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!

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!

Running Towards the Emergency

Simply Civics Medical Reserve Corps

“It’s all about being prepared when your day doesn’t go as planned.”

A few weeks ago, I sat with Cheryl, the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Brookline Health Department. Cheryl runs the Brookline unit of the Medical Reserve Corps.

The MRC, according to their website, is a “community-based, civilian, volunteer program that helps build the public health infrastructure of communities nationwide.” There are 989 community-based units nationwide.

One of my friends in the League of Women Voters of Brookline had recommended I contact Cheryl to hear about the MRC, and I’m really glad I did. The MRC is a phenomenal community service opportunity for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have a medical license. I’m excited to share more info about it with you, and I highly recommend you consider volunteering for it.

MRC 101

This is how it works. You sign up as a volunteer, participate in training, and get added to a database of volunteers. At certain times, you would be contacted with a volunteer request. It’s a low-level commitment and volunteering in any given circumstance is up to you and your availability.

The types of situations vary. Volunteers respond to apartment fires, hail and ice storms, blizzards, and other natural disasters. They have tents at the Boston Marathon and provide public health education and outreach throughout the year. This fall, the MRC has 3 flu clinics planned.

As I was sitting there, I thought: wow, this would be so great, IF I were a medical professional. I can’t administer flu vaccines! I wouldn’t feel the least bit comfortable handling any medical equipment.

Helpers

But have no fear. Cheryl said that there’s work for everyone to do. Actually, there are always logistical tasks in emergency response. From what I’ve heard, the MRC is great at matching up volunteer’s qualifications and strengths with their roles in the Corps. For example, if a hailstorm were to shatter windows in an apartment building, MRC volunteers would help direct tenants to temporary shelter or the Red Cross. As the coordinator, Cheryl gets to know volunteers’ strengths and how each volunteer can best help.

In emergency situations, there tend to be “helpers,” or people who run towards the emergency. They’re spontaneous volunteers. Even with the best intentions, helpers can cause confusion. That’s what makes the MRC so important. It brings together helpers and gives them the pathway and training to serve in terms of crisis.

Training

The training sessions are fascinating. There’s typically one per month from September through May. Just to give you a small glimpse of the full scope of sessions you could attend, here are some previous topics:

  • Building Emotional Resilience
  • CPR/First Aid
  • Building Relationships for Effective Communication
  • Reducing the Fatal Overdose: Community Policing and Public Health
  • Emergency Preparedness for Parents of Children with Disabilities and Special Healthcare Needs
  • 2015 Nepal Earthquake: An on the Ground Perspective in Nepal

And they’re all FREE!

CERT

Often, the MRC collaborates with the Brookline Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT programs are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Similar to the MRC, CERT volunteers provide a crucial service to the community. They give “critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site.” In Brookline, the MRC and CERT coordinators work closely together to optimize their services.

To see whether there’s a CERT program in your area, check out this link.

Buddy System

The MRC also serves the community in another capacity: through the Emergency Preparedness (EP) Buddies Program.

Tragically, in 1995, about 700 people died in Chicago during a heat wave. Many of those who passed away were elders living alone in social isolation. Without anyone checking in on them, they fell victim to heat-related health issues.

Since then, communities like Brookline have developed programs to look out for the safety and preparedness of elders. Through the EP Buddies Program, the MRC and CERT assess a Brookline elders’ individual level of preparedness, and match him or her up with a preparedness buddy.

As a preparedness buddy, a volunteer will identify his or her elder buddy’s needs, set up communication plans, and prepare supplies for potential evacuations. Often, buddies will prepare a bag with essential materials–medications, toiletries, clothing, etc–and leave it at the elder’s front door. That way, Heaven forbid, there’s an emergency, the elder will be ready to just grab the bag and head out as quickly as possible to get to a safe location.

Interested in becoming a buddy? Here’s the brochure. To become one, you first will sign up for the MRC and complete the training. As I previously mentioned, the trainings are fascinating.

National Preparedness Month

Moreover, signing up for the MRC couldn’t be any simpler. Seriously. Complete the online application and if you have any questions, email them at mrc@brooklinema.gov.

September is National Preparedness Month so don’t wait! This is a fantastic time of year to get started. In fact, there’s an information session for the Brookline MRC and CERT coming up. Here are the details, so you can add it to your calendar right now:

Date: Thursday, September 15th
Time: 6:15PM-7:30PM
Location: Community Room of the Public Safety Building, 350 Washington Street, Brookline, MA

By the way, there will also be light refreshments! Check out the Facebook page to RSVP for the session and learn more.

Resolutions

September often feels like the start to a new year. Friends are moving to new apartments, students are starting a new year of school, and we’re inching towards the beautiful, delightfully colorful season of fall.

Consider making a September Resolution to provide a critical service to your community, and sign up to volunteer for the MRC or CERT. They’re not just in Brookline — they’re nationwide.

And hey, if you’re moving into a new community and want to get to know your new surroundings, this is an especially great opportunity for you to get involved. Add it to your moving list and make it happen!

One last time, here’s the page where you can search for the MRC unit closest to you.

It never hurts to be prepared.

Women & Men in the Arena

League of Women Voters - Simply Civics

When I have a big decision to make or when I’m in need of a motivation, I look to history for perspective. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my role should be in the upcoming election. For example, should I canvass for a candidate, make phone calls, or stress a lot about the outcome?

