Civic Moving Hacks

 

So, your boxes are unpacked and you’ve made your requisite trips to Target, IKEA, the hardware store, etc. You’ve scoped out the nearby take-out restaurants, the closest pharmacy, and public transportation options. You even set up mail forwarding (or purposely didn’t set up mail forwarding, to throw off all the mass-mail marketing companies).

Congrats! Now that your move is over, you can forget about the horror of squeezing a couch in a small stairwell, and focus on a great adventure ahead.

Wherever you now reside, it’s time to join your new community.

I’ve put together a Simply Civics guide for community essentials, because like you, I hope to survive September 1st, and like you, I’m excited to see what’s going on around me ASAP. Now is the time to flex your civic muscles.  Even if you’re not moving, now is a great time to focus on your community.

Without further ado…

Joining a Community: The Moving Edition

  1. Visit your Town Hall. Say hey! Get comfortable so that when you have to pick up an absentee ballot or talk to the Community Planning Office, you know where to go. Check out the Town’s website to see what kind of meetings take place and where. Is there a big meeting room that you might go to for a local hearing? Does your School Committee or School Department have its own office? Where’s the Clerk’s Office located?
  2. While you’re at the Clerk’s Office, change your voter registration address. Do it now so you won’t have to scramble before the elections.
  3. Get a library card. Local libraries often assume to role of a community’s center. With a library card, you can check out books, but you can also use computers, take out e-books, reserve rooms, (in Brookline) check out library pans, reserve museum passes, attend classes, and conduct research. To get a library card, you will probably need a state-issued ID card, an identifying piece of mail, or a bank statement.
  4. Meet your neighbors. First, say hey to them outside or in your building, introduce yourself, and say which unit or building you’re in. Then, join NextDoor, a social media platform for your neighborhood. People post when they are trying to give something away, or looking for recommendations, or looking to hire a babysitter or pet sitter. It’s a great resource. To learn more about its many advantages, check out my post about NextDoor.
  5. Donate your duplicate furniture, appliances, clothes, etc., to a nearby organization where it can be put to better use. One excellent option is NuDay Syria. They have a number of drop-off locations listed on their website. See if any places of worship in your area are collecting household items/clothes/food for underserved families You could also consider posting on NextDoor to give away items to a neighbor.
  6. Subscribe to local news. Does your town or city have one or two major newspapers? Brookline has the TAB and Patch. Both are great and free. You’ll need to know what’s going on around you — upcoming initiatives, new shops and restaurants, winter weather how-to’s — and you might as well tune in now. Local news covers a lot of ground and is a great way to learn about your community.
  7. Mark your Calendar with Community-Wide Events. If you live or work in Brookline, mark your calendar now for Brookline Day. It’s on September 24 and it’s fun for all ages. I’ve been looking forward to it since last year’s Brookline Day. Your town might have holiday festivals, farmer’s markets, or even a Harvest Festival. Any Parks and Rec fans out theres?Pawnee Harvest Festival
  8. Get to know your public officials. This is a lot easier than it may seem. They’ll be listed on your town or city site. Many of them also have campaign websites, even outside of campaign season, so you can look up their priorities that way. While you’re doing this, pull up a map of your city or town to see if you’re in a specific precinct. You’ll need to know this come election time, but it’s great to know beforehand, too. Here’s Brookline’s precinct map. I’ll be changing precincts so I’ll have new Town Meeting Members.
  9. Follow your community on Twitter and other social media. I love this step. There are some public officials who post frequently and are very involved in town activities. Don’t be shy. They want you to follow them. Search for Twitter accounts for the library, schools, farmers markets, newspapers, art centers, transportation office, political organizations, the chamber of commerce, neighborhood services, etc. Some are better than others, but you can always unsubscribe at any time.
  10. Learn about Civic Organizations. There are so many out there, depending on your interests and availability. Talk to people to see what’s worthwhile and what would be up your alley. If you don’t have time to join one now, think about following their work and supporting them in your own way. Here are some ideas.

League of Women Voters. Talk to me if you’re interested in joining! Men are welcome, too!

Neighborhood Associations. Brookline has the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance and has specific neighborhood associations within it.

Town/City Political Parties. Political Parties always want more volunteers!

Town/City Working Groups and Committees. Brookline posts their openings here. Volunteering for a local board or committee is a fantastic way to serve your community.

School PTAs. I can’t really speak to this but if you have school-aged kids, you may think about this as a means to get to know other parents and get involved in the school.

Local Clubs. You’d be surprised what you can find with a quick Google search.

 

The Place to Start

Just like the process of moving, when it comes to joining a community, you can’t do it all at once. But there are some things you can do easily right off the bat.

Honestly, the list is far from exhaustive, but it’s a great starting point. Once you get the basics, you’ll be a community member in no time. Remember, there’s more to civic engagement than voting. At it’s core, civic engagement is about being active in civic life, and there are so many ways to do it. Find the ones that work best for you, and see where it takes you!

