New year’s goals are often dedicated to personal improvement, like creating a new fitness goal, sticking to a budget, going to bed early or giving up sweets (a hard one for me). But I have another goal for Minnesotans to consider: a commitment to intentional civic engagement in 2020.
In the last presidential election, Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the nation – about 75% of our state’s eligible voters participated. It’s a statistic that is sadly impressive when we compare it with other states; only Maine, New Hampshire and Colorado additionally topped 70%.
Yet, when we start peeling back the onion, we quickly see that this statistic is not reflective of all Minnesotans. According to the U.S. Census from the 2016 elections, 71% of Minnesota voters were white and over the age of 60. These numbers tell us that many of us still don’t have a voice in our electoral system, especially those from marginalized communities.
In places where everyone has a seat at the decision-making table, a higher quality of life can be found. In fact, that’s what democracy is all about: the people electing representatives and then actively holding them accountable. But how many of us actually feel that our voices matter inside the voting booth and beyond it?
We know that our system is set up to civically engage some, but not others, which is the bulk of the problem. How are you supposed to attend that city budget hearing when you are working two jobs? How about volunteering for a campaign when you have kids to take care of and you have no one to watch them? Disenfranchised people don’t have time to participate in public affairs, much less interpret the jargon of our policies, or keep updated on what new bills are being proposed (and that is often intentional).
But, another part of the problem is cultural. It’s the listlessness we feel and the sense that whatever we do, it does not matter. It’s feeling overwhelmed by the depth of our communities’ problems or by how many candidates are there to choose from. Trust me, I have been there. But taking on an active civic engagement role is one answer to the disillusionment many of us face, and as a side bonus, we can find hope alongside our community as we work to make it better.
YWCA Minneapolis offers many events and programs dedicated to facilitating meaningful conversations about race, social justice and civic engagement. We offer resources to help empower people and break down barriers to civic engagement. What we’ve found is that many people want to do more for their families and communities, but don’t know where to start.
With this in mind, last year we introduced our inaugural It’s Time to Act!TM Forum Series. The forums are paired with guided action-planning sessions, so community members can explore their own power to create change and set specific intentions to take action.
Our first forum of 2020 was Jan. 16 with a session on electoral justice; two more forums will be on April 16 and June 11. We’re also offering informational workshops to help people better understand the upcoming census, caucuses, primaries and elections. And we will be training volunteers as racial justice facilitators to help guide important conversations about race and racism in our neighborhoods.
If we are truly on a path to become One Minnesota, we have a lot of work to do. I encourage community members to commit to intentionally becoming civically active in 2020. It will be an incredibly important year; and each one of us is needed in the work to make our communities healthier, safer and more equitable.
Rubén Vázquez is YWCA Minneapolis’ vice president of racial justice and public policy.
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