particular service. City council meetings are the place for you to share that opinion. Your local government wants to hear from you so they can make an informed decision that addresses the concerns of their constituents.
To find when your local government’s meetings are and the agenda, google your town or city’s name and “city council meetings.” Ask a friend to join so you’re not alone!
Join a Board or Commission
Are you looking for volunteer experience and have some free time on your hands to give back to your community? Try joining your town’s local board or commission. Many cities and counties have appointed local boards and commissions who advise the local government on a number of policy issues from public safety, education, housing, and economic development. Boards and commissions enable citizens to get involved in the policy-making process and allow for a broader perspective to be considered when a City Council is making decisions.
For example, in Washington, D.C. they have a Commission for Women that consists of 21 members appointed by the Mayor of the city. The commission focuses on conducting studies and making recommendations on the areas of ending discrimination based on sex, equal pay, education equality, and new and expanded services for women in the D.C. area.
In Collingswood, New Jersey, they have a Historic Board that works to “to safeguard Collingswood’s rich architectural heritage and history.”
In Baltimore, Maryland, they have a Civilian Review Board that is “an independent agency in the city through which members of the public can issue a complaint against officers of various law enforcement units.”
If you’re under 18 and want to get involved, no problem! Many towns have their own Youth Advisory Councils that serve as a way to get young people involved in local government and learn how policy is made. Take the city of Winston Salem, North Carolina for example. They have twenty appointed positions for youth to join and get involved in their city’s community programming.
Boards and Commissions are almost always unpaid, volunteer positions, and they are great stepping stones to understanding how your local government works, meeting new community members, and exploring what life in public leadership could look like for you. To find out what boards and commissions are offered in your town, start by googling your local town or city’s name and “Boards and Commissions” or you can head to your city’s local government website.
Volunteer for A Local Candidate’s Campaign
Not ready to fully step into the candidate position just yet but curious what goes into running for local office? Start by volunteering for your local candidate’s campaign. Local elections happen every single year across the country so be sure to check when your state’s elections for state and local government are.
Local candidates will often rely heavily on volunteers to help them get out the vote, host events, and spread the word about their campaign. Volunteers often go door knocking, which is going door to door in a certain area to share information about your candidate and ask citizens who they plan on voting for on Election Day. This is a great way to learn more about what your community is looking for in its leadership and get to know the lay of the land.
And if you’re interested in running for local office one day, there’s no better way to learn how to run a campaign for a local position than to join one yourself. You’ll get to know the candidate more personally than you would for a congressional race and see up close what the day-to-day of a local campaign is like.
Next time you see a yard sign with a candidate’s name or hear about someone running for city council in your town, check them out. Read their story, their platform, and sign up to volunteer. If they don’t have a volunteer sign up option on their website, call them or send them an email letting them know you’re interested in volunteering. Trust me, they won’t say no.
Your local government needs your voice. These are just a few ways to start getting involved and after you start getting involved, who knows? You just might want to run for office yourself. After you’ve picked how you’re going to get involved in local government, join our community and let us know how it went.