This time, I thought back to one of my favorite political speeches in American history. In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt made a speech in Paris, called “Citizen in a Republic.” This particular excerpt is often referred to as the “Man in the Arena” speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Each time I read it, my heart races. It conjures up images of Olympians, striving valiantly to represent their nations and reach for the gold. Especially relevant, I’m thinking of Katie Ledecky, shattering her own world record yesterday.

Just as the Olympians can compete, each of us can jump into the arena.

Personally, I found my worthy cause for this election: voter engagement. Today, I’m going to share a little bit about a phenomenal organization I stumbled upon: the League of Women Voters of Brookline.

League of Women Voters

To begin, the League of Women Voters is a national organization that strives to protect, educate, and engage voters in the United States. The League doesn’t endorse candidates; rather, it promotes education. Aside from voting, the umbrella organization has several key priorities, including campaign finance reform, environmental protection, immigration reform, and gun safety.

Closer to home, we have a Massachusetts chapter, and even more locally, a Brookline chapter. I am now officially a member of the LWV of Brookline!

Already, I’m finding it remarkably fulfilling. At its core, the League is an enthusiastic and supportive group of women and men collaborating for a valiant, common cause. Joining is easy. Just follow this link and fill out the form. Men can join, too.

As a member, I’ve learned a lot about the generations of women before me who have fought for political equality. In particular, it’s really humbling to consider the advancements America has made in voting rights. However, we are still far from perfection, especially when you think about states still attempting to restrict access to the ballot through so-called “voter identification” laws.

Brookline Primary Simply Civics

Voting Checklist

Because I’m a member of the League, I’ve spent some time researching election processes. So that you don’t have to, I’m sharing the highlights with you.

Now that we’re less than 100 days away from the general election (November 8th), I’m debuting the official Simply Civics Voting Checklist:

  • First, mark your calendar. Access your iCal, Google Calendar, or desk calendar. Add one event to Thursday, September 8th (for the Brookline primary) and one event to Tuesday, November 8th. Decide now which time you’ll go to the poll to vote. You can always move it to another time if your schedule shifts. Call the events “Civic Duty” or anything that will get you excited to vote. Brookline residents, I want to draw your attention to the fact that the primary is on Thursday, September 8th. It isn’t on a Tuesday this year, so make sure you add it to your calendar.
  • Confirm the poll times. The polls are open in Brookline on Election Day from 7:00AM to 8:00PM. Don’t be like Jerry on Parks and Recreation, forgetting to check the time and realizing after a full day of campaigning for Leslie Knope that the polls are closed and he hasn’t voted! Learn from his mistake.
  • Find a buddy. Ask a friend or family member to go to the polls with you. Voting itself is an individual activity, but getting there doesn’t have to be! Make sure your buddy reviews this checklist too so you are both prepared to vote.
  • Check your voter status. Here’s the link for Massachusetts. You don’t want to show up the day of and find out you’re not in the book. I can’t stress this enough. I was heart-broken last year to overhear someone at the polls who wanted to vote for the first time and learned she wasn’t registered.
  • If applicable, register to vote. Here’s the link for Massachusetts. The last date to register for the September 8th primary in Massachusetts is Friday, August 19th. The last day to register for the November 8th general election in Massachusetts is Wednesday, October 19th. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has a handy tool to access information about each state’s elections.
  • Confirm your voting location. WhereDoIVoteMA.com makes it easy.
  • If applicable, request an absentee ballot. Check out the Brookline process or the Boston process. Make sure you plan ahead and request it in time.
  • Next, familiarize yourself with the ballot. For the Massachusetts primary, you’ll receive the ballot for whichever party you ask for, because we have an open primary system. Here are the primary candidates for the Thursday, September 8th primary. I would share a link for the November 8th ballot information, only that hasn’t been decided yet! That’s what the primary is for. In additional to candidates for president, there will also be ballot questions and candidates for state-wide office.
  • Consider working at the polls. I signed up and you can, too! Contact your local clerk’s office if you’re interested. Here is the contact information for the Brookline Clerk’s office. There are four ways to apply to be a worker at the polls in Boston. Some towns and cities even pay you a stipend.
  • Between now and the election, research the candidates and (if applicable) the ballot questions. To jump-start your research, here are some pre-election activities I’ve found helpful (and fun!):
    • Start off each morning reading the news
    • Listen to the NPR Politics podcast while you’re cooking, commuting, or cleaning
    • Visit candidates’ websites for their platforms
    • Follow a variety of news sources on Twitter
    • Engage friends and family members in informed political conversations
  • If you have any questions about the election process, seek out the answers as soon as you can. Do you need a form of ID? Can you vote early? The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts website answers many questions.
  • On Election Day Eve, get excited. You get to vote tomorrow! Review the ballot and make up your mind so that you walk in tomorrow confidently.
  • Vote on November 8th! Your vote counts. If you have children, bring them to the polls with you. As a kid, I loved going to the polls with my mom. It goes a long way in instilling civic values. Thanks, Mom!
  • Lastly, wear your “I Voted!” sticker to remind others to vote.

Voting is Not a Spectator Sport

Generally speaking, follow the checklist and you’ll be ready to go. And, to get involved in voter engagement, check out the League of Women Voters website. Moreover, please reach out to me if you have any questions about the League or want to participate in our work.

Ultimately, if you’re going to take one thing away from this post, let it be this: if you can vote, you should.

In essence, unless you’re one of the lucky ones to qualify, Olympic Swimming is a spectator sport. Voting is not.

So, as you pick up your ballot this September and November, take a second and thank the many people who have fought in the arena to make your vote possible.