Since I’m a big fan of Chance the Rapper and I’ve had his version of the Arthur theme song (“Wonderful Everyday“) stuck in my head for days, I’m going to send you off with some words of wisdom from a good ol’ children’s show (random, but bear with me):

Everyday when you’re walking down the street, everybody that you meet
Has an original point of view
And I say HEY! hey! what a wonderful kind of day! 
Where you can learn to work and play
And get along with each other

You got to listen to your heart
Listen to the beat
Listen to the rhythm, the rhythm of the street
Open up your eyes, open up your ears
Get together and make things better by working together
It’s a simple message and it comes from the heart
Believe in yourself (echo: believe in yourself)
Well that’s the place to start (to start)

One last thing. If you Tweet a picture at @simplycivics of you doing any of these things in the next month, and tag #simplycivics, maybe I’ll write a blog post about you!

Happy Moving!

Buffers Soften the Blow

Who knew Amazon wishlists could connect total strangers.

I sat with Lisa Nowak Wilkins in a Washington Square coffee shop, in awe of her drive, focus, perspective, and compassion. But I imagine she doesn’t want this blog post to be about her, her compelling storytelling talents, and her remarkable way of connecting people of all ages, continents apart.

Our conversation taught me many things, including that Lisa Nowak Wilkins will always deflect the attention away from her — and towards the refugee crisis.

Dozens of Diapers

Lisa started her journey of assisting refugees with some calls to nonprofits in the area. She called and called and called, and her inquiries fell flat. Finally, she showed up at one and asked how she could help. The staffers said the demand for services far exceeds their funding streams. A financial donation will always be appreciated. Lisa dug deeper. What specific things do the refugee families in Boston need?

Well for starters, they need diapers.

Lisa went home, created an Amazon wishlist for diapers, shared it on Facebook, and didn’t have to wait long. Within 24 hours, a whole room of her home was full of diapers. Her network of friends, families, and neighbors had answered the call. She was astonished, and she discovered something significant that day.

When she asks peers to buy something simple and specific for a refugee that they themselves would need to fulfill basic needs, her peers say yes without any hesitation.

50 Cans of Tuna

People are much more likely to buy nonperishable food, clothing, and bedsheets than they are to donate money. You and I know what we need to survive each day, and so it’s easy for us to understand what others need, too.

People are more likely to donate 50 cans of tuna than $50 to refugee families.

What started as a Facebook post for diapers quickly led to a larger movement. Lisa’s theory took on a life of its own, and gained speed. She saw how many people were ready to jump on board with the work. People saw devastating pictures of Syrian children on the news and they wanted to do something. Lisa provided the vehicle for doing just that.

Since the day she made that first visit to the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights, Lisa has created Boston Friends for Refugee Support, BFFRS. Buffers soften the blow.

Lisa and her group may be far away from the crisis, but they can do their part to buffer the impact for families and individuals facing the brunt of it. 1600 members strong, BFFRS is still growing and adapting to meet the needs of refugees here and abroad.

Lisa’s message isn’t only that people should part with what they don’t need, to share with someone else, although that is part of it. At the very DNA of BFFRS is the idea that each person has his or her own way to contribute. Whether its through our words, technology, clothing, toiletries, or nonperishable food, we can improve someone’s day-to-day reality.

A New Lesson Plan

Miraculously, Lisa has found her role in responding to the Syrian refugee crisis: she pinpoints areas of need in partnering organizations, and she reaches out to her vast network. She inspires people to think beyond themselves and creates pathways for them to serve. Lisa has her role, and she inspires people to find theirs.

Lisa’s background is in teaching. She swears by the importance of character development through service to others, for children, teens, and even adults. Service is a about a relationship. It’s reciprocal. Through her work, she sees that not only do the refugees benefit, but so do the people sharing with them.

When Lisa told me about her work in schools, her eyes lit up. She’ll go into high schools and task students with writing letters to their counterparts in camps. Through their writing, the geographic distance dissipates. The students express their hopes for the refugees, and tell them that they’re thinking of them and their families. As the students compose the letters, the refugee crisis becomes real and tangible to them. The letters build bridges between people living very different lives, but who at their cores have the same needs and dreams.

Writing is not the only way students participate in BFFRS. Lisa loves bringing backpacks to schools. She asks the students to fill them up with anything but technology that would make them smile. Then they share the backpacks with children of refugee families.

Dignity and Wifi

One of my favorite BFFRS ideas is the cosmetic bag gathering. After receiving a bunch of makeup donations for women, Lisa asked girls to “shop” through the items and put together kits for women in refugee camps. They made handmade tags that said “You are beautiful” in English and Arabic, to send dignity and love to other women they may never meet. Lisa told me about the high rates of depression in refugee camps, and how she believes little things like this can make a difference for a woman who is suffering.

A different, also powerful way to give is through donating phones. There’s a real need for smart phones and devices with internet in camps. A phone can pave the way out of a refugee camp; when an individual can contact a family member outside the camps, he or she can begin to conceptualize a way out. There are solar-powered charging stations in refugee camps, but people don’t have devices to charge and use. So if you have an iPhone lying around, clear the data, unlock it, and give it to BFFRS or another refugee-supporting organization. Same with tablets. A device with internet will change someone’s life, I promise.

Humanwire

Then there are bolder ways to give, if you have some disposable income you can share.

Lisa told me about Humanwire, an organization through which individuals can “host” refugees. After creating a profile and making a donation, an individual can follow the donation to the refugee who will receive it. Through their Tent to Home campaign, Humanwire works to transfer families from tents to apartments.

A donation of $200 per month can house a family in an apartment in Greece, where they can work and restart their lives. I love the idea of a family, a group of friends, a church group, or an office adopting a family and giving them a home. Through pooling together resources, we can give children better, safer futures and adults a way to break away from the horror and heartbreak.

A Bit of Introspection

My notebook is full of other ideas that Lisa shared with me. Here are some of the others:

Are you…

  • An extreme couponer? I challenge you to maximize your savings on any of these items, and give them to someone who needs them: wool socks, feminine hygiene products, soap, cans of food.
  • A parent or mentor to teenagers? Consider bonding with your daughter/son/niece/nephew/mentee through picking up a volunteer shift at a local organization supporting refugees. Invest time in their character development, while supporting refugees. If you live in Boston, BFFRS has a handy list of their partner organizations here.
  • An art collector? Support refugees through buying their art!
  • A writer? Send letters to refugees. Email your congressmen, if you are inclined, to strike the issue at a systemic level.
  • A chef? Host a refugee family in your area for a meal.
  • A teacher? Plan a lesson or two about humanitarian crises, or adopt Lisa’s letter-writing or backpack-stuffing activities.

Do you have…

  • Work suits or dress shoes you don’t wear anymore? There are refugees in the Boston area who want to start their careers here and need them for interviews. Bring them by the nearest drop-off location.
  • Extra Legos lying around your house, or other toys your kids don’t need? Your kids will enjoy the process of sharing them with children who unfortunately don’t have toys. Or if they’d be interested, for their next birthday party, ask children to bring $5 for refugees instead of gifts.
  • A spare couch or bed? Families new to this area are arriving with next to nothing. Lend them a hand in furnishing their homes. Or, sell your couch and donate the money.
  • 1/1000th of the social media followers that Selena Gomez has? Share this post, the BFFRS website, and stories of the crisis in Syria.

Think Global, Act Local

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have other ideas, please give me a shout and I’ll share them on Twitter. There are infinite other ways to join the movement, one for each of us. And as we begin to look outwards, to help others, we discover our best, most authentic selves.

Just like local citizenship, global citizenship is about the bonds of human connection.

April Showers Bring May Elections

It’s election season again in Brookline, but it’s a lot different from this past November. This time, the people on the ballot are our neighbors.

For a lot of people, springtime means flowers, the Marathon, baseball, and eating lunch outside. For candidates for local office, springtime means campaigning is in full swing. Candidates are spending their evenings and weekends knocking on doors, stopping in at events, calling neighbors, asking for endorsements, and somehow getting enough sleep to function.

The issues this election season are monumental. Debates are centering around where to build the next K-8 school, how many more affordable housing units we should approve this year, whether it’s time for a debt exclusion, and what services our libraries will provide in the coming years. That’s not even all of it.

When Brookline residents go to the polls on Tuesday, May 2nd, they’ll be voting for town-wide offices and Town Meeting Members.

Contested

The Brookline Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Library Board of Trustees, and Town Meeting Members each have seats up for election this year. As a civic engagement nerd, I’m thrilled that there are more contested races this time than in previous years. That means more people want to get involved in our local government, which is fantastic news. The more, the merrier.

Since there are contested races, we each have some decisions to make. If we follow these simple steps, we’ll be ready to vote on May 2nd.

The 10 Steps to Voting Success

  1. Mark your calendar. Decide now whether you’ll vote in the morning, at lunch, in the afternoon, in the early evening. You can always change it later if your schedule shifts, but it’s important to have a reminder set. Polls will be open from 7:00AM to 8:00PM.
  2. Apply for an absentee ballot if you can’t vote on May 2nd.
  3. Check out a sample ballot for your precinct. They’re available on the Town website. Do you recognize any of the names?
  4. Read about the candidates. The Brookline TAB publishes a bunch of endorsements. Some of the candidates have websites where they spell out their positions on local issues.
  5. Attend candidate forums. The League of Women Voters of Brookline is hosting a forum for the candidates of town-wide office on Wednesday, April 26 at 6:30PM (refreshments at 6:00PM) in the Selectmen’s Hearing Room at Town Hall. Come hang out with the candidates and hear how and why they want to serve the community. The co-sponsors of the forum are the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance (BNA) and the Town Meeting Members Association (TMMA).
  6. Pick up the Voter’s Guide in the Brookline TAB, prepared by the League of Women Voters. Year after year, the League knocks this one out of the park. Shout out to Joel Shoner for putting it together!
  7. If a candidate knocks on your door, greet him or her with a smile. Then, ask them why they’re running and what they’d like to do if they get elected. Read the literature. Maybe you could take it a step further and canvass for a candidate yourself.
  8. If you still have questions for the candidates, ask them. It’s pretty easy to contact candidates. Plus, I’d be surprised if they don’t respond to you, because after all, they do want your vote. What’s unique about local elections is the candidates live in your community. You just don’t get that same accessibility with federal elections. Candidates for local office go to the same grocery stores as you, they take the Green Line with you. You can actually talk to them.
  9. Confirm your polling location. You want to show up at the right location.
  10. Vote! If you have children, bring them with you for a mini civics lesson.

There you have it. Ten is a nice round number. But I would be remiss if I said this list is exhaustive.

Even More Election Fun

Personally, I have some other Election Day traditions of my own. I channel my inner Leslie Knope and geek out about the democratic process.

Image result for parks and rec leslie knope democracy meme

(Gif cred: https://www.good.is/articles/leslie-knope-feminism)

Here are just a few extra activities you can do:

Listen to an Election Day playlist. Tweet about local issues. Reach out to your friends and family members and ask which candidates they support. Go to the BrooklineCAN forum on Monday, April 24 from 4:00PM-6:00PM at the Brookline Senior Center.

If you can swing it with your schedule, work at the polls! You’ll earn some cash, and more importantly, you’ll participate in the election process. It’s a truly moving experience to hand someone a ballot. Call the Brookline Clerk’s Office for more information: 617-730-2010.

See You at the Polls

As we often say in League of Women Voters events, democracy is not a spectator sport. Your vote is your voice.

Our local officials will have many big decisions to make in the next couple years, and we get to decide who will make them. That’s an awesome responsibility.

Plus, you’ll probably get one of those stickers. Who doesn’t love a good sticker?

Listen & Learn

Simply Civics is back! This past fall, I started a new job (which I love!) and after spending a few months learning the ropes, I’m now ready to dive back into Simply Civics.

That said, I have been grappling with what Simply Civics should be now. There’s a different political context in place since I last wrote here. In response to the new political realities, we’ve seen a surge of activism. There are a ton of bloggers and specialists writing about activism, and I support their incredible work.

Consequently, I’m going to leave that to the people who know best. I think my role is going to be more about figuring out where civic engagement falls into all of this. What does civic engagement mean to us, and which ways can we each best contribute to our local communities?

Things like: how to run for local office or campaign for people whose ideas you support, how to decipher and track the issues that most impact you and your neighbors, when to attend local events that promote civic and productive dialogue, how to track your legislators’ work, which community organizations to support with your time, effort, and if applicable, financial resources, and how do the types of news we subscribe to affect how we think and act.

The goal for Simply Civics is to provide opportunities for individuals to engage in meaningful ways in their communities. You may have different interests, schedules, passions, priorities, and talents than I do. In fact, you probably do. Simply Civics is really about finding the ways you can best contribute to your community. I believe in this, in you, and in our capacity to build thriving, inclusive, civic-minded communities.

Ready?

There is one thing that I think each of us can do, no matter who we are, and I’m going to use my return post to explore this idea.

How can we be civic on a daily basis?

Listen to others.

It sounds corny, right? I don’t just mean to listen when someone is talking to you. We learned that with our “please” and “thank you.”

What I mean is: let’s actively seek out opportunities to listen. Ask about people’s experiences. Then listen. Think about how people’s experiences shape their views of their community — local and national. In order to create communities where everyone can thrive and feel included, we must listen.

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of allyship, of being an ally to others. I know that not everyone agrees with the term allyship, but for me it means intentional, authentic solidarity. Actual solidarity, not just superficial solidarity.

Code Switch

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed. Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, the hosts of the podcast, are two of my idols. They shed light on racial issues in everyday life in the most poignant, forward-thinking, and inclusive manner.

A couple weeks ago during my commute, I listened to an episode called, “Safety-Pin Solidarity: With Allies, Who Benefits?

I don’t want to give much away, because I highly encourage you listen to it. But one of my key takeaways was the notion that being an ally is not an identity, it’s a relationship.

Since through civic engagement, we build connection in our communities, I think it’s important to be incredibly aware of the relationships we build. When we are intentional about reaching out to people with different experiences than our own, to hear them out, we grow in our understanding of the complex challenges and strengths of our communities.

Safety Pin Box

I’ve been trying to educate myself about authentic allyship, and I’ve come across some really fascinating organizations and writers on the topic that I am excited to share.

First, in the same Code Switch episode, Shareen Marisol Meraji interviews Leslie Mac, the co-founder of Safety Pin Box. The Safety Pin Box is a subscription service designed to guide ally-ship to achieve racial justice. The website explains the process this way:

“Black women receive financial support. White people work to end white supremacy. Black people guide white ally work. White people learn to redirect resources and do racial justice personal development. All of this and more, every single month.”

Each month, subscribers receive a box with 3 guided ally tasks to complete within the month to jumpstart their active participation in the fight against structural injustice.

Safety Pin Box is a for-profit company, and the subscription fees go towards supporting black female activists. It seems like a really creative and tangible way to simultaneously support leaders of color and learn about racial justice.

Everyday Allyship

In addition to learning how to be an ally to people of color, I’ve also been thinking about other types of allyship.

I want to be more intentional about supporting businesses and media that are inclusive of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identification, language, or religion.

How can I personally be a better ally to: the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees, the members of my community who are English language learners, and to those who practice different faiths than my own?

