As local journalists, we spend many hours attending meetings. Many, many meetings. Our goal is to know what’s happening in our communities at every level of government, from county to town to village.
A good way for people to become better engaged in community affairs is through civic groups. These groups, which are often overlooked, serve as the bridge between local government and residents.
They are the closest to the ground, with their ears toward local developments, both public and private. They are meant to represent the community. They ask businesses looking to develop the tough questions, mainly how the new Starbucks or Popeyes or hotel, just to name a few, will impact people in their daily lives.
Sadly, though, these civic groups often struggle with lack of participation. Groups like the Shoreham Civic Association publicly asked in a local Facebook group for people to show up, saying without participation their capacity for change goes out the window.
“Without Shoreham citizen participation we can do nothing,” the group wrote on Facebook.
If one were to get very Disney with their analogies, civics and civic participation are like … well, fairies. If one says out loud, “I don’t believe in fairies,” then the fairy dies.
Still, it’s clear why civics lack participation. Despite reports of a strengthening economy, people continue to work long hours and, in several cases, multiple jobs. Civic meetings often take place on weekdays and, understandably, the last thing one wants to do after getting home at 5, 6 or even 7 p.m. is rush out again to sit in another hour-long-plus meeting to discuss, for example, road issues.
When we attend these meetings, we see the demographics. Most people who attend are older and likely have the time to sit and discuss the issues.
That’s not to say the younger generations don’t attend solely because of time constraints. In all likelihood, many community members don’t even know who their local civic leaders are, and when or where they meet.
If you are asking yourself: How can I have a hand in designing my community? Or, how can I keep taxes down? Well, it starts with the civics, so reach out to your local civic group.
It may also be time for civics to reach out more to their community residents, as well.
As reporters, we have noticed times when local elected officials, like in the Village of Port Jefferson, have actually become active in local Facebook pages. Some of these pages are full of comments, and often facts get misrepresented. If civics would take videos of their meetings, then upload them directly to these Facebook groups. It may be a means of bridging the knowledge gap. Civic leaders need to reach out by every means possible, including social media.
The issues aren’t going away. The only way to have your voice be heard is to get involved.