Civic Engagement: What awakened you? #ynpengage

Civic Engagement: What awakened you? #ynpengage

At a recent board retreat for a social justice foundation, on whose board I serve, we were asked to think about a political event or experience  that “awakened” us and caused us to act.

For me there wasn’t just one moment. There was a series, a sequence. I remember as a very young child noticing what I would later come to call injustice. I didn’t have a word for it then, but I do remember the feeling of wrong and a sensation not quite describable, but similar to a chill or shudder through my body. I would literally have a visceral response to injustice. I still do.

While trying to remember my “awakening” and listening to other colleagues describe their life experiences I realized a common theme: many of us when we had this “awakening experience” felt powerless, unsure how to solve the injustice and in some cases unsure how to come to terms with it.

The point of the exercise for me:  all of us matter and everyone who wants to see change in the world has to be a part of the solution.

I have always loved the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This quote has been attributed to Ghandi, and I find it a guiding principle, a central value for me.

I find it is often easy to complain about what isn’t going well, not only in my life but in society, politically, globally. Sometimes, if I dwell too much on the negative parts of the world, it feels paralyzing. This is why I have learned that showing up, being a part of the change I want to see, not just complaining, is vitally important, not only for me but for my community.

How do you begin?

When I started my “civic engagement,” I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I was working at an organization that educated people on voter engagement, not who to vote for, but the mechanics of voting itself. It suddenly occurred to me that not everyone knew their rights, there was a lot of misinformation about voting in certain communities and that I could make a difference simply by being well informed and sharing my knowledge with others.

From there, I realized that showing up to caucuses, rallies, signing petitions  and voting actually did make a difference. I remember when my Congresswoman wrote back to me, I was stunned. That however, encouraged me to speak a little louder the next time.
What are other ways to get involved? Vote, join community groups or nonprofit committees working on issues that are important to you. Door-knock, phone bank. Tell your friends, your colleagues your family what issues matter to you and how they can make a difference. Respectfully listen to others with differing ideas and above all, never give up!
Dania Toscana Miwa
Dania Toscano Miwa is the Managing Principal and co-founder of Toscano Advisors, a three-year old consulting firm specializing in strategy, fundraising, executive recruiting and leadership development for nonprofit organizations.

She has more than ten years of experience working with/for nonprofits as diverse as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, OTA-Pollen, The Northside Achievement Zone, The International Wolf Center, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Animal Humane Society, the American Indian Cancer Foundation and the Regional Parks Foundation. She is co-author and editor of the Toscano Advisors blog.

Dania is a member of the Boards of Directors of Azul, the Minnesota Zoo’s young professional board and chair of the governance committee, and on the board of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, where she is the co-chair of the development and outreach committee. She was formerly on the board of directors of her local YNPN chapter from 2009-10.

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