This seems to be a really vast question, but the answers to it really, truly matter. I am challenging myself to be honest as I ask these and other questions about allyship, and open and responsive to the answers. I hope you’ll join me and the many others who are committed to learning about and living in authentic solidarity.

Never Stop Learning

If you’re also interested in learning more about allyship, here are some other resources:

There are a ton more; this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list. With that said, if you know of other good places to start, please share them with me via the Contact Me page so I can post about them. Thank you in advance!

To sum it all up, let’s: learn courageously, listen authentically, think boldly, and act civically.

I feel optimistic about the future of civic engagement in our communities.

Breaking Down the Ballot Questions

Simply Civics Information for Voters

[A quick disclaimer: This blog post will not endorse positions on any of the 4 ballot questions. It’s up to you to decide how to vote. With that in mind, let’s make sure you make the right decisions for you!]

When we go to the polls on Election Day, we get to vote for candidates. What’s also exciting, though, is slightly further down the ballot. We get to be legislators for a day, directly influencing policy through the ballot questions.

The 2016 ballot questions seem to be advertised everywhere across Massachusetts: on yard signs, in commercials, on the radio. You’ve seen ads about each of these issues at some point. The ballot initiatives are:

  1. Allow a Second Slot Parlor
  2. Lift the Charter School Cap
  3. Prohibit Farm Animal Containment
  4. Legalize Recreational Marijuana

The ads don’t always give us the whole picture, though. It’s crucial to learn the different dimensions of each question in order to make an informed decision on Election Day.

Luckily, there are a plethora of resources for voter education on the ballot questions. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The Red Book

The Secretary of the Commonwealth sends a packet called “Information for Voters” to homes or registered voters in Massachusetts. There’s also a digital version online. The book contains basically everything you need to know about the general election, including information about the ballot questions. For each ballot question, the book breaks it down into what a “yes” vote would do and what a “no” vote would do. You can read the fiscal consequences and arguments in favor of or in opposition to the initiative.

If you’d like a hard copy of the book, you can pick one up at the Brookline Main Branch Library. Alternatively, you can visit your Clerk’s office.

2. WBUR’s Election Ballot Debate Series

WBUR covers the ballot questions comprehensively. Radio Boston hosted a 4-week debate series at UMass Boston with the Boston Globe. You can find recordings of each of the 4 debates on their website, along with additional reporting about the questions. You have the option to download or stream the audio from each debate. Listening to these would definitely make your commute or errands go by a lot faster!

3. WGBH at the EMK Institute Tonight (Free Event)

WGBH’s Jim Braude is moderating a second panel discussion this evening at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute about Question #2: Lifting the Charter School Cap. Tickets are still available! Register online now. Here are the details:

Thursday, October 27
7:00PM-8:30PM (Doors open at 6:00PM)
Edward M. Kennedy for the United States Senate, Boston

The panel consists of:

  • Jessica Tang, Boston Teacher’s Union Director of Organizing
  • Chris Gabrieli, Chairman and CEO of Empower Schools, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, and lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education
  • Michael Curry, President of the Boston branch of the NAACP; and
  • Marty Walz, former Massachusetts State Representative and Principal at Marty Walz and Associates.

If you get there early, I recommend you tour the EMK Institute! In addition to the full-scale reproduction of the U.S. Senate Chamber, the Institute also has a reproduction of Senator Edward Kennedy’s office, as well as many interactive exhibits about the Senate.

4. Vote411

Visit Vote411.org for a voter guide specific to your precinct. Type in your address and you’ll see the races on your ballot and the ballot questions. You can compare candidates’ positions and read arguments for and against ballot questions.

The best feature is that you can select how you’re voting for each race or issue, and print out your preferences to bring with you on Election Day. That way, you won’t get mixed up about what a yes or no vote means for each ballot question. You can always change your mind, of course, but it’s helpful to do your homework in advance of the big day. Just make sure you don’t leave your print-out in the voting booth, to interfere with others’ voting.

5. Myra Kraft Open Classroom

I wrote about the Myra Kraft Open Classroom in a previous post. I’m bringing it up again because it really is a great resource and because it’s relevant to this post!

Northeastern University hosts a free class each week about the election. Next week’s topic is: “Down the Ballot: Key Elections and Issues in Congress and the States.” Attendees will have an opportunity to ask the guest speakers about the ballot questions and congressional races.

Here are the details:

Wednesday, November 2nd
6:00PM-8:00PM
Northeastern University, West Village F, Room 20

To note, the class will continue to meet on Wednesdays for the rest of the semester. Following November 8th, the class will focus on President Obama’s legacy and the lessons learned from the election.

You can read more about the class schedule here.

6. People Around You

Probably the best resources are the people around you. Maybe you don’t want to talk to your friends, family, and coworkers about the presidential race because of the emotions it stirs up. Then don’t. Talk about the ballot questions instead. They’re a low-risk and fun conversation starter, and we all have something to contribute to the debate.

Ask the teachers in your life about the charter school question (#2), or family members about farm animal rights (#3). My roommates have really expanded my thinking about the implications of #3. During your lunch break at work, ask your colleagues about what they think an additional slot parlor in Massachusetts (#1) would add to the economy. When you’re out with your friends, or talking to someone in the public health field, discuss the dynamics of legalizing recreational marijuana (#4).

We each get to be policymakers on November 8th, so let’s work together to see what solutions make the most sense for our communities.

35 States

Ballot questions are not unique to Massachusetts, of course. 34 other states have ballot initiatives this November. Ballotpedia is a great resource for the election in general and has a lot of information about the ballot initiatives by state. At a glance, here are some of the big issues to follow on November 8th:

  • 9 states have questions about marijuana
  • 5 states have questions about the minimum wage
  • 5 states have questions about healthcare
  • 4 states have questions about gun laws

In addition to Ballotpedia, NPR’s Meg Anderson published a very thorough and well-researched article about ballot initiatives by state. Check it out.

Get Your Questions Answered

Research your state’s ballot questions before you get to the polls, because this is your chance to influence policy directly. Sort out the pros and cons ahead of time.

If you find any additional resources, please share them with me via email and I’ll tweet them out.

Enjoy your policymaking!

3 Civic Things To Do Today

Today will be chock full of civic opportunities, and here’s why:

  1. It’s the last day to register to vote in the November 8th election.
  2. The League of Women Voters of Brookline is hosting a Ballot Question Forum tonight at the Brookline Main Branch Library.
  3. The final presidential debate is tonight.

Voter Registration

If there’s one thing you gather from this post, I hope it’s this: make sure you’re registered to vote. We wouldn’t want you to get to the polls on November 8th and find out that you’re not on the books. To confirm your voter registration status, check out this handy tool on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s site.

Today is the very last day to register in Massachusetts to be eligible to vote on November 8th. That said, here’s the online form. Alternatively, if you don’t have a Massachusetts driver’s license, learner’s permit, or RMV non-driver ID, head on over to your City or Town Hall this afternoon.

Once you’re all set, check with your family members, friends, colleagues, and other people in your life to make sure they’ve registered, too. If they’ve changed addresses recently, have them look up their voter registration status.

Exercise your civic duty by assisting others with theirs.

Ballot Question Forum

Next, there will be 4 ballot questions this November in Massachusetts. You can read the full ballot question text here. Briefly, here are the topics:

  1. Expanded Slot-Machine Gaming
  2. Charter School Expansion
  3. Conditions for Farm Animals
  4. Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana

Do some research ahead of time so you can make informed decisions on November 8th. One way to get informed is by attending the League of Women Voters’ Ballot Forum tonight! Here are the details:

Speaker Mary Ann Ashton, Voter Service Chair of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, will present both sides of the ballot questions with an open discussion. The event is free and open to all.

Where: Hunneman Hall, Brookline Library, 361 Washington Street, Brookline

When: October 19, 2016, Refreshments at 6 pm, Program at 6:30 pm

We’ll conclude with plenty of time for you to get ready for the debate tonight.

Final Presidential Debate

Lastly, tonight is the final presidential debate. Coverage starts at 8:30PM and the debate kicks off at 9:00PM. If you don’t have cable, there are plenty of ways to watch it online.

The League of Women Voters has a debate watching kit to help us get the most out of our debate-watching experience.

Furthermore, the NPR Politics Podcast team will be live tweeting their fact checking throughout the debate. They’ll also release a new podcast afterwards with debate analysis. I find their podcasts extremely informative and easy to listen to. I highly recommend you subscribe, because they’ll be releasing podcasts every day for the whole week leading up to the election.

Have a wonderful, civics-filled Wednesday!

This Article Warrants Your Attention

Simply Civics Brookline Town Hall

The Great American Town Meeting is small town government in all its glory.

Brookline has an upcoming Special Town Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 15th. 240 residents are elected to serve as Town Meeting Members (TMMs) to fulfill the town’s legislative duties. Each of the 16 precincts has 15 town meeting members, who are elected through staggered elections. Each year, 5 seats per precinct are up for election.

16 precincts x 15 seats = 240 Town Meeting Members

The Meeting of the Minds

They all convene at least once a year to balance the budget and vote on bylaws. The last Town Meeting was in May. At the Special Town Meeting in November, TMMs will address budget changes, plus take up both zoning and by-law amendments.

At Town Meeting, Members take up the “warrant,” a series of articles proposed by the Board of Selectmen or citizens. If I wanted to, I could propose a warrant. #CivicGoals.

The Life Cycle of a Warrant Article

I tend to think of Town Meeting Members as PhD candidates preparing their dissertations. Hear me out:

First, TMMs conduct a literature review. They see what’s out there in the local policy world, get familiar with the current research landscape, attend meetings, and talk with their neighbors. Then, they come up with an idea that seems to have traction.

They write up a proposal and submit it as a warrant article. They test it against the public through hearings. When it’s a complete and fully-vetted idea, they present their warrant (dissertation) at Town Meeting. Sometimes it’s accepted, and sometimes it’s not. If not, you can try again next year.

It’s no small feat.

But hey, local government is never dull.

Cars vs. Public Transit

Some warrant articles are more pertinent to some neighborhoods than others. I live in the Coolidge Corner SouthSide neighborhood of Brookline, and our Neighborhood Association has been particularly interested in Warrant Article #19. Here’s a summary:

Warrant Article 19 seeks to create a new “Transit Parking Overlay District” (TPOD) in order to reduce the minimum number of off-street parking spaces required for new residential development in areas of Brookline that are within a half-mile radius of an MBTA Green Line station.

Currently, in new residential developments in Brookline, each unit built must have 2 off-street parking spaces. The petitioner argues that if the units are close enough to public transportation, residents won’t necessarily need cars. With this article, developers could build new residential buildings without worrying about building massive underground parking garages.

There are pros and cons to this article, just like there are for others all around town.

If you’re interested in following Article 19 and contributing any comments, there are a few important upcoming hearings/meetings, prior to the Special Town Meeting:

  • The Planning Board on 10/13 (in a public hearing)
  • The Planning and Regulation subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on 10/19 (in a public hearing)
  • The full Advisory Committee on 10/26 (in a public meeting)
  • The Transportation Board (date TBD)

Taxes and Tobacco

There are 34 other warrant articles, covering a wide range of important issues to the town. Here are just a few topics:

  • Tobacco Control Regulations for Reducing Youth Access (4)
  • The Plastic Bag Ban (6)
  • The Emerald Island Special District (7 & 8)
  • Width of sidewalk at 25 Washington Street (11)
  • Electric Vehicle Charging Facilities (16)
  • Hubway Regional Bicycle Share Program (20)
  • Leaf Blowers (23) [a hot issue in Brookline- See the Moderator’s Committee on Leaf Blowers]
  • Online Posting of Police Reports (30)
  • Enhanced Brookline Tax Relief for Senior Homeowners with Modest Incomes (33)

Believe it or not, these warrant articles are the fiber of the local community. The Town Meeting process equips us to grow and adapt as a community.

Join the Conversation

My favorite part about local government is that it’s so easy to participate! You have the potential to affect public policy in your community. That is WILD!

There are many ways to get involved in Brookline’s Town Meeting.

  1. Town Meeting itself is open to the public, so mark your calendar for November 15th.
  2. If you can’t make it to Town Meeting, watch it from home! The kind folks at Brookline Interactive Group will be broadcasting it on Brookline Access Television.
  3. Contact your Town Meeting Members. If you’re a Brookline resident and you’re curious as to who your TMMs are, check out this handy list. Reach out to your TMMs and learn about what they see as the most pressing issues for your neighborhood.
  4. Get informed on the issues. The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance (the umbrella organization for neighborhood associations) typically hosts a warrant article forum. The upcoming forum is scheduled for November 10th at the Pierce School Auditorium.  Refreshments will be at 6:30 and the forum will be from 7:00PM-9:00PM.
  5. Submit comment at a hearing.
  6. Next year, consider submitting a warrant article.
  7. Lastly, you can even run as a Town Meeting Member!

Town Meeting isn’t just a Brookline phenomenon, but it happens to be very vibrant here. Each town runs Town Meeting in its own way, depending on the traditions and by-laws of the community. Cities have their own avenues for policy debate and public participation, too. Contact your City or Town Hall for more information.

As always, reach out to me with any questions.

The Concert Across America on September 25th

During my sophomore year at Boston College, I took a class in the Political Science Department with Professor Paul Christensen called Comparative Social Movements. That year, at the national level, we saw the emergence of both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. I learned so much in that class both as a Political Science student and as a citizen. Today, with the Black Lives Matter movement building momentum across the country, I think back to the class and what I learned about what makes a social movement salient and successful.

Million Moms March

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Donna Dees. Donna organized the largest march in U.S. history to protest gun violence, the Million Moms March. On Mother’s Day in 2000, more than 750,000 people protested on the National Mall. The protesters had witnessed too many deaths at the hands of guns, and they banded together to demand political action.

Donna told me that since the March in 2000, each time our country mourns another mass shooting, she receives many, many requests to organize another march. People remember the impact of the march in 2000, and they know more work needs to be done to mobilize the support for sensible gun control legislation. They want someone to organize another march. It’s not as easy as sending out a mass e-mail to meet at the National Mall, though.

In response to these requests, Donna published a piece in the Daily Beast, called “The Mother of All Protests.” To pull off another event of that magnitude, she knew they needed organization,  time, money ($3 million), and a LOT of volunteers.

The Mother of All Concerts

Instead, Donna suggested a different type of event: a concert. More specifically, she proposed a concert across America.

There are many merits to planning a concert, rather than a march. For one, concerts are inside, thus eliminating the fear of inclement weather. Also, concert venues are wheelchair-accessible. Furthermore, there are music venues in every American city, and there are so many artists who are passionate about preventing gun violence. Why not get all the artists together, book the venues, and have simultaneous concerts across America? It’d be a social movement with music.

Not surprisingly, Donna’s idea caught on and spread. Over 100 non-profits got involved, all recognizing the need for gun control legislation. The “Concert Across America to End Gun Violence” is coming up on Sunday, September 25th, in cities across the country.

In Boston, the lineup includes:

  • Hallelujah the Hills
  • Marissa Nadler
  • Bill Janovitz with Tanya Donnelly & Mike Gent
  • Vapors of Morphine
  • M.C. Jimmy Tingle
  • Lisa Bello
  • Michelle LaPoetica
  • Rhea Ranno
  • Herb Jackson
  • Ashley Tishana
  • Arielle Chanelle
  • Dro Casso with Pretty Poisson

Visit the Facebook page for the Boston event to learn more. It will be held in Brighton Hall from 7PM-11PM. Make sure you add “Only in Boston” on Snapchat because they’ll be taking over the account for the night.

Advocacy with Authenticity

Attending the concert is a great way to get involved in the movement and learn how to make an impact in your community. The concert will empower people to contact their elected officials and coordinate political advocacy efforts city, state, and nationwide. Elevating an issue to national attention starts with picking up the phone and calling your congressman or congresswoman.

Moreover, the website includes a petition for gun violence prevention legislation.

In my Comparative Social Movements class at BC, I learned that social movements should be both centralized enough to provide structure and flexible enough to encourage creativity, authenticity, and interpersonal connection. The gun violence prevention movement seems to achieve this. With elements of centralization, the key organizers coordinated logistical details (publicity, planning, political resources). On the other hand, the concert is flexible enough to invite more than 100 nonprofits to collaborate, and artists of all genres (folk, rap, classical, etc.) to participate.

During my conversation with Donna, I saw that the movement has the leadership and energy to make a real impact in policy. Senseless gun violence is inconceivable and heart-wrenching. We watch one tragedy after the next. Music might create the space, tone, and consensus we need to move forward to a safer future.

Grassroots movements are successful when they tap into people’s values and hopes and provide a plan for change. The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence movement may do just that.

For more information about an event closest to you, check out the Concert Across America website.

A Day at the Polls

Simply Civics Election Worker

What’s even better than exercising my civic duty? Helping others to exercise theirs.

On Thursday, September 8th, I beat the sunrise and drove to the fire station in South Brookline. I spent the full state primary day there, from 6:00AM-8:40PM (with an hour lunch break), learning the ropes of election administration.

I loved every minute of it, from taping the sample ballots to the walls in the morning, to tallying up the completed ballots in the evening. In order to learn every aspect of the role, I alternated between the check-in and check-out tables, looking up voters’ addresses in the books, handing them their ballots, and passing out “I Voted” stickers.

Turning Out

Several times, the warden, clerk, and other election workers told me that the primary was nothing like the November Election Day. They referred to a drastic difference in voter turnout between the two days. I believed them, that the primary day would be slower. To be certain, I’m bracing myself for the never-ending line of voters checking in on November 8th.

Yet the people I met all day on September 8th proved to me that every election matters. Sure, the voter turnout was low. But precinct 15 was energized.

I met people who set aside their many work and family responsibilities to participate in the primary process. Some voters swung by on their way to work, and I bet they had set their alarms a little early just for the occasion. I met people who were just walking by throughout the day and popped in to vote.

Several voters came to vote on the ballot initiatives. The ballot initiatives will be on the November ballot. They voted anyway. (FYI, you can read up on the ballot initiatives here.)

Perhaps my favorite part was meeting parents who seized an opportunity for a civics lesson and opted to bring their kids to the polls.

Also, even though there weren’t any contested races for a couple parties, I spoke with residents who wanted to vote anyway. More than once, a voter took the ballot from my hands and told me, “I never miss a chance to vote.”

My Fellow Election Workers

During the lulls, when few people walked through the fire station doors, I listened to my fellow election workers with awe. It’s amazing how sitting in a polling place can inspire such fascinating conversations among strangers. Now we’re friends. We talked about our neighborhoods, the towns we grew up in, our school system, our working experiences, our families, our favorite past-times, and even our values. You all know how I feel about civic conversations.

Don’t worry, though. We didn’t discuss the candidates.

To my fellow election workers: Thank you for making my first election working experience so enlightening! I can’t wait to see you all again on November 8th.

Ballot Security

At 8PM, our clerk walked to the middle of the voting place and he closed the polls. I thought we were almost done. I was very, very wrong. Actually, that’s when a lot of the work started. We matched up the check-in list with the check-out list, and compared those to the ballot box print-out receipt of tallied votes. We crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s, carefully accounting for every vote and sealing up the envelopes.

While some people claim that ballot fraud exists, I find that very hard to believe, especially after participating in this process. No one could possibly “stuff” a ballot box. In fact, our warden and clerk approached ballot security incredibly seriously. We double- and triple-checked every tally. We followed each protocol by the letter. If that’s not enough, a police officer stood by as we opened and transported the ballots.

As a result, we stayed awhile that night, until absolutely everything was done. I can’t imagine how late we’ll stay on November 8th! It’ll be worth it.

Counting Down the Days

Surprisingly, November 8th is already right around the corner. However, it’s not too late to sign up as an election worker! If you can swing it, I highly recommend it. Just to note, the Town of Brookline compensates election workers for participating in the training and working at the polls. So that’s nice! More importantly, election administration is a great way to serve your community. To learn more or sign up, contact your Town or City Clerk’s office. Here’s the contact information for Brookline.

Precinct 15 of Brookline, see you again